Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Carnival of Children's Literature, Halloween edition

Michele at Scholar's Blog has put together the Eighth Carnival of Children's Literature with a fun Halloween theme. Check out the Halloween carnival here! But beware! You might encounter witches, skeletons, ghosts, or even necromancers.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Book Review: Victory

The year is 1803, and eleven-year-old Sam Robbins is taken by a press gang and forced into service in the Royal Navy. Life on the ship is hard at first, as Sam has to deal with hardships from seasickness to bullying by older boys and abusive officers. But as Sam adjusts to shipboard life, he begins to love the life on the sea. Sam's ship, The Victory, becomes the flag ship for Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson in his quest to stop Napoleon from conquering the world, a quest which will come to a tragic end at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Interspersed with Sam's story is the story of Molly Jennings, who in 2006 is living in Connecticut, desperately homesick for her home in London. Molly is reading about Lord Nelson, and she finds a talisman which gives her a mystical connection to Sam. Through Sam's eyes, Molly experiences the battle and the events leading up to it.

In Victory, Susan Cooper demonstrates once again what a masterful storyteller she is. Victory is primarily historical fiction, not fantasy, but it's historical fiction that will appeal to fantasy fans. Sam's story is exciting and draws you in to the world of the early 19th century. And Molly's story is also compelling, although in a very different way. Both children are well-drawn characters that the reader can identify with. Highly recommended for fans of both fantasy and historical fiction.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Book Review: Sea of Monsters

Sea of Monsters, by Rick Riordan, is the second book in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. It's every bit as funny and exciting as the first book, The Lightning Thief. Percy Jackson's new school is a progressive school, and except for the bullies, it's not too bad. At least it seems to be monster-free. But trouble finds Percy when strange things start happening at the school. When a dodge ball game turns into a battle, Percy decides it's time to get out of there with his new friend Tyson, a rather large homeless kid who seems to have some unusual abilities. Accompanied by Annabeth, who showed up just in the nick of time, they return to Camp Half-Blood.

But all is not well at Camp Half-Blood. Thalia's tree is dying, and the magical borders protecting the camp are failing. The camp is under attack by monsters. To make matters worse, Chiron has been fired, and the new activities director is cruel and sadistic. Life is at camp is not pleasant, but soon Percy, Annabeth, and Tyson are off on adventure to find the Golden Fleece and rescue Grover. Along the way they must contend with monsters, a sorceress, pirates, Luke, Clarisse, cyclopes, and the usual assortment of gods.

Sea of Monsters is jam packed with the same kind of hilarious adventures as the first book, and it's a real joy to read. Anyone who has read any Greek mythology will have a blast with Riordan's imagining of the Greek gods and myths updated to the modern world. We get to meet Hermes in this book, and I just adore the way Riordan portrays him. If you haven't read this series yet, I highly recommend it.

Book 3, The Titan's Curse, is scheduled for publication on May 1, 2007.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Book Review: The End

I finally finished The End, book 13 of the Series of Unfortunate events, and I have to say that I don't know what the Washington Post was talking about. In her review, Tracy Grant says that the author " answers precious few of the questions readers have" and doesn't bring the story to a satisfying conclusion.

I couldn't disagree more. I found the ending to be extremely satisfying, in a Snicketish sort of way. I think it is the best ending that one could hope for from a series that has promised dire consequences from the beginning. The author didn't sell out and give us a happy ending, but neither did he give us an ending so dire that we would all go and hide away from the world forever. In fact, he gave us an ending that seems, well, real. Some things are wrapped up, some things work out, some things are sad, and some things don't have answers. But life goes on. If there is a message in this book, this is it: life goes on, and we just have to live it as best we can. Sometimes we make bad decisions. Sometimes right and wrong aren't always clear. Sometimes our questions aren't answered. Sometimes bad things happen. And sometimes we can find a moment of happiness even in the midst of pain.

In this book, Violet, Klaus and Sunny are shipwrecked on an island with Count Olaf. They find out more about their parents, but not the whole story, because no one can ever know the whole story. They encounter peer pressure and facilitators and bitter apples, and yes, the medusoid mycellium. They meet up with some old friends from previous books, but not all the old friends that they'd like to meet. They even find out the importance of the sugar bowl. (Yes, it's there, if you read carefully)

Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler has refined his subversive humor to a fine edge in this book, and there were so many symbols and cultural references that I couldn't keep up with even a small fraction of them. I'm going to have to go back through the book with Google as my friend to try to figure out all of Sunny's utterances. All in all, it was a satisfying ending to a thoroughly enjoyable series.

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New logo for Cybils

We have a cool new logo for the Cybils, thanks to Stephanie of The Children's Literature Book Club!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

So you think you know your F/SF?

Wanted: brave, dedicated bloggers who love children's literature and know something about science fiction and fantasy. Yes, I'm talking to you! Why haven't you volunteered yet for the nominating or judging committee for the Cybils award? If you don't know what I'm talking about, click here to find out the details.

