Monday, April 30, 2007

Book Review: Into the Wild

Into the Wild
by Sarah Beth Durst

Julie is just an ordinary teen, except for a few tiny things. Like the fact that her mother is Rapunzel, her brother is Puss in Boots and her grandmother is a Wicked Witch. And where most teens might have dirty clothes under their bed, Julie has The Wild - a tangle of vines which is all that remains of the fairy tale world after the fairy tale characters escaped. The Wild may be confined, but it's not tame - it constantly seeks to find a way to escape and grow and take over. So when someone makes a wish, The Wild escapes, and chaos and mayhem ensue. Julie's mother and grandmother are missing in the Wild, along with many of the residents of the town. Julie ventures into The Wild to rescue her family. Julie has to try to find a way to defeat The Wild before she, too, becomes trapped in a fairy tale forever.

Into the Wild is an amazing, wild, romp of an adventure. There have been a spate of fairy tale related YA novels in recent years, but Into the Wild is a truly unique entry in the genre. Like many of the others, Into the Wild, is humorous: imagine Cinderella as a bottle-blond named Cindy, who drives an orange Subaru and wears clear plastic jelly shoes. But the humor isn't what distinguishes Into the Wild. What really sets it apart is that Durst truly gets - and truly conveys to the reader - the darkness in the old fairy tales, not only the obvious darkness of having to dance in red-hot iron shoes, but the darkness of happily ever after. Imagine being trapped in a destiny that you can't change, of being unable to determine your own course no matter what you do. It's that destiny that makes marrying the prince as horrifying a fate as being cooked in an oven. Into the Wild makes clear the difference between true happiness and happily-ever-after.

Julie is a wonderful protagonist. She's likable and spunky, smart and brave. She comes across as a real teen, which is crucial to set the contrast with the two-dimensional fairy tale world.

Durst is a talented writer and I think she has a bright future ahead of her (but hopefully not happily ever after!) The book has already received rave reviews from numerous other sources. I'll be looking forward to other books by her in the future.

Into the Wild will be released on June 21, 2007.


Some things of interest on the blogs that you may want to participate in:

  • Tomorrow, May 1, we begin discussing Lady Friday on the Scholar's Blog book discussion group. I'm looking forward to this one, since The Keys to the Kingdom is one of my favorite series right now. Not many people participated last month, so I hope that we can get a good discussion going this time! The discussion will take place on the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone.
  • Also on Scholar's Blog is a discussion of predictions for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • The fourteenth Carnival of Children's Literature will be held at Chicken Spaghetti on May 21. The theme is Fiesta! A Multicultural Celebration, but posts don't have to relate to the theme as long as they relate to children's literature. The deadline for submitting is Thursday, May 17, and instructions for submitting are here. If you've never participated in a carnival, it's great fun and a good way to get some exposure for your blog and discover new blogs to add to your reader. If you don't know what a carnival is, Susan from Chicken Spaghetti wrote a good explanation.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

My Daemon

Thanks to Tasha at Kids Lit, I discovered that The Golden Compass movie site has a quiz you can take to discover your daemon. Here's mine:

What do you think? I'm not sure that I'm modest or humble, but the rest of it sounds right to me. My Daemon isn't fixed in form yet, so you can click on the link above to say whether you agree or disagree. You can also create your own Daemon at The Golden Compass movie web site.

Edited to add other Kidlitosphere Daemons:

Post yours in the comments and I'll add it!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Book Review: The Light-Bearer's Daughter

The Light-Bearer's Daughter
The Chronicles of Faerie, book 2

by O.R. Melling

When Dana's father tells her that they are leaving Ireland and moving to his homeland in Canada, Dana is shocked and upset. Besides the normal concerns about leaving friends and moving to a strange place, Dana doesn't want to leave Ireland because she worries that her mother, who disappeared when Dana was three years old, won't be able to find them in Canada if she ever comes back. Then Dana meets an unusual lady in the forest, who promises Dana her heart's desire if she will carry a message to the faerie second-in-command, the King of the Mountain who is trapped in a mountain by his own grief. Although Dana fears going into the wilderness alone, she's willing to take the challenge if it means that she will get her mother back. Dana faces many dangers in the mountains, not least of which is the evil demon pursuing her in the guise of a human. Only her spirit and her determination to find her mother will help her reach her goal. But what Dana finds in the mountains may not be what she expected.

