Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ogres and Trolls at the Enchanted Inkpot

No, don't think this:

Think this!

Take a look at my "Ogres and Trolls" post at the Enchanted Inkpot. And here's the secret interpretation of TOTW: Topic of the Week. (Second image by Theodor Kittelsen.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Celebrating Haiku

I have mixed feelings about haiku. Because it's a really unintimidating form, haiku makes a nice doorway into writing poetry. It can capture a single, powerful image, which strikes me as being the heart of poetry. And it's a terrific import from Japanese culture.

But. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in 5-7-5 that we fail to appreciate the true beauty of the form. This is especially true in second or third grade classrooms!

My own feeling is that 5-7-5 is a guideline, a jumping-off place. I am partly influenced in my thinking by the sheer fact that the form is translated. Apparently what we call a syllable doesn't have an exact equivalent in Japanese.

Did you know that some earlier English translators of haiku added rhyme because they thought poems were always supposed to rhyme?

There is a trinity of loveliest things:
Moon, flowers—and now I go
To find the third, the snow.

—Rippo (translated by Curtis Hidden Page)

Here's a more recent translation of the same poem (translator unknown).

Three loveliest things—
moonlight, cherry-bloom, and now
I seek silent snow.

Another influence on my thinking about haiku is David G. Lanoue's book, Issa: Cup of Tea Poems: Selected Haiku of Kobayashi Issa (sadly, now out of print). Lanoue tries to retain the vertical nature of Japanese haiku in his translations and completely ignores the 5-7-5 rule. Here are some examples.




By the way, Issa had his moments of bathroom humor, though you won't find those in anthologies for children. Here's another one translated by Lanoue.


Translation can change a poem a great deal. The following versions of a poem by Issa about fireflies are by Lanoue and by Matthew Gollub.


Baby firefly—
Do my hand's wrinkles
make it hard to walk?

Matthew Gollub has written a picture book that I highly recommend, Cool Melons Turn to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa. In it you will learn that the famous Japanese haiku poet had a very sad life. His mother died when he was young, and his stepmother truly hated him. Issa's schoolteacher encouraged the boy to write haiku to comfort himself.

Issa's father kicked him out of the house when he was 14 because of his stepmother. The poet wandered Japan, often staying in Buddhist monasteries. He finally came back when his father died, but had to face his stepmother's continuing animosity and further tragedies. Gollub's book is the perfect blend of simple biography, jewel-like translations, and beautiful illustrations by Kazuko G. Stone. Note that Gollub doesn't worry about 5-7-5 either.

Motherless sparrow,
come play
with me.

A silent toad—
the face of one
bursting with much to say.

I'll give you one more poem from Lanoue's collection that takes on new meaning once you know about Issa's troubles with his stepmother.


Now, I don't mind 5-7-5 one bit. I think it's perfectly useful, giving us a common format and a way to approach haiku in English. But I refuse to let 5-7-5 keep me tied up in tidy little knots. I aim for the spirit of haiku. And if that means a rhyme, I'll throw that in, too! I've only written one rhymed haiku in my life, actually:

Spring fills
the hands of hills
with origami daffodils.

Here's the single haiku to be found in Water Sings Blue. I have not labeled it a haiku in the book so as to avoid getting letters from elementary school children and their teachers instructing me in the ways of 5-7-5.


Deep water shimmers.
A wind-shape passes,
kimono trailing.

There are only a few more days till the Water Sings Blue giveaway I'm doing in conjunction with ReaderKidZ ends, but I wanted to share the wonderful ocean haiku left in the comments so far.

I'm watching horror
Whales, fish, waves, CGI swimming here
Deep water scares me


Ocean sweeps the edge
I jump, run - play keep away
Wait for wet till tomorrow


How about a hug?
Octopuses need love, too.
Armed. Ready. Squeeze tight.


Mariana Trench
Deep beyond deep beyond deep
Ocean's Grand Canyon


How to Find a Shark's Tooth Fossil

Sift sands, search shore, ‘til
Wave withdraws, revealing a
Miniscule jewel

—Stephanie Jewel

Just one more shell. Then
that one, under the seaweed,
partly hidden.


Overflowing whale
Navigating memories
Every pulsing wake


Here, at ocean's edge
Churning salty road to you
On the other side


A plane, no a bird
Incorrect...water and fins
It's a flying fish

Jumping and leaping
Flying fish always go left
The best of both worlds

—Bridget R. Wilson

Memories forever
Long days in the sun and sand
Precious times for me

—Portia Pennington

hermit crabs scribbling
escape from the boardwalk
seeking tide pools

—Andi Sibley

Turquoise twinkle swash,
Rolling darker indigo -
What colour is deep?


Poetry Friday is at The Opposite of Indifference today!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Spring Sampler of Middle Grade Books

It's spring, so that means pale green leaves, tulips, and a fresh bunch of books for middle grade readers.

Chomp by Carol Hiaasen

Why did I want to read this book? I've read Hoot, Flush, and Scat, as well as Hiaasen's mysteries for grown-ups. Hiaasen is a funny, off-the-wall author with a unique Florida setting and environmental focus.

