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.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

And the winner is...

Okapi! You'll be hearing from me soon so we can talk about how to get your new, super cool bookmark to you!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Win a lovely glass slipper bookmark in honor of Kay Cassidy's THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY

As if doing an interview here wasn't cool enough, Kay Cassidy has offered to up her awesomeness by letting me host a giveaway as part of the (drum roll, please) Official Cinderella Society Blog Tour Giveaway!

So, here's the treasure:
 A beautiful glass slipper bookmark, to keep your place in your favorite fairy tales and inspire you to live your own!

Keeping it simple:
Leave a comment to enter. If you've read the book, I'm sure we'd all love to hear what you loved about it, but if not, no worries. 
If you don't have a Blogger profile with your contact info, make sure you leave your email address in the comment--or be sure to check back next Monday to see if you won and you can email me.
The giveaway will end next Sunday, May 23.
Good luck!

(Note: this contest is open internationally.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reporter's Review: The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar

Delacorte; May 11, 2010
Overall Grade: A+

Alton Richards (not Richard Alton like some of his teachers call him) has always known that wealthy Lester Trapp is his favorite uncle. He loves him. At least, that's what his mother tells him to say every time Trapp and Alton talk on the phone. But when Trapp's health problems lead to his blindness and Alton is roped into being the old man's “cardturner” at his bridge club...Alton has to decide his feelings for himself—along with his feelings for Toni Castaneda, Trapp's niece by marriage and former cardturner according to most, contender for the fortune according to Alton's mom. But he soon learns that Toni might not be as crazy as his mom says, that bridge may not be as boring as he thought, and that not all coincidences are mere coincidences.
Ok, this time I'm skipping all the educated, literary-sounding praise. Getting straight to the point: I loved The Cardturner. Like Sachar's previous masterpiece, Holes, The Cardturner hides layer upon layer of meaning with the utmost subtlety...yet is so straightforward about it all that you will trust the narrator implicitly. I know my summary is slightly convoluted; a more simple way to put it is that this book is all about bridges. Yeah, the game bridge of course, which you will find delightfully, surprisingly exciting, but so much more... The bridges we build from one person to another...one idea to another... to friends, strangers, God, our own subconscious minds.
Ok, and if anyone suddenly has a strong desire to start up a bridge club after reading this (it wouldn't surprise me), I so want to be in on it.

Literary Quality: A
Plot: A+
Voice: A+
Originality: A+ (Can't get much more original than a book about bridge!)
Descriptive Ability: A-
Humor: A+
Illustrations: n/a
Believability of Characters: A+
Believability of Situations: A
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A

*Possibly objectionable topics: mild language, stories of physical abuse in a marriage, brief discussion/thought of mature topics such as adultery.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Author Kay Cassidy visits on her blog tour for THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY!

Here's what Kay's bio says:

Kay Cassidy is the author of teen fiction she wishes was based on her real life. She is the founder of the national Great Scavenger Hunt ContestTM reading program for kids and teens and the host of the inspirational Living Your FiveTM web project. In her free time, she enjoys yoga, movies, music, and reading. Lots and lots of reading. She hopes her debut YA novel, THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY (April 13, 2010 - Egmont), will help girls embrace their inner Cindy.

Here's what she says about her book:

What a girl to do when the glass slipper fits, but she doesn't want to wear it anymore?
Sixteen year old Jess Parker has always been an outsider. So when she receives an invitation to join The Cinderella Society, a secret society of the most popular girls in school, it's like something out of a fairy tale. Swept up by the Cindys' magical world of makeovers, and catching the eye of her Prince Charming, Jess feels like she's finally found her chance to fit in.
Then the Wickeds--led by Jess's arch-enemy--begin targeting innocent girls in their war against the Cindys, and Jess discovers there's more to being a Cindy than reinventing yourself on the outside. She has unknowingly become part of a centuries-old battle of good vs. evil, and now the Cindys in charge need Jess for a mission that could change everything.
Overwhelmed, Jess wonders if The Cinderella Society made a mistake in choosing her. Is it a coincidence her new boyfriend doesn't want to be seen with her in public? And is this glamorous, secret life even what she wants, or will she risk her own happy ending to live up to the expectations of her new sisters?

And I will add that she is also another lovely, generous Tenner who volunteered her time for an interview here! Welcome!
CBR: If you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, what fictional character would you take with you?

KC: Can I choose MacGyver? Seriously, that would be my number one choice. He'd have a lodge built with running water and TV in nothing flat.

CBR: Who are some authors that have inspired you?

KC: When I was first considering writing YA, I stopped into my local library at the time and asked the teen librarian what she would recommend. Based on my adult reading preferences, she suggested THE PRINCESS DIARIES by Meg Cabot, THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS by Ann Brashares, and HOW MY PRIVATE, PERSONAL JOURNAL BECAME A BESTSELLER by Julia DeVillers. I devoured all three in a week and fell in love with YA. So without Meg, Ann and Julia, I might not be a YA author today!

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

KC: I absolutely loved LIFE AS WE KNEW IT by Susan Beth Pfeffer. I swore I wasn't going to read it because it sounded so despondent, but my friend Tera Lynn Childs insisted I would love it and I finally caved. It made me fret for weeks afterward that we didn't have enough canned goods stored in the pantry, but it was so compelling and human.

