Saturday, July 31, 2010

Vampire Weekend, Part I: "Blue Bloods" by Melissa de la Cruz

Some of you might know that in my senior year of college I worked on an independent project that focused on teen vampire books. I've decided that I'm going to repost them all here, since I think there are a lot of better vampire books out there besides Twilight with better female role models.

So today, I am kicking off a new event here on Tahleen's Mixed-Up Files: Vampire Weekend! With real vampires. Not the kind that sing about Chapstick and Oxford commas.

Without further ado, here is post #1:

Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Publisher: Hyperion, 2006
Where I got it: I bought this from Barnes & Noble.

Melissa de la Cruz' Blue Bloods series could be described as a vampire version of Gossip Girl upon first glance. It takes place in a swanky New York City private school for the extremely rich and powerful, and most of the main characters indulge themselves in everything: what they eat, where they shop, how they spend their time (there is a lot of underage everything). But beneath the surface, there is a lot more to these seemingly shallow teens.

Centering on the elite group of Blue Bloods, or vampires, of mean girl Mimi Force, her twin brother Jack, Mimi’s sidekick Bliss Llewellyn, and outcast Schuyler Van Alen (among others), these teens do not know what they are until age 15. Their bodies begin to go through changes, like sudden cravings for raw meat (the redder the better), strange flashbacks in the form of nightmares that seem to be from past lives, and the appearance of pronounced blue veins on their arms. They are then admitted into the Blue Bloods Society, where they learn about their own personal histories (past lives) and the changes they are undergoing, as well as the rules they must follow in their new lives. But some Blue Bloods are being killed, something that is supposed to be impossible; this mysterious enemy must be found before it kills more of them, because this death is permanent.
As it turns out, each member of the Blue Bloods has been alive since Lucifer was cast out of heaven, as they are all fallen angels who became vampires as punishment. They each have memories dating back to their arrival on earth, though they are reborn through the years. Keeping consistent with every other vampire mythos, these vampires require blood to survive, though they are strongly discouraged from taking on human “familiars” until they are older and are able to use them without abusing them (for example, leaving them enough recovery time between feedings). Some Blue Bloods also have special powers, like Schuyler, who can mesmerize others, in the fashion of many other vampire myths. But blood-drinking and the occasional occurrence of these powers is where the overlap ends—no other pieces of the vampire folklore finds its way into this world, except as myths themselves. Sun doesn’t harm them; they cannot die from wooden stakes; they can’t change anyone else into a vampire; they aren’t afraid of crucifixes, despite being cast from heaven—in fact, their main goal is to somehow find a way back to God and paradise.
Blue Bloods is infused with Biblical stories and American history, with some interesting twists on what really happened in history, including an explanation of the lost colony of Roanoke. This originality and complexity saves the series at the outset—without the fast-paced plot and mysteries behind the characters and their enemies, the books would fall flat. The initial shallowness of the characters can be extremely grating, and a person can only read so much about the antics of spoiled rich kids, especially when they don’t seem to have any sort of conscience. There is also a weird incestuous aspect between brothers and sisters who are twins; it’s a part of their society, but one that can be slightly creepy for readers if they think too much about it. But for the most part, this is offset by the series’ good qualities; each ends with a huge revelation and a subsequent cliffhanger that will lead many readers to the next books in the series. Just be warned: It is at least a PG-13 rating, as there is a lot of sex and language, and some violence. Overall, I’d recommend giving these books a shot, if you can stand its irritating drawbacks and can handle the mature content.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Blogger Hop again!

Getting there a little late, but it's book blogger hop time again, hosted by Jen at Crazy For Books! This is a meme I think I will keep using, since it is pretty much win-win for me: people see my blog, and I find other cool blogs I can follow to keep up with YA happenings.

Anyway, this week's question: Who is your favorite new-to-you author this year?

Hmm, that's a good question. I think I would have to say Jacqueline Woodson, since I LOVED Locomotion. Right now I'm reading its sequel, Peace, Locomotion, and like it so far. I also have another one of hers that I got from the library (actually I think it's overdue... oops. I know Peace, Locomotion is... I'll get it back soon I promise!).

So that is what I have to say about that! Thanks for dropping by!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Throwback Thursday: "Ella Enchanted" by Gail Carson Levine

So I know I skipped a week of this, but I have been super busy and my class syllabus wasn't as accommodating to Throwback Thursday as it was last time. (Great books, just not ones I had read when I was little.) But I'm back this week, now that I have time to write up reviews and whatnot, since my classwork is, for the most part, finished. ANYWAY.

Here we are, back for another Throwback Thursday! This week's selection...

Ella Enchanted! This, Gail Carson Levine's first novel, is one of my very favorite Cinderella retellings. Ranks right up there with Ever After.

So Ella of Frell was cursed when she was born. It wasn't meant to be a curse, but (apparently) these things happen. Ella must be obedient. She has to obey every single command thrown her way, even if it will put her or her loved ones in danger. But even with this less-than-desirable way of life she has to lead, she grows up to be a spunky and clever girl, since she's had to find ways around doing exactly as she's told, to the point where she almost gets to be disobedient.