Wahoo Cray's dad Mickey is an animal wrangler with a menagerie of critters in the backyard. Wahoo himself is missing a finger thanks to the family's gator, Alice. (It was his fault, as he is quick to tell anyone who asks.) The first sentence reads, "Mickey Cray had been out of work ever since a dead iguana fell from a palm tree and hit him on the head." Mickey has headaches after the concussion and stops working. Finally his wife goes off to China to teach English in order to pay the bills. So when Wahoo gets a call about a high-paying job for his dad working on a wildlife adventure reality show, he takes it. Only thing is, the show is pretty much a fake, especially its star, Derek Badger, who doesn't know how to treat animals and will eat any small animal (live) as long as he's on camera—but wants lobster and creamy desserts the rest of the time. Naturally, Mickey clashes with Badger, and Wahoo has other troubles when he invites a girl from school who is trying to escape her abusive stepfather to hide out by coming along for the ride into the swamp.

Excellent craft, crazy characters, plenty of action and suspense, comedy, and a great send-up of wilderness reality shows make this another winner from Hiaasen. Our boy Wahoo manages to be a nicely dimensional main character in the midst of the various chase scenes and animal attacks. As for Alice the gator, she practically joins the cast of human characters even as she retains her reptilian nature.

The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith

I like the author's #1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and this is a book about "Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case." Better still, it's an early chapter book, which is a nice change for an adult crossover.

The plot is simple: when a school friend is accused of stealing treats from students' lunches, Precious sets out to find the real culprit. The solution is very easy to see from an adult perspective, but young readers may not catch on right away. What I found most interesting was that the child Precious uses her knowledge of human nature as well as sensible tactics to solve the mystery—just as her grown-up self will someday do.

Considering most books for children published in the New York-dominated market are set in the United States, it's refreshing to see an African setting for this age level. The book joins Atinuke's Anna Hibiscus books as a reader-friendly story that will show children in America a little more about life in Africa, in this case Botswana. The book is made all the more effective by its truly lovely illustrations, done by Iain McIntosh in what appears to be woodcut. (The Great Cake Mystery was originally published in Scotland a year ago.)

The book begins: "Haven't you ever said to yourself, Wouldn't it be nice to be a detective?"

Celebrity: Lights, Camera, Cassidy #1 by Linda Gerber

My friend Linda Gerber just launched a new series for tweens, so of course I wanted to check it out.

Speaking of reality TV shows, Cassidy Barnett travels the world with her parents, the stars of a travel show called When in Rome. (Her mother presents cooking, while her father talks about history and culture.) Cassidy is getting some unexpected attention herself since starting a blog about her life traveling with the show. Now she's in Valencia, Spain, and her parents are threatening to send her to live with her grandmother—just because she snuck out of the hotel at 4 am her first morning in Spain and posted some pictures about it on her blog. On the bright side, Cassidy meets a very cute Spanish boy named Mateo whose dad is helping the show, and then her former friend Logan reappears. Gerber has fun with making Cassidy jealous of the two boys when they hit it off and leave her out at times—not the usual triangle!

Cassidy is definitely the st
ar here, but the secondary characters are fun, as well, e.g., Cassidy's tutor Victoria and the show's fixer, Bayani. (You'll pick up a little about the ins and outs of putting on a show like this by reading Celebrity.) Cassidy keeps getting in trouble by using poor judgment, AKA running off having fun. And it turns out one of her photos from that first morning she slipped out puts her in conflict with a local mob boss, eventually attracting a big pack of paparazzi. Cassidy is suddenly a celebrity, and she has to decide how she feels about that.

Here are the first few sentences:
I like a challenge.

My grampa used to say my determination was something that could get me far in life. What he didn't say was that it could also get me in trouble.

This book does have a message, but it's handled fairly lightly. Mostly, I enjoyed
meeting Cassidy and seeing her start off on her adventures. There aren't always a lot of good reading choices for this age group, who are a little young for some of the many dark YA books but aren't always interested in middle grade fiction anymore. Gerber's Lights, Camera, Cassidy series makes an appealing alternative.

Robbie Forester and the Outlaws of Sherwood St. by Peter Abrahams

I really like Abrahams' Down the Rabbit hole MG mysteries and his YA, Reality Check, so when I saw he was starting a Robin Hood series set in contemporary New York City, I was excited!

Robbie Forester tries to help a dying homeless woman and ends up with her bracelet—which turns out to have magic powers. Little by little, Robbie and her new friends figure out what the bracelet does—but it isn't easy, which makes more sense to me than when the mysterious amulet practically has an instruction manual in some other books. The bracelet helps in fairly illegal ways, trying to achieve justice in classic Robin Hood style. For example, it takes a bunch of money out of a wealthy man's pocket right when he's trying to raise the rent on the local food pantry... Robbie is pretty shocked by all this, and she's also trying to deal with being at a new school and playing on the basketball team. The plot is classic "stop the evil developer," but the premise is new, and Robbie is a likable heroine. Her sidekicks include a boy from Haiti with a severe stutter, another basketball player, and a hacker nerd. Oh, and Robbie's dog, Pendleton. Each character has secrets and struggles.

This first book in what seems to be a series is slightly marred by clich├ęs, but Abrahams is too good with character and storytelling to let that slow him down much. I predict these books will only get better—and Robbie Forester is already a face-paced, clever read for fans of books like Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series.

The book begins: "At first I thought it all began with a foul—if an elbow to the head's not a foul, then what is?—but I figured out, maybe not as soon as I should have, that the beginning had come a little earlier."