Like its predecessors, The Hunter's Moon and The Summer King, The Light-Bearer's Daughter is a beautifully written book that deals with the relationship between the mortal and faerie realms. Where The Summer King had a theme dealing with death, The Light-Bearer's Daughter deals with the pain of separation from loved ones. It also has a strong environmental theme, which, while I agree with it, gets a little heavy-handed at times. The cast of characters is interesting and well-rounded, both the humans and the various denizens of the Faerie realm, from a powerfully maternal wolf to the delightfully childlike boggles. Many readers will see the ending coming—the title practically gives it away—but knowing what Dana will find makes it no less poignant when she does.

Each book in this series stands alone, and The Light-Bearer's Daughter is no exception. Each book has a different protagonist and a separate story. The Light-Bearer's Daughter is a little more strongly tied to The Summer King than that book was to The Hunter's Moon, but one need not have read the other books to have read this one. Melling did that intentionally, because she hates to pick up an interesting book and then discover that it's a later book in a series.

One interesting tidbit is that Melling says that there is a book behind each of her books which inspired that book and is its soul. For the Light-Bearer's Daughter, the book behind the book is Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles.

Also, see our Interview with O.R. Melling from last year.

YA Event in New York - Neil Gaiman, Isabel Hoving, Janne Teller, Markus Zusak

I received notice of this event for tomorrow from the Small Press Center in New York:

Wednesday, April 25, 6:00 p.m.
@ Small Press Center: The General
Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen:
20 West 44th St., NYC. FREE.

Participants: Neil Gaiman, Isabel Hoving, Janne Teller, Markus
Zusak; moderated by Robert Lipsyte.

Creators of a variety of works for young people discuss the way they treat the universal theme of striking out on one's
own for the first time. In Neil Gaiman's Coraline, a little girl leaves her ordinary life behind only to find she'd rather go back. Markus Zusak was inspired to write The Book Thief by stories of the childhood homes of his parents in Munich and Vienna during the Second World War. The characters in Isabel Hoving's The Dream Merchant are lured into another reality by an international corporation intent on cornering the market on the past. Beginning with a boy who leaves school to go sit in a plum tree, Nothing, by Janne Teller, recounts the quest of a group of schoolchildren for the meaning of life. They'll be guided by award-winning children's book author Robert Lipsyte.

Free and open to the public. No reservations. Co-sponsored by the PEN Children's/Young Adult Book Authors Committee.

Click here for details

Sounds interesting. Wish I could go!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Benjamin Franklin Awards finalists

There are three major awards that focus on independent publishers: the Benjamin Frankin awards, the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year awards, and the Independent Publisher Book Awards, better known as the IPPY awards. In February, the finalists for the 2007 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year awards were announced. Now, the 2007 Benjamin Franklin awards finalists have been announced. The finalists in the children's literature related categories are:

Audiobook - Children's
Fablehaven, Shadow Mountain
The Looking Glass Wars, Scholastic Audio
There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow, Scholastic Audio

Children's Picture Book
A Frog Thing, Kidwick Books LLC
Love, Ruby Valentine, Lerner Publishing Group
PEEF and the Baby Sister, Tristan Publishing / Waldman House Press

Children's Book & Audiobook
A Frog Thing, Kidwick Books LLC
Riley the Rhinoceros, Animalations Books and Publishing
Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Soundprints, Division of Trudy Corporation

Graphic Novels
Hercules, Lerner Publishing Group
The Life of Pope John Paul II... In Comics, Papercutz
Treasure Island, Stone Arch Books

Juvenile-Young Adult Fiction
Leapholes, American Bar Association
Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You, Lerner Publishing Group
The Strand Prophecy, Missile Rider Publishing

Juvenile-Young Adult Nonfiction
The Soldier's Friend: A Life of Ernie Pyle, Indiana Historical Society Press
Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures That May or May Not Exist, Darby Creek Publishing
Young Person's Career Skills Handbook, JIST Publishing, Inc.

