Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More haunted libraries - just in time for Halloween!

Here's a great post about haunted libraries from National Geographic Traveler's Intelligent Travel blog. The library loo ghost is notably absent, but there are lots of other interesting ones.

Plus there's also this link to the "complete list" of haunted libraries around the world. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the library where I work is not among them. Does anyone out there have a ghost at their library?

A faery refuge in a modern world

Thirteen-year-old Kendra and her eleven-year-old brother, Seth, must stay at their grandparents' house for what they think will be a very dull two weeks while their parents go on a cruise. Their grandparents are a bit mysterious - they rarely visit, and Kendra and Seth have never been to their house before. Their grandfather sets out certain rules that must be followed during their stay, rules that include absolutely no going into the woods that surround the house, which is on an enormous, wooded estate.

Seth immediately breaks the rules, goes into the woods, and meets a frightening old woman. This experience leaves him shaken but still disinclined to comply with any rules. Kendra, on the other hand, takes her grandfather's advice and solves a series of small mysteries that lead to a huge revelation: her grandparents' estate is populated by faeries, pixies, and many other magical creatures. Kendra and Seth learn more about this magical refuge, which is not without its dangers - especially on Midsummer's Eve. Their grandfather sets out very specific rules for this night, which is one of the most dangerous of the year. If the children cannot follow these rules, disaster will ensue...

This is exactly the kind of book that appeals to me, and I wanted to love it. There were indeed many things about it that I enjoyed - the idea of a magical refuge, the realistic depiction of Seth and Kendra's relationship, and the many creative magical details. My main problem was Seth - I completely lost sympathy for him because he was selfish and annoying, and he never learned from his mistakes. Kendra was fairly wishy-washy, a very reactive character, never really taking control of things. The grandfather struck me as an incompetent caretaker - his grandson clearly is unable to handle responsibility, yet he is continually placed in situations in which he can (and does) do great harm. Who on earth would entrust something so precious to these people? I also had problems with the dialog - it was often unrealistic, sounding like something no real person would actually say. For example, the grandmother says things like, "In pursuit of endless carnage and unlawful dominion, they clashed anciently with good humans and creatures of light." All these things kept throwing me out of the story so often that I stopped caring what happened.

I know that many people love this book, so I may be the only one with these issues. While there were elements I enjoyed about it, with all the books in my pile and on my "to read" list, I think I will give the rest of this series a pass.

Books in the Fablehaven series:
  1. Fablehaven
  2. Rise of the Evening Star
  3. Grip of the Shadow Plague (due to be published in April 2008)
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, illustrated by Brandon Dorman (Aladdin Paperbacks, 2006)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Robert's Snow Schedule for this week

No, I'm not through pestering you all to check out these wonderful sites and think about possibly making a bid on a snowflake. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, click here for more information.

This snowflake is from the 2005 auction and was painted by Karen Lee.

Jules and Eisha from Seven Impossible Things (who have spearheaded this whole multi-blog effort now have a special page with a comprehensive list of links to the profiles posted so far. Kris Bordesss also has a post about snowflake-related contests to date at Paradise Found. Yes! Lots of fun contests! Check them out. And also, check out the following:

Monday, October 29

Tuesday, October 30

Wednesday, October 31

Thursday, November 1

Friday, November 2

Saturday, November 3

Sunday, November 4

Take a little break and have some Halloween fun!

Click here to carve your very own virtual pumpkin. It's easy, fast, and there's no goopy mess. Plus it's easy to change your mind, and you won't cut your finger off (although that might helps us all really get into the Halloween spirit).

This is one of our pumpkins from a past Halloween. It always makes me smile. Happy carving!

The ghost in the library...loo!

This is too funny - although, I suppose if I were working alone in the library, I might not find it all that funny. Especially that sound of footsteps - that would creep me out!

I once spent the summer in an apartment in a very old building in Italy. It had that kind of old-fashioned toilet with the pull-chain for flushing. Every so often the toilet would flush by itself. The first time it happened, I was all alone, it was about 11 o'clock at night, and I was reading - what else? - The Shining. Took a dozen years off my life, at least.

I will update you if I hear any more about the ghost in the library loo!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Stephanie Plum meets Anita Blake?

Well, kind of. The humor isn't as over the top as Evanovich novels, and there isn't the dark sensuality of Hamilton, but Dead Witch Walking is a thoroughly enjoyable, funny, exciting read.

Rachel Morgan is a witch and a bounty hunter. The setting is a present-day-ish post-apocalyptic Cincinnati, and all across the country, a huge percentage of humans have been wiped out by a virus. The sudden lack of humans has made all the previously unnoticed supernatural residents of society very obvious, because they were immune to the virus and have all survived. Witches, werefolk, leprechauns, vampires, pixies and more all live (more or less) side by side with humans.