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

HarperCollins sent me this fairy tale mash-up, which stood out because it features four fairy tale princes after their not-necessarily-happy endings.

Perhaps the funniest
thing in Christopher's send-up is that all four main characters are called Prince Charming, at least by the minstrels. Their real names are Liam, Frederic, Duncan, and Gustav, and they are famous for rescuing Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel. But when this book starts off after "The End," things aren't so rosy for our heroes. Two have been dumped by the fair maidens, the third princess wants some alone time, and the last one is a total mean girl. As for the boys, think super prince, metrosexual (really), odd duck, and Viking thug. For an example of the kind of humor here, I'll just tell you that Gustav is the youngest of 17, but his brothers are only a few years older. Seems his mother had two sets of octuplets in short order and then him.

The princes are more or
less randomly on quests and end up trying to rescue a bunch of minstrels from a glory hog of a wicked witch. They meet a sensitive giant, rude dwarfs, and a 10-year-old bandit king. They team up and bicker a lot. They're really pretty funny, especially Duncan, who reminds me a tiny bit of Fregle from the Diary of the Wimpy Kid books and seems to be extra lucky. Duncan really wants some friends, and this is his chance. Each hero is struggling with a different problem, complicating everything else that happens. We also get to meet the four princesses, though we see much less of their adventures. Oh, and there's an extra princess, Prince Liam's little sister. I want to see more of her.

This book is pretty goofy, but it's a rollicking read, and I'm curious to see what happens next. Here are the first few sentences f
rom the prologue:
Prince Charming is afraid of old ladies. Didn't know that, did you?

Don't worry. There's a lot you don't know about Prince Charming.

Storybound by Marissa Burt

I liked Inkheart, and this book sounded like a fresh take on the world of book ch
aracters. Another one from HarperCollins.

Twelve-year-old Una Fairchild is magically sucked into the realm of Story, where she interrupts a hero saving a damsel in distress. Only not really: the two are beginning characters taking an exam, and Una ruins the whole thing. That's before she meets a talking cat named Sam and finds out more about the place she's landed. It's a world where students take classes in villainy and—in Sam's case—eating. A world led by the Tale Master, Mr. Elton, who's pretty unpleasant. As hero Peter Merriweather explains, Una has been Written In, and that makes her a wild card. In fact, Peter and Sam try to keep her a secret as the three play detective to figure out what's going on with Una, the missing Muses, and the person who appears to be conspiring with Mr. Elton.

Storybound begins this way,
Una often told herself that she was invisible. Perhaps that was the reason people passed her in the halls, their eyes skimming over her slight form as if she were part of the scenery: a desk, a book, a classroom, a girl.

I wanted to like this book more than I did, and I think it's because there are a lot of explanations about who the Muses and the Tale Master are and the history of Story and some special books—anyway, quite a bit of backstory. But Una and her friends make a good team, and I like the fact that mean girl Snow's mother teaches Villainy classes. Snow seems pretty bad at times, but she's more dimensional than most characters of her ilk and winds up having her own subplot. I suppose Storybound suffers from being one of those setup books, but the series might turn out just fine.

Pick a spring book, pick some flowers, and breathe that fresh air as you turn the first page!

Spring Note: I planted the tulips in the photo above on our second-floor balcony to keep the deer from eating them.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Review of Black Heart by Holly Black

Have you read Black's books, White Cat and Red Glove? No? Then stop reading this review and go do that.

Ready now? Of course, you had to read the other two books first, not just to avoid the perils of spoilers, but because this trilogy builds beautifully, and diving into the last book unprepared simply does not do Cassel Sharpe's overall story arc justice.

Okay. In Holly Black's alternate reality, certain people are curse workers—and naturally, they take on the role of crime families. Different curse workers have different gifts, such as changing people's memories, making people do what they want, and flat-out killing people. Everyone wears gloves, both as a fashion statement and because curses require skin-to-skin contact. Probably the best detail of all is that curse working affects the workers physically. For example, killing someone with a curse might mean losing a finger, as in the case of Cassel's death worker grandfather.

At first, Cassel doesn't even think he's a curse worker, though other people in his family are. That's before he finds out he has turned the love of his life, Lila, into a cat. Or that his ruthless older brothers have been using his special gifts and wiping his memory. Turns out Cassel is that rare thing, a transformation worker. He can turn something or someone into something else—completely and permanently, if he wants. Cassel frees Lila and she falls in love with him, but he discovers that her love has been manufactured by his mother. Then Cassel's older brother is killed, and he has to decide whether to work with the mob or the FBI.

As Book 3 begins, Lila is still avoiding Cassel because she learned the truth about her supposed feelings for him. Cassel and his brother Barron are now working for the FBI—sort of. Cassel doesn't really trust anyone. And now Governor Patton, who was magically conned by Cassel's mother, is trying to lock up all the curse workers. On the school side of things, Cassel's best friend Sam is having trouble with his girlfriend Daneca, who suspects the truth about Cassel. A girl named Mina asks Cassel for help, but Cassel smells a rat. Then there's Cassel's devious mother, who is being held hostage by Lila's mob boss father until Cassel can find a missing piece of valuable jewelry. The Feds want Cassel's help, too, but is that all they want? And can Lila forgive him before he gets himself killed?

