Monday, June 29, 2009

Nonfiction Monday

It's Nonfiction Monday, when we collect blog links celebrating nonfiction children's books. Throughout the day, bloggers will leave comments letting me know about their nonfiction posts, which I will then collect as links for your reference. Let's hear it for the FACTS!

To start things off, here's my own nonfiction post for the day, a review of a biography of L. Frank Baum:

The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum has a nice Emerald City green cover by the talented Kevin Hawkes, and it's written by the equally talented Kathleen Krull, author of Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought), along with Lives of the Artists, Lives of the Writers, and Lives of Extraordinary Women. Another series she's written is Giants of Science, biographies of figures such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Marie Curie. Krull has a clear, reader-friendly style and a knack for telling people's life stories using just the right details. You may have also come across her picture book biographies of Hilary Clinton and Cesar Chavez. Of course, I have a friend whose favorite Krull biography is a picture book called Fartiste, about a Frenchman who farted so musically that he gave concerts. No, really.

Lyman Frank Baum grew up in the 1860s in a wealthy home, on an estate, actually. He daydreamed and read endlessly; he also wrote and printed a monthly family newspaper together with his brother Harry. Frank grew up to be a dabbler—he tried working in the theater, as a traveling salesman, a news editor, a window dresser, and in numerous risky enterprises. One after another his efforts failed, in a seemingly endless combination of poor choices and plain old bad luck.

Meanwhile, Baum married and raised a rowdy houseful of boys. Besides sharing songs and games and jokes and contests, he used to tell stories to his four sons. He published a few books and amassed plenty of rejection slips, till finally, in 1900, he published The Wizard of Oz. Though his money troubles never completely went away, he found a great deal of success and acclaim with the popularity of the Oz series and a musical based on the books.

Kevin Hawkes' illustrations complement the text beautifully. I especially like the title page, which shows the yellow brick road surrounded by fields of red poppies, with the Emerald City gleaming in the distance. (According to Krull, the most famous city in Oz was inspired by Chicago, particularly the 1893 World's Fair, also by an odd little joke about horses and sawdust.) Hawkes's L. Frank Baum is the perfect blend of gentle and playful. The illustrator also brings an unfamiliar historical era to life, making it intriguingly accessible.

I found Krull's biography poignant and inspiring—here is a man who was really bad at providing for his beloved family, but he just kept trying. Eventually, his riskiest work of all paid off with the success of The Wizard of Oz. Krull quotes Baum as saying, "If I am to do any good in the world, my highest ambition will be to make children happy." By today's standards, which often defines people by their incomes and business results, L. Frank Baum was mostly a failure. But who hasn't heard of The Wizard of Oz? Who hasn't seen the movie, even if they haven't read the book? We hear a lot of talk about Narnia and Middle Earth, but I suspect the best-known fantasyland of all is Oz. I very much appreciate Kathleen Krull's lovely biography of the creator of Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Nonfiction Monday Links:

Abby Librarian brings us a review of Beyond: A Solar System Voyage by Michael Benson, a book with wonderful space photos for middle and high school students.

Over at Lori Calabrese Writes! we find some mummies that aren't from Egypt in her review of Bodies from the Ice by James M. Dean for 9- to 12-year-olds.

Jill at The Well-Read Child presents a review of Chee-Lin: A Giraffe's Journey, a picture book by James Rumford. Did you know the Chinese brought a giraffe back home from Africa before Columbus even set sail to the Americas?

From Bookends, it's a review of The Anne Frank Case: Simon Wiesenthal's Search for the Truth by Susan Goldman Rubin. This long picture book for older elementary students shows Wiesenthal's research quest in response to Holocaust deniers.

In Need of Chocolate reviews Dolphin Talk, a title from my favorite science series for first and second graders, Let's Read and Find Out.

From Shirley at Simply Science, read a review of How Weird Is It? by Ben Hillman, a collection of odd science information for 9- to 12-year-olds. Love the cover!

Wild About Nature reviews two of Marianne Berkes' books, both patterned after the classic rhyme "Over in the Meadow": check out Over in the Arctic Where the Cold Winds Blow and Over in the Jungle: A Rainforest Rhyme. As a bonus, we get an interview with author Marianne Berkes.

Roberta of Wrapped in Foil gives us a review of Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mystery of the H.L. Hanley by Sally M. Walker. This YA title should bring home why being asked to crew a prototype for a submarine was a worrisome proposition.

The Book Chook offers up a review of a picture book in rhyme called By Jingo! An Alphabet of Animals by Aussie author Janeen Brian.

Wendie Old tantalizes us with her invitation to a panel discussion featuring 18 nonfiction writers at the upcoming ALA Convention in Chicago. Visit her site, Wendie's Wanderings, to learn more about the presenters and their workshop, titled "Nonfiction Blog Blast: Booktalks for Reluctant Readers."

Thanks to everyone who participated in this week's Nonfiction Monday!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Horrid Henry Stomps Across the U.S.

A few months ago, I read an article which said that the Horrid Henry series didn't initially sell in the United States because the title character was considered such a negative role model. This reminded me of a trend I've been thinking about, the rise of the anti-hero in American culture.

Of course, any controversy about bringing Francesca Simon's series to the U.S. died when publishers looked at the kazillion dollars the series has earned in the UK, winning awards and spawning a Broadway show as well as an animated TV series. It's not a stretch to compare the success of the series in Great Britain to the popularity of the Captain Underpants books and, more recently, Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid and sequels in the United States. So be warned: as of this spring, Horrid Henry has crossed the ocean. It's kind of a homecoming in the sense that the author is actually an American. Today's review is part of a blog tour celebrating the series launch.

If you go far enough back in history, will you find beloved anti-heroes? Well, yes—they're called tricksters, and every culture seems to have them. Some of the most well-known tricksters include the African spider Anansi, the Native American figures Raven and Coyote, Brer Rabbit from the Southern black tradition, Puck and Jack in British stories, Reynart the Fox in French folktales, Hermes and Odysseus from the Greek myths, and the Norse god Loki.