Although Rachel considers herself good at her job at the IS (Inderland Security), she's been plagued by bad luck lately, and her "runs" are becoming progressively more boring, even insulting. When she finally quits, her former partner Ivy, a living vampire (she has the virus because her mother was a vampire, but she won't be an undead vampire until she actually dies), decides to go with her. Their thoroughly despicable boss, Denon, could care less that Rachel wants to leave, but Ivy is one of the best, and her leaving is unforgivable.

Turns out that the nasty "accidents" that happen to IS employees who strike out on their own are not just rumors. Ivy can afford to buy out the contract on her life, but Denon holds Rachel responsible for Ivy's leaving and puts a contract out on her, instead. Rachel must find a way to earn enough money to buy out the contract on her life before Denon's assassins succeed in killing her. Rachel has a suspicion that a prominent citizen is involved in selling illegal drugs, and she hopes that nailing him will bring her enough money to buy off her contact. All she needs to do is sneak into his high-security estate and find some proof - and what could possibly go wrong with that?

There are many fun details and interesting elements that combined to make this book compelling - Jenks, the pixie who also leaves IS when Ivy and Rachel do, to go into private business with them, is fun comic relief to some darker moments in the novel. Ivy freaks Rachel out much of the time, even though for the most part she acts as a caring, supportive friend. But the fact that Ivy could lose self-control and rip her throat out is just a tad off-putting to Rachel. Although the writing was a little uneven in places, and at times I couldn't help but wonder why Rachel kept jumping into dangerous situations with very little planning or forethought, the story was so entertaining I didn't really mind. I am looking forward to reading the next in this series.

I'd like to thank Ladytink for recommending this series - be sure to check out her reviews of other Rachel Morgan novels.

The books in the Rachel Morgan (Hollows) series so far are:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rowling outs Dumbledore

So the fantasy world-building of Harry Potter continues, even after the series is officially over. Here's some more back story (so enticing to those of us who just can't get enough). Although I'm not, personally, given to speculating overmuch about the sexual orientation of characters in the books I read if it's not an issue in the novel, it is interesting. And a bit sad, to think that among all the other burdens Dumbledore has shouldered in the course of his life - his sister, his relationship with his brother, Harry, his responsibilities, etc. - he's also had to live with a broken heart. Rowling said that Dumbledore was "horribly, terribly let down," and that his love for Grindelwald was his "great tragedy."

And here is a link to a silly, sweet article listing seven clues that Dumbledore was gay. I liked the part that said that "Even the most diligent 'Harry Potter' scholars found themselves caught unaware." And the anagram that can be made from the letters in Dumbledore's name. Too funny!

Here is the full transcript of her revelations, for anyone who's interested.

May Bird returns to the Ever After

This appears to be the final installment of the May Bird series (which would officially make it a trilogy). The book takes place several years after the conclusion of the last book. May is back in Briery Swamp with her mother, who is overwhelmed with happiness and relief that her daughter has returned after her mysterious three-month disappearance.

Upon her return, May told the truth about where she was, only to be humiliated when no one believed her. She was a minor celebrity for a while (hence the fad for shirts reading "May Bird went to the land of the dead and all she brought me was this lousy t-shirt"). Even her mother doesn't believe her, and after several failed attempts to find out what "really" happened during those months, they have an unspoken agreement not to discuss it; instead, they make cookies together and enjoy each other's company.

May is now thirteen, and with the passing of the years she has become less enchanted with exploring the woods around her house and building innovative devices and odd inventions. Now, as with many young teens, it seems more important to try, somehow, to fit in. Pumpkin, Lucius, and her other friends from the Ever After all seem distant and unreal, as if they happened to someone else, long ago, in a dream. The lake that had been a portal into the Ever After is now dried up, and even though at times May wishes she could go back, she has no idea how she could possibly get there.

Then she gets a strange phone call - could it be Pumpkin's voice on the other end? Telling her that she must come back, that they desperately need her? Suddenly May and Somber Kitty (and he is as delightful a character as ever) find themselves back in the Ever After, and this time she is determined not to run away; this time she must face Bo Cleevil, and this time it's not just the fate of the Ever After that's at stake. Bo Cleevil has designs on other targets that are even more precious to May.

This book had the same sort of feel to me as The Last Battle, the last of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. The characters in that book are older, too, and they've lost a bit of the optimism and sense of wonder they had when they were younger. And because of that, the book was bittersweet. I was glad that May went back to finish what she started, fulfilling her destiny as warrior princess, doing all she can even though she knows it can't possibly be enough - and the story had a satisfying, if bittersweet, ending.

Books in the May Bird Trilogy:
  1. May Bird and the Ever After
  2. May Bird Among the Stars
  3. May Bird: Warrior Princess
May Bird: Warrior Princess by Jody Lynn Anderson (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2007)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Oops. Clemency Pogue has some work to do!