Black Heart is a darkly rollicking page-turner for readers of urban fantasy and paranormal romance. The author has a way with words, and the touches of humor serve to counterbalance the essential darkness of the plot. Here's a look at Cassel in his boarding school dorm room with Sam. Cassel has just come back from a fight with a guy who dropped his gun:
I shoulder my way into the closet and step up onto a sagging box. Then, reaching under my jacket, I pull out the gun, and tape it with a roll of duct tape high on the back wall, above my clothes. I arrange a jumble of old books on the shelf just below it to block it from view.

"You've got to be kidding me," Sam says.

He clearly watched the whole thing. I didn't even hear him get up. I must be losing my touch.

"It's not mine," I say. "I didn't know what to do with it."

"How about getting rid of it?" he says, his voice dropping to a harsh whisper. "That's a gun. A gun, Cassel. A guuuuuuuun."

"Yeah." I climb down, hopping off the box and landing with a thud. "I know. I will. I just didn't have time. Tomorrow, I promise."

"How much time does it take to throw a gun in a dumpster?"

"I really wish you would stop saying the word 'gun,'" I say, flopping down onto my own bed and reaching for my laptop.

I like the way Cassel is very much a teenage boy, smart and clueless at the same time. He gets in trouble, bumbles a bit, somehow survives, and manages to figure out what he really wants in life. Holly Black has a great ear for humans, especially those of the teenage variety. Cassel is an imperfect hero, but that makes reading his story all the more enjoyable.

Note for Worried Parents: This trilogy is for teens and includes violence, sex, and criminal behavior. All three topics are presented appropriately enough in context, but the books are probably best suited for high school students. Then again, if you've been letting your 10-year-old read The Hunger Games, go right ahead.

A Review of Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey

Wilde Island, A.D. 1192, where the dragons and the fay live in a sanctuary called Dragonswood. In a nearby village, Tess hides her own magical abilities or the fact that she sometimes slips away into the forbidden forest and has seen fairies and dragons. She has enough trouble dealing with her father the blacksmith, who beats her.

When the royal witch hunter comes to her village, Tess is quickly targeted. Under torture, she betrays the two friends who have visited the woods with her. The three girls barely manage to escape with their lives and hide in the forest. There they meet one of the royal huntsman, Garth. He gives them shelter, but Tess is afraid to trust him.

After taking new risks to make up for her earlier betrayal, Tess sees her friends settled. She also finds out some of Garth's secrets. Eventually Tess visits the fairy realm, where she discovers the truth about her own heritage. But the fairies, like her human father, seem likely to use her for their own purposes. And Tess has decided she has a purpose of her own. To get what she wants, she will have to make strange new allies and trick the tricksters who surround her.

Janet Lee Carey does some nice world building with her versions of dragons and the fairy kingdom, and juxtaposing them with witch hunters and political intrigue adds still more spice to the mix. She touches on themes of loyalty, betrayal, and forgiveness. What motivates people like the witch hunters, or like Tess herself? I found Carey's stubborn heroine especially appealing.
The trees of Dragonswood rustled in the wind along the boundary wall. Mist blew up from the sea and swirled at our feet like witch's hair. I looked to the pines, longing to scale one.

"When's the wedding, Tess?" Meg said.

"What wedding?"

"You're to marry Master Percival soon," Meg reminded me.


"You're seventeen. If not Master Percival, it will be someone else."

I'd had other suitors; none were rich enough to please my father until this latest one. He wanted to rope me to an older man with money, one who kept his wife in the same fashion he'd kept his own. Master Percival had grown children. He'd outlived three wives already. I'd seen their bruised faces when I'd met them at the town well. The welts on their arms just like mine and Mother's.

"Wedlock is a hangman's noose," I said.

Dragonswood is a suspenseful adventure with a romance between Garth and a leery Tess that develops slowly and subtly. I very much appreciate the way the author actually ends the book, even while hinting at later books that will feature other characters.

Note for Worried Parents: This book for teens presents violence in the form of child and spousal abuse (see above), as well as torture and the threat of death from witch hunters. It also describes the fairies' random sexual promiscuity as part of their culture.

A Review of Grave Mercy by Robin LeFevers

Forget about Catherine, Called Birdy; it's time to meet Ismae! If your horrible father forces you into an arranged marriage in 1485, what you really want is to flee to a convent where the nuns specialize in training female assassins. Hopefully you'll get to kill some men who remind you of dear old dad. Except—Ismae isn't really her father's daughter. As the circumstances of her birth make clear, her true father is Death, or "St. Mortain." Once she has passed a test at the abbey (by not dying), Ismae finds happiness in her new life. She makes a friend named Annith and trades her father's endless beatings for intriguing lessons. She even learns to read. Ismae is especially good at poisons, and she meets a strange girl named Sybella who has apparently survived horrors worse than her own.

Soon Ismae is being sent out on an assassination mission. She succeeds, and another mission follows. But her third mission isn't like the others. Ismae is asked to accompany a man named Duval to the court of the young, uncrowned duchess of Brittany. There she will have to face intrigues for which she is thoroughly unprepared, including spying on Duval to see if he is loyal or a dangerous enemy.