Cover Design-3 or More Color (Children's/Young Adult)
Erec Rex: The Dragon's Eye, Firelight Press
Gitchi Gumee, Mackinac Island Press, Inc.
Teddy's Travels — America's National Parks, TdB Press LLC

Interior Design-3 or More Color - Children's/Young Adult
The Art and Making of Monster House, Insight Editions
The Good in Me From A To Z By Dottie, Discover Writing Press
How the Moon Regained Her Shape, Sylvan Dell Publishing

The Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book (Children's/Young Adult)
Dr. Susan's Girls-Only Weight Loss Guide, Parent Positive Press
Erec Rex: The Dragon's Eye,
Firelight Press
The Strand Prophecy, Missile Rider Publishing

Best New Voice (Children's/Young Adult)
Adventures of the Battling Kids, WaterWood Publishing Group
Erec Rex: The Dragon's Eye, Firelight Press
Fablehaven, Shadow Mountain

View all the winners here

Carnival the Thirteenth

In case you missed it, the 13th Carnival of Children's literature is up now on Jen Robinson's Book Page. Jen did an awesome job organizing an interesting and highly readable carnival, with short descriptions of each entry to make it easy to decide what "rides" to partake in. There's lots of good reading there!

Visit the 13th Carnival of Children's literature

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Book Review: Lady Friday

Lady Friday
The Keys to the Kingdom, Book 5

by Garth Nix

No sooner has Arthur recovered from the battle with Sir Thursday, than he receives a message from Lady Friday. Apparently, she is abdicating her position as mistress of the Middle House, and has left the fifth key in her Scriptorium, as well as part five of the Will. Whoever finds the key shall be master of the Middle House, and she has sent the same message to Superior Saturday and the Piper. Arthur finds himself in the Middle House with no friends and nothing but the fourth key to help him—and if he uses the fourth key, he risks losing his humanity forever. He must find his way to the Scriptorium and recover the fifth key and the Will before Saturday and the Piper. Meanwhile, Arthur's friend Leaf is a prisoner in Lady Friday's sanctuary, where she risks her life to find a way to escape and save the other mortals imprisoned by Lady Friday.

The Keys to the Kingdom is one of the most imaginative and exciting series that I've read in a long time, and this newest installment didn't disappoint. You'll want to set aside a few hours to read it, since it's the kind of book you won't want to put down. I love the way that Arthur has grown throughout the series from the helpless, whiny boy he was in the first book. In Lady Friday, he has really come into his own: he exudes a quiet confidence and intelligence, as he finds ways to deal with every situation that arises. He still longs for home and family and a normal human life, but he takes his responsibilities seriously, and consistently puts the well-being of his friends and the people who come under his care before his own. And most of the people and denizens he meet seem to sense that leadership quality in him, and respond to it.

There's so much going on in these books that I feel like I need to go back and reread them all to catch everything. For example, there's a recurring clock motif that appears in various forms throughout the books, and I'd like to go back and try to find them all. There's a lot of symbolism and references in the books. It's obvious that each of the trustees represents one of the seven deadly sins, but I didn't realize until I read the article in Wikipedia that the parts of the Will may also represent virtues.

If you haven't read these books, you're missing out on a great series. I highly recommend that you start at the first book, Mister Monday, since the books really build on each other.

Lady Friday is the May selection for the Scholar's Blog book discussion group, so if you hurry and read it, you can join in the discussion!

Also read David's review.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

New Edge of the Forest!

A new issue of The Edge of the Forest online children's literature journal is up! Click here to read all the great content, including:

  • My article about the Warriors series. I've been fortunate enough to be a part of this phenomenon, through hosting several Erin Hunter chats and through my interaction with the fans on my message boards. And yes, I've read all twelve books so far!
  • An interesting article from Gary Elliott of Lifelongreader about using Mortal Engines as a novel study in teaching English at the International School in Dubai, UAE. The class even created a web site about the book.
  • An article about the The Cybils, by Kelly Herold (Big A little a), Allie (Bildungsroman) and Anne Boles Levy (Book Buds).
  • An interview with Carrie Jones, author of Tips on Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend, conducted by Kelly Fineman. It's a great interview, and Carrie Jones is fascinating and funny. This is totally not the kind of book I would ever read (I'm not fond of teen books about high school) but by the time I finished the interview, I really wanted to read the book!)
  • The Sounds From the Forest podcast interviews Rachna Gilmore, author of A Screaming Kind of Day and Lights for Gita.
  • Pam Coughlan, aka MotherReader, interviews Grace Lin.
  • Kim Winters, Kat's Eye Journal for Writers, interviews children's author Lauren Myracle.

