August 28, 2015

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend

A Memoir by Jaques Papier
by Michelle Cuevas
First sentence: "Yes, world, I am writing my memoir, and I have titled the first chapter simply this: EVERYONE HATES JACQUES PAPIER."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 4, 2015
Review copy provided by the publisher rep.
Content: Aside from a few big words, this one is written at an 8-year-old's level. I'd give it to 3rd-graders and up. It'll be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

For all eight years of his life, Jacques Papier has been happy. He has a wonderful twin sister, Fleur, and even though is parents seem to ignore him and the weiner dog, Francois, hates him, he's pretty happy. Then one day, in second grade, his is forced to face this realization: he's imaginary. This sets off both an existential crisis and an adventure as Jacques figures out what to do now that he's no longer "real".

It's a pretty simple premise, but Cuevas executes it brilliantly. It's framed as a memoir, and her voice for Jacques is spot-on. I love the other imaginary beings he comes across in his travels, and the way he becomes the imaginary friend of several other children. It's scattered through with drawings (I think done by the author), which just adds to the whimsy of this one. And the ending is incredibly sweet without being too saccharine.

I adored it.

August 26, 2015

Everything Everything

by Nicola Yoon
First sentence: "
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 1, 2015
Review copy picked up at CI3 and signed by the author.
Content: There is a few mild swear words, and one sort-of on-screen, sort-of-off-screen sex scene. The publisher has it listed for grades 7 and up, which puts it in the YA section, but I might move it to the Teen (grades 9+).

Madeline has spent her entire life inside. White furniture, white walls, filtered air, the whole deal. It's because she has Severe Combined Immunodefiency (SCID), which basically means she's allergic to the world. Any little disease, any little microorganism will kill her. So, she stays inside, reading, doing her online school.

And then Olly moves in next door.

Okay: yes, the plot is predictable. Boy moves in next door, they meet and have instalike, and suddenly the girl is questioning her Life Choices and Taking Risks.

But I ate this up. I don't know if it was the short chapters, snippets of Madeline's thoughts and observations, interspersed by some charming line drawings. Or the parallel worlds between her being trapped inside her house because she's sick and Olly being trapped because of his abusive father. Or just the chemistry between Madeline and Olly, which was fantastic. Or the fact that Madeline was Afro-Asian, and yet it wasn't really an issue. She just was. Her mother is suffenciently controlling (for good reason), and I adored Carla the Latina nurse, who was really more of a mother figure to Madeline.

And all of this added up to overcome the predictable plot and make me fall for this book. Another absolutely amazing debut.

August 24, 2015

Baba Yaga's Assistant

by Marika McCoola, illustrated Emily Carroll
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some scary images, but really nothing else. It's currently in our Teen Graphic Novels, but I'm going to move it to Middle Reader Graphic Novels.

I didn't know I needed a graphic novel about Baba Yaga, but I really did. And this is the graphic novel I needed.

Masha's mom died when she was little and her father was often gone with work, so she was raised on her grandmother's love and stories of Baba Yaga. So, when her father decides to get remarried to a woman with an absolutely horrible child, Masha decides to take her chances in the woods with Baba Yaga. Who is everything that you would like Baba Yaga to be. Horrible, terrifying, magical... it's wonderful.

Masha has to go through a series of tests before she can become Baba Yaga's assistant. And it's the power of the stories that her grandmother told that gets her through those tests.

On the basic level as a magical story, it's a lot of fun. The young children are sufficiently horrible, and Masha is competent and cool-headed and smart. Her dad's a jerk, but that's almost to be expected. It's a very female-centric story; there's only a couple of male characters, and they are only playing minor parts. But what I liked best was that it was STORIES (not histories or biographies or facts) that got Masha through the trials. The stories helped her problem-solve. The stories gave her the courage to go on.

And that's something we all need more of.

August 23, 2015

The Cybils: Why I Keep Coming Back

As I've been puttering along on my blog here for nearly 11 years, I've seen a lot of blogging communities come and go. I've been involved in quite a few of them as well. But none has captured my heart the way the Cybils has. I don't remember how I became aware that a group of bloggers, many of whom I followed, were banding together to create this award. But, I did, and so when the call for judges came out in 2006, I applied. No one knew who I was, and my blog was super scattered back then, so I was turned down. I became determined then: I wanted to be a part of this. And so I worked hard connecting with the community so when the 2007 call went out, I was actually picked.

Over the years that I've been involved, I've often thought about what it is with the Cybils that keeps me coming back, year after year, to volunteer my time for this award. There are lots of reasons, but I'm going to try and just pick a few.

The people are fantastic. Some of my best blogger friends have come through the Cybils. I've served as both a (first-round) panelist and a (second-round) judge, and both offer unique opportunities to connect with other bloggers. Think of it as the best book group ever. It's short-lived (2 1/2 months for first round, 6 weeks for second), but you'll have in-depth discussions about great books, you'll disagree, you'll be passionate about books with other people who are passionate about books, and you will come out friends on the other end. (Then you need to come to KidlitCon to put faces to the names!)

It's a unique opportunity to be really well-read in one area of Kidlit. For me, over the years, that has been middle grade books. I was on the Middle Grade Fiction panel for years before leaping over to Speculative Fiction. I'm not as "expert" in those areas as some others, but I am pretty dang knowledgeable. And it's all because I read a whole bunch every year for the Cybils.

I like being a part of something bigger than myself. This is perhaps the most important reason. There's just something about working with a team of people, all who have volunteered their time because they are passionate about kids books and kids in general, for a larger goal. In this case: to create a list, and pick the best, kid-friendly book.

I've already thrown my hat into the ring, in spite of my busy schedule this fall, to be a part of the 2015 Cybils. I hope to see you there!

August 21, 2015

Cold Comfort Farm

by Stella Gibbons
First sentence: "The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It's a bit early-20th-century with the language and the pacing. And there's some illusions to sex. But, really, if you think you can manage, go for it. It's in the adult section of the bookstore.

This is one of those classic books that somehow I missed growing up. I don't know why. I kind of knew it existed: knew there was a movie, knew that it was a book... but not enough to really know anything about it. So I went into this one blind, and the edition I got (pictured above) didn't help me much, going in: it looks like it'll be a bit of a silly book, with some weird characters.

And that's pretty much accurate.

Flora is, as the first sentence indicates, unable to support herself, being one of those "educated" women (it is 1932, after all; I have no reason to believe this wasn't meant to be contemporary). So, she decides, with her 100 pounds a year, to take advantage of hospitality of her relatives, writing them to see if they'll house her. The most interesting letter she got was from Cold Comfort Farm, which said that they had once done her father a great wrong, and that they are not like "other folk". Of course Flora finds this intriguing. And so, she's off to Cold Comfort Farm to see what mysteries await her.

There have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm, from the dawn of time (or at least since they came into possession of it), and because of the iron fist of Aunt Ada Doom, they are a weird bunch. The whole book is Flora sticking her nose into everyone else's problems to fix them, thereby making Cold Comfort Farm a happier place.

And it's a hilarious ride. (Maybe not laugh-out-loud funny, but definitely amusing.) I adored the characters: the rogue Seth, the grumpy Reuben, the over-religious Amos, the depressed Judith, the hippie (she's ahead of her time) Elfine... there's just so much to enjoy here. My favorite was Mr. Mybug, who was obsessed with sex, mostly because he was SO ridiculous. The only thing that I felt was left hanging was the Thing that Aunt Ada saw in the shed that made her SO crazy (I wanted to know, dangit!), but other than that, this was an absolute delight.

I'm so glad I finally read it. (Now to watch the movie!)