Wands and Worlds is administering the fantasy and science fiction categories, and we need more volunteers for either the nominating or judging committees. Thanks to the people who have volunteered, but we are still a few short. The nominating committee will be responsible for narrowing the long list of nominations down to a short list of five finalists, between November 20 and January 1. The judging committee will then have a few weeks in January to read the five finalists and choose a winner. We need five members for each committee. If you'd like to volunteer, please email me at sruth@wandsandworlds.com, or post a comment below. Please include a second choice in case f/sf fills up; you can see a complete list of the committees here. Not into F/SF? (Why are you reading my blog if you aren't?) Then volunteer for one of the other committees.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Preteen review of The End

I'm still reading The End, book 13 of the Series of Unfortunate Events, so I can't review it yet. However, like Kelly's daughter Anna, who has written a great review of The End, my 11-year-old son is a faster reader than I am and has written a review. You can read David's review here. (Yes, the same David who was in the Washington Post). Maybe we should all just retire and turn these blogs over to the next generation? Nah, I'm having too much fun.

We have a name!

After much debate, Anne from Book Buds had a brilliant inspiration for a name for our new blogger awards:

The Children's and YA Book Bloggers Awards
The Children's and YA Bloggers Literary Awards

But we'll be referring to it by it's pseudo-acronym: The Cybils! (trumpet fanfare)

An awards nomination site will be up later this week on Cybils.com. So please, hold your nominations until Anne announces that the site is ready to go!

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Monday, October 16, 2006

The First Annual Children's Book Awards, Blog Edition

This month we've seen a spate of book awards, some of which have left us wondering: couldn't we, the intelligent, savvy members of the kidlitosphere do better? Or, at least, differently?

So, we're inaugurating our own book awards, honoring books published in English for children in 2006. Anne Boles Levy, of Book Buds, will launch a site this week and administer the awards process. To read all about the new Children's Book Awards, head on over to Big A little a. To suggest a name for the Book Awards, leave a comment with Anne at Book Buds.

Wands and Worlds will be the administering blog for the Fantasy/Sci-Fi category. Do you run a blog about children's books, are you a children's book author who blogs, or do you run a general book blog? Then volunteer to serve on the book nominating committee or on the judging committee! Here are the duties of each committee:

Nominating: Nominating committees of five members will narrow the recommendations (open to everyone with web access) down to a shortlist of five books per category. A list of all recommendations will be received by the nominating committee on November 21, 2006. The shortlists will be announced January 1, 2007.

Judging: Judging committees of five members, different from those serving on the nominating committees, will decide which title per category will win the Children's Book Award, Blog edition. The winners will be announced January 15, 2007. To serve on this committee, keep in mind you will have to read five books during a very busy time of the year.

When leaving your comment, please choose a second choice category just in case we have too many volunteers for Fantasy/Sci-Fi.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Negative reviews

I've been busy for a while and haven't had time to keep up with the blogs, so I just found out, courtesy of Jen Robinson and MotherReader, that there's been a debate about negative reviews raging across the kidlitosphere. Since this is a topic that I've been thinking about lately, in what must be some kind of weird blogosphere telephathy, I couldn't resist adding my two cents.

I remember seeing an episode of the Simpsons TV show in which Homer becomes a food critic. Homer loves food, all kinds of food, so he gives everything a great review. His fellow critics take him to task for this, telling him that it's a critics job to give bad reviews.

Well, I'm with Homer. I just love books. It's a rare book that I dislike enough to give a bad review. I can almost always find something good about a book. Maybe it sounds corny, but I see it as my mission as a reviewer to find the soul of a book. That's partly why I write so few reviews; because I agonize over each one. I do sometimes comment about a book's shortcomings, but it's rare that I write a review which is more negative than positive.

In addition, as other bloggers have noted, if I'm really not enjoying a book, I usually don't finish it. Life is just too short to waste time reading something I'm not enjoying. My reviewing is strictly voluntary, so I have the luxury of choosing which books to review.

Finally, because I am a publisher, and my husband is a writer, I'm keenly aware that every book is someone's baby. Even if I really dislike a book, I just don't like to air the dirty laundry in public.

I'm not criticizing those who write negative reviews. I think that they do have a place, particularly in helping budget-constrained librarians and teachers make important purchasing decisions. But I just can't do it. And neither can I write humorous reviews like MotherReader or Fuse #8, although my guilty pleasure is reading their posts. Sadly, I don't have the sense of humor to be able to write like that.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Carnival of Children’s Literature Reminder

Just a reminder that you only have a couple of days to submit entries for the 8th Carnival of Children's Literature, to be held on Halloween at Scholar's Blog. Got your costume ready for the carnival?

