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.

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