Keep in mind that not all anti-heroes are tricksters. Tricksters tend to be clownish, while anti-heroes may simply be shadowy versions of heroes, e.g., Batman in place of Superman. (Or we have Edward Cullen, the perfect sweet boy next door except for that darn blood lust thing, which coincidentally gives him bad boy appeal.) As Wikipedia points out, a more current example of a trickster in our culture is Bugs Bunny. I would add Bart Simpson to the list. In fact, it's amusing to think that the country that spawned Bart wouldn't immediately welcome Horrid Henry with open arms.

Historically, trickster characters have stood in for our dark sides; they have also represented those brilliant fringe elements of society who often bring about change while making everybody nervous. A number of legends around the world involve characters such as Raven and Coyote stealing fire from the gods, or Anansi stealing stories from the gods—then passing these gifts on to humans. While Prometheus is a tamer figure from Greek mythology, the fact remains that tricksters are essentially risk-takers, and once in a while their risks pay off.

Still, it has become almost overwhelming how many anti-heroes have flooded TV, literature, and film. I read a very funny article about it last year that said anti-heroes are so prevalent it's become an eye roll-inspiring cliché. Which leads me to wonder whether the idea that "being good is boring" has completely infiltrated our society. A handful of tricksters keeps things fresh; an entire nation of tricksters sounds unpleasant.

But let's think about tricksters in children's literature, a fairly modern genre. Max, the hero of the classic picture book Where the Wild Things Are, is a small trickster in a wolf suit, able to subdue an island full of monsters who are perfectly willing to eat him up. Some of Roald Dahl's best characters are tricksters—Charlie Bucket may be a sweetie, but look at the fantastic Mr. Fox and even Matilda, who uses her powers to defeat a villain rather deviously. The Cat in the Hat is such a trickster he makes some readers anxious, and Sam I Am has a similar huckster persona. Of course, the greatest con man in literature is probably Tom Sawyer, he of the infamous fence painting scheme. (See also the title character of John Fitzgerald's The Great Brain, speaking of which.)

Horrid Henry is not simply badly behaved; he is also clever, though not invincible. Note that in legends from around the world, the trickster character is sometimes fooled by someone who turns the tables on him. This is also the case with Henry.

Why do children like reading about such a rotten kid? Because he makes them look good. Besides, he can do things they know they would never get away with—as readers all know, we find vicarious joy in accompanying characters on escapades we would never dream of trying in real life.

More than anything, Horrid Henry reminds me of Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes fame. I remember reading an interview in which Bill Waterson was asked if he would like to have a child like Calvin. His answer was something along the lines of "You've got to be kidding!" So just picture Calvin with a British accent and an annoyingly well-behaved younger brother named Peter. Then you'll be prepared to meet Horrid Henry.

I have to say, as I read the first four books, I was thrown off a little because all of the child characters have names with obvious adjectives in front. Traditionally, such sobriquets have been a characteristic of heavily didactic stories. Then I realized that the names were basically assigned to reflect Henry's point of view. None of the other characters use those names when speaking. Henry's brother, Perfect Peter, and kids like Moody Margaret, Cross Colin, Pimply Paul, and Prissy Polly, are all defined by Henry, the star of the show.

Once I got past the name issue, I was completely sucked in by the author's mastery of the way kids talk and act. It's the same thing that makes the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books spot-on. Here's an example from the first book in the series, Horrid Henry:

Margaret had eye patches and skulls and crossbones and plumed hats and cutlasses and sabers and snickersnees.

Henry had a stick.

That was why Henry played with Margaret....

"I won't play if I can't be Hook," said Horrid Henry.

Margaret thought for a moment. "We can both be Captain Hook," she said.

"But we only have one hook," said Henry.

Which I haven't played with yet," said Peter.

"BE QUIET, prisoner!" shouted Margaret. "Mr. Smee, take him to jail."

"No," said Henry.

"You will get your reward, Mr. Smee," said Margaret, waving her hook.

Mr. Smee dragged the prisoner to jail.

"If you're very quiet, prisoner, then you will be freed and you can be a pirate, too," said Captain Hook.

"Now give me the hook," said Mr. Smee.

The Captain reluctantly handed it over.

"Now I'm Captain Hook and you're Mr. Smee," Henry shouted. "I order everyone to walk the plank!"

"I'm sick of playing pirates," said Margaret. "Let's play something else."

Simon not only has a great sense of how to pace a scene, but she has a way of using Henry's constant machinations with satisfying irony. For example, when Henry's parents agree to have Moody Margaret stay at their house while her parents are out of town, Henry makes a big stink and his parents reprimand him, telling him to be polite. But it soon becomes clear to the entire family that Margaret is a terrible guest. When Henry pulls one of his tricks to get Margaret to leave, his parents are secretly relieved. Henry is unaware of their feelings—he's just trying to get rid of the girl. For their part, readers will laugh at this second layer of storytelling.

Each of the books contains four episodes, written at about a second grade level in fairly large type. But in terms of the humor, I suspect Horrid Henry will have just as much if not more appeal to third graders. The age range listed for the series is 7-10.

In Book One, our little anti-hero stomps through his dance class while everyone else is twirling delightfully. In fact, Horrid Henry stomps through most of these stories, managing to destroy a camping trip, a wedding, and dinner out at a restaurant, among other events. He plays a diabolical trick on his brother using a time machine (another homage to Waterson?), but Perfect Peter gets him back by concocting public evidence that Henry has a crush on Margaret. (One of Peter's few successes against his big brother.) In Book Two, I especially enjoyed Henry's frantic efforts to trick the "Tooth Fairy," who at one point leaves him a note reading: "Nice try Henry." The title story from Horrid Henry's Stinkbomb is another standout, focusing on how Henry's boys' club plots against Margaret's girls' club and vice versa. To add to the humor, each ringleader is assisted by a traitor as Simon plays with ideas such as the speed at which children quarrel and make up.

Tony Ross's illustrations put the finishing touch on this series. There's a little Quentin Blake in the artwork, evoking Roald Dahl's books. Mostly, though, Henry and friends are Ross's own small masterpieces of childhood crankiness and prankiness.

I haven't seen any of the TV episodes, but Francesca Simon's Henry stories remind me of a really good sitcom, say Malcolm in the Middle. Her series is not only well written, funny, clever, and subversive, it is also the perfect fit for a generation of kids raised on TV, DVD, and Internet storytelling.