After her mother dies, she is put in the care of her ever-absent father, a greedy merchant. She also meets and befriends Prince Charmont ("Call me Char"), but only right before she's sent off to finishing school with the detestable Hattie and Olive, disgusting, greedy, dreadful girls that no one would want to get near. Luckily, she is able to escape. Unfortunately, things just seem to go downhill from there, and this is where we start to see the Cinderella story skeleton. Her father marries Hattie and Olive's mother, Dame Olga. They treat her worse than they'd treat a servant. She falls in love with the prince. BUT! The big problem? How could she possibly find a happily ever after if she must do everything she's told? Can she break the curse?

This is an incredibly clever take on Cinderella, a tale that mostly portrays the title character as a meek and helpless woman who needs to help of fairies and a man to get what she wants. Ella is none of these things. She is feisty, incredibly intelligent (especially with languages), knows what she wants, and figures out how to get it. This is no helpless damsel in distress, here.

Characterization is wonderful. Most of the characters are multifaceted, especially Ella's father. He readily admits he's a greedy man, yet there is this honesty he has with Ella, and an admiration for her that you wouldn't expect from someone who is painted to be such a villain. Ella is extremely likable and relatable (she not exactly popular at school, and she has to deal with mean girls and bullies; though, I don't know how relatable it is to be trapped by ogres). The rest of the cast of characters are all unique and not exactly stock characters, though we of course have to have each role filled (ugly stepsisters, evil stepmother, fairy godmother, etc.).

I love how Levine has created all of these different cultures and languages, without making it seem overwhelming, like when you read The Lord of the Rings. You know just what you need to know, and apparently the new edition of the book has glossaries. Excellent!

When I first read this, I remember thinking it was one of the best books I'd ever read. I don't think at that point that I'd ever really read anything like this; the only Cinderella I'd ever seen was the Disney one, and she's a wimp. This made Cinderella WAY better. (Plus, best part? I got the book for free through the Barnes & Noble summer reading program. How awesome.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Hi everyone, this is another random thought posting. I am currently in a weird spot right now with this blog. I'm trying to get the word out about it, but at the same time I don't want it to look unprofessional, since I want this to represent more than just me talking about books I like. I want it to be something worth reading, and I'm feeling like a lot of the weekly memes and whatnot (with the exception of Top Ten Tuesday) are detracting from the credibility of the blog. And I know that sounds kind of snobbish, but I don't want it to get cluttered, since I haven't been able to post too many reviews lately.

Does anyone have any thoughts about this?

"Down the Rabbit Hole" by Peter Abrahams

So I just realized I haven't posted a new review in more than a week—gross. Sorry about being MIA, everyone. In my defense, it was a busy week! I walked 3 days this past weekend for the Susan G. Komen breast cancer walk, AND I had a final project due for class/LOTS of books to read for it. Anyway, enough whining—I am about to remedy this disgusting lack of reviewing on a book review blog.

Title: Down the Rabbit Hole (An Echo Falls Mystery)
Author: Peter Abrahams
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2005
Where and why: I bought this at the B&N where I work to read for the mystery unit of my children's lit class.

Ingrid Levin-Hill is a pretty normal 8th grader, just trying to deal with braces, pass her classes, and get to soccer on time, plus getting through her community theater's production of Alice in Wonderland as the title character. Unfortunately, she has a tendency to dig herself deep in trouble.

When she realizes she leaves her favorite (red!) cleats at what later becomes a crime scene, she knows she has to get them out, fast, or else she'll be all mixed up in a case she wants nothing to do with. And immediately gets herself mixed up in a case she wants nothing to do with. The only option? Solve the case herself, or get arrested as the prime suspect. All while dealing with being in middle school.

Let's start with the good. This mystery has all the classic mystery elements. It's a whodunnit, we get clues scattered throughout the book that help us solve the mystery, there's one perpetrator that we are familiar with, and all that jazz. Ingrid also channels Sherlock Holmes a lot, as he is her very favorite—lots of her inspirations and ideas come from his particular brand of mystery-solving. Abrahams really focuses on logic and reason in here, what with Ingrid's focus on Sherlock Holmes and Alice from Alice in Wonderland. (Bonus! Kids will likely want to pick these up after reading this one.)

The characters are also pretty relatable. Ingrid is going through what one might call her "awkward phase," and come on, we all know we had one too. This is especially, painfully obvious in her relationship with Joey, which at times is pretty perfect. There are a lot of things going on outside the mystery plot with Ingrid's family too, namely the behavior of her brother and father. It's hinted that there's more going on there, which (I've heard from a classmate) is revealed as the series progresses. I enjoyed this character development; I don't like one-dimensional characters, I don't know about you.

Despite all this, there was a lot I didn't like about this book. I found the mystery itself really predictable. I know it's written for a younger audience, but really. A lot of teens and young adults will figure out what's going on way before Ingrid does, who is maddeningly slow at figuring this stuff out. It takes her about 375 pages out of 400 to start piecing it all together.