All this and more, including great reviews, Best of the Blogs, Kids Picks, and In the Backpack, can be found here.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Book Review: The Book of the Sword

The Book of the Sword
Darkest Age: Book 2

by A.J. Lake

The dragon Torment has carried Edmund and Elspeth to the cold northlands, where the dangerous god Loki is imprisoned under a mountain. Captain Cathbar is also there, having grabbed onto Torment with a rope at the last minute so that he could protect the two children. In the northlands, they meet a girl named Fritha, who takes them to her home where she and her father offer hospitality and care for their wounds. But the sword bonded to Elspeth's arm is pushing her on, drawing her towards Eigg Loki, the mountain where Loki is imprisoned. Elspeth, Edmund, and Cathbar, guided by Fritha, set off on a dangerous journey towards Eigg Loki. Along they way they will encounter many perils, but the greatest peril lies at the end of their journey. For while the sword is the only thing that can destroy Loki, it's also the only thing that can free him.

Edmund and Elspeth have grown up quite a bit in this book. No longer are they children, swept along unwillingly by events. Now they are young adults, making difficult choices and taking responsibility for their actions. Elspeth especially has become quite an interesting character as she wrestles with how much to allow the sword to lead and how much to make her own choices. Edmund is less central in this book; he does use his Ripente skills in several key instances, but in many ways this is Elspeth's book. There are some interesting revelations in this book as we find out more about the sword and about Clauran, the minstrel who guided them in the first book. Overall, this is a much stronger book than the first one. Like the first book, this one leaves things open for the next book, and I look forward to reading it.

Also read David's review.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Book Review: The Poisoned Crown

The Poisoned Crown
The Sangreal Trilogy, Book 3

by Amanda Hemingway

Nathan has visited other universes in his dreams. He has a unique ability to open a portal through the multiverse in his mind while he sleeps, and he has used that ability to recover two of the three Grail relics needed to save a dying universe: the Cup and the Sword. Only the Crown remains.

This time, Nathan's dreams take him to a world covered entirely in water: Widewater. He discovers that the crown is on Widewater in the possession of the goddess Nefanu, a powerful water elemental who hates all air breathers. As he tries to recover the crown, Nathan is drawn into a growing conflict between the merpeople, who follow Nefanu, and the last remaining air breathers in Widewater.

But there is more at stake than the dying world of Eos or the war on Widewater. Uncle Bartlemy, who has lived for 1500 years but prefers cooking to using his Gift, senses that things are changing and that the Ultimate Laws which bind the universe are breaking down. The spirits are predicting that the hour of doom is near, and Bartlemy and his protege, Nathan's friend Hazel, who also has the Gift, try to discover what's happening and how Nathan fits into it. As events draw towards a conclusion set in motion millennia earlier, Nathan seeks to discover his past and his future. Just what is the Grandir's plan, and what will be the consequences?

Like the first two books in the series, The Poisoned Crown is a beautifully written, exciting story that blends science with fantasy and ancient myth with modern culture. When Nathan is seeking information on a monster called Leviathan, for example, his mother suggests that he either ask Uncle Bartlemy or use Google; Nathan decides to try both and gets different information from each.

The descriptions are vivid, from the beautiful but harsh undersea world of Widewater to the foreboding empty corridors on Eos. Amanda Hemingway also excels at creating fascinating characters, from the implacable Uncle Bartlemy to the mysterious Grandir to the various inhabitants of Widewater. There are no throwaway characters here; even minor characters are well thought out and hint at unseen depths.

The Poisoned Crown is probably not a book for the young or the sensitive. It's a fairly dark book, with a theme of blood sacrifice running throughout.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Hat Full of Sky discussion

This month's Scholar's Blog Discussion Group has started! Head on over and post your thoughts about Terry Pratchett's A Hat Full of Sky.