Note for Worried Parents: In case it's not completely clear from the post, Henry is not a good role model! However, his devious efforts often backfire.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Picture Books to Sing

Two of the books I managed to rescue from my parents when they moved and were clearing out their library are actually songs: The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night, an old song illustrated by Peter Spier, and One Wide River to Cross, adapted by Barbara Emberley and illustrated by Ed Emberley. Coincidentally enough, they are both Caldecott Honor books—Spier's in 1962 and Emberley's in 1967. I don't think my mother bothered tracking the award winners particularly, but she always had good taste in children's books.

Ed Emberley has had a long and successful career in children's book illustration, though his name may not be as familiar to you as some others. I was surprised to realize that he had won that Caldecott Honor long ago for his wood-cut illustrations of the Noah story in song, since I know him best as the author/illustrator of Go Away Big, Green Monster! It turns out Emberley is the author of a number of books about drawing for children. What's more, he won the Caldecott Medal in 1968 for Drummer Hoff, which his wife Barbara adapted, as well.

We sang a lot in my family as I was growing up. I was the second of seven children. My mother and two of my sisters played the piano, so we would gather around the piano and sing music from Broadway musicals like Fiddler on the Roof and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Another favorite was The Fireside Book of Folksongs—we especially loved a rowdy tune called "Drill, Ye Terriers, Drill" and spirituals like "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" and "Oh Won't You Sit Down?" We sang on car trips, too, throwing in camp songs and songs we had learned in church. To this day, I like vocal music better than instrumental music. A few years ago, I went out of my way to track down a copy of The Fireside Book of Folksongs. It was only then that I noticed the collection's illustrators were Caldecott winners Alice and Martin Provenson.

Naturally, when I began teaching elementary school, my students and I sang together—what we lacked in grace, we made up for with enthusiasm. I soon learned that the big name in CDs for kindergarten and first grade is Greg and Steve, but I was still hooked on folksongs. A friend of mine worked in the office of the Smithsonian that preserves folk music, and she gave me a CD of children's songs called Smithsonian Folkways Children's Music Collection, basically her department's "Greatest Hits" from the archives. Woody Guthrie, Ella Jenkins, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, and Langston Hughes are the best known of the featured artists. Okay, so Langston Hughes doesn't sing, but he does read a couple of his poems. (The Smithsonian has quite a music catalog; look it up!)

The year I taught third grade, my students' favorite CD was Red Grammer's Sing Along Songs, especially "Erie Canal" (we acted out the bridge lowering), "Day-O," and "Wimoweh." In fact, the next year they used to stop by after school and ask to play that CD and sing to it again. They leaped about the room while they were at it.

This spring I ordered a bunch of books and supplemental materials for the Resource Room of my current school. Our school works with students who are homebound for medical reasons, and a number of them are severely handicapped. Because the children can't do much, their teachers put on quite a show, using music and read-alouds more than most teachers do. I ordered a number of board books for this group that came with CDs or could be sung aloud by the teacher. What I discovered is that the authors and illustrators who dominate that particular slice of children's literature right now are Mary Ann Hoberman, who collaborated with Nadine Bernard Westcott on books such as The Eensy-Weensy Spider and Mary Had a Little Lamb; Westcott on her own, perhaps most happily on Peanut Butter and Jelly: A Play Rhyme; performer Raffi, with books like Down by the Bay, also illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott, and The Wheels on the Bus; as well as Izi Trapani, whose numerous titles include I'm a Little Teapot and Row, Row, Row Your Boat.

Yet there is something of a distinction between these books and the picture books for slightly older students that feature singable texts. The picture books may be based on less well-known songs, or at least songs less often sung by the pre-school set. One such book in my collection is another Woodie Guthrie number, Bling Blang. You can get the music on another Smithsonian Folkways collection, Guthrie's Songs to Grow on for Mother and Child. Bling Blang is illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky, who created a black child and a white child to star in the book; he went on to include actual art from children, who, as you know, love to draw houses. Bling Blang is about building a great house for a beloved child. The marvelous onomatopoeic chorus goes: "Bling blang, hammer with my hammer/Zing-o zang-o, cutting with my saw." Apparently Woodie Guthrie and his kids used to build odd projects in their backyard.

Bling Blang stands alone, but some songs have repeatedly been made into children's books. I'm guessing that if you counted them up, "The Wheels on the Bus," "The Eensy-Weensy Spider," and "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" would win for most frequent publication, but the latter undoubtedly takes first prize if you include the many variations. A quick look on Amazon has the old lady swallowing a shell, a pie, a trout, a bat, a bell, the sea, a chick, and Fly Guy (an easy reader character). Plus we find regional fare like There Was a Coyote Who Swallowed a Flea and There Was an Old Texan Who Swallowed a Fly, not to mention a hungry educator, I Know an Old Teacher.

Yet none of these can dent my loyalty to the Simms Taback version, which won a Caldecott Honor in 1998. The illustrations are nuts, the die-cut holes are genius, and then you get the bonus of the secondary characters making odd little rhyming comments around the page edges at key points. My first graders requested that one on a regular basis; in fact, since they were learning English as a Second Language, I started out by singing and then having them fill in the missing words of the cumulative story. I know some parents find the plot a little upsetting, especially the kicker of an ending, but kids have the humor and good sense to know that it's all a big joke. (For a different read-aloud on the topic of cumulative swallowing, you can't beat My Little Sister Ate One Hare by Bill Grossman and Kevin Hawkes, which doubles as a counting book.)

There have been just a few versions of another sing-along book I recommend, Fiddle-I-Fee by Will Hillenbrand; the best-known is probably Paul Galdone's Cat Goes Fiddle-I-Fee, and Diane Stanley illustrated one, as well. I personally like Hillenbrand's narrative approach and cheerily unsentimental artwork, along with his rendering of the animal sounds, which are the best part about this song and guaranteed child-pleasers.

A more openly sentimental picture book version of a song is Morning Has Broken by Eleanor Farjeon, illustrated by Tim Ladwig. You've probably heard the song performed by Cat Stevens, but perhaps you didn't know that the words were a poem by a wonderful children's book writer. (In the days before fairy tale retellings became popular, Farjeon wrote The Little Glass Slipper and The Silver Curlew, novelizations of "Cinderella" and "Rumpelstiltskin" that are more readable and funny than most of the retellings in the current crop.) Ladwig's illustrations are gentle and a little too sweet for my taste, but the words are wonderful, especially if you are on the religious side. Like many of the books listed here, this book provides the "sheet music" for the song.