Clemency Pogue listens to the stories her parents tell her - luckily for her. When a very nasty little fairy attacks her, stinging her over and over again with her wicked little fairy wand, there is nothing she can do to protect herself. Finally she finds herself clinging for her life to the edge of a very high cliff. Desperation brings to mind the story of Peter Pan, and Clemency starts shouting, "I don't believe in fairies" over and over until, finally, the evil little fairy drops dead.

The only problem is that six other fairies died (one for every time she shouted out the words), too. She is informed of this by a hobgoblin who suddenly appears, scolding her for her actions, and even though some of those other fairies were wicked ones, too, the others were not. Clemency, a resourceful girl who has made herself a very stylish pair of burlap pants, realizes she must somehow atone for her actions. She and the hobgoblin dart around the globe, trying to figure out how to bring the dead fairies back to life.

My favorite fairy of the ones who were accidentally killed is the Fairy of Noninvasive Surgery. Unfortunately at the time of her demise she was removing a pea that had been inserted into the ear of "a little girl who should have known better." Now the little girl, who lives on the icy tundra in the heart of Siberia, has a pea in her ear as well as a dead fairy. Clemency clearly has her work cut out for her!

I loved the premise of this book, as well as the action-packed humor and details. Clemency makes mistakes, and sometimes she can't figure out what to do. But she's clever and persistent, she tries different approaches, and her heart is definitely in the right place. I will certainly be reading about Clemency's further adventures!

To date, the books in the Clemency Pogue series are:
  1. Fairy Killer
  2. The Hobgoblin Proxy
  3. The Scrivener Bees

Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer by J.T. Petty; illustrated by Will Davis (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2005)

Publisher recommends for ages 9 - 12

Monday, October 22, 2007

And the winner is...trick-or-treating!

Of course that's the best part of Halloween when you're a kid! I loved dressing up in my costume and traipsing all over creation with my friends. There was always such a feeling of excitement in the air, like anything could happen. Choosing costumes, making them, picking out the candy to hand out from our house - all these things were so much fun.

So it's not surprising that trick-or-treating came in #1 in the "What did you like best about Halloween when you were a kid" poll. It won with 6 votes. 2nd place was a tie, with 5 votes each for "choosing/making a costume" and "watching spooky movies and shows." "Candy," "haunted houses," and "spooky stories and books" tied for third place with 3 votes each. And in last place came "Halloween parties" and "decorations," with just one vote apiece.

Thanks for voting in the poll, and please share any special memories about your favorite Halloween things when you were a kid - I'd love to hear about them!

Araminta Spookie's debut

This first book in the Araminta Spookie series, My Haunted House, introduces Araminta, a young girl who lives with her Aunt Tabitha and her Uncle Drac in a wonderful, creepy old house. It's a wonderful house to Araminta and Uncle Drac, at any rate - even though Araminta has disappointingly never seen a ghost there, no matter how hard she tries. But Aunt Tabby is completely fed up with the boiler, which spews soot at her and refuses to cooperate. It's become an ongoing battle, which Aunt Tabby is losing. So the house goes up for sale.

Araminta realizes she must foil this dreadful plot. It would be horrible to have to live in a normal old apartment building, where nothing interesting could possibly ever happen. And ironically, it is only now, when the house is in danger of slipping out of her life, that Araminta finally does discover that it's really haunted. Not only that, but the ghosts are anxious to keep the Spookie family living there, and Araminta is able to enlist their help in scaring away prospective buyers. The plan works for a while, but unfortunately there are some house buyers who would like a real ghost to come with the house.

Araminta is a fun character, with guts, determination, and lots of imagination. She takes creative approaches to solving her problems, and, while her solutions don't always work out, she never gives up. Jimmy Pickering's black-and-white illustrations lend a delightfully spooky atmosphere to the book, with cobwebs hanging from the occasional corners of pages, along with partial and full-page illustrations that make the plot even more exciting. There is lots of comforting white space on the pages - the lines of text are separated slightly, and with many illustrations and graphics, the book will not be intimidating to readers who are moving up from transitional books into chapter books. My third grader is enjoying this series - I read it on her recommendation, and I'm glad I did! This is a particularly good read for this Halloween time of year, and I'm looking forward to reading more about Araminta's adventures.

To date, the books in the Araminta Spookie series are:
  1. My Haunted House
  2. The Sword in the Grotto
  3. Frognapped
  4. Vampire Brat
My Haunted House by Angie Sage - Araminta Spookie series, #1 (Katherine Tegen Books, 2006)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Robert's Snow Schedule for the upcoming week

Here is the Robert's Snow schedule for the upcoming week. These posts are so much fun - take time to check them out. You won't regret it!

