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.

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.