One picture book I highly recommend has a rap-style chant rather than a melody, and that's Shake Dem Halloween Bones by W. Nikola-Lisa and Mike Reed. The author and illustrator create a collection of fairy tale characters coming together to dance on Halloween Night, and it's another title that my students used to want to hear—and chant with me—over and over. The very strong beat will carry you along!

Which brings me to the two recently published picture book songs that started me thinking about all this: All God's Critters by Bill Staines and Kadir Nelson and Tweedle Dee Dee by Charlotte Voakes. I'll confess I didn't find Tweedle Dee Dee particularly compelling. Voakes's illustration style, which I thought was perfect for Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep (another Eleanor Farjeon offering!), is extra loose here, and the song lacks a strong storyline. The illustrator hits her stride with the birds' nest, though, and the rest of the book is more appealing.

Some songs give artists more to play with, and that's certainly the case with All God's Critters, with its message of inclusion and contribution. Even though the "story" is simply a performance by a series of animals, Kadir Nelson gets to spotlight each animal, imbuing them with colorful personalities. If you've seen his work in books about African American history and culture (e.g, Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and We Are the Ship by Nelson himself), you may be surprised by his rambunctious departure here. It just goes to show that a talented illustrator has range! In this case, he also has fun. The double-spread grand finale is especially over-the-top as our animal cast hams it up, turning the volume full blast.

Now, I was unfamiliar with both of these melodies, so I played them on my recorder to get a feel for them. "Tweedle Dee Dee" is nice, but not very memorable. "All God's Critters" is a little more catchy, but still nothing like "Eerie Canal" or "The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night."

The question raised by all of the books in this post is whether they are still as effective if they are simply read rather than sung. I'm guessing the rhythm and a reader's use of expression will make most of them solid read-alouds even if they aren't used as sing-alouds, but I can't emphasize enough how much kids LIKE singing and being sung to.

So, while I sort of understand teachers who can't carry a tune and just treat these texts as poems, I am appalled by teachers who play a CD and have their students sing without singing themselves. Of course, a lot of teachers are perfectly happy to belt out songs with their students as long as there aren't any other adults in the room, and the same thing is true for many parents at bedtime. So what do you do if you can't read music? Then it helps to have a CD in order to learn the tune, but I suggest you resist the urge to listen silently to words and melodies that are just begging to be sung! My family may sound musically talented to you, but none of us were outstanding vocalists. More than anything, we sang for the sheer joy of it. That experience was a gift from my parents that I still treasure. There's a reason I keep those ratty old copies of The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night and One Wide River to Cross. Just the sight of them gets me singing my way around the house.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My First Giveaway, Featuring the One and Only...

I'm getting the same feeling I got last summer, a kind of melancholy I can only associate with the lack of a new Harry Potter book coming out. The movie helps, but it's just not the same as a big, fat book full of Hogwarts adventures along with the direness of Lord Voldemort's quest to defeat Harry and, incidentally, to conquer the world.

So when I got the chance to do a giveaway in honor of the newest (and last) Potter paperback, Book 7, which is auspiciously due out on 7/7, I was totally there. Although you, fellow Hogwarts devotees, are the beneficiaries, with the possibility of winning one of five prize packs, each consisting of three paperbacks:

  • Book 5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

  • Book 6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

  • Book 7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The folks who are providing the books wish me to include this Harry Potter website link, plus the following info:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a breathtaking finish to a remarkable series. The final chapter to Harry Potter's adventures will be released in paperback July 7th! It all comes down to this--a final face-off between good and evil. you plan to pull out all the stops, but every time you solve one mystery, three more evolve.
My thoughts about Book 7 are a little darker and deeper. When I bought the book, I wondered whether J.K. Rowling could possibly end the series in a way that could satisfy me. For one thing, I didn't want the series to end, implying built-in dissatisfaction. I was amused by the middle of the book, which dragged. But the dragginess had a purpose--Harry and his outgunned friends were muddling around in the countryside, unsure how to defeat the undefeatable, or even to save their own lives. It was a gloomy, drizzly book, but that kind of makes sense, when you're talking about such fear and sadness.

I'll confess that I wasn't fond of the long exposition from a beloved and departed mentor near the end of the book. But that's just a quibble; when I closed Deathly Hallows, I really felt like the author had pulled it off. I gave one of those happy, happy sighs you give just before turning back to reread favorite scenes. (Or in my case, to reread the last three chapters, as I tend to speed up toward the end of a book and need a second, calmer read to recover anything I've missed in my hurry.) I decided that the final battle could easily have been botched, but instead it was just right, up to and including the losses, as well as the strange roles played by some of Harry's supposed enemies. J.K. Rowling is a lot more subtle than you might think!

Now, if you'd like to participate in the giveaway, which will run for three weeks and close July 4th with a nice blast of fireworks reminiscent of a powerful burst of magic, just write about Harry Potter in the comment section of this post. Tell us about a favorite character, secondary character, monster, teacher, or villain. Write about a favorite scene. Write about your favorite clever details or your favorite plot twist. Or you can write about staying up till midnight at a bookstore party when one of the books came out. As my English teachers used to say (every single one of them), be specific. Anything from 2-3 sentences to a longer paragraph is fine. Just show off your love of Harry!

One of my own memories of Harry Potter was the night I bought a book at midnight (I think it was Book 6) and came home feeling really tired. I said to myself, I'll just read a chapter or two. Yeah, right. At ten o'clock the next morning, I stopped to take a nap. Then I finished the book in time to go to a birthday party at the home of my student's aunt. My student was twelve and too cool; he was way less thrilled to see me than his mother was. Fair enough, since she had invited me. The party was Belizean, so I got to eat plaintains and try to figure out what everybody was saying as I watched the little kids bounce up and down in one of those jumpy houses in the backyard. My student and his cousin and I did have a conversation about the new Harry Potter book, though, and both of them were amazed that I had already finished--they forgot to be cool for a full ten seconds, they were so impressed!