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

KC: I create a playlist for my books because it really helps me make the transition from the real world of laundry, phones ringing and domestic crises to the world of the story. The theme song of the book is SOAR by Christina Aguilera. Jess's theme song is WHO I AM by Jessica Andrews and Ryan's theme song is SAVIN' ME by Nickelback.

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

KC: Right now, I'm working on the sequel to THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY, titled Cindy on a Mission. It follows the further adventures of Jess and the Sisters as the Wickeds launch an offensive that threatens everything the Cindys hold dear. Cindy on a Mission will be on shelves in Spring 2011.

CBR: Thank you, Kay! Best of luck with your book and many projects!
To learn more about THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY, first of all, read the following blurb...and visit Kay at her website: http://www.kaycassidy.com/!

I opened the card, my hands trembling in dread and the faint remnants of what I used to call hope, as a tiny silver high-heel pin bounced into my hand.
I juggled the pin for a second, barely managing to keep it from falling, and flipped open the note with my other hand. The words inside were not a message but an invitation that sent shivers down my spine:
Your presence is requested at The Grind.
Tonight, 7 p.m.
Wear the pin.
Discretion MANDATORY.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mothers' Day Writer Mama Guest Post: Lindsey Leavitt

(Lindsay is the author of the delicious 2010 debut novel Princess for Hire.)

Last week was my oldest daughter's birthday. Since my husband was out of town, we saved the party business for another day and opted to have some girl time instead. We spent the day at Chuck E Cheese, playing with friends, watching movies and eating cupcakes. 
That night, my little-six-year-old cuddled up to me and said, "Mom? It's night time. Why aren't you on your computer?"
I kissed her head and answered, "I'm not working today. I'm hanging out with you."
And her eyes got super wide and she said, "Wow! That's the first time you've EVER done that! Thank you for not working, Mommy!"
Yeah, I listened to Cat's Cradle on repeat that night and drowned my Mommy Guilt in the leftover cupcakes, comforted in the fact that this same daughter also said she NEVER goes to the bookstore. Hello, if I buy another book, they're going to name a wing after us. If bookstores had wings.
The truth is, I am on my computer a lot. Or hiding in the closet so I can talk to my agent. Or I'm reading a friend's book at the park. Two years ago, when I sold my first book, I went from a full-time mom with a dream to a full-time mom with a career. Sometimes, I feel like I'm straddling some invisible line between the two, wanting so desperately to succeed in both, never feeling like I'm doing my best in either.
But. The beauty of my job is that I CAN be a full-time mom. I can put my kids to bed and stay up until 1 to get that dang character description right. There are weeks where cereal is on the menu every night, and others where I don't write at all. And I teach my kids the importance of perseverance and going after a dream simply by booting up that computer every day.
It's a crazy, wonderful balancing act, filled with play-do and "quick email checks". And a day NEVER EVER goes by that I'm not grateful for it.

You can visit Lindsey at http://www.lindseyleavitt.com


HAPPY MOTHERS' DAY, TO ALL YOU MOTHERS OUT THERE! (And especially to Lindsey, Rosanne, and Lindsay! Thanks for inspiring us!)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mothers' Day Writer Mama Guest Post: Lindsay Eland

(Guest writer-mama # 2, Lindsay Eland, is the author of Scones and Sensibility. I believe this is one of the times where less of an intro is more, so I'll be quiet now and get to her lovely words...)

To all the mothers buried under mounds of laundry and dishes and homework

To all the mothers that kiss their kids good-bye…sending them off to school, to college, to their own families, to war

To all the mothers whose hearts have ached at every scraped knee, every broken heart, every good-bye

To all the mothers who have worried and prayed and stayed up until the car pulls into the driveway…no matter how late the clock struck

To all the mothers who aren’t the same in the mirror as they were before…but who are so much more beautiful and full of life and wonder and love because of having a child
To all the mothers who have a hidden lion underneath their soft skin and gentle touch…a ferocious love that doesn’t go away or diminish as time goes on

To all the mothers who do it all alone—the cooking and cleaning and crying and loving

To all the mothers who have taken children who aren’t their own and sewn them into their hearts forever

To all the mothers who loved their child enough to give them a better chance

To all the mothers that have cried over the babies that left them too early but were loved a lifetime over

To all the mothers still dreaming dreams

To all the mothers reawakening old dreams

To all the mothers laughing or crying, singing or skipping, reading or sleeping, old or young or in-between…

Happy Mother’s Day!

(You can visit Lindsay at http://lindsayeland.com/)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mothers' Day Writer Mama Guest Post: Rosanne Parry

You're in for a special Mothers' Day Weekend treat (not of the chocolate variety, though I hope you mothers will get plenty of that at home)... For each day this weekend, I will be posting a guest post by a writer/mother who has inspired me; I am sure their posts will give you much inspiration as well!
Today we have Rosanne Parry, author of Heart of a Shepherd, discuss her own mother's influence on her writing...and I know it has already had influence on mine as well. Thanks, Rosanne!