I also found Ingrid irritating in her constant stunts to figure things out. Didn't she learn the first time that breaking into houses is bad and will implicate her? Hmm??? She doesn't have any forethought and just does whatever she feels is going to get her the answers. And some people might really like this about her, but I just found it annoying, even if we wouldn't have a book without this endearing quality of hers.

Another annoyance is the constant name-dropping and dated references. Puma, North Face, whatever; brand names are used to describe objects. The popularity of brands is not necessarily timeless; in 10 years, this book will probably have dated itself and kids reading it might not know what the name "North Face" implies like they do now. There is also a lot of IMing and Googling going on. Like I said, who knows what will be popular in 10 years' time?

Overall, this was a pretty good mystery with a clear solution, despite certain irritating aspects of the book as a whole. It will probably get kids to read some classics, and at the very least will allow them to solve a mystery, either partially or completely. If you're looking for a YA mystery this series will work. Personally, I like the Sammy Keyes mysteries better—the crime-solver is more likable, interesting, and funny.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Top Ten All-Time Favorites!

First off, sorry I've been MIA for a while. I have been super busy with my class and with getting ready for/walking the 3-day this past weekend. But I'm back now, and soon should be blogging more reviews because my class will be over!

Anyway. It's that time again, Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme: top ten all-time favorite books. I apologize for it being pretty much the same as my top ten favorite books from childhood.

1. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle: I know, you've heard it here before at least twice. I'll spare you.

2. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech: It's got everything I love. Storytelling, a road trip across the country, feisty old people, Native American culture, a little mystery, the works. Read it.

3. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: Just classic. I love Anne and want to be her best friend. I vaguely remember naming places romantic things around my yard after reading this.

4. Appetites: Why Women Want by Caroline Knapp: Quite simply, this book saved me. Every woman (and man) should read this book.

5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: I read this for the first time in 7th grade because another book mentioned it and it sounded cool. I still have that Puffin Classic copy, worn and friendly. I must have read this at least three times. Don't know why I love it so much.

6. Second Glance by Jodi Picoult: This is BY FAR my favorite book by her. It's a page-turner, with lots of mystery. Plus, it's a GHOST story. How awesome is that?

7. A Voice in the Wind by Kathryn Lasky: Still a favorite, due for my annual summer reread. I said this before, but this is what made me interested in the Southwest and Native American culture.

8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: This is a book I can pick up whenever and wherever, open it to any page, and just start reading. It's classic, and I don't care what anyone says, I think high school students SHOULD keep reading it.

9. The Giver by Lois Lowry: One of the first dystopian books I've ever read. This is a big genre with me, for some reason. I love the hope that comes out of this.

10. The Last Season by Eric Blehm: I don't think I'll read this one more than once, but I will NEVER forget the way Blehm made me feel after reading this. It was a completely new experience in reading for me—close to shock, I think. He did an incredible job. It's not very well known, but it's amazing, though slow at the beginning. Stick with it, and trust me.

Those are the top ten! What are yours?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Top Ten Book Covers

Today is Top Ten Tuesday over at The Broke and the Bookish, and the category is best covers. This takes a lot of thinking and searching, but here are my entries. Note: They're not all necessarily children's/YA/teen books.

1. Matilda by Roald Dahl

This cover captivated me when I was little, in fourth or fifth grade. I always liked the way she looked, just sitting there with her piles of books. She reminded me of me, I think, but obviously not as crazily intelligent. I always wanted to read it but never got around to it until this past weekend, so that's why it might be fresh in my mind. I still love the cover though, good

2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I know, I know! I just did this one. But this cover is SO COOL. It's so dark and foreboding; I think it was this cover that eventually got me to read the book. I had seen it around my friend's house a bunch of times, as her younger sister was WAY into L'Engle's books.

3. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

I swear I'm not picking all my childhood faves on purpose! It's just been two so far! But this cover really is fantastic. Paper cut outs, a beautiful landscape of a lake and mountains (which I love), and deep colors. I want to be in this picture.

4. A Voice in the Wind by Kathryn Lasky

...Okay. Caught me again. But this time I have a REASON why I picked a childhood favorite. The old cover was awesome. It had Liberty and July Starbuck (main characters) climbing a ladder to an old adobe dwelling, it had the all-important pot on the cover, and if you looked really closely you could see the glowing blue ghost in the background standing on a mesa! There are lots of deep blues and purples and it was SO PRETTY. I couldn't even find an image online. Boooo. Then they reprinted it, and the cover is ALL WRONG. It looks gross and not at all like
the old one. Here's the new one for those of you who are curious:
See? Not nearly as good as the one I described.

5. Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

I love landscape. Especially ones with rock formations. Especially ones in the Southwest U.S. This has it all here. Beautiful colors, the lighting, the blue sky through the orange rock, more formations through the hole in the rock, the placement of the title. So pretty. Oh, and the book was pretty good too.

6. Fire by Kristin Cashore

Again, it's the colors. I love how there's just a bit of purple along the edges in corners, and the fluidity of how they all blend together. It's like an ocean of oranges and reds, with a burning heart. Plus the addition of the bow lets me know there's some action, and the girl's face at the top is just mysterious enough.

7. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Matt Phelan is a fantastic artist. This cover is gentle yet empowering, with striking contrast between the red dress and the the sandy color of the rest of the cover. Look at that dress twirl.

8. Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

I haven't read this one yet, but I love the painting on this front cover. More colors that I love; more of the deeper purples and some dark greens, with the glowing lantern on the side. And don't you wonder what she's wondering about or wishing for?

9. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

You know why. Patterns, people.

10. Abarat by Clive Barker

This is one seriously cool cover. These beautiful oil paintings by Barker are spread throughout the book, and look at that title. It's the same upside down as it is right side up! Super crazy.

Well, that's it for me! This was a lot of work, but don't be afraid to find your own favorites. Do you have one in particular you can remember off the top of your head?

Monday, July 19, 2010

On The Broke and the Bookish: "Rapunzel's Revenge"

Today I'm the featured reviewer on The Broke and the Bookish! You can check it out on that blog here, or you can just read it on mine. Since, you know, you're already here.

Authors: Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale (no relation)
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2008
Where and why: From the library through ILL, for the folktales/fairy tales unit in my children's
lit class.

Who remembers the old story of Rapunzel? If it's what you're expecting in this graphic novel, you're in for a surprise and a treat. In this tale, things are a bit different.

Rapunzel grows up in a beautiful villa, with servants and everything she could possibly wish for—except the love of the woman she believes to be her mother. Eventually she discovers that beyond her (ridiculously tall) garden wall, there is something she could never have imagined possible.

Things happen—Rapunzel is locked up in her tower, her hair grows. Her witch of a stepmother visits yearly, until Rapunzel crosses her one too many times. What's a girl locked in a tree tower to do? Why, put her 20-foot length of hair to use, of course.

This is a completely fractured and often hilarious Rapunzel tale, a hodgepodge of familiar fairy-tale characters and legends, with a few literary allusions thrown in for good measure. There are a lot of elements that are the same (taking from parents for some stolen lettuce, long hair, trapped in a tower), but the whole thing is completely turned on its head. Set in a vaguely Wild West–ish land, it's a great adventure full of thieves, rescues, acts of daring, narrow escapes, and a bit of romance—not to mention the most awesome fairy-tale heroine I've come across in quite some time. Just look at that picture of the cover! You know she's using those braids for some serious lassoing and butt kicking. Finally, a Rapunzel who knows how to DO stuff.

There's a lot of great detail in here, too, not only in the clever nods to various literary characters, but in the setting and the secondary characters. The ethnicities of each is clearly carefully chosen, especially concerning who owns what type of shop and who is in charge at various villages and towns. It looks pretty well researched, though it lacks any kind of source notes, which is unfortunate. I'd love to know why the Hales chose to use certain aspects and not others, why they decided to set it where they did, and a few more things.

But despite that one drawback, here we finally have a graphic novel heroine who not only holds her own, but is the one to fight for what's right and save the day. This is great for reluctant middle-grade readers, or even those in high school. (It will probably appeal more to girls than boys, but boys can certainly enjoy it too. There's a sequel titledCalamity Jack that came out in January, featuring the male protagonist in its predecesor, which might appeal more to boys. Either way, I certainly plan on reading it.)

Nathan Hale's illustrations are absolutely fantastic. He uses a lot of color, perspective, detail, and humor throughout. He's also great at showing what panels are flashback, what dialogue is meant to be an aside, and each character's face clearly shows their emotions (unless they are too far away in the panel for that kind of detail).

If you like retellings or fractured fairy tales, and you could do with a nice dose of graphic novel fiction, definitely go for this one. It's a fast read, the illustrations are beautiful, it's hilarious, and it's pretty much nonstop action—something for just about everyone.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Book Blogger Hop: July 16-19, 2010

Book Blogger Hop

Today is the beginning of this week's book blogger hop, hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books. This week I'm also doing the Follow Friday event over at Parajunkee's View.


I am REALLY looking forward to Mockingjay, of course, but another one I really want to read is Changeless by Gail Carriger, the sequel to Soulless (check out my review of that book here). I actually have the book, waiting to be read, but I don't have time for pleasure reading while my class is still going on! Two more weeks and I'll be free!!

Throwback Thursday: "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle

So I recently thought, wouldn't it be great if I used a day to review childhood favorites? I recently reread a bunch of books I loved when I was younger for a class, and I wanted to share my renewed love (or newly discovered disappointment). If you have a favorite from childhood that you want to revisit, please feel free to use this! Just link back to me, please.

For this, my first Throwback Thursday, I'm revisiting: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Originally published in 1962 (not sure exactly by who; I've seen Yearling and Dell listed the most, and I've most often seen it as Laurel-Leaf book).

*Starred Review* (duh)

And yes, that's totally the cover from when I was little. It was the first one I ever saw, and will always be the best in my opinion. I don't know why I love it so much; it's incredibly creepy. Mrs. Whatsit looks terrifying, not to mention the Man with the Red Eyes. Floating in an orb. What's that all about?