The thing is, this student of mine was slowly dying of cancer. (I teach sick children.) A few months later, he wasn't up for algebra anymore. All I did when I went over to his house to work with him was read Harry Potter--I think it was Book Three. He really liked the way I read, doing different voices and everything. The day before he died, I was reading him Harry Potter.

I guess that might also explain my melancholy.

Anyway, I hope your thoughts and memories are far more upbeat than mine. Please share, and I'll be happy to pick a handful of the comments to win the prize packs. What I'll do is select 1-2 that I think are especially great and then do the rest simply as a drawing, giving us the best of both worlds.

P.S. Apparently several other bloggers in Kidlitosphere are also doing this giveaway. Visit each of these sites for more chances to win! They are Abby Librarian, Charlotte's Library, The Well-Read Child, Brimful Curiosities, The Spiral Notebook, Wizards Wireless, Write for a Reader, and readergirlz.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A New Kind of Horror

Okay, it's official: the art directors of the publishing world have lost their collective minds. Or their heads. Actually, it's the tribe of fictional main characters who have been beheaded; I just got back from the bookstore, where I saw a newish edition of Natalie Babbit's classic Tuck Everlasting WITHOUT A HEAD!

Aside from the fact that it's not exactly the height of creativity to follow this trend ad nauseum, do the powers that be not realize that the eyes have it, that faces matter in human society? And please don't tell me "This way the children can imagine the characters how they want to," since I'm guessing that's mostly a way of justifying a graphic "look." Headless cover characters are very removed from readers and viewers. They have a kind of objectivity that makes them lack warmth. To me that's adult appeal, not kid appeal. I mean, it's an adult saying "How very artistic," not a child remarking, in traditional "Emperor's New Clothes" fashion, "But why doesn't she have a head?"

Let's acknowledge that our first introduction to a main character is often a face on a front cover (and woe betide the jacket artist who gives that character a completely different hair color than the author has written!). Are we going to come across Peter Pan in flight, but with his head lopped off? He might lose his feet, too, since the full trend is simply for "torso shots." It feels like a whole slew of main characters have turned into Greek statues, or fragments thereof.

In fact, I'm starting to picture an entire world of fiction with headless people walking around, topped off by pathetic little stumps. (I just can't bear to delete their feet, creating a nightmarish multiplicity of homages to that "Come back and fight!" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.)

By way of contrast, scroll down and take a look at the jacket art in today's post. All right, so the Demon Princess has lost her chin, and the girl from The Awakening appears to have found it. (Plus I harbor suspicions that the Dead Is So Last Year still life is obliquely related to the Twilight jacket art.) But then, oh bliss! We have some actual people with complete visages. Don't know if Jacket Whys would agree, but I love both the Highway to Hell and Strange Angels covers, each powerful in its own way. (And speaking of Jacket Whys, I believe she addressed the torso issue a few months back.)

I suppose that, like every trend, this one will eventually shift in a new direction. In the meantime, I'm feeling very sorry for Winnie Foster and a slew of other main characters. It's as if the French Revolution had hit the bookstore!

P.S. Oops. Just realized I wrote this entire post without once using the word decapitation. So there you have it.

Scary YA Extravaganza

In case you haven't noticed, the post-Potter fantasy wave has been replaced by the post-Twilight paranormal wave, only the emphasis is much more Young Adult this time around. So I've saved up the most recent batch of teen paranormal books I've read in an attempt to look at some of the kinds of things people are doing. Happily, writers are branching out: only two of these books contain vampires, and they're barely mentioned in one of the two.


Dead Is So Last Year by Marlene Perez

This is the author's third book about Daisy Giordano, a psychic teen living in the town of Nightshade. The place has such a large supernatural population that there's a semi-secret city council to represent them. Daisy herself is one of three psychic sisters, and her boyfriend Ryan isn't exactly normal, either. Of the three books, the first one, Dead Is the New Black, is my favorite so far—I love how a maybe-vampire cheerleader set a new style trend by dressing in black and hauling around a miniature coffin on wheels as a fashion accessory. Book Two, Dead Is a State of Mind, focused on werewolves plus Daisy's prom date problems, and now Book Three gives us doppelgangers, mad scientists, witches, and howlingly steroidal football players. In particular, Dead Is So Last Year brings up the matter of Daisy's missing father, who disappeared before the series began and is suspected to have been the victim of paranormal foul play.

As I put it in my Amazon review of Book Two, "I've been trying to imagine what paranormal cotton candy would look like. I think it would be gray. So if Twilight is a big haunch of beef roast, gleaming slightly with blood, Dead Is a State of Mind is gray cotton candy." Perez's books are cheery, tongue-in-cheek, and so fast-paced that some scenes feel sketchy. But the series is a lot of fun, and it's a good pick for middle school readers who aren't ready for some of the darker paranormal offerings. I especially like Daisy as a character, and the author's portrayal of life in Nightshade is contagiously gleeful. For example, Daisy gets a job at a diner run by an invisible man, plus the place has a magic jukebox. I am reminded that not every book in my life has to be 700 angst-filled pages. What Marlene Perez's series lacks in gore and detail, it makes up for in humor.

Demon Princess: Reign or Shine by Michelle Rowen

Michelle Rowen's new book, due out in late September, envisions a teenage girl who learns that the father she's never met is a demon. He is also king of a place called the Shadowlands, a kind of protective border between our world and the Underworld. Messenger Michael, who looks like a cute boy, comes to fetch Nikki with the news that her father is dying. Naturally, she is reluctant to believe his wild tale, at least not until she is attacked by an assassin and her own powers start to manifest.

This book is on the light side, but I'm not sure it should be. The oddest thing, in my opinion, is that Rowen seems not to have had a big enough budget to hire characters. This is especially evident in the Shadowlands, which would have been wonderful with a castle full of intriguing people, but instead gives us a mere two or three bodies, one of them insubstantial. Unfortunately, we are left with a glaringly predictable plot due to what Roger Ebert has called The Law of Conservation of Characters. That is, since Michael is obviously a good guy, and Nikki's father is, too, despite being a demon king, then the only other people around are probably the bad guys.