As Ismae sneaks about the castle, you may be reminded of Elizabeth C. Bunce's Starcrossed or Rae Carson's The Girl of Fire and Thorns. Who can be trusted? Obviously not the brutal Lord D'Albret, who is trying to force the young duchess to marry him. Nor the French, who consider themselves to be in charge of the girl. But even though Ismae is feeling more and more like she can trust Duval, her contacts from the convent pressure her to find him guilty of treason.

LaFevers does a masterful job of showing how a sheltered, downtrodden girl can grow in confidence and purposefulness. Yes, there's an odd sort of romance brewing between Ismae and Duval, but the rest of the plot holds its own. The characters seem so real and ordinary and flawed that it's easy to forget you're reading a story. The world the author builds is a medieval one—with a twist. The language is smooth and clear. Here's a sample:
We ride all day. In the newly cleared fields, sheaves of wheat hang from a cross, begging for Dea Matrona's blessing on the harvest. Cattle graze nearby, feasting on the remaining stubble in the ground, one last fattening before slaughter. Indeed, the slaughter of animals for winter has already begun and I can smell the copper tang of blood in the air.

A few stone cottages are scattered throughout the countryside, squat and stubborn against the encroaching wildnerness. Most doors have a polished silver coin nailed to them, an attempt to discourage Mortain from casting His gaze on their households, since it is believed He will go to great lengths to avoid His own reflection. Those that are too poor to afford that small protection hang hazel twigs, in the hope that He will mistake them for the real bones He has come to collect.

One ongoing mystery in Grave Mercy has to do with the will of Mortain, or rather the mark of Mortain. Being Death's daughter gives Ismae certain powers. Taught that when she sees the mark on someone, she has the go-ahead to assassinate them, Ismae begins to wonder if the nuns got it quite right. This book is arguably a coming-of-age story as Ismae begins to trust her own judgment even when everyone around her says otherwise.

Grave Mercy is a long book, but a thoroughly satisfying read. The next book in LeFevers' His Fair Assassin series will be about Sybella, and it's a safe bet the third book will be about Annith. Definitely something to look forward to, not to mention a nice break from fallen angels!

Note for Worried Parents: This is a book for teens with some mature situations involving violence and sex (or the threat of both together). Though these scenes are handled tastefully, I wouldn't recommend Grave Mercy for tweens or MG readers.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Progressive Poem - What's My Line?

Yep, I'm the Day 11 poet! We've got so many nice lines building our Progressive Poem this lovely National Poetry Month. I'm especially happy to follow Julie Larios, whose line gives me the shivers. (The good kind!) Here's the poem so far, with my line added. A schedule of Progressive Poem posts follows, along with a few notes.

If you are reading this
you must be hungry
Kick off your silver slippers
Come sit with us a spell

A hanky, here, now dry your tears
And fill your glass with wine
Now, pour. The parchment has secrets
Smells of a Morrocan market spill out.

You have come to the right place, just breathe in.
Honey, mint, cinnamon, sorrow. Now, breathe out
last week's dreams. Take a wish from the jar.

Progressive Poem Schedule

1 Irene at Live Your Poem
2 Doraine at Dori Reads
3 Jeannine at View from a Window Seat
4 Robyn at Read, Write, Howl
5 Susan at Susan Taylor Brown
6 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
7 Penny at A Penny and her Jots
8 Jone at Deo Writer
9 Gina at Swagger Writer's
10 Julie at The Drift Record
11 Kate at Book Aunt
12 Anastasia Suen at Booktalking
13 Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference
14 Diane at Random Noodling
15 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
16 Natalie at Wading Through Words
17 Tara at A Teaching Life
18 Amy at The Poem Farm
19 Lori at Habitual Rhymer
20 Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe
21 Myra at Gathering Books
22 Pat at Writer on a Horse
23 Miranda at Miranda Paul Books
24 Linda at TeacherDance
25 Greg at Gotta Book
26 Renee at No Water River
27 Linda at Write Time
28 Caroline at Caroline by Line
29 Sheri at Sheri Doyle
30 Irene at Live Your Poem

Like Julie, I am pleased by the air of mystery in this poem. It's also intriguing to see what everyone's been doing with what, so far, is a second person POV. The four-line stanzas make a nice way of structuring a longish poem like this one. I find myself picturing... well, read my line and see what you think. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in the lines yet to come. Next up, Anastasia Suen at Booktalking!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

ReaderKidZ and Water Sings Blue Giveaway

As mentioned below, I am the Author-in-Residence at ReaderKidZ this month, a poet for National Poetry Month. Thanks, ReaderKidZ. It's a privilege!

Here are the posts so far:

"What's Your Story?" About my childhood as a budding poet/writer

"A Letter to Readers" About the beach and how it inspired this book

Water Sings Blue Giveaway The announcement at ReaderKidz

FAQs: How Can I Help My Child Enjoy Poetry A very nice guide by Jeannette of ReaderKidz

ReaderkidZ has asked my publisher to give away a copy of Water Sings Blue in connection with their posts, and the folks at Chronicle have kindly agreed. However, my site is better equipped to host a giveaway, so we're doing it here.

Since we're celebrating poetry this month, you can qualify for the giveaway by writing a haiku about an ocean animal or some other maritime topic (like boats) and leaving it in the comments. The winner's name will be drawn and announced at the end of April. Please also make sure you are easy to get in touch with by leaving contact info in your comment or at least by checking back.