I could say any number of things about my mother and my writing. I could tell you how she taught me to read when I was four, had the chicken pox, and was bored out of my mind. I could tell about her love of poetry, how she always had a table just my size with paper, pens, paint, scissors, and glue. How she almost never interrupted me when I was working. But when I think about what she did that made the most difference in my life as a writer, it’s this: my mother never said a negative thing about herself in my hearing.

She had plenty of negative things to say to me which is why I had oatmeal for breakfast instead of brownies, and I wrote a thank you note this morning, and I am not picking my nose as I write this. But she never had a critical word for herself. I’m sure it’s not that she’s never had regrets or felt dissatisfied. But in a world that expects a woman to be self-effacing, she chose to remain uncritical of her appearance, her work, her relationships and her life choices. It is, in its silence, as bold a feminist statement as any I’ve heard.

And it has had an important impact on my own writing process. We all have our inner critic. The difference is that mine has never been one that says: “You have no talent. You are never going to finish this. You will never be good enough.”

I get my share of doubts and self-criticism, but they sound more like this: “This character is too much like this other one and needs his own voice. This scene needs more specific and detailed action. This work needs more time to develop.”

It’s a subtle difference but an important one. One that helps me stick with a story until it’s done, look at the story dispassionately when I revise, and receive the critique of my writers group and editor in the spirit it is intended.

I’d like to say that I’ve done the same for my own daughters. I’ve certainly tried but it takes a measure of self-discipline to swim against a cultural expectation so ingrained most of us never think about it. So my Mother’s Day wish, beyond a lifetime of thanks to my mom, is that my own girls will learn to speak of their bodies, their choices and their work with respect and without excuses.

So how about you moms out there? Chime in on the comments with one thing about your work that makes you proud. Or maybe lay to rest for good a self-defeating phrase you hear yourself using. It’s the Mother’s Day gift that only you can give yourself—a gift that endures in the lives of your daughters. Happy Mother’s Day!

You can visit Rosanne at her website: http://www.rosanneparry.com/

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Author Interview: Kristina McBride

Up today is the next lovely Tenner, Kristina McBride. (Seriously, aren't they all so good-looking?) She very graciously joined us to discuss her upcoming book, The Tension of Opposites ( on sale May 25, 2010 from Egmont USA).

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

KM: Psychological thriller, kidnapped and returned, friendship, love, romance, photography, nature.

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

KM: The following comes from the scene where my main character sees her best friend for the first time since she went missing two years earlier. The reunion goes nothing like Tessa had expected, as her old friend Noelle seems to be a completely different person:

Noelle sighed. “This just isn’t my life anymore, Tess. I’m not that girl you knew all those years ago.”

“Noelle, I’ll always be - ”

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about.” Her hand shot out at the darkness, aiming to hit something that wasn’t there. “I’m not Noelle anymore.” She breathed heavily through her nose and clenched her jaw.

“Of course you’re Noelle. Who else would you be?”

The girl who was not Noelle looked directly into my eyes. Her stare was hard and cold. “Noelle is gone. And she’s not coming back.” She blinked. “My name is Elle.”

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?

KM; Noise, coffee, people not being reliable, people not wearing their seatbelts, itty-bitty children drinking soda, when people are disrespectful to books, cold weather (too bad I live in Ohio!). Does it say something about me that I can only come up with seven things for this list?

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

KM: Margo Roth Spiegelman from Paper Towns by John Green. She’s mischievous and brilliant with all of her pranks and I think she’d be great fun to hang out with!

CBR: Who are some authors that have inspired you?

KM: This is so hard to answer! Every book I have read has inspired me in some way. To name a few off the top of my head: Laurie Halse Anderson, Jay Asher, Sarah Dessen, John Green, Les Edgerton (the author of Hooked, an incredible book on writing!).

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

KM: Are you kidding me? I mean, there is absolutely NO WAY I can answer this one. When I’m reading a book, I slip into this alternate reality where I believe the characters are real. They’re like friends to me. I could never choose just one. Or even ten! If people are interested in seeing the types of books I read, they can check me out on Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3084178.Kristina_McBride).

(I know, I know, it's such a mean question. I could never answer either!)
CBR: When you were ten years old, what did you plan to be when you grew up?

KM: A librarian, teacher, author, or hair stylist.

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

KM: Maxfield Parrish – not that his style would match my book so much, but that I think he is an incredible artist. My favorite of his pieces is titled Ecstasy.

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

KM: Don’t Follow by Alice & Chains is the first song that comes to mind. It portrays the journey of Elle, the character who was kidnapped and returned after two years of captivity.

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

KM: It’s the second book in my two-book deal. The only thing I can say right now is that it has nothing to do with The Tension of Opposites.

CBR: Many thanks for the interview, Kristina, and best of luck on your upcoming release!