Nikki spends most of the book dealing with unexpectedly meeting her father for the first time and then trying to save him from his enemies, also getting used to the idea that she's not entirely human. Further subplots revolve around Nikki's prom date, who seems a little too smooth, and Nikki's growing attraction to Michael. Not many surprises here, but I was pleased to come across a clever plot twist that's barely touched on in Reign or Shine and will clearly be addressed in the next book.


Once Dead, Twice Shy by Kim Harrison

Best known for her adult paranormal series, The Hollows, Kim Harrison joins the crowd turning to Young Adult fiction, AKA the lucrative crossover market. Once Dead, Twice Shy features a character first introduced in a novella called "Madison Avery and the Dim Reaper" in a YA collection titled Prom Nights from Hell. That story acts as a prologue to this one—in it, Madison managed to defeat her own death, who came for her in the form of a devious replacement for her prom date. Now Madison must deal with the aftermath, since she's technically dead, and only the amulet she swiped from the failed reaper is keeping her "alive."

Harrison does give Madison an Edward and a Jacob, Edward being Barnabas, a sort of trainer/guardian, and Jacob a boy named Josh, the arrogant initial prom date, who gets a chance to redeem himself here.

Problems with Once Dead, Twice Shy? There's an awful lot of explaining of the rules of the afterlife, or semi-afterlife, in Madison's case. Then late in the book, Harrison waxes philosophical about the great fate vs. free will debate, creating a certain amount of drag. Not to mention she goes all deus ex machina, or rather seraphim ex machina, at a crucial point. Still, in between, the author offers up a nice dollop of adventure together with hints of romance. Madison is a likable narrator, which bodes well for the future. The final scene brings things together in a way that puts our somewhat-dead heroine and her friends in position to feature in a very solid second book.

The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong is the writer of another best-selling paranormal series, Women of the Otherworld. The Awakening is the second book in her new series for teens, Darkest Powers, which began with The Summoning. In the first book, Chloe Saunders found herself in an unusual group home. Each of the other teens in the home turned out to have some kind of paranormal ability or identity, and Chloe was shocked to find out that she could both raise the dead and talk to ghosts. When it became clear that the teens were considered a science experiment by their sinister guardians, they escaped from the institution. Unfortunately, Chloe and two other girls were recaptured.

The Awakening starts off with the leaders of the Edison Group trying to force Chloe and the other two prisoners to help capture the missing boys—sorcerer Simon and werewolf Derek. Cranky Tori, a frenemy with telekinetic powers, proves to be somewhat helpful, to everyone's surprise. Eventually Chloe and her friends get away a second time, and the book turns into a kind of road trip. But will they stay free, and will they find help? We get a few of the answers here, with more to come in Book Three.

What's interesting about The Awakening is that it takes place over the course of only a few days. Granted, the book covers a suspenseful handful of events, and it also includes Chloe's growing experience with her powers. But when I got to the end of the book, I sort of felt like more stuff should have happened. (I didn't get that feeling with the first book.)

On the other hand, Armstrong is a good writer, and her teen characters are well drawn. Their bickering and worries ring true, with Tori making a particularly good foil for just about everyone. Some of the author's best writing is about Chloe and her necromancy. For example, Chloe attempts to punish a pesky ghost by raising it from the dead briefly and then sending it back to show her control. She succeeds, but she is unaware of her own lack of focus. Soon afterward she realizes the hard way that she's created a couple of extra zombies by mistake:
The cloud cover shifted, the light streaming into the room, and I realized I wasn't looking at fangs but at white patches of skull. The bat was decomposing, one eye shriveled, the other a black pit. Most of the flesh was gone; only hanging bits remaining. The bat had no ears, no nose, just a bony snout. The snout opened. Rows of tiny jagged teeth flashed, and it started to shriek, a horrible garbled squeaking.

My shrieks joined it as I scrambled back. The thing pulled itself along on one crumpled wing. It was definitely a bat—and I'd raised it from the dead.

Since Chloe is a zombie master, the bats are drawn to her. The irony being, of course, that Chloe has created her very own nightmares. I really like the way Armstrong depicts how a teenage girl would react to having this particular power, including fiddling around with it without considering possible outcomes. The Darkest Powers series is off to a strong start.


Highway to Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore

The series title is Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil, and the first two books were Prom Dates from Hell and Hell Week. Now author Rosemary Clement-Moore has moved on from the prom and sorority house settings to another time-honored young adult context: the road trip. Except that psychic Maggie and her friend D&D Lisa (a socially challenged young sorceress) don't drive very far—they get stuck in a little town in the middle of Texas. Their jeep breaks down when they hit a dead cow, but it's obvious the cow hasn't died naturally, and wait, are those taillights Maggie just saw, or glowing red eyes?

Sí, readers, we're in chupacabra territory this time! Along with Maggie, we learn that the entire town is owned by a ranch family, the Velasquezes. Zeke Velasquez starts flirting with Lisa, but he is unwilling to acknowledge the possibility that anything supernatural might be out there slaughtering livestock. Maggie's psychic dreams give her clues, and really, she's just as much Nancy Drew here as she is Buffy, trying to solve the mystery of the monster. What's more, she is determined to uncover the secrets of the Velasquez Ranch and its implacable matriarch, Doña Isabel.

Maggie calls up her paladin boyfriend, Justin, to help her. His would-be monk buddy comes along for the ride, joining Team Scooby with a certain amount of religious reluctance. The cows are dropping like flies (which begs a joke about flies and cow droppings), and Maggie and her friends are soon in danger themselves. But she's figured out she's meant to solve this one: Maggie's not leaving town until she's set things right.

I get a kick out of the Maggie Quinn series. It has the humor of some of the other series I've mentioned, yet the writing is richer. Maggie is another fiesty narrator-heroine, and the books are just scary enough to be fun rather than darkly horrifying, giving them across-the-board appeal.

Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill

Sometimes you read a lot of books that just kind of blur together. Other times you read something like Soul Enchilada. I have to tell you, even when the plot showed traces of strain in spots, I didn't care. Bug Smoot is quite simply one of the most real, funny, gutsy, and poignant characters I've met in a long time. And the other characters are dimensional, amusing, and colorful in their own right.