Here's a brief synopsis for those of you who haven't read it: Meg Murry is an awkward and difficult teenage girl, and Charles Wallace is her precocious, intelligent 5-year-old brother. Along with Calvin O'Keefe, a kid Meg knows from school who gets caught up in the whole affair almost by accident, they go on a remarkable journey through space and universes trying to find and rescue their father, who disappeared the year before. But they soon find out they are battling much more than they originally thought.

I forgot how much I love this book. The entire time I was reading it, I felt like I was at home. Every time the children went to a new planet, met new people, I remembered and went into the safe spot in my head, even when they were in danger. Rereading this book is always a completely different experience from reading anything else. For some reason I get this completely unique feeling that's very hard to explain, but maybe you know what I'm talking about if you have a favorite book that's different from the rest.

I also did NOT remember the Christian messages sprinkled throughout the book. As an adult, I loved it, being a Christian myself, but I honestly don't remember it as being a Christian book. And I don't think L'Engle meant for it to be one, at least not like C.S. Lewis meant for his to be obviously Christian. The references are snuck in here and there, but it's not exclusive. And really, the overall message is about love—love is your greatest gift and protection, and it conquers all.

Some references are a little dated, but that's part of why I love it so much. It's got this completely different tone from stuff published today. I've heard someone suggest updating the language, but this would be a mistake. It would completely change the tone and feel of the language, something I would protect for the rest of my life. And it's not like you would update classic literature from centuries past into modern language.

If you haven't read this yet, you really should. It's completely different from anything else out there. I don't know if those of you who haven't read it would like it as much as those of use who read it as children, but that's up to each reader. I think it's fantastic, and it's gone through nearly 50 years of being in print with 69 printings (!) as a favorite.

What's one of your favorites from when you were little?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Soulless" by Gail Carriger

Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Orbit, 2009
Where and why: I borrowed it from a friend who said it was awesome. And it sounded awesome.

I thought it was about time to post a new review, instead of my ramblings. This book's a bit different. It's written for an adult audience, but it won the Alex Award, an award given to books written for adults that would appeal to teens. I have to agree, this would be great for a teen audience.

Alexia Tarabotti, a 26-year-old spinster with Italian blood (scandalous!), is dragged into some shady dealings; all simply because she has no soul. Her soullessness has an interesting effect on the supernatural—she neutralizes their powers. Now she must deal with Lord Conall Maccon, a deliciously dreamy yet completely infuriating werewolf in charge of a government department that deals with supernatural issues. Not to mention the danger that comes along with knowing far too much than is good for her. Unfortunately, she does love to know too much.

This was a quirky, fun read set in steampunk Victorian-era England in which vampires, werewolves, ghosts and the preternatural all exist in society together. The proper language and manners set a great tone—appropriate to the setting, and hilarious. Especially since inappropriate things tend to happen to Miss Tarabotti, constantly.

There are lots of reasons this would resonate with teens. It has all the usual stuff, like romance, intrigue, mystery, and vampires, werewolves, not to mention all the delicious-sounding descriptions of food I wish I could afford to eat all the time. Alexia loves food and doesn't care who knows it—something I wish I saw more of in teen lit. Plus, it's chock full of laugh-out-loud humor. I found myself giggling constantly.

Alexia is extremely intelligent. She knows all there is to know about "modern" machines (which, of course, are very different from what you'd expect in Victorian England, since this is a steampunk fantasy), and she's very interested in all things science—another reason to cheer for her. Not many science girls out there in the teen lit world (if I'm wrong, feel free to correct me in the comments!).

She also doesn't care at all what her family thinks of her. They constantly wish she were more mild, less imposing, less intelligent, less obnoxious, and prettier. Her mother and half sisters are quite insipid, and it's funny to see the way they react to Alexia's exploits and manners.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to teens out there who are looking for something supernatural, funny or steampunk. If you like any of these things in books, you'd probably like this one. I have the second one, Changeless, waiting for me to finish my summer course so I have time to read it. Can't wait!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick

Title: The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Author: Brian Selznick
Publisher: Scholastic, 2007
Where and why: I got this at my local library to read for
my children's lit class.

Paris, 1931. We meet a young boy by the name of Hugo Cabret as he flits around the Paris train station he calls his home, keeping the clocks running and trying not to get caught. We don't read this, but see it—detailed and textured illustrations take us into Hugo's world. We will soon hear Hugo's voice and internal thoughts, but the words only tell part of the story, alternating back and forth with the illustrations.

Hugo has a mission and many secrets. Where did his notebook with illustrations of a mechanical man come from? What does the mechanical man do? He believes it will tell him a truth, a secret from his past, that will save his life. With the help of a girl he sees around the station, he does his best to unravel this mystery.

In his Caldecott Award–winning book, Selznick highlights movies and the magic of cinema in his masterpiece, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. His illustrations give readers the sense of watching an old movie, intent on detail and perspective. We learn about the old movies that were pioneers in the industry, and how it was like when people were first exposed to moving pictures.