To learn more about Kristina and The Tension of Opposites, there's lots of places you can find her:
Website: http://www.kristinamcbride.com/
Blog: http://kristinamcbride.livejournal.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/McBrideKristina
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6889070-the-tension-of-opposites

And you can pre-order her book from Amazon (though it would be even better to get it from your local indie bookstore)!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reporter's Review: Crunch, by Leslie Connor

Harper Collins (Katherine Tegen Books), March 30, 2010
Overall Grade: A+

When his parents get stuck miles away from home due to a worldwide gas shortage, it's up to Dewey Marriss to run the family's bike shop. But with the sudden demand for bicycle repairs, this proves to be no easy task... Between the heavy workload, the fear of a thief, sibling conflicts, Dewey has a lot working against him--but luckily he has the love of family, the support of friends, and even the unexpected help of a stranger working for him.
Crunch is amazing. It's that simple. Rarely do you find a story with such great family interaction--and the ones that come to mind are already greats: the stories of Elizabeth Enright, Eleanor Estes, Jeanne Birdsall... Despite some mentions of technology, Crunch is sure to join them on the classic shelf, because it feels timeless. Dewey's voice is marvelous and believable, and his predicament is well developed through a character-driven plot.
I'm expecting to see this story come up on a lot of Newbery discussions.

Literary Quality: A
Plot: A- (It is simple, but very well-ordered)
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*: some mild language

Reporter's Review: Princess for Hire, by Lindsey Leavitt

Disney, Hyperion, March 2010
Overall Grade: A

Desi makes a wish: she wants to make an impact. An Audrey-Hepburn-in-a-movie kind of impact. And being as gorgeous as Audrey wouldn't hurt either. But she didn't expect her wish to be answered by a sort of technologically advanced fairy godmother with crazy-colored hair who offers her a chance to be a stand-in princess. Basically, when Desi applies a magical rouge to her cheeks, she takes on the appearance of any princess who has applied for her help. No problem, right? Oh, come on, you're intelligent readers: of course there's a problem. But I'm not going to tell you.
What I will tell you is that Princess for Hire was funny, cute, wonderfully readable and enjoyable, and that I can't wait for it to be made into a movie. More specifically, the main character was exceptionally well-created and believable, every scene was very visual, and the structure was excellent. I know it seems weird to make a point of the structure, but seriously, it stood out as well done. My one complaint--or perhaps just a pet peeve--is the openness of the ending. I'm kinda picky in that I like everything wrapped up, tied with a bow, with a gift tag on the side...you get the idea. That said, this is the first in a series...and it's a series that I will definitely be following.

Literary Quality: B
Plot: A+ (Extremely well-structured)
Voice: A
Originality: A
Descriptive Ability: B+
Humor: A
Illustrations: n/a
Believability of Characters: A+
Believability of Situations: A
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A+

Possibly objectionable topics*: a little kissing

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Author Interview: Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Up today, Tenner interview #6, with Christina Gonzalez, author of The Red Umbrella, to be released May 11.

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

CDG: Secret plan, revolution, family, friendship, betrayal, separation, Cuba, Nebraska, red umbrella

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

CDG: It was a bright clear day outside. Not a cloud in the sky. I stared through the plane’s window at the palm trees in the distance. It didn’t seem real. Like a painting was hung inside the plane showing us a last glimpse of Cuba. I pushed my nose against the glass. Mamá and Papá were out there…somewhere.

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?

CDG: I guess some are obvious choices: nails on a chalkboard, early morning alarms, stinky garbage, stinky soccer cleats, cleaning dog poo, babies crying hysterically, my children crying because they got hurt. Others are a little more peculiar: old water from a flower vase, lilies and high pitched whistles.

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

CDG: I’ll take Katniss from the Hunger Games/Catching Fire. She seems like a girl who can handle just about anything that is thrown at her.

CBR: Who are some authors that have inspired you?

CDG: Madeleine L’Engle and the writers who wrote under the pseudonym of Carolyne Keene

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

CDG: Too many to name

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

CDG: Probably a writer or a lawyer

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

CDG: Roberto Innocenti. I’ve seen some of his work and love it.

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

CDG: I have a playlist with the actual songs on my website, but I think my mc’s favorites would be Celia Cruz’s “Guantanamera” and Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up”.

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

CDG: It’s a story about the Bermuda Triangle, Bahamian folklore, parallel universes and powerful talismans.

CBR: Thank you so much, Christina! Best wishes on your upcoming release and all the fun and stress that go along with it!

To learn more  about Christina and her novel, you can visit her website: http://www.christinagonzalez.com/
And watch her book trailer on YouTube!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Reporter's Review: The Night Fairy, by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Angela Barrett

Candlewick, March 2010
Overall Grade: A+

When a sleepy bat mistakes her for a moth and takes a bite, Flory the night fairy is left wingless--and with one fear: bats. She decides to become a day fairy to avoid the creatures, but the day is not without its own dangers: squirrels, spiders, praying mantises...but Flory, always stubborn and resourceful, learns to survive and makes a home.
The Night Fairy is an ideal read-aloud for any children old enough to handle a few scary moments--the language is lyrical and descriptive, making it a pleasure for the adult reading as well as the child being read to. From the first lovely description on page one, "eyes that sparkled like blackberries under dew," to its humorous and endearing ending, this book is definitely one that fits into that "small gem" category along with its main character. I loved the wonderful world-building of fairy life--the petal dresses, the thorn dagger--I loved the humor and the cast of supporting characters, especially Skuggle, the most squirrel-like squirrel you will ever come across, I loved the adventure, I loved Angela Barrett's beautiful illustrations. The omniscient narrative voice was slightly off-putting; it came across as very obviously human and adult. I would prefer a firmer handle on the fairy perspective, but I will allow that this familiar narrator may make the story readily accessible and familiar to young readers.