The plot of Soul Enchilada reaches out and grabs you by the lapels, too. Here's a nice hypothetical: What do you do when the repo man comes, and he's a devil? Oh, and he tells you that your recently deceased grandfather traded his soul for the Caddy that's your only inheritance, the one you're driving to deliver pizzas and barely make your rent? But since your grandfather managed to evade the repo man when he died, you're left holding the hell bag. And senior demon Mr. Beals is not just after the car.

There are more twists and turns along the way in this remarkable Tex-Mex debut, but suffice it to say that Bug (who is half black, half Latino) gets some help from a demon-hunting Latino boy named Pesto who wields a mean can of hair spray. She is also assisted by a mysterious coyote, some nerdy Men in Black types, a lawyer with a secret agenda, Pesto's bruja mother, and her own mad driving and basketball skills. Numerous crosses and double crosses later—including a diablo ex machina—Bug wins the day. In terms of plotting, I found the climactic scenes a little off, but this author's "off" still beats most writers' "on" any time.

I haven't even talked about Gill's style, especially the way he writes narrator Bug's voice. Here are a few of my favorite bits:

"Stop tea-bagging my body," said the first guy, who had long, stringy blond hair and a head shaped like the center branch of a saguaro cactus.

"I so owned you. In fact, I pawned you." The second guy had a gut like a pregnant woman and a black, lower-lip beard.

The only time I ever messed around with a séance was when me and Papa C were staying in this falling-down rental house in Chihuahiuta, and these skanky girls next door said they could do voodoo. There wasn't nothing in the Bible about suffering voodoo, so I snuck out at night to a shed in the back of their house.

They brought a candle, a Monopoly set, and a parakeet. The candle was for light so spirits could find their way, and the Monopoly board was our Ouija board because their mama wouldn't let them buy one at the SuperStore. They had a parakeet because you needed a chicken's foot to do voodoo, and they didn't have a chicken. The parakeet was their mama's, and she'd get mad if its foot went missing, so they brought the whole bird, chirping and pecking them whenever it could. I was glad they didn't chop off the foot because I didn't like the idea of hurting a living thing, even to do voodoo.

"I wish you was an alarm clock so I could slap your snooze bar."
My tongue was all sticky, too, like the floor of a dollar movie theatre.
I hope I've convinced you to spend some time with Bug Smoot. Her flaws are just as delightful as her strengths, and I think you'll find that you're cheering her on and booing Mr. Beals far more than the hero/villain/reader triangle traditionally calls for.


Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

Please understand that I'm a Buffy fan, but not a Stephen King fan. (Except for his book about writing. That I liked!) Normally I try to avoid full-scale horror, with all of the terror and dripping blood and even displays of intestinal loops that it entails. But I will admit to having dabbled in adult paranormal fiction, so somewhere along the way I read something by Lili St. Crow. She's the third author on this list to cross over into YA, and she does it with a vengeance. I mean, YIKES! I was shaking in my flip-flops for at least ten chapters before I caught my breath.

So be warned, Strange Angels is at the dark end of the spectrum; it's not for any but the most bloodthirsty middle schoolers, the ones whose parents think King's books are a good pick for twelve-year-olds. (Oh, and while the hero's a girl, I'm guessing boy readers will get sucked into the action if they give the book a chance.)

You know that TV show, Supernatural, the one about two brothers who travel around working in the family business of monster killing? And it's not cute or easy, ever? Well, Strange Angels is like that. Dru Anderson has been traveling with her father, a monster killer, for years. She's psychic, and she's trained in combat, but even so, she hasn't really been participating in her dad's nocturnal activities. He has tried to keep her safe.

Then one night when Dru is home alone, something comes through her kitchen door, and it's not just a hungry zombie. It's far worse. Dru has to fight back, and then she has to run, and pretty soon she's getting some help from a guy she thinks of as Cool Goth Boy until he tells her his name is Graves. Have I mentioned Jacob and Edward yet? In this book, Graves is Jacob. Edward shows up really late in the book, and his name is Christophe. In the meantime, hang on for dear life, because that's what Dru and Graves are doing.

The greatest strength of Strange Angels is how very real and intimate and terrible Dru's experience feels to the reader. Many paranormal YA books out there seem safe in a certain sense. This book does not. St. Crow's first novel for teens leads readers away from the twilit street of the paranormal, between the crooked trees and up the cracked sidewalk into the door of that dark house known as horror.

So there you have it—a creepy little tour of some of the latest in paranormal YA. My top pick? Definitely Soul Enchilada. David MacInnis Gill is a newcomer to watch. But you can't go wrong with any of these books, whether you want to laugh, or shiver, or both.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Week Without a Computer

In case I didn’t think I was addicted, now I know for sure: my computer broke down, and just not being able to check my e-mail for two or three days at a stretch was an unexpected form of torture, reminiscent of the feeling I get when every one of the nearest noisemakers goes off at the same time. (That would be a yappy dog, a parrot, a car alarm, a howling dog, and an enraged toddler. I’m turning the toddler into a book.) Anyway, my neighbor down the hall was kind of surprised by my request, but she did let me log on to my e-mail from her laptop the other day. As a bonus, I got to meet her segregated cats—the one who is determined to eat the other one lives in the bedrooms and hallway, purring insanely to itself behind closed doors, while the trembly potential victim resides in the kitchen and living room.

So you may have noticed this blog has looked a little funny lately or, as I’m now suspecting, every one of my nice followers has been dumped into the great in-between by the computer switch. My apologies! I will spare you the gorier details of my 7-8 trips to the computer store over the course of four days. I find I’m shaking like that front-room cat thanks to having exchanged a record three computers before I got one that didn’t react badly to my other devices and software, also the inexplicably uncooperative wireless adapter, the monitor that refused to work even a little bit, and late night calls to snide techies in Asia who hung up on me when they didn’t have the answers and/or wanted a coffee break. (I promise I didn’t yell at them. But I may have whined a little.) And yes, I heroically slogged over to my sister’s place last Saturday to post a couple of reviews so I wouldn’t miss a week of blogging! Dedication, OCD, call it what you will.

While I’ve yet to fully trust the new (and fourth) computer, right now it’s behaving nicely, the monitor’s wider and the fonts all have sharper edges. What’s more, this PC doesn’t make a funny noise that’s half-way between a grunt and a growl, like a phlegmy old man trying to get your attention. Much as I loved my old computer, it was time to move on.