Monday, October 22

Tuesday, October 23

Wednesday, October 24

Thursday, October 25

Friday, October 26

Saturday, October 27

Sunday, October 28

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Robert's Snow: Maxwell Eaton III

The snowflake Maxwell Eaton III has illustrated for Robert's Snow this year features his delightful characters, Max and Pinky. Max, a little boy, and Pinky, a marshmallow-loving pig, are best friends. And what better way to spend a snow day than playing outside with your best bud? I particularly enjoy the fact that his snowflake tells a story - flip it over, and the mystery is solved. Plus, like everything that involves Max and Pinky, it makes me smile.

For more information about bidding on this or the many other marvelous snowflakes featured in the 2007 Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure benefit, click here. Proceeds benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Maxwell Eaton III writes that he "grew up in Vermont where he spent his childhood building forts, damming streams, exploring woods and spying on unsuspecting cows. He still enjoys all of these activities but is told that 'it’s not that cute anymore.' So Maxwell now spends his days in Saranac Lake, New York creating children’s books and figuring out what to do when he grows up. Hopefully something that involves bulldozers and dinosaurs. We’ll see."

So far, he's published two books about Max and Pinky:
The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Best Buds (Alfred A. Knopf, December 2006 )
The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Superheroes (Alfred A. Knopf, October 2007)

In Best Buds, Max becomes alarmed when he can't find Pinky anywhere. He searches all over the place, but it isn't until he finally stops to think about what truly motivates his best bud that he realizes exactly where to look.

In Superheroes, there's some tension between the best buds when Max is hogging the glory in their superhero battles, but poor Pinky gets the short end of the stick. Friendship (and hero skills) are tested in this book, but we know that truly best buds always help each other out.

A new Max and Pinky book (The Adventures of Max and Pinky: The Mystery) will be published by Knopf in fall of 2008, and another book, Little Boogers, is also forthcoming. Here is a sneak preview of the cover of The Mystery:

In addition to supplying me with all this great artwork from the books, Maxwell also agreed to answer some questions about himself, writing and illustrating.

How did you get involved with writing and illustrating?

I had just graduated from college and was living in the mountains of Colorado and pursuing a lucrative career in ski instruction. Anyone who has ever worked in this field or any of the ski related service industries knows the deal. Get rich quick, and get out. But despite this early success I was still exploring my creative options figuring I’d need something to occupy my time during my early retirement. I’d been doodling a little hairless, earless character named Max and began writing him into stories where he gets ready to go skiing or skating or drag racing or something. He had a little sidekick named Pinky that resembled a pig only he didn’t have legs… or a body… or a neck. Just a tail out of the back of his head. A shuffling pig head? Adorable! Now that I think about it, my characters always seem to be missing significant body parts and facial features, because it was another year before Pinky had legs and Max had ears. And they still don’t have more than dots for eyes! Where am I? Anyway, Pinky started working his way into the stories and pretty soon they were a pair. And blah, blah, blah, they’re published!

What do you enjoy most about it?

Getting to sit down every day to write and draw and entertain myself. You can’t beat it with a stick!

What other books are you interested in writing?

I’ve just started working with my editor, Cecile, on my first non-Max and Pinky project, LITTLE BOOGERS, which is a lot of fun so far because there are so many new options. It’s pretty refreshing. We’ll see how Pinky takes it.

When you were a kid, what did you want to
be when you grew up?

When I was a kid I wanted to be a drifter living about a hundred and fifty years ago. Not a hobo, because I didn’t want to clutter my mind with train schedules, but a guy wandering the woods and plains and playing a jaw harp. Maybe with a wolf that tags along. And I think I would have a slight ability to communicate with animals. Mainly owls. And I’d either have a sweet facial scar, a limp with a story behind it, or maybe a missing eye or finger. I was serious, but unfortunately so was my high school guidance counselor when he told me that most colleges don’t offer Drifting as a major.

What were your favorite books when you were
a child?

My favorite book as a child continues to be my favorite book today. It’s THE AMERICAN BOYS HANDY BOOK and I suggest you check it out. It shows you how to do everything from building rafts, war kites and wilderness structures to rearing birds and slinging rocks. It still gets me excited! Although, I’m pretty sure half of it has become illegal in the hundred and twenty-five years since its first publication. Nonetheless, Christmas is coming…

Any advice for kids who would like to do what you do?

My only advice would be to actively pursue whatever it is that you love to do, and when people tell you that you can’t, or it won’t happen, or that the odds are against you, then just remember that somebody has to be a writer. And somebody has to be an artist. And somebody has be a one-eyed drifter that talks to animals and plays the jaw harp. So, why can’t it be you? Basically, don’t give two thoughts as to what other people think. Now that’s good advice for anyone. Also, don’t ride a bike or run downstairs with your hands in your pockets. That’s even more good advice. No charge!

My children (first and third graders) are big fans of Max and Pinky, and when they heard I was writing down interview questions for "Mister Eaton" to answer, they wanted to join in on the fun. I asked them what they wanted to know, and I could barely keep up with them as I madly typed it all down. I think their questions are actually more interesting than the ones I thought up, and Maxwell kindly answered them all as well:

How did you come up with the idea of a pig loving marshmallows so much?

