We don't do stars...
We don't do thumbs...
We read children's books and grade them in 10 categories:
literary quality
descriptive ability
humor (if attempted)
illustrations (if present)
believability of characters
believability of situations
overall reading enjoyment

There is no grading curve. There are no points for classroom participation. There is no extra credit.
If you disagree, come speak to us after class.

The Grading System

A+.....this means (guess what) we think it's great. So great it surprised even us.
A.....this means it's pretty darn good. A book we'd recommend to just about everyone we know.
B.....better than most. Not exactly Shakespeare for kids, though, if you get our drift.
C.....mediocre. Like the color beige, it didn't stand out.
D.....we didn't like it. There were more bad aspects than good ones.
F.....it reeked of badness. We read it over and over when we are in dire need of hysterical laughter.
F-.....We're pretty sure Dante had a circle of hell for the people who wrote these...and a lower circle for those who published them.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Author Interview: Jaclyn Dolamore, author of Magic Under Glass

In the first of an exciting set of new author interviews from the Tenners, we welcome Jaclyn Dolamore, author of MAGIC UNDER GLASS (Bloomsbury, December 2009). She's here today to tell us a little about her book and herself--the novel is released on December 22.

CBR: What are ten words that best describe your book?

JD: Foreign dancer. Mysterious automaton. Brooding sorcerer. Fairy taxidermy. Corsets. Pianoforte.

CBR: What is one of your favorite sentences or paragraphs from your book?

JD: "I felt like I could have peeled back the stiff fingers and found living ones beneath. If I could only see the spark of life in him and draw it out. If I could only punch his back and make him breathe. I ached to see his eyes searching from his frozen face."

CBR: Michelangelo once said, "What do you despise? By this you are truly known." What are ten things (smells, sounds, situations, etc.) you just can't stand?

JD: Polyester, mayonnaise, calling someone on the phone, buying shoes for my huge feet, the lack of creative vegetable dishes at restaurants, hot weather, planned obsolescence, "adult contemporary" stations piped into retail establishments (I worked retail for 8 years...), anything medical, wearing makeup.

CBR: If you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, what fictional character would you take with you?

JD: How about...Aang from the Avatar: The Last Airbender TV show. He's pretty cheerful and he can command the elements, so I would trust him to be pleasant company and keep us alive.

CBR: Who are some authors that have inspired you?

JD: L. M. Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Piers Anthony back in the day, Lois Lowry, Maud Hart Lovelace, Charlotte Brontë, J. K. Rowling; also various graphic novels and manga, especially Thieves and Kings by Mark Oakley, Dame Darcy's Meatcake, and Ai Yazawa's manga Paradise Kiss and NANA.

CBR: What book of the past ten years did you enjoy the most?

JD: 10 years? Oh... wow. That's a pretty long stretch to remember. Maybe Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. (Note: this book is not for kids. Definite adult content. But I could NOT put it down.) However, I have read a lot of good books in 10 years, so I could go on...

CBR: When you were ten years old, what did you plan to be when you grew up?

JD: I believe that was my "acting" phase. I generally waffled between artist, actress, and writer throughout my childhood.

CBR: If you could choose anyone, living or dead, what illustrator would you choose to illustrate your book?

JD: Oh man. That is so hard. I love so many illustrators so so much. Arthur Rackham and similar artists of that period, or Trina Schart Hyman, or the aforementioned Dame Darcy. Or my sister Kate Dolamore! *pimp* http://www.pencilshavings.net *end pimp* Because she is an artist and it would be so cool to produce something together like that.

CBR: What would be your main character's theme song/some songs on the soundtrack for your book?

JD: Lizst's "Hungarian Rhapsody" and almost anything Chopin. Player pianos and Victorian music boxes. The Decemberists, Franz Ferdinand, and "Love Hurts" by the Everly Brothers, because most love in the book does hurt... I had a real playlist but I lost it in a computer switch...reconstructing it is on my "to-do" list.

CBR: Could you give us any hints/teasers as to what your next project might be?

JD: My next book is about a mermaid and a winged dude, and it's already with my editor. So that is my next published project, but no longer the next project I'm working on (until edits). I am currently poking at a pet project about a girl whose mother was once a potion maker in another world until she fled to America...but now someone from her old life has found her. It includes a magical Mafia and doll people.

CBR: Thank you so much, Jackie! It's been great getting to know you a little--and best of luck with all your release fun and excitement!