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*: some moments may be scary for very young, sensitive readers

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reporter's Review: The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, by Francisco X. Stork

Arthur A. Levine Books, March 2010
Overall Grade: A

At seventeen, Pancho has decided the last thing he needs to do with his life: kill the man he thinks responsible for the death of his sister. It's not so simple, though...first he has to figure out who exactly the man is, how to find him, and how to get past the annoying, aggravatingly happy D.Q., another teen boy with a mission of his own: live life to the fullest in his last months...before he dies of brain cancer. And...honestly...I can't do justice to the plot here. Throw in some conversations about life, death, faith, love. Mix up with heart-wrenching backgrounds, wise children, foolish adults, and sucking every drop of marrow from life.
As my little synopsis probably makes clear, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors is one of those fathoms-deep, meaningful stories that you rarely come across in YA lit. It is also an extremely subtle story--almost too subtle for my taste (the ending didn't feel wrapped-up enough for me), yet I love the way it left me thinking after I finished it. I can guarantee that it will make you question the way you're living your life, embrace the beauty of every day, and appreciate things you never thought to notice. You will never forget Pancho and D.Q. or the friends they make on their journey--Francisco Stork is a master at character and relationship development, and these aspects of the story are truly what make it shine. Even every description, although technically all of them are extremely basic and simply worded, serves to develop character--and does so perfectly.
As a bit of a warning, this is a very difficult book to read...certainly not in actual pacing or readability, but simply because it delves into topics and a world that are hard to be in. This is not a story to be read casually, and it is certainly for mature readers who can handle its issues. Yet it is a beautiful book, and it is an important book.

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

Possibly objectionable topics*: Serious issues, such as death, sex, alcohol, drugs. Harsh language. A lot of all of the above.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Author Interview: Jame Richards

Today we welcome fabulous Tenner number 5: Jame Richards! Jame's novel, Three Rivers Rising:
A Novel of the Johnstown Flood
, will be published by Alfred A. Knopf on April 13, 2010.

CBR: What are ten words that best describe your book?
JR: Cross-class romance, disowning, power, accountability, action, disaster, change, rebuilding

CBR: What is one of your favorite sentences or paragraphs from your book?
The sunset competes with the red glow over Johnstown.
And I know,
at any given moment,
metal is liquid fire
lighting the night sky,
becoming steel
that will build tracks
to anywhere she might be.
It will build bridges between the glittering stars
and the likes of me.

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?
JR: I hate the smell of wet dogs.
I hate the smell/taste/sensation of a temporary crown falling off.
I hate the smell of hot dog water.
I hate honking horns.
I hate the cold.
I hate the cold.
I hate the cold. (Apparently I always say it three times!)
I hate getting my car’s oil changed.
I hate being trapped.
I hate the phone and its infernal ringing.

CBR: If you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, what fictional character would you take with you?
JR: Katniss from The Hunger Games. What other answer could there be? Hopefully she’ll have a lifetime supply of contact lens solution with her.

CBR: Who are some authors that have inspired you?
JR: Patricia Reilly Giff, Karen Hesse, Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, Judy Blume, Louise Erdrich, Sandra Cisneros, Jacqueline Woodson, Anne Lamott, Sue Bender, Lisa Ann Sandell, Jennifer Roy, Helen Frost, David McCullough, J.M. Synge, L.M. Montgomery, Ibtisam Barakat, Naomi Shihab Nye

CBR: What book of the past ten years did you enjoy the most?
JR: Nory Ryan’s Song and Maggie’s Door by Patricia Reilly Giff: I’m counting them as one because I devoured them together all in one gulp. I had chills and goose bumps the whole time knowing I was witnessing a masterpiece.

CBR: When you were ten years old, what did you plan to be when you grew up?
JR:I loved to draw. Faces. People. Dresses. So I thought I’d be a designer since that’s the only job where you get to draw people. I was always fascinated to see personalities and emotions emerge when I drew someone I thought was only from my imagination. Sometimes I thought I knew their stories. Or even what they would say if they could speak. Writing is the same way. I draw with words now, of course, but I still love to be surprised.

CBR: If you could choose anyone, living or dead, what illustrator would you choose to illustrate your book?
JR: If I had a picture book, I would love to see it illustrated by Anita Lobel (Allison’s Zinnia), Betty Fraser (The Cozy Book), Mari Takabayashi (Flannel Kisses) or Kristina Swarner (One White Wishing Stone).
Even though I can imagine a big beautiful illustrated edition of Three Rivers Rising, I don’t have a specific illustrator in mind, someone who can do epic realism.

CBR: What would be your main character's theme song/some songs on the soundtrack for your book?
JR: I don’t know a great deal about music from the late 1800s, but it would be instrumental and filled with longing.