It’s basic pig biology. I just read up on pigs and learned that marshmallows are one part of their nutritional requirements. One part. So don’t go feeding your family pig all marshmallows. It’s not natural. As you can see, research is ninety percent of the children’s book writing process.

Do you like marshmallows as much as Pinky

Not by a long shot, and I’ve got twenty-eight healthy adult teeth to prove it (That’s right, I just put my finger in my mouth and felt how many teeth I have. I suggest you do the same to make sure you don’t have any missing).

How did you get the idea of a boy and a pig being best friends?

At first Pinky was almost like a stuffed animal that belonged to Max. But I wanted him to think and talk and show sarcasm (which pigs do so well), so they became full blown best buds.

Will you ever write a chapter book?

You girls sure are nosy! I think every picture book author thinks of writing a chapter book. For some reason I think we need it to prove ourselves. “See. I can write more than thirty-two pages.” It’s not right around the corner, but I think I’ll definitely be trying my hand at it at some point in the near future.

Will you write a Max and Pinky Hallowe
en book?

I would love to write a Max and Pinky Halloween book.

Did you like writing and illustrating books when you were a child?

Writing stories and illustrating them was the best. But I think you’ll find that as you get older (so wise… so wise…) the drawing and the writing seem to drift further and further apart until they become English and Fine Arts. I don’t know why it has to be this way. Heck, it doesn’t! Forget it! Just keep doing your own thing. For me they went wide, but now they’ve finally come slamming back together and I get to spend my days writing funny stories with pictures again. Whoa. Close one.

And finally, here is a photo of Maxwell Eaton III - it looks like he's in a canoe - possibly on his way to dam a stream or spy on some unsuspecting cows? I'd like to offer my thanks to him, not only for taking so much time to answer all my questions, but also for donating his talents to the Robert's Snow effort to raise money for cancer research.

Just think how fun it would be to have an original Max and Pinky looking back at you from their snowflake this holiday season. Don't forget to stop by the auction site and place a bid on this or any of the other stunning snowflakes you will find there. Also, be sure to check out Maxwell Eaton very cool website - it has coloring pages, a monthly drawing to win the "sketch of the month" (it's a drawing drawing, get it?), and other fun activities.

And (this is a p.s. to this post, added later that day) - I just discovered Maxwell has a blog, too!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Blogging for a cure update

This is a 2004 snowflake created by Robin Brickman for the Robert's Snow auction to benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Today's blogs posting about 2007 snowflake illustrators are:

* Brooke Dyer, featured by Leila Roy at bookshelves of doom

* D.B. Johnson, featured by Elisabeth Rose Gruner at Lessons from the Tortoise

* Erin Eitter Kono, featured by Sam Riddleburger at his blog

* Sherry Rogers, featured by Loree Griffin Burns at A Life in Books

* Jennifer Thermes, featured by Gail Maki Wilson at Through the Studio Door


The Irrepressible Jacky Faber returns in her fifth adventure!

L.A. Meyer's "Bloody Jack" series is one that I enjoy so much, I jump up and down (and possibly squeal with delight) when a new book comes out. This time was no exception - especially because the last book, In the Belly of the Bloodhound, ended with such a cliffhanger!

I will say nothing about how Jacky managed to extricate herself from that situation, but anyone who's read any of her adventures would have no doubt that she would somehow manage to do so. This series, which begins with Bloody Jack, follows the adventures of Jacky Faber, who is without a doubt one of my favorite characters in fiction.

She is resourceful, intelligent, impulsive, creative, thirsty for knowledge, kindhearted and a natural leader. Unfortunately for her (but not for the reader), her impulsive nature gets her into one scrape after another, which leads to one harrowing narrow escape after another (not necessarily unscathed, either - bad things can and do happen throughout the course of the novels). The adventure never takes place at the expense of theme or characterization - the stories have a depth to them and a richness of historical detail that make them a true pleasure to read.

Jacky starts out an orphan on the streets of Victorian England in the first book, manages to become up a cabin "boy," falls in love with fellow cabin boy Jaimy Fletcher, and goes on to have many wonderful adventures on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as in other areas of the world. This installment takes her to the Mississippi river, where she travels on a boat downriver to New Orleans, hoping to meet up with her beloved Jaimy. My only criticism of the book is that it's getting just a little tiresome to have their perpetual attempts to find each other drive the plot of so many of these books. Still, the books are so exciting and delightful that it's hard to mind too much, especially since what happens along the way is invariably surprising and enjoyable to read about. Mississippi Jack explores some hard-hitting issues of 19th-century America, including slavery and government dealings with Native American tribes.