Thanks again, ReaderKidZ and Chronicle!

Poetry Quick Picks

Written (more or less) in the style of each author/book in honor of National Poetry Month

I've Lost My Hippopotamus by Jack Prelutsky, with illustrations by Jackie Urbanovic

Prince of Puns

Jack Prelutsky likes to spell—
It's something he does very well.
But while others spell predictably,
he punts his puns with reckless glee.
Prelutsky especially likes portmanteaus,
so in this book you'll find plenty of those:
words like "wiguana," "blumpazump,"
"boomerangutan," "gludu," "clipmunk."
Jack "hunts for eggs on Halloween,"
tells of "a vegetable that few have seen,"
"gazes through a telescope,"
and describes the "pelicantaloupe."
His poems have unexpected ends.
Use them to surprise your friends.

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It by Gail Carson Levine, with illustrations by Matthew Cordell

This Is Just to Say

I have written
a book
full of fake
apology poems

when you
were probably
another princess tale

Forgive me
they were devious
to write
and deliciously snarky

Every Thing On It, written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein

Shel Speaks

You thought I couldn't do it again,
a whole new book of oddball poems.
But I'll surprise you one last time
with ditties, puns, and palindromes.
There's a poem for my dentist, in fact
there are two. You know how dentists are.
There's one for a mouse that lived under my house,
and one for the newest superstar.
I wrote about Santa's clumsiest elf,
about snails and porcupines playing ball.
I wrote of a boy with transparent guts
and a basketball player named Henry Hall.
There are jokes that rely upon word play
and jokes that rely on my art.
I've given you 28 uses for noodles
and a pelican with a fickle heart.
Dirty feet contests, man-eating plants,
genies, garlic breath, trampolines,
two blue souls with their masks on tight,
the dance of the shoes, strange hats, and screams.
There's even a joke about elephant poo
and a terse biography.
(The elephant poo is just for you.
The biography is for me.)

Note #1: You'll find no actual palindromes in this book. I refer you to Shel's poem, "Lizard."

Note #2: Thanks to HarperCollins for sending me review copies of these three books, and for supporting poetry!

Monday, April 2, 2012

April Means Poetry

Still recovering from the Pistachios, but I have to give some kind of welcome to wonderful April, AKA National Poetry Month. Every year, the children's poetry contingent celebrates mightily, not to mention beautifully.

Over at Alphabet Soup, Jama Rattigan gives us a very nice list of National Poetry Month events. Of course, her Poetry Potluck is one of my favorites: tasty poetry and recipes!

I will mention that I'm participating in a few events. First of all, I'm so happy to be a part of Greg Pincus's 30 Poets/30 Days at Gottabook. (See artwork to right.) Here's the link.

I am also doing one line in Irene Latham's very cool Progressive Poem. More on that next week. (Irene gives us a list of Poetry Month events, too.) Okay, this is the post with my line and the links to keep following the poem all month.

And thank you so much to ReaderkidZ for making me their author-in-residence this month. I solemnly swear to tell embarrassing childhood stories, show photos, and talk about writing poetry. Thanks to Chronicle, ReaderkidZ and I will also be giving away a copy of Water Sings Blue sometime soon!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

2nd Annual Pistachio Awards

It's that time of year again, when I give out a bunch of semi-random children's book awards, the Pistachios, here at Book Aunt. (You can see last year's awards here.) The time frame is mostly March 2011 to March 2012, except for the classic awards. Which means I'm only a day behind!

You may be wondering, who are my influences? Betsy Bird of the lovely Golden Fuse Awards, of course. Also Sofonisba Anguissola and Snowshoe Thompson. Plus somebody really wordy, like maybe William Faulkner.

Note: In case you feel there's a fantasy emphasis here, you are absolutely right! But we've still got picture books. We'll always have picture books...


Painful Losses in 2011

—Russell Hoban, author of Bread and Jam for Frances and other Frances books, The Mouse and His Child, and more; he also wrote adult fiction
—Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall and Castaways of the Flying Dutchman fantasy series
Diana Wynne Jones, author of Howl's Moving Castle, Dogsbody, and many more fantasy books
—Dick King-Smith, author of Babe the Gallant Pig (U.S. title) and many more animal books
—Anne McCaffrey, author of the Dragonriders of Pern series and many more fantasy books
—William Sleator, author of Interstellar Pig and many more sci-fi books
—Simms Taback, illustrator of Caldecott winner Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, Caldecott Honor book There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, and more


Most Beautiful Picture Books

Winner: Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Honors: All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon and Katherine Tillotson, And Then It's Spring by Julie Fogliano and Erin Stead, and Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter and Marjorie Priceman

Breath of Fresh Air Storytelling Award

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex

Funniest Picture Books

Winner: Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky

Honors: I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen and What Animals Really Like by Fiona Robinson

Best Picture Book Playing with the Fourth Wall

Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex (Okay, it comes out in two days, but close enough!)

Best Japanese Import

999 Tadpoles by Ken Kimura and Yasunari Murakami

Best Class Warfare and Mark Twain Homage in a Picture Book

The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene

Best Use of Ninjas

The Boy Who Cried Ninja by Alex Latimer (I predict Corey Rosen Schwartz and Dan Santat will win next year with their book, The Three Ninja Pigs!)