The story is just as enchanting as the illustrations. I found myself really getting emotionally involved, and feeling what Hugo was feeling. I got sad, furious, and happy at all different points. Though the writing was spare, it worked in the book's dual format.

I don't want to give too much away about the plot, but let me say this: You will want to know what happens to Hugo! There are so many mysteries and questions as we read through the first half, and by the end of the second they are all satisfied (for the most part).

I also loved how Hugo is so brilliant with machines, especially clockwork. Apparently, a lot of magicians used to be clockmakers. I didn't know this! Lots of interesting tidbits in here about those professions, as well as movies.

I would definitely recommend this to readers moving on from easy readers and onto novels. Though this tome is over 500 pages, it's a very quick read—after all, it's mostly pictures. I got through it in a couple of hours. I'd also recommend this to anyone who has an appreciation for art.

As a side note, when this won the Caldecott it caused quite a commotion. Many people were against it because it is technically a book for young adults, and they all felt like it was a betrayal to children and books for children. The Caldecott is mainly awarded to picture books, and this was an aberration that bothered many people. I think it fully deserved it, as it's quite obvious this took Selznick YEARS to complete. Plus, children old enough to read could probably get through this, younger ones with maybe the help of an adult. Either way, it's a great story with amazing illustrations.

What do you think about the controversy?

Top Ten Most Intimidating Books

Today is Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Today's Top Ten: the most intimidating books!

1. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandella. It's so long! I got this as a gift and I'm not sure when I'll get around to it.

2. Ulysses by James Joyce. I had made it a goal to read this at one point, and then I realized, that's just not going to happen. One of my friends told me he'd let me borrow a book... to help me read it. No, thanks.

3. The Old Testament. I am working my way through this now. Boy, was God angry a lot back then!

4. From Here to Eternity by James Jones. I just got this from my friend Lori, also a collaborator on The Broke and the Bookish. I had no idea it was so thick! But I do hope I'll get around to it sooner rather than later; she said it was one of her favorites.

5. Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo. Another one that is intimidating simply for the sheer length of it. I'm sure it's great. But it just sits there like a brick. I want to read it, and I will. Someday.

6. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Now, when I picked this up I had confidence. I started to get intimidated as I read it. This is because I discovered I didn't like it, but I REFUSED to give up. It took me a month to finish it. I'm silly.

7. The Lord of the Rings or, for that matter, anything by Tolkien. (Okay, I stole this one from Kelly at Fresh Off the Shelf.) Have you ever read anything by him? They are SO HARD TO READ. I managed to make my way through The Hobbit because I had a great copy with beautiful full-page illustrations, and I forced my way through The Fellowship of the Ring. But then, I started The Two Towers, and it was over.

8. I'm going to go with everyone else here and say War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. LONG.

9. Either The Pillars of the Earth or World Without End by Ken Follett. Have you seen the trade paper editions of these? They are monstrous. I don't know how people even hold them without spraining their wrists.

10. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. It's the content in this one. I have it and really want to read it, but I know it will make me really sad. One of my professors at Ithaca told me to read it when I wanted to be really depressed.

Well, those are my picks. What are yours?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Two cents on "To Kill a Mockingbird"

I was thinking about this just now because of a discussion thread on the Goodreads College Students! group. To Kill a Mockingbird is turning 50 this year, and this milestone birthday is causing a lot of discussion in the book-loving world. Many still praise it, but there are some people who don't like it much. Like this one guy, Allen Barra, who kind of pooped on it. His main argument, as I understood it, is that it doesn't have value as a great American novel because it was aimed at young adults.

I'm sorry, but that royally ticks me off.

Who is Allen Barra to say young adult literature can't have worth as a member of the literary canon? Does a book have to be for adults in order to have merit? Most, if not all, of my favorite books were written for young adults and I think a lot of them are more poignant than many adult novels. They might be comparatively simple in language, but that doesn't mean they're not complex. Perhaps it is that simplicity that's necessary to get to the hearts of younger readers. How many kids in your class liked Great Expectations when you read it? Or any other classic that was assigned?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying these books are inferior or shouldn't be taught. What I'm saying is that when you assign books to younger readers, when you want to teach them something, it tends to be easier when they can understand what's happening in the book. Not everyone will turn out to be an English major. Not everyone is interested in symbolism and metaphor and all that lit jazz. (I am, but I actually was and English major and am going to be a librarian.)

Barra ends his article with this:

Harper Lee's contemporary and fellow Southerner Flannery O'Connor (and a far worthier subject for high-school reading lists) once made a killing observation about "To Kill a Mockingbird": "It's interesting that all the folks that are buying it don't know they are reading a children's book."

Fifty years later, we can concede both that Harper Lee's novel inspired a generation of adolescents and that Flannery O'Connor was right.

Again, what's wrong with children's books? And what is wrong with inspiring adolescents? Isn't that what librarians, teachers, and many others spend their lives trying to accomplish? I know it's what I'm aiming for.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Decisions, decisions.