CBR: Could you give us any hints/teasers as to what your next project might be?
JR: Two ideas from Three Rivers Rising seeped into my next project. Tea leaves. And typhoid.
Set it in Ireland and Brooklyn. Mix in talk of fairies and the gift of seeing. Put it all in motion against the backdrop of young Irish women working as domestics, otherwise as known as “Bridgets.” Yeah, someday I’ll write a nice straight-forward uncomplicated book, but this isn’t it.
CBR: Thanks, Jame! I'm sure I'm not the only one counting down to release date--best wishes for everything! (And be forewarned that if you do a book signing in my area, I'm showing up. :)
To learn more about Jame, you can visit her at: www.jamerichards.com or http://jamerichards.blogspot.com

Friday, February 26, 2010

Reporter's Review: The Summer of Moonlight Secrets, by Danette Haworth

Walker Books, to be released June 2010
Overall Grade: A-/A

Allie Jo fears that summer with her best friend away is going to be miserable—but she didn't expect that helping her parents work at the Meriwether Hotel in Hope Springs, Florida, would bring her a few new friends: a sweet girl named Sophie, a skateboard-loving boy named Chase, and a beautiful girl named Tara with a mysterious penchant for moonlit swims...and maybe that's not the only mystery surrounding her...
There's something about a big, old house, a bunch of kids, and a mystery that made the perfect ingredients for a kids' book. There's a long history of books that fit into this sub-genre: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Children of the Green Knowe; now, The Summer of Moonlight Secrets. Danette Haworth created a cast of lovable, believable characters, and put them in an absolutely incredible setting. The Meriwether is bursting with secret passages, hidden rooms—it's the perfect place to hide a secret, so it isn't too surprising that secrets abound. These secrets, and the characters themselves, move the plot forward to an exciting, touching climax.
My critique of the book would be that certain plot elements (Chase's mom and Chase's relationship with Sophie, in particular) are very built up in the beginning, to be left rather vague by the end. They serve well as plot-propellers, but didn't tie up into a perfectly satisfying ending. Also, in terms of pacing, once the danger arrives at the book's climax, everything is resolved a little too quickly for my taste. I felt that if the danger had presented itself sooner or lasted longer, the tension and pacing would have been perfect.
Altogether, The Summer of Moonlight Secrets is an enchanting story for middle grade readers, and, who knows? It might be at the start of a new fantasy trend—you'll have to read to find out what.

Literary Quality: A-
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*: broken family, kidnapping

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reporter's Review: Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Harper Collins (Walden Pond), January 2010 (U.S. date)
Overall Grade: A

Ever since he was a little kid, Liam wasn't little. By the time he turns twelve, he's way taller than his dad, let alone his classmates. He has to shave. Everyone mistakes him for an adult—and he hates it. Until...he's the only kid allowed to ride the new super ride at the amusement park...and adults treat him with respect...and he (almost) gets away with test-driving a Porsche. And he somehow cons his way into being the “parent chaperone” to the first four kids in space. Which is absolutely cosmic, as he would say—until the kids start acting like typical kids and break the ship. What they need is a dad to come rescue them—but Liam is the only dad they've got.
You come across a few books in your lifetime that really surprise you. You come across a few that make you laugh until you're crying. You come across a few that have such profound depth and meaning that when you finish them they settle into your gut so you'll always remember the way you felt reading them. You hardly ever come across one that embodies all these qualities; Cosmic is such a book. I finished it a week ago and held off writing the review so I didn't just gush meaninglessly (I did that to my family and friends). Now that I've stopped raving, here are my more organized thoughts:
To start with the negative (note the use of the singular), the structure was confusing. Liam begins telling his story to his parents from space, through recording himself on his phone—which makes for a very cool opening. But once we get to the point in the story where he began telling it, there is a disconnect. The time and circumstances have to be reestablished a few times, which can be disorienting. Unfortunately, it felt that a story which could more simply have been told in past tense after it was all over, began in the middle for the sake of a killer opening paragraph.
That said—deal with the confusion. Seriously. Because... we're on to the positives: brilliant voice, wonderful humor, the coolest tribute to Roald Dahl ever. (You'll have to figure it out yourselves.) If you like Science fiction, you'll be impressed by the author's attention to research and detail; if you don't, you'll still love Cosmic for the characters, the story, the subtlety with which a very important message is conveyed.
Ok, I'm going to go gush to my family some more now.

Literary Quality: B (for the aforementioned confusing structure—and that alone.)
Plot: A+
Voice: A+
Originality: A+
Descriptive Ability: A
Humor: A+
Illustrations: n/a
Believability of Characters: A
Believability of Situations: A
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Reporter's Review: Operation Yes, by Sara Lewis Holmes