Another writer in the family

In anticipation of tomorrow's release of The End, the thirteenth and final book in the Series of Unfortunate Events, The Washington Post's Kids Post asked kids to write in about how they thought the series would end. They selected my son David's entry, and it was published today! Read David's entry here. ***Proud parent***

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Awards and more awards

The winners for the Quill awards have been announced and Lemony Snicket's The Penultimate Peril won in the middle grade category. I enjoy the Series of Unfortunate Events, but I have to confess that I was hoping for Jonathan Stroud's Ptolemy's Gate to win. It was a tough category, because I also liked Inkspell, which was also a finalist. Christopher Paolini's Eldest won for young adult.

View all the winners here

Also, the finalists for the National Book Awards (U.S.) have been announced. In the "Young People's Literature" category, the following books are finalists:

M.T. Anderson, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party (Candlewick Press)

Martine Leavitt, Keturah and Lord Death (Front Street Books/Boyds Mills Press)

Patricia McCormick, Sold (Hyperion Books for Children)

Nancy Werlin, The Rules of Survival (Dial/Penguin)

Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese (First Second/Roaring Brook Press/Holtzbrinck)

I haven't read any of these, but one of them, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, is on my list of books I want to read.

Here's the list of all the finalists for the National Book Awards

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Book Review: Gideon the Cutpurse

Gideon the Cutpurse, by Linda Buckley-Archer, is a time-travel story with elements of both fantasy/science fiction and historical fiction. Peter Schock and Kate Dyer are at her father's lab, when an accident with an anti-gravity machine throws them back in time to 1763. The first person that they meet in that time is the Tar Man, a horrifying villian who steals the antigravity machine, and with it, any hope that they can return home. The children are helped by Gideon Seymour, cutpurse and gentleman, who is himself hiding from the Tar Man.

The children travel with Gideon, first to the home of a family that has employed Gideon, then to London with Gideon and members of the family. Along the way they have many adventures, including encounters with highwaymen, the Tar Man, and King George III himself. Meanwhile, back at home, there is a massive search for the children, while Kate's father and other scientists try to find a way to bring them back home.

Gideon the Cutpurse is quite an enjoyable story, with plenty of adventure. The characters are interesting and complex, both heroes and villans. Gideon himself is a fascinating character, although perhaps a bit too good to be true. The story drags a bit in the beginning, and I thought it took the children an inordinately long time to figure out that they were in the past, but once the story gets going it's very exciting. It also gives an interesting glimpse into life in 18th century England. I particularly found the encounter with King George III interesting, because we Americans are used to thinking of him as a villian himself. But in this book he was a pleasant and likeable character. The book ends with a cliffhanger that'll leave you impatient for the next book!

I listened to the audio version of Gideon the Cutpurse (Unabridged) from audible.com, and it was very well done.

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Book Review: The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1

The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1, by PJ Haarsma, is an exciting outer space adventure that takes me back to the classic science fiction of my youth. Thirteen-year-old Johnny Turnbull has lived his entire life on the seed ship Renaissance along with a bunch of other kids. All the children are orphans; their parents were killed when the cryogenic sleepers on the ship failed. After 253 years in space, the ship is just arriving at Orbis, a system of four rings and two moons in orbit around a wormhole. The parents had signed up for a kind of indentured servitude, agreeing to work on Orbis for four years, at the end of which they would be granted citizenship on Orbis. Now that their parents are dead, the children don't know what fate awaits them on Orbis.

Johnny has a special talent that no one else on the ship has; he can communicate mentally with the central computer. He doesn't realize how unusual this is until they arrive on Orbis and he finds out that he is a softwire, someone who can enter and interact with any computer without a phsyical interface. His talents are both desired and feared on Orbis—desired by those hungry for power, and feared for the potential to damage the central computer. Johnny and the other children soon discover that they are obligated to fulfill their parents term of service, and they are soon assigned to work for their guarantors. But something is going on in Orbis, and the children find themselves caught up in the middle of a power struggle. And the central computer, supposedly infallible, seems to have developed a glitch, and Johnny is blamed for it.

There's plenty to like about this book. It's exciting and suspenseful; it has interesting characters and cool aliens and intriguing cultures and a couple of surprises. Young adult science fiction fans will love this book, and it's a perfect book to introduce children and teens to the world of science fiction.

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Lemony Snicket Videos

HarperCollins has finally posted the third of three Series of Unfortunate Events related videos, leading up to the publication of the last book, The End, this coming Friday the 13th. The third video is by far the best; it features the song "Scream and Run Away," as Lemony Snicket holds up hand made cue-cards (in front of his face, of course). Fans of the series will find it pretty funny; my son and I were taken with a fit of the giggles while watching it. My favorite part is the stick-figure drawings of some of Olaf's accomplices. And, of course, there's the requisite clue, divided between the three videos. (Hint: look for the triangles in each video). "Scream and Run Away" can be found on the new collection of Unfortunate Events songs, The Tragic Treasury: Songs from a Series of Unfortunate Events.

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