The books in the series are:
1. Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy
2. Curse of the Blue Tattoo: Being an Account of the Misadventures of Jacky Faber, Midshipman and Fine Lady
3. Under the Jolly Roger: Being an Account of the Further Nautical Adventures of Jacky Faber
4. In the Belly of the Bloodhound: Being an Account of a Particularly Peculiar Adventure in the Life of Jacky Faber
5. Mississippi Jack: Being an Account of the Further Waterborne Adventures of Jacky Faber, Midshipman, Fine Lady, and the Lily of the West
6. My Bonny Light Horseman: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, in Love and War
7. Rapture of the Deep: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, Soldier, Sailor, Mermaid, Spy

It is extremely important to read these in order! I know I always say that, but it's essential with this series. I highly recommend every one of them.

Mississippi Jack by L.A. Meyer (Harcourt, Inc., 2007)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Today's Blogging-for-a-Cure Posts

Pictured here is Layne Johnson's snowflake from the 2005 Robert's Snow auction. You see what I'm talking about? These snowflakes are amazing. Today's blogs that are posting about illustrators of the 2007 snowflakes that are soon to be auctioned are:

* Rick Chrustowski, featured by Laura Purdie Salas at laurasalas

* Diane deGroat, featured by Jama Rattigan at jama rattigan’s alphabet soup

* Ilene Richard, featured by Susan Dove Lempke at Something Different Every Day

* Brie Spangler, featured by Kimberly at lectitans

* Don Tate, featured by Pam Calvert at The Silver Lining

Please stop by and check them out!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Let the blizzard begin!

Today is the first day of the huge, multi-blog effort to publicize the auctioning of beautiful snowflakes painted by more than 200 talented children's book illustrators. All proceeds will benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. You can check out this post I wrote a few weeks ago for more information.

Seven Impossible Things will be posting a schedule every week so you can see which authors are being featured. I'm having some technical difficulties with getting these links to work on a sidebar at my blog, so for now, please link to that schedule and take a look at the blogs that are hosting these illustrators and their snowflakes. There will also be a comprehensive list that will be updated as more and more bloggers add their posts.

Wouldn't a unique, hand-painted snowflake brighten the holidays of someone special you know? And it is for a wonderful cause. The 2007 online auctions for bidding on these gorgeous snowflakes will take place in three separate auctions, open to everyone, from November 19 to 23, November 26-30, and December 3-7. Not every illustrator will be featured in these blog posts - but you will be able to find their snowflakes at the auctions sites as well.

My turn to highlight an author will be coming up soon - stay tuned!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A jewel by the mother of children's fantasy literature

When I was a child, I couldn't get enough of fantasy stories. I adored The Chronicles of Narnia, Edward Eager's magical books, Mrs. Frisby, Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, the Oz books, Diana Wynne Jones, Lewis Carroll - anything I could get my hands on. One writer I often heard mentioned, particularly in Edward Eager's novels, was E. Nesbit. I searched through the card catalog (actual cards, back then), asked my beloved children's librarian for the books - nada.

It wasn't until a few years later that I found an E. Nesbit book at our local bookstore. I bought it on the spot and devoured it with delight. It was Five Children and It, and I adored it, along with all her other books I was able to find, some fantasy, some not, but all dealing with realistic children having highly entertaining adventures of one sort or other.

Five Children and It is the first in a trilogy of books about five brothers and sisters, two girls and three boys, one of them just a toddler. In this book, they have come to the country from London, and while the mother doesn't appear thrilled with the move, the children are delighted with all the exciting things they can do in the country (as opposed to the city, where there are so many rules and restrictions).

The book is set in the time in which Nesbit was writing, the early 1900s, and I should mention that today's readers may find the language a bit old fashioned and some of the vocabulary a little puzzling (a trap, for example, as in a cart). I remember wondering a bit at some of it when I first read the book, but I found it strange and wonderfully exotic. I just read this to my first and third graders, and they asked me to explain something a few times, but didn't seem put off by it in the least. I suppose at that age there are always oddities to puzzle about in every book.

In any case, the five children explore the area around the big white house where they are now living, and they discover a sand pit. An attempt to dig to Australia leads to the discovery of an unusual furry brown creature buried in the sand, with eyes on the ends of little stalks, like a snail's. It calls itself a Psammead; it is an ancient sand fairy with the power to grant wishes.

The children can have a wish every day - just one - and the power of the wish lasts until sunset. The only problem they have is coming up with the right kind of wishes. Sometimes what they wish for turns out completely differently than they expect, and sometimes one of them blurts out a wish, an offhand desire, not a real wish, and of course that doesn't work out, either. But what doesn't work out for the five children makes for an enthralling, entertaining tale for the children who are reading about it!

If you'd like to read more about E. Nesbit and her books, here is an interesting article about her by Gore Vidal, written in 1964, from The New York Review of Books. (Although I take exception to his description of children's librarians as "brisk tweedy ladies whose interests are mechanical rather than imaginative." That was almost fifty ago, but even so, at least one children's librarian at time took exception, as well. And for the record, I am neither tweedy, nor brisk - and especially not mechanical!)