I'm a member of YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) and recently got an e-mail about their biennial conference, occurring this November in Albuquerque, NM. The theme this year is "Diversity, Literature and Teens: Beyond Good Intentions." I've been thinking about attending for a while, and would really like to; it will only cost me $50 to register. I've also discovered that I can get free airfare with frequent flyer miles (and possibly a free hotel room too). The problem is, it's a big trip for me to take by myself, and I don't know anyone else going (at least I don't think so). It sounds really awesome, but I'm on the fence.

Are you going, or do you know anyone else who will be? Does anyone have any ideas or opinions? I figured I would reach out to the book blogger community—you all might know more than I do!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Blogger Hop!

I'm participating in another first this week—Book Blogger Hop! This is hosted by Jennifer at Crazy For Books every week.

This week's question: Tell us about some of your favorite authors and why they are your favorites!

My favorite authors are all YA, at least for the most part. I love Madeleine L'Engle, everything she wrote is fantastic (I've read quite a few!). I love the way she uses language, and A Wrinkle in Time is one of the best fantasies I've ever come across. Her characters are so likable, and even if they are pretty out there they still manage to be a little relatable (except maybe Charles Wallace).

I'm also a big fan of Sharon Creech, especially Walk Two Moons. I know, I know, I keep picking Newbery Award–winners... but they won it for a reason, right? Everything else she's written that I've read has been great too. I read them mostly when I was the age the protagonists were (and they are mostly girls) so I'm sure that helped foster my love for her writing. But seriously, if you've never read her stuff and you like YA, you should get on that.

"Does My Head Look Big In This?" by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah
Publisher: Orchard Books, 2007
Where and why: I bought this from Barnes & Noble because I was curious about it. It's been required reading for a lot of students in the past and I wanted to see why. Plus, it sounded like it would be pretty funny.

Does My Head Look Big In This? is about Amal, a Muslim-Australian girl, who decides she is ready to wear the hijab (the scarf some Muslim women elect to wear over their hair). She has to deal with the shock and curiosity of her classmates at an elite private high school, the misunderstandings about her religion and her culture, and a nasty bully at school (who Amal handles quite well, actually). To make matters complicated, this novel takes place in the year after 9/11—racism rears its ugly head, as Muslim Australians were targeted as "terrorists," similarly to how many Middle Easterners were in the United States.

As I was reading this, I had a lot of admiration and respect for Amal, and liked her very much. She seemed like someone I'd want to be friends with. There were points, however, where the language was a bit unbelievable. For example, when her white friend Simone would moan about her weight. It just seemed unrealistic—almost everything she said had to do with her appearance, or if it didn't it would end up there. That got annoying fast.

I really love how Abdel-Fattah gives non-Muslims a glimpse at life in a Muslim family. I learned a lot about the religion, and it made me think about my own religion as well. Amal is a strong defender of her faith and is not ashamed to stick up for herself or Islam. She also really leads her life according to the Koran, which is something I don't see very often (living your life by your religion's Holy Book). Plus she is a feminist, which is just fantastic. I didn't judge Muslim women who wore the hijab before, but now I have a whole new perspective on their decision and a deep respect for them.

I completely understand why this has been required summer reading for the past couple of summers in my area. I really do think students should read this—it will give them a lot of insight and, I hope, a more respectful approach to Middle Easterners and Muslims. Highly recommended for middle and high school.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Libraries in malls?

I recently read this article, found through Ypulse (which is a great newsletter for those following Gen Y culture and trends, by the way), about moving libraries into malls. It's an interesting concept, and makes sense—after all, that's where a lot of youth likes to spend their precious free time. According to the article, it also seems to be working, quite well in fact. Circulation, sign-ups for library cards, number of patrons are all going up, at a high rate. And why shouldn't it? In a hang-out place where the only things you're usually able to cost money, here is an alternative. It's reintroducing the library to young adults who might not think to make a special trip to the library if it's not in a place they already hang out near.

Are there any problems with this model? For the most part, I'm thinking no. That said, however, I don't think all libraries should start packing up books and moving to the nearest shopping plaza. It's a great idea to have a branch in a mall, but there is also that atmosphere of being in a library: a quiet place to sit and read, browsing through books, doing homework in a place designed for readers and researchers. To me, a mall doesn't necessarily seem conducive to such an atmosphere. Every time I'm at the Burlington Mall (in Massachusetts, if you're wondering), it's just loud and busy. I would feel frazzled. But that's not to say there's no value in the idea; on the contrary, it's just one qualm I have about the whole thing.

Do you have any thoughts on this? Have you ever seen a library in a mall, or do you think it would be great/terrible/interesting/whatever?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: "Mockingjay"

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. This is my first-ever time participating in it!

Sorry to be not original, but this is the only book I've got my eye on at the moment.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.

Here's the description from Amazon (**warning: there might be spoilers from the first two books in the series**):

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins’s groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

I'm looking forward to this books' publication, just like everyone who's read the first two!

Friday, July 2, 2010

"Locomotion" by Jacqueline Woodson

Title: Locomotion
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Speak, 2004 (reprinted in 2010)
Where and why: I managed to find this copy at my local Used Book Superstore after searching high and low (the library was taking too long to get it through ILL). I read it for the poetry unit in my summer class.