One Day Later: (1) Yay, my Followers list reappeared! (2) Computer #4 failed me, doing this thing where it froze up for 10-15 seconds every 3-5 minutes, then acted like nothing was wrong. After a refund (no more exchanges), Computer #5 is on order from a DIFFERENT store, but I’m still looking around to see if I’ve been punked by the secret computer people. Perhaps a voodoo curse? Writing from work, naturally...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Review of Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

I expected Blueberry Girl to be creepy—well, I expect anything by Neil Gaiman to be creepy! And it wasn’t. But Crazy Hair is kind of creepy, although surprisingly, here we have to give far more of the creepiness credit to Dave McKean than to the author. True, Gaiman has envisioned hair so wild and untamed that it constitutes an entire fantasy kingdom. Mr. Creative has struck again: fantasy kingdoms don’t generally reside in hair. (Though the great Joan Aiken went there in her haunting short story, “Who Goes Down This Dark Road?”)

As Crazy Hair opens, we are introduced to Bonnie, a young girl, and the narrator, owner of the titular hair. Bonnie comments on the guy’s crazy hair, and he tells her all about it, saying, among other things:

Birds fly down
From everywhere
Nesting in my crazy hair.
Butterflies and cockatoos
Reds and yellows
Greens and blues
Make me look
Beyond compare
Walking with my crazy hair.

But it gets better. The narrator goes on to inform us that

Hunters send in
Radio back
Their positions
Still, we’ve lost a dozen there
Lost inside my crazy hair.
(This is fondly known as foreshadowing, dear readers!) Naturally, the intrepid Bonnie will not be daunted. She whips out a comb and challenges the crazy hair to a kind of duel, despite the hair bearer’s warnings.

Now, a word about Dave McKean’s art. First of all, he makes both Bonnie and the hair owner look vaguely ethnic. Bonnie appears to be somewhere between 10 and 12, while the narrator probably falls between 25 and 35. But the star of the show is the hair, which seems so much like real hair that you will have trouble believing it’s not. Put it this way: the hair looks more real than the people or animals or anything else in the book. It’s a long, smooth, randomly wavy river about the color of my hair, a shade my mom calls dishwater blonde and I call light brown, although gold occasionally glimmers there. The hair in this book commandeers every page, twisting and twining.

McKean’s art is not cute. It’s strange and wonderful, but it isn’t anywhere close to cute. So I wouldn’t read this book to any adorable wide-eyed three-year-olds—not unless they’re the type to clamor for repeated showings of Tim Burton’s movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas. In that case, have at it! (To consider the audience question from the other end, let’s invoke the Disney movie rule: if your child is frightened by the monstrous fight scenes at the ends of most of Disney’s fairy tale movies—which used to make my cousin’s little boy cry—then you might want to give this book a pass.)

I will point out that the author seems to be quietly spoofing those books where a child solves a problem and is rewarded with a gold star or, at the very least, a pat on the head. Of course, Bonnie does get fair warning: Don’t mess with the hair! And eventually the girl receives a cheerful kind of comeuppance. It goes without saying that in an old-fashioned picture book, the person with the uncombed hair would be at the receiving end of this admonitory plot. Here I suppose the moral is “Other people’s hair is none of your business.” Or even “If you’re dying to open a beauty salon, practice on people whose hair is sane.”

Like hair, this book grows on you. I’ve already confessed my fondness for unpredictable books, and the combination of art, humor, poetry and odd plot in this one makes the cut. (Apparently the book also inspires me to start punning.) Crazy Hair is a good choice for kids who struggle to get a comb through their locks in the morning, but I do think old, bald people might like it, too. For those of you who in fact possess hair, I feel compelled to warn you that you may feel kind of funny the next time you brush your own tresses after reading Crazy Hair.

A Review of Death by Denim by Linda Gerber

This is one of the more intriguing mystery titles you’ll come across, perhaps even more so than the title of Gerber’s first book in the Aphra Connolly series, Death by Bikini. (Book 2 was Death by Latte.) I hope you’re not too squeamish to imagine just how denim might be used as a murder weapon.

Aphra began her adventures in Book One at a private resort run by her father on a remote tropical island. That’s where she met Seth Mulo, who was in hiding with his parents from some deadly enemies. In her attempts to uncover Seth’s secrets, Aphra inadvertently gave the bad guys the location of Seth’s family. So it seems like cosmic payback that in Book Three, Aphra and her mother are now in hiding themselves from the Mole, a rogue CIA operative with way too much power. Of course, Aphra does get to sneak around out in Paris instead of in Dulltown, USA, which is way more fun for readers.

As acting school librarian (long story), I often get requests for books for teens, and more and more of the kids are saying that they don’t want “a boring story.” In that case, the Aphra Connolly books are a good choice. In the first few pages of Death by Denim, Aphra and her mother realize they’ve been discovered by their enemies. The rest of the book is mostly about trying to get away from the Mole and his minions. Death by Denim moves fast.

There are delicious twists and turns along the way, with Gerber revisiting her theme of “Who can you trust?” Unfortunately, Aphra doesn’t always get it right. Relying on her less-than-stellar skills at evasive maneuvers, she leaves her mother behind, then ends up leading the Mole right to Seth Mulo and his parents, who are now hiding in Italy. (I’m pretty sure Seth and Aphra have yet to go on a date, not unless you count running around trying not to get shot. It’s hard to maintain a long-distance relationship when one person is in the international version of the Witness Protection Program, let alone when both are.)

Death by Denim represents a turning point in this series. As the book ends, Aphra is thinking about college, having defeated her arch nemesis. She has also been recruited for a whole new role in the world of espionage (though not by her protective CIA agent mother). Since too many series writers end up producing what is essentially the same plot over and over, I really like the way this author refuses to let her series stagnate.

If your daughters have been reading Alex Rider, introduce them to Aphra Connolly. She’s the perfect fit for a generation of text-messaging girls who want an adventurous read featuring a young shero.

Note for Worried Parents: Gerber’s books are remarkably wholesome considering that they’re Young Adult titles, but they do include a lot of peril and the occasional action/adventure-type death.

Disclosure Note: Linda Gerber is in my long-time writing group. She's at work on another action-packed YA series with Puffin.