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit (Dell Yearling, 1986; originally published in 1902)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pssst! Been to the zoo lately?

You may never think of the zoo the same way after you read this wonderful picture book! I knew I was in for a treat when I opened the book and found a zoo map on the inside cover with an unobtrusive note saying "Lost children may be claimed at the information kiosk. Children not claimed at closing time become property of the zoo and will be fed to the bears." I really knew I was going to love the book when I read the sign on the Walrus enclosure that said "I AM THE WALRUS (koo-koo-kachoo)."

The narrator, a young girl on her own, tells us the story of what happened one day at the zoo. When she walks into the zoo, she hears a "Pssst!" and looks around. A gorilla says, "Over here." She approaches him, and he asks her for a new tire to replace his broken swing. Bemused, she agrees, and he adds, "Great. Get two, just in case."

Again and again she hears "Psst!" and each time it is a different animal asking her for something: trash cans, flashlights, paint, bicycle helmets. (The bicycle helmets are for the sloths. When the girl starts to ask, "Why would you need--" one of the sloths slips off its branch and lands on its head with a resounding kunk. The girl, unflappable as ever, simply says, "Right...bicycle helmets."

I couldn't help but wonder how on earth she was going to manage to purchase all these things. But it turns out that the peacock picks the coins out of the fountains. Of course.

These animals have a plan - a Very Grand Plan with a wonderful payoff for the reader. This picture book is the perfect combination of text and illustrations, each telling an integral part of the story, and it succeeds beautifully.

Make sure to check out Adam Rex's very cool website as well as his blog, Editpus Rex.

Pssst! by Adam Rex (Harcourt, Inc., 2007)

Publisher recommends for ages 4 - 8.

Monday, October 8, 2007

It's all Greek to me. Really.

See this book? This is exactly the kind of book that we sometimes get in boxes of donated books to my library. The ones that make us say "Ew!" and run for the rubber gloves go straight into the dumpster. (Seriously - after a hurricane and subsequent flood, people were donating wet books to us. And that flood water was nasty sewage water - so you can imagine how the books smelled.)

I can't honestly say that we've been given any that were this bad, but some books have come close. Anyway, the above book sat in a closet in France for years and years. Ostensibly an old prayer book, it also had faint Greek markings running up and down the pages beneath the Christian prayer text. The family that owned the book took it to Christie's to see if it was worth anything, and it was auctioned off for two million dollars! Turned out that the Greek pages beneath the prayers were the only surviving copy of two manuscripts written by Archimedes.

This happened back in 1998, and it has taken nine years for researchers to uncover the text and diagrams hidden under the writing. And they have discovered that Archimedes "was working out principles that, centuries later, would form the heart of calculus and that he had a more sophisticated understanding of the concept of infinity than anyone had realized."

This Science News article will tell you much more about the story and the mathematical principles involved (which are all Greek to me, as I successfully managed to avoid calculus my entire life, ignoramus that I am). There are also some very cool photographs of the manuscript and how researchers managed to reveal words that a monk in need of paper erased so long ago.

I think I will be a little paranoid going through book donations from now on...

Sunday, October 7, 2007

An exciting, charming, romantic read

I have loved Eva Ibbotson's books ever since I picked up The Secret of Platform 13 back in 1994. This one is not a fantasy novel, like many of her books - it is set England during World War I. Our heroine is Anna, a young Russian countess who, at the beginning of the book, is wealthy beyond compare, with an extremely loving family and servants who dote on her. But in spite of all these blessings, she is not spoiled. She is spirited and a bit headstrong, but also very kind and loving with a keen sense of honor.

Her English governess tells her stories about England, making Anna long to travel there and see the marvelous green, warm countryside for herself. Unfortunately her wish is granted in a way that means the end of her family and way of life. After the revolution Anna and the surviving members of the family flee, penniless, with Anna's governess, who provides a place for them to stay. But Anna cannot bring herself to live there on charity, and when she finds an opportunity to take a temporary position as maid at a neighboring estate, she seizes it. She knows nothing of life as a servant, but she has her trusty copy of The Domestic Servant's Compendium to guide her. She is determined to keep her past a secret, and is laughably unaware of how obvious her gentle upbringing appears to those around her. Still, good servants are difficult to come by, and Anna's determination to do the exhausting work required of her, along with her impulsive, kindhearted nature soon endear her to the entire household, from the master's enormous dog Baskerville to the butler's eccentric invalid mother.

The plot of this novel is nothing new, and much of it is, in fact, quite predictable. But the way Ibbotson tells the story is so engaging that it is a joy to watch events unfold. Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme, returns home from the war, the surviving younger brother who never imagined - or desired - to inherit the estate. His beautiful, wealthy fiancée will help solve the financial problems plaguing the property, and he will be able to keep the house, as he promised his older brother he would. Little does Rupert know that the Russian maid, gathered with the rest of the household staff to greet him upon his return from the war, will turn his life upside down.