Arthur Levine Books; Fall 2009
Overall Grade: A-

Miss Loupe is the new sixth grade teacher at a school just outside a Air Force base in North Carolina; Bo Whaley is the base commander's well-meaning, trouble-making son; Gari Whaley is Bo's cousin whose mother is deployed in the Middle East; the whole sixth grade class is a group of individuals who are waiting for something to turn their lives into something...meaningful. That something may be Miss Loupe's crazy ideas about improv theater and the practice of saying, "Yes, and..."--crazy smart ideas which show a group of disconnected kids how to make their lives and themselves a true piece of art.
Having spent a large part of my own childhood as a "military brat" (Sorry, dad...I know you don't like that term--neither does this book's author, seemingly, so you're in good company...), Operation Yes really resonated with me, and I feel it provides a fascinating look for civilian kids into a virtually untapped setting and group of characters. I did find the initial pacing somewhat slow; it took a while to get to a real "plan" on any character's part. The multiple POV's may have accentuated this; to me, what propelled the story was the relationships, rather than any one character or plot element. On that note, however, the relationships were exceptionally well developed and believable. I loved the way the theme was exposed, and the improv theater stuff--so cool and original.
On a final note, I have to offer my sincere thanks to Ms Holmes for so beautifully representing her character's muddled thoughts regarding war. Long-time followers of this blog know how much it bothers me when an author uses her characters and plot as mere vehicles to forward an agenda; far to the contrary, I think Operation Yes offered a balanced, true presentation of how most kids stuck in the middle of it actually feel about war. Ms Holmes presents the facts, simple as that, followed by her character's reactions to them, and allows her readers to draw their own conclusions. So, thank you!

Literary Quality: A-
Plot: A-
Voice: B
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*: war-related injury and violence (not directly related, but through dialogue)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Reporter's Review: Scones and Sensibility, by Lindsay Eland

Egmont, December 2009
Overall Grade: A-
Indeed, love is in the air for one Polly Madassa, a reader of most elegant books and daughter of the owners of a quaint and lovely bakery. Determined to find matches for her friends and family befitting the romantic ideals set forth in her favorite books (Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice—hey, the girl's got taste;), Polly takes it upon herself to manage a little matchmaking. When things go awry, however, she finds herself in the depths of despair...will she be able to right the terrible wrongs she has committed?
Scones and Sensibility is a must-read for all those girls (you know who you are) who always wished they could be Anne of Green Gables. (Oops, did my hand just jump into the air? Sorry.) Polly is a delightful, extremely memorable character, just like her heroine. There are moments when the story's and characters' believability is called into question; chiefly this stems from the unique way Polly narrates her story in first person. Her thoughts and commentary are all told to the audience in the archaic, flowery, adjective- and adverb-laden speech she admires, and which she uses. Because we have a constant dose of the strongest examples of that, it seems at times that Polly's friends and family should be more startled/annoyed by it than they are...however, that reaction—the rolled eyes, the confused stares, etc.--is there if you look. The only actual flaw may have been that Polly, as she was narrating, did not point out the emotional moments where she lapses into modern speech (except in one instance); she leaves it to her audience to draw their own conclusions, the classic show-don't-tell theory...but Polly would tell. That's just the kind of girl she is. Perhaps this is a case of the factor that makes a story lovable (that unique, kinda crazy voice) also making it difficult for some readers to follow.
Nonetheless, I love the idea, that wonderful exploration of what a girl could end up like if she took storybook romance too much to heart—and I love the conclusion that is reached, that ultimately, true love does exist and is even better than storybook love.
Literary Quality: B+
Plot: A-
Voice: A
Originality: A-
Descriptive Ability: A-
Humor: A+
Illustrations: n/a
Believability of Characters: B-
Believability of Situations: A-
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A

*Possibly objectionable topics: broken families

Books for Boys: Homer Price, by Robert McCloskey

Viking, 1943
One test of a classic is time, a test that Robert McCloskey's Homer Price has aced. Originally published in 1943, this book's marvelous illustrations and crazy humor are still, rightly, winning it fans. Homer Price is an average boy living in Centerburg, a town populated by some of the most memorable, hilarious characters in children's literature. Each chapter is a story in itself (a plus for boys who find long book difficult to digest), covering a range of humorous topics from a pet skunk assisting in capturing dangerous criminals, to a diamond bracelet lost in a doughnut—one of a thousand or so doughnuts (accompanied by some of the funniest illustrations you will ever see).
Why boys like it: short stories, easy-to-read, humor, humorous illustrations, great characters.

My comments on various awards...

You may have noticed that When You Reach Me was not on my list of Newbery predictions, even though it was on practically everyone else's, and I've been asked to explain why...
Well. I did read the book, and was very impressed (as were most readers) by Rebecca Stead's deft handling of character development and relationship growth. She crafted a tight plot—however, one that I felt fell short. It gives the semblance of falling perfectly into place at
the climax—like another Newbery winner, Holes, for example. My problem, which I am surprised no one else brought up, is that the plot is too forced. So many problems could have been solved very simply: Why can't the notes be more direct? Why can't the time traveler at least give his name? Why can he warn the characters through ambiguous notes, yet not simply tell them in person? Furthermore, the rules of time travel are highly ambiguous, a big rule-breaker for anyone immersed in the SciFi genre, and the only explanation given sounds technical but is really philosophical—unfortunately, any philosopher could find several holes in it. I find it ironic that the author took the best philosophical argument against travel into the past (that is, the impossibility of free will if one's actions have “already happened and therefore must happen”) and used it as the premise for her explanation of time travel and her “Aha! moment” in the plot.So, that's what I think. I'd be thrilled to carry on a lengthy philosophical argument with anyone who disagrees, however.