Best Ghost Story

Eric Rohmann's Bone Dog

Best Book Trailers

Winner: Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

Honors: Blackout by John Rocco and Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld


Best Book Jackets

Winner: The Apothecary by Maile Meloy, illustrated by Ian Schoenherr

Honors: The Other Felix by Keir Graff (artist Oriol Vidal) and The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill (artist Juline Harrison)

Best Newcomer of 2011

Catherynne M. Valente for The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Valente had previously published adult fiction and first posted this book online before it was printed.)

Best First Lines

Winner: "He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms" —The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright, illustrated by Barry Moser

Honor: "Nin had never liked Wednesdays, but this one took the cake. On this Wednesday, she woke up to find that it was pouring rain and her little brother had ceased to exist." —Seven Sorcerers by Caro King

Honor: "Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents' house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog. Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the Green Wind took pity on her and flew to her window one evening just after her twelfth birthday." —The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

MG Books I Personally Most Anticipated

Caddy's World by Hilary McKay, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall, and Diana Wynne Jones's last book, Earwig and the Witch

Double Whammy Award

Kadir Nelson, author and illustrator of the epic Coretta Scott King winner, Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans

Best Under-awarded MG Book of 2011

Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt

Best Series Start

Dragon's Tooth by N.D. Wilson

Best Graphic Novels

Winner: Sidekicks by Dan Santat

Honors: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists, and Squish #1: Super Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm

Best New Alternate History Fantasy

The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty

Best Title Pun and Film Allusion

Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger

Best Bullying-Themed Books

Winner: Warp Speed by Lisa Yee

Honor: Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem

Most Appealing Ongoing Series Character

Atinuke's Anna Hibiscus

Best Tribute to a Mentor

Drawing from Memory by Allen Say

Best (Well, Worst) Evil Grandmother

Mistress of the Storm by M.L. Welsh

Best Ghost Story

Lauren Oliver's Liesl and Po

Best Fairy Tale Retellings

Winner: Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Honors: Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George and Princess of the Wild Swans by Diane Zahler

Nellie Oleson Award (Best Ringlets/Mean Girl)

Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood

... Then a singular voice rose from the back of the crowd. "If he doesn't come out now, I will rip someone's face off!" One girl, taller and stronger than all the others, was hurtling toward the front of the crowd, throwing shorter girls to the ground as she passed them. That girl was Ashley Knob.

Her long hair had been curled into fancy ringlets so shiny and so blond that you had to squint to look at them directly. Her lip gloss shimmered like an expensive watch. Slung over one shoulder was a bag from which a frightened Chihuahua looked out, clearly wishing he were somewhere else. A ring of space opened up around her. Even in the depths of a spell, the girls of Calamity Falls always knew to make way for Ashley Knob.

Best Invented SFF Sport Since Quidditch

Bongo Fishing (from book of that title by Thacher Hurd)

Strangest Premise Award

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton

Drool Awards

Winner: Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

Honors: The Magic Cake Shop by Meika Hashimoto and Pie by Sarah Weeks

Best Mob-on-the-Playground Comedy/Thriller

The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander

Best Reinvention of Fairies

Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem

Most Impressive Author PR

Shawn Thomas Odyssey, author of The Wizard of Dark Street. Check out these three videos to see why he won. We've got an in-your-face rap; a performance of the prologue, complete with porkpie hat and British accent; and a song-and-dance number featuring STO and... himself! All right, plus this other lady. But—wow!

Best Book Trailers

Winner: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Honors: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier, Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis, and Wildwood by Colin Meloy, with illustrations by Carson Ellis


Best Newcomers of 2011

Winner: Rae Carson for The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Honor: Ari Marmell for Thief's Covenant

Best YA Voice

Chime by Franny Billingsley (The cover will not be shown because it's all wrong. But the book is terrific!)

Best First Lines

Winner: "I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged. Now, if you please." —Chime by Franny Billingsley

Honor: "The screw through Cinder's ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle. Her knuckles ached from forcing the screwdriver into the joint as she struggled to loosen the screw one gritting twist after another. By the time it was extracted far enough for her to wrench free with her prosthetic steel hand, the hairline threads had been stripped clean." —Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Best YA Graphic Novels

Winner: Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Honors: Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge, and Pandemonium by Chris Wooding and Cassandra Diaz

Books I Personally Most Anticipated

Mastiff by Tamora Pierce, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Best Title of 2011

How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain

Best Sound-alike Titles

The Girl of Fire and Thorn by Rae Carson and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Now, here is a small sampling of recent one-word YA titles:

Afterlife, Angel, Bitterblue, Bloodlines, Chime, Clarity, Crossed, Defiance, Divergent, Delirium, Entwined, Exposed, Everlasting, Fear, Forever, Hades, Illusions, Incarnate, Pandemonium, Passion, Shine, Silence, Starcrossed, Steel, Unearthly, and Wither

Which should prepare you for our next category...

Best Long YA Titles

Winner: How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain

Honors: The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransome Riggs

Special Mention: The age range is apparently 10 and up, which technically makes it upper middle grade rather than YA, but still—let's hear it for The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Bloodiest YA Book Titles

Winner: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Honors: Blood Magic (The Blood Journals) by Tessa Gratton, Bloodrose (A Nightshade Novel) by Andrea Cremer, and Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

Also, best bloody title of a book that's not really about blood: Blood Red Road (Dustlands) by Moira Young

Best YA Book Jackets

Winner: Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves (shivery, but so well done!)