The novel does have this element of romance, but it is mainly about a remarkable young woman finding her place in a new and strange world. When I closed the book I was truly sorry to let go of the many wonderful characters, whom I'd come to know and love in a way that only the very best novelists can inspire.

Virginia Gal, you will love this book!

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson (Speak, 2007)

Other blog reviews:
Reading, etc.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Thursday Next returns in First Among Sequels

Thursday Next, heroine of Jasper Fforde's engaging book world series that started with The Eyre Affair, returns in this novel, set 14 years after the last novel, Something Rotten.

The Eyre Affair is one of my favorite books. It is so over-the-top creative and unusual that it is difficult to describe. Set in an alternate version of England (in which the Crimean war is still ongoing), and Thursday Next is a member of the literary division of the police. In that novel, Thursday's eccentric uncle has invented a way to enter novels. If something changes in that novel, the book is changed, of course - but if someone enters the original manuscript, then every book all over the world changes. So the villain enters the original manuscript of Jane Eyre and kidnaps Jane, and all kinds of complicated, hilarious literary havoc ensues.

The only downside of these books is that if you haven't read many classics, you will miss a lot of the humor. As an English major, though, I found myself in my element. Thursday's mentor in the book world (where books are made, of course, and characters live in - and out of - the pages of their books) is none other than Miss Havisham (from Great Expectations), and she is a maniac behind the wheel of a car! The book world abounds with characters from all sorts of novels, from the Cheshire Cat and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle to the entire cast of Pride and Prejudice. Fforde is an expert on complex world building, and even though my head spins sometimes at the explanations about how it all works, it still makes bizarre sense.

In this fifth book in the series, Thursday has settled into her life as wife and mother of three children, sullen teenage Friday (last seen as a toddler), a math genius daughter, and another daughter who is strangely absent during the narrative. But troubles abound, both in the real world and the book world. In the real world, her son Friday stubbornly refuses to join the ChronoGuard, the time travel force, even though it is through his joining up that, according to sources from the future, he is able to save the world. Instead, he sleeps till early afternoon, gets suspended from school, and plays in a garage band. Things are even worse in the book world - reader rates are inexplicably dropping, Sherlock Holmes has been murdered, and all the hilarity has inexplicably vanished from the novels of Thomas Hardy.

I enjoyed this installment in the series, but at times it seemed as though Fforde just had to fit in every interesting quirky detail and joke he could think of, even if it sometimes sidetracked the narrative - especially at the beginning of the novel. But in the end I had to forgive him, because those details were so fascinating and the jokes too, too funny. Now if only I could figure out how to jump into the book world - I know where I'd go for my next vacation!

First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde (Viking, 2007)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

I think the library offers better rewards, but...

I know many of you are bookstore, bookbuying-o-holics, and here is some sad news if you are among those who enjoy the extra discounts offered by the Borders reward card. Apparently the rewards were, well, too rewarding, and customers were saving too much money, so they've redesigned it to make sure that doesn't happen anymore.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I know as a librarian I'm not supposed to enjoy anyone cutting up a book, but...

I think I've changed my mind. And if you check out Brian Dettmer's amazing artwork, you might agree with me, too. Here is one photo; for more, check out this blog post. I enjoyed reading through the comments, especially the one the artist left.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The riveting sequel to Touch the Dark

I loved Touch the Dark, and at the end I was looking forward to reading more about psychic Cassie Palmer's adventures. Many seeds were planted in that first novel, and I was wondering if and hoping they would grow in the sequel - and they sure did!

I hesitate to say too much, so as not to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read the first one, so I will keep things general. Cassie, who had certain powers thrust upon her in the first book, is doing all she can to get rid of them. The problem is that she is being chased down by assorted villains, from assassin mages to vampires, and while she wants to save her skin, she worries that if she uses her new powers she'll end up being stuck with them for good. What to do, what to do? First things first - she needs to hunt down the most dangerous person, the one who really and truly wants her dead. And to do this, she will need to travel to Faerie. Unfortunately, the only people who can help her get there may also want to kill her as soon as she succeeds in her mission. But without their help, she has no idea how to get into Faerie in the first place, much less find the person she's looking for.

This book hits so many of the elements that I particularly enjoy in a novel - it has interesting characters that are well rounded, with real personalities, issues, and pasts; it is dark but has laugh-out-loud moments, too; it has a feisty heroine who makes mistakes (but for all the right reasons) and moves from one predicament to another; it has a touch of unexpected romance; it is never predictable and is so exciting that I want to sit down and read it straight through - and when I do have to put it down, I find my thoughts keep straying back to the story and the characters, wondering what will happen next.

The third book in the series, Embrace the Night, is due to be released in April of 2008. I can wait six months. Really. I can. I think I can, I think I can...

Claimed by Shadow by Karen Chance (Roc, 2007)