To learn more about Jackie and her book, you can visit her website: www.jaclyndolamore.com. And there's rumors that her book trailer may appear on this blog sometime in the near future, so check back!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reporter's Review: Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally), by Lisa Yee, illustrated by Dan Santat

Arthur Levine Books; September 2009
Overall Grade: A

Bobby Ellis-Chan is just a normal fourth grade boy, and like all normal fourth grade boys he has realized a thing or two: one thing is that boys and girls just aren't supposed to be friends...so he can't be seen in school with his best friend Holly. And another thing is that boys are supposed to be better than girls...so when he has the chance to run for classroom representative, even though it's against Holly, he has to take it. But when Holly, in her turn, starts to act like a normal fourth grade girl (why would someone want to wear nail polish and dresses, for goodness' sake?), Bobby's not so sure that what every normal fourth grader knows is actually right.

Bobby is one of the most realistic, entertaining boy characters I've seen in the category of contemporary realistic fiction for years (which, incidentally, means that those other boys aren't so contemporary, anymore, huh?). Every child has to live through that painful time when girls are just about ready to start acting like grown-ups, while boys, on the other hand, just want to stay kids for as long as they can...and Lisa Yee has captured that tension and dynamic extremely well. The simple, yet well-crafted language and constant humor, interlaced with the perfect amount of poignancy, make Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) a story that will be accessible and enjoyable for boys, girls, and parents alike. A great start to a new series.

Literary Quality: A-
Plot: A-
Voice: A+
Originality: B
Descriptive Ability: A
Humor: A+
Illustrations: A
Believability of Characters: A+
Believability of Situations: A+
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A

Possibly objectionable topics*: none

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Reporter's Review: The Espressologist, by Kristina Springer

Farrar, Straus, & Giroux; October, 2009
Overall Grade: A-

Jane Turner is more than your average people-watcher; as a barista at her local "Wired Joe's" coffee shop, she's made a science out of analyzing people based upon their beverage of choice. She calls is Espressology, and it becomes the basis for a match-making endeavor that becomes the holiday promotion (tons-of-profits-earning, cool-enough-to-be-on-TV promotion) for the coffee shops. Everyone seems to be really happy--especially Jane's best friend Em (a hot chocolate) who was matched up with a cute guy from Jane's English class (a toffee nut latte). Everyone, that is, except Jane. How is it that everyone ends up with true love except for her?

So...I'm just waiting for this book to be turned into a movie, because it is perfect "chick flick" material. The plot, to be honest, isn't very complex (there's about half a subplot); this doesn't make it an astounding piece of literature, but it does make it a great, relaxing read that teenage girls will love. I found myself wishing my Christmas tree were up, so I could snuggle up in a fleece blanket with a cup of hazelnut cappuchino, and read by the tree lights--it was just that cozy. The idea is excellent, the characters are lovable and entertaining, the story is easy-to-read, sweet, and funny.

Literary Quality: B+
Plot: B-
Voice: A
Originality: A+
Descriptive Ability: A-
Humor: A
Illustrations: N/A
Believability of Characters: A+
Believability of Situations: A
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A

Possibly objectionable topics*: language (fairly mild, but frequent), mild sensuality

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reporter's Review: Crows and Cards, by Joseph Helgerson

Houghton Mifflin; 2009
Overall Grade: A

Finding a trade to learn is a little difficult for Zeb Crabtree. The thought of splinters makes him queasy. Animal hair makes him sneeze. Fires are just plain scary. Having thus ruled out the occupations of cooper, livery boy, and blacksmith, Zeb’s father decides to apprentice him to a tanner and ships Zeb off on a riverboat to St. Louis. And Zeb…he does what any 1840’s boy in his position would: runs off to apprentice to a riverboat gambler, Chilly Larpenteur by name.
Chilly’s no average scalliwag, Zeb finds--he teaches the boy the noble aspects of gambling--it’s really just helping rich folks share their wealth--and Chilly even generously offers a portion of his own winnings to a woman collecting for the poor orphans. But when Zeb is asked to help Chilly cheat, his doubts are raised… and when he finds out Chilly’s generosity was a lie, he gets downright feisty. In order to get himself out of his mess (and help a beautiful Indian princess and understandably malcontent slave along the way), Zeb must face his greatest fear…
And splinters are only the start of it.
Crows and Cards is an example of historical fiction at its best. This is historical fiction that boys will love, and that no one will want to put down; Joseph Helgerson combines an intriguing story with boisterous humor, a lovable protagonist and larger-than-life crooks, and a marvelous setting. Think Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer without the hard-to-read dialect… Sam Clemens himself would have hooted along with the rest of us.

Literary Quality: A
Plot: A-
Voice: A+
Originality: A
Descriptive Ability: A
Humor: A+
Illustrations: A
Believability of Characters: A
Believability of Situations: A-
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A+

Possibly objectionable topics*: gambling, some violence, communication with a spirit.