This is 11-year-old Lonnie Collins Motion's story, told through verse. One of his school assignments is a poetry notebook, a project his teacher Ms. Marcus devised for her students. At first unsure of his abilities as a poet, we see as the book progresses how he uses it as an outlet for grief, anger and his insecurity about the future. Living in a foster home, Lonnie eventually reveals to us through his poetry that he was orphaned at the age of 7 and was soon separated from his sister, who was adopted.

Lonnie shows us his nightmares, his bad memories, his struggles and triumphs at school, and his hopes for a brighter future. Though it is mostly in free verse, which he says he prefers as there are no rules to follow, he does experiment with other forms as Ms. Marcus teaches them in her classroom. He writes haiku, a sonnet, and is especially excited about epistle poems (poems in letter format).

Woodson deals with some pretty serious themes, like the loss of loved ones (even if they aren't necessarily dead), poverty, family (what constitutes "family" and the meaning of it), and spirituality (Lonnie explores his belief in God). Yet she also confronts everyday issues, like friendship, bullying, and the way kids look at poetry.

Lonnie often has to decide how to express his interest and talent in poetry, at first choosing to keep it a secret. As the school year progresses, he gets more comfortable with himself and his ability as a writer, sharing his penchant more often with his classmates and others. I really loved how Woodson likened it to rapa reluctant boy in the class refuses at first, but when Ms. Marcus mentions that rappers are poets, the boy is more than willing to participate in the poetry portion of class.

Locomotion is a great place to start a child's interest or education in poetry. It can be used in the classroom to teach about different ways it can be used, different forms, and show how it's not just for the people in your textbooks. It's a living, breathing art form, and anyone can use iteven fifth-graders.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Utterly Me, Clarice Bean" by Lauren Child

Title: Utterly Me, Clarice Bean
Author: Lauren Child
Publisher: Candlewick, 2005
Where and why: I got this from my local library. I had to pick a children's fiction book for a review for class, saw this and thought it looked great.
Rating: ★★★★
When Clarice Bean gets a chance to use her favorite book series, the Ruby Redfort detective mysteries, in a school competition, she does her best to think of a project that will win. Even if she ends up with Karl Wrenbury, the class troublemaker, as her partner, and even if her teacher Mrs. Wilberton says that “a common housefly has got more ability to apply itself” than she does (13). The problem is, she needs to prove she’s learned something from Ruby Redfort, and she can’t think of one thing. If only her best friend, Betty Moody, would come back from wherever she’s disappeared to—she always has great ideas. But when the class trophy goes missing and Karl is blamed, Clarice gets her chance to show how she’s actually learned a lot from Ruby Redfort: how to solve mysteries.
This book is ideal for readers who have graduated from beginning reader books, and perhaps even chapter books, but aren’t ready for more complex storylines or characters. There is not an overwhelming amount of text, as Child includes many illustrations throughout the book and plays with the size and shape of the text. Though she uses unfamiliar words often throughout the book, from their context it is fairly easy to determine what the words mean, and most of the words are short and simple. The word “utterly” is used over and over (“Sometimes I stare boredly into space, thinking utterly of nothing”[7]), and though not many children have seen or used that word, its repeated usage makes it clear that it’s a synonym for “completely” and “totally.”
Child also uses made-up words that children are constantly using, such as “squillions,” “boredly,” and “goggly.” She loves to play with language, throwing in these made-up words just where they are needed, and as a result they make complete sense: “Mom is always gribbling about pants on the floor and shoes on the sofa” (5).
The story itself will resonate with many children, as it deals with common issues: friendship and fighting with your friends, mean teachers (“Mrs. Wilberton is allowed to say rude things about me and I am not allowed to say them back. Those are the rules of school”[14]), enemies, annoying siblings, and unwanted school assignments. In addition to these familiar situations, there are also a few issues for readers to consider. In the case of Karl Wrenbury, Clarice is horrified that she will have to work with someone whose chief interest is making trouble; however, as she gets to know him and spend time with him, she realizes he might not be that bad after all, and is actually quite funny and nice.
Subplots abound, because after all, problems don’t come one at a time in real life. Clarice notices mysterious happenings all over, like why is her granddad sneaking around at night? Where did Betty Moody disappear to? Why is her brother Kurt suspiciously nice and hygienic all of a sudden? These little mysteries keep the action moving, and the answers are often hilarious.
Child does a magnificent job at using her illustrations and the arrangement of the text to enhance Clarice’s narration. She emphasizes words by putting them in a larger font, and does the same to dialogue when the speaker is raising their voice, and illustrations occasionally have part of the text worked into them.
Lauren Child’s Utterly Me, Clarice Bean is perfect for young readers looking for more complex books than easy readers, but aren’t yet ready for longer, denser stories (it might be a good choice for reluctant readers, as well). It’s relatable, quirky, original and fun without being dumbed-down for its intended audience. I loved it, and plan on reading other books in this series.
Related Posts with Thumbnails