Onto the Printz award... I can't decisively comment on the winner because I didn't finish it. I started it, loved the humor, was very disturbed by the constant crude language and casual drug use, and finally had to stop when I realized my list of “possibly objectionable topics” would be longer than my review. I do think Francisco X. Stork deserved to win this award (though he has my congratulations on winning the Schneider Family Award)... I will reiterate now that Marcelo in the Real World was one of the most beautiful and relevant books I've read in my lifetime. Though it, too, had its share of difficult topics, I believe the grace with which they were handled may be unparalleled.

Finally, it's not really my field of expertise, but I did think Pinkney deserved his Caldecott for The Lion and the Mouse—beautifully done. However, it was pointed out to me that his lovely, dramatic cover was hardly original...a talented Welsh artist by the name of Jackie Morris has done it before, twice. Compare, and enjoy:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Newbery Winner 2010

Here's the list of actual winners of the 2010 Newbery Award and Honors:

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, by Rodman Philbrick
Congratulations to everyone! (And check back later for my comments... ;)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Printz Prediction...by the way

I don't think there's even much room for arguing here. My prediction for the Printz award (and one of the best 3 books of the year):
Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork
Yes, I know everyone else is saying the same thing. Everyone is right, it so happens.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Vote for your favorite in the Newbery Poll!

To participate in our very own, very small-scale, mock-Newbery...cast your vote in the poll to the right before 11 pm, January 17th (Sunday)!

We'll send the winner--well, an email. With the picture of a medal. :)

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Time Has Come...Newbery Predictions 2010

2009 has drawn to a close, and with it have closed the covers of many, many wonderful books. But now, with the announcement of the most coveted medal in American Children's Fiction only a week away, it's time to revisit a few of the best.
Last year, I didn't write an official post on my predictions; The Graveyard Book was my untouchable pick for best book of the year--yet, somehow, I didn't think in a million years the Newbery committee would choose it. I did guess that The Underneath and Savvy would end up with stickers, though, so my record is pretty good.
Knowing the Newbery committee's flair for being unpredictable, I'm probably about to ruin said good record...but here (in order of when I read them) are my Newbery picks:
Umbrella Summer, by Lisa Graff. Very sweet, very well-written. Not on the top of my list for literary quality and plot, but the emotional story is rock-solid and wonderful.
The Year the Swallows Came Early, by Kathryn Fitzmaurice. Not much chatter on this one that I've seen (who knows, that may be in its favor), but I thought it was a beautifully written, moving story with the type of emotional pull that always seems to earn stickers.
Heart of a Shepherd, by Rosanne Parry. I have so much respect for this book and its author. I love, though sometimes the Newbery committee doesn't seem to, the type of truly uplifting ending this story has.
Tropical Secrets, by Margarita Engle. A beautiful novel in verse with a fresh angle on old history.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly. A lot of people loved this. I liked it a lot. I do think it may win something, and I have even higher hopes for whatever the author's next work might be.
When the Whistle Blows, by Fran Cannon Slayton. This is the book I believe should win the Newbery. Whenever someone scoffs at the quality of children's literature, I'm going to smile to myself and hand them this book.
A Season of Gifts, by Richard Peck. The greatest obstacle for this book to overcome will be the author's repuation and its "prequels". Both the previous Grandma Dowdel stories earned stickers, both were wonderful, so the latest has a lot to live up to. Its plot wasn't as strong as its predecessors'...but the overall literary quality, the crafting of each sentence and paragraph and chapter, are enough to earn it an award, in my book.

I'd love to know your thoughts! Any glaring omissions? Anything I should hastily read before next Monday?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Author Interview: Jen Nadol

Tenner Interview #4 today brings us Jen Nadol, author of THE MARK (Bloomsbury USA), on shelves January 19.

CBR: What are ten words that best describe your book?
JN: If you know today is someone’s last, should you tell?

CBR: What is one of your favorite sentences or paragraphs from your book?JN: I doodled Cassandra Canton in my notebooks, liking the alliterative sound of it whispered aloud, then quickly scribbled it out before Lucas could see that I wasn't the deep thinker he took me for, but just a silly schoolgirl after all.

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?JN: Wasting time, pantyhose, Phil Collins’ music , knick-knacks, the fatty parts on meat, being disorganized, the Geico cavemen, shag carpet, TV shows with laugh tracks, not living up to committments I've made

CBR: If you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, what fictional character would you take with you?JN: Robinson Crusoe. He’s done it before and could save me some hassle trying to figure out how not to die.

CBR: Who are some authors that have inspired you?JN: Stephen King, Lisa McMann, John Irving

CBR: What book of the past ten years did you enjoy the most?JN: That’s really hard. City of Dreams by Beverly Swerling was excellent – a great story and fascinating look at early NYC.

CBR: When you were ten years old, what did you plan to be when you grew up?JN: I didn't have much of a plan at ten. Or at twenty, for that matter.

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

CBR: What would be your main character's theme song/some songs on the soundtrack for your book?JN: Just about anything by Nickelback – they have a real mortality/carpe diem thing going.

CBR: Could you give us any hints/teasers as to what your next project might be?JN: I have a paranormal YA novel on submission with my Bloomsbury editor right now and two other YAs that I’m working on, one paranormal, one dystopian.

CBR: Thank you so much, Jen, and we hope your release time is exciting and wonderful and everything you could hope for!

To learn more about Jen, you can visit her website at www.jennadolbooks.com.