Note: Great book for boys!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reporter's Review: Betraying Season, by Marissa Doyle (Sequel to Bewitching Season)

Henry Holt; October, 2009

Overall Grade: B

Spending her first time away from her newly-married twin sister Percy is difficult for Penelope Leland, but she is determined to take the opportunity to learn to wield magic as well as her talented twin. While visiting her old governess/magical instructor Ally in Ireland, Pen learns new magic and meets new people: a wealthy Lady with a disreputable past, a small Irish faery called a clurichaun with a taste for fairy whiskey and an affinity with young witches, a ghost, and a young gentleman with mysterious origins and a very handsome face. In Ireland, Pen's magic thrives along with an exciting new romance...until both threaten to turn Pen against all that she holds most dear.

I always find it interesting to read sequels of books I've already reviewed, to see how they compare to the first book. Overall, I found the writing/plot/and pacing of Betraying Season to show a development and growth in Marissa Doyle's writing. Also, Pen's voice was delightfully easy to follow and interesting. It was infinitely readable and entertaining, but I felt it still suffered from some of the same problems as the first book. Namely, the magic is thrown into the real world in a way that brings up far more questions than are answered; the ones that are answered are a mix between vague and detailed which leaves the reader slightly disoriented. Also, though I thought the overall plot development was well-done, unfortunately the very crux of it was highly doubtful. Without any spoilers, that's hard to explain, but basically I felt like the authors/characters were trying to fool me into believing something was far more important than it actually was. "The only way" a certain character could get what she wanted was unbelievable, as was another character's "only way" to prevent that, but other possibilities of either plot point were never even explored. And as this second "only way" involved a character doing something entirely against the nature that had been developed for him (but conveniently adding a hightened tension for the romance plot), I was quite disappointed.

On the plus side, I felt the author has really improved her ability to bring the world of Victorian Europe alive; her dialogue was excellent and appropriate to the character's time and place, though I did note a few anachronisms that both sounded modern and could have been easily avoided.

Literary Quality: A-

Plot: B+

Voice: A

Originality: B

Descriptive Ability: A

Humor: A

Illustrations: n/a

Believability of Characters: B

Believability of Situations: B-

Overall Reading Enjoyment: A

*Possibly Objectionable Topics: sensuality and several veiled (a few not so veiled) mentions of sex; one instance of crude humor; language; idolatry; witchcraft. (Because the story is set in the real, historical world, against a backdrop of an obviously Christian country, the magical elements do not feel like harmless fantasy and can be disturbing.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Switching things up a little....

Nothing to review today (though you can look forward to a review of Betraying Season by Marissa Doyle over the weekend), but I heard something funny I couldn't resist putting up:

How many science fiction writers does it take to change a light bulb?

Two, but it's actually the same person doing it. He went back in time and met himself in the doorway and then the first one sat on the other one's shoulder so that they were able to reach it. Then a major time paradox occurred and the entire room, light bulb, changer and all was blown out of existence. They co-existed in a parallel universe, though.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Books for Boys: Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett

Harper Collins, 2003
Young Tiffany Aching of Discworld has always felt different than your average girl. She knows things, feels things that others, well, they just don't. But she didn't realize that her powers made her guardian to the gates of the faery world--until an evil power tries to break in. Luckily for Tiffany (and somewhat to her annoyance), a group of renegade faeries, tiny blue imps called the Wee Free Men (or Nac Mac Feagle, in their Scots-like dialect) want very much for the gates to stay closed. And they've made Tiffany their queen.
Why Boys Will Like It: Despite it's female main character, this is definitely not a "girly" book. It has great action, adventure, and pacing that will keep boys turning pages--and, as mentioned, Tiffany is not your average girl. Her cool common sense and goal-driven personality may in fact resonate more strongly with male readers than the average female. Certainly boys will be fascinated by the feisty secondary characters, the Nac Mac Feagle, who are as full of humor and pranks and ridiculousness as any boy could wish for, and who (as the title might indicate) are prone to running away with the story from time to time.
The reading level of this book is upper middle grade/lower YA, making it ideal both for young adults and for younger boys whose reading level has jumped ahead of their maturity/experience.
And though we're showcasing this book, all Terry Pratchett's children's books are excellent. His humor is astounding. His characters are totally unique. His writing is incredible--in fact, his first book for children, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, a humorous take on the Pied Piper story, was the winner of the Carnegie Medal, England's closest equivalent to the U.S.'s Newbery. (And for another famous recipient, how does the name C. S. Lewis sound?)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday's Food for Thought

"That is a good book which is opened with
expectation and closed in profit."
~ Amos Bronson Alcott