Honors: I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars by Nick James

Note: I was unable to find the names of the jacket artists for the YA jacket awards. Let me know if you can add this information.

YA Book Jacket Red Carpet Awards (You know, all those girls in ball gowns?)

Grand Prize: Entwined by Heather Dixon (because that dress truly rocks)

Best Basic Black: Fallen in Love by Lauren Kate

The Juliet Award (Best Dress on a Balcony): Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Best Lake Launch in a Ball Gown: Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey

Best Scarlet Satin and Scary Corset Combo: Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

Best Use of Shimmer and Glitter Since the First Twilight Movie: Fever by Lauren DeStefano (plus Bonus Award for Confusingly Cool Font Use in a Title)

Best Blue Dress with Hem Turning into Squiggles: Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon

Best Red Dress with Hem Turning into Flower Petals: Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey

Maddest Feathery Ruffles Ever: The Selection by Kiera Cass (Okay, this won't be out till next month, but check out those ruffles, complete with mirrorized amplification!)

Best Classic White Nightgowny Dress on a Girl Lying in Vegetation Hoping to Be Abducted by Hades: The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

Note: See blog post about this cover trend at Read in a Single Sitting. Also this Goodreads list.

Special Category—Best Use of a Single Red Pump in YA Jacket Art

Winner: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Honor: Sirenz by Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman

Book Jacket Guys Who Really Should Hang Out

Young Sherlock Holmes from Andrew Lane's Death Cloud and Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Prince

The Sorcery and Cecilia Award, or Best Magical Teapot/Chocolate Pot

Entwined by Heather Dixon (What the heck are silver teeth, though?)

Best Scary Angel Boyfriends

Tie between Raffe in Susan Ee's Angelfall and Akira in Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Books Whose Deadly Horse-Type Creatures Should Battle it Out

The Scorpio Races by Maggia Steifvater and 2010's Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

Darkest New Dystopian YA

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

Darkest YA Overall

Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves

Absolute Best Use of Insects

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Best Jack the Ripper Story

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Cappuccino Award (Frothiest Fun in a Well-told Tale)

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Best Use of Amnesia

Tie between Franny Billingsley's Chime and Ally Carter's Out of Sight, Out of Time

Best New Horror/Fantasy World Incorporating the Word Lovecraft

The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge

Best Ghost Story

Anya's Ghost, graphic novel by Vera Brosgol

Best Fairy Tale Retellings

Winner: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Honors: Entwined by Heather Dixon and Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen

Best Soccer Match-ups Combined with Wry Authorial Homilies and Brotherly Love

John Green

Best Book Trailers

Winner: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Honor: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness


Best Literary Dogs

Last year, Bigfoot of Bigfoot Reads suggested I do a category for Best Literary Dog; his picks were Beverly Cleary's Ribsy and the hat-loving dog in Go, Dog. Go! Thank you, Bigfoot! All you cat fans, we'll do Best Literary Cats next year... Either that or hamsters.

So here are my Top 20+ Book Dogs:

1. All of the dogs in Go, Dog. Go! But especially the two hat-loving dogs. Okay, and that dog trying to swipe the other dog's ice cream up in the tree.

2. Author Gene Zion and illustrator Margaret Bloy Graham's Harry the Dirty Dog

3. Maurice Sendak's terrier Jenny, now deceased, that he has put in many, if not all, of his books (most famously in Where the Wild Things Are)

4. Henry Huggins' dog Ribsy (series by Beverly Cleary)

5. Dodie Smith's The 101 Dalmations

6. Wynne-Dixie in Kate DiCamillo's book, Because of Winn-Dixie

7. Old Dan and Little Ann (Where the Red Fern Grows), Old Yeller, and Sounder—a three-way tie for dog tragedy (See No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman.)

8. Nana in J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan

9. Toto in L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz

10. Hagrid's dogs Fluffy and Fang from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books

11. Luath and Bodger from The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford

12. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Shiloh

13. Gloria from Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann

14. Steven Kellogg's Pinkerton (e.g., in A Rose for Pinkerton)

15. Alexandra Day's Good Dog, Carl

16. Mr. Mutt from Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel's book, Help Me, Mr. Mutt!

17. Ike from Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School, etc., by Mark Teague

18. Eric Hill's board book puppy, Spot

19. The Poky Little Puppy from Little Golden Books

20. Sirius in Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones (I know, but still!)

21. Searchlight and Willie's other sled dogs in Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

22. Hank the Cowdog from books by John R. Erickson, illustrated by Gerald L. Holmes

23. Fine, fine! Lassie (in Eric Knight's book, Lassie Come-Home; yes, there really is a hyphen)

If I've missed any important children's book dogs, please let me know in the comments.

Dog Notes from the Comments

Lark: Dog lovers also ought to check out Ginger from "Ginger Jumps" (one of our all-time favorites); Mudge from Cynthia Ryland's Henry & Mudge books; "Maxi the Taxi Dog"; the dog in James Herriot's "Only One Woof"; and Jump from Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small Quartet.

Amy of Amy's Library of Rock points out that Kit has a dog in Diane Duane's Young Wizard series.

Also: Lark's note reminded me that Pierce's Beka Cooper books have a scent hound named Achoo!