Thursday, May 31, 2007

Benjamin Franklin Award winners

I'm in New York City for Book Expo America and I just got back from attending the Benjamin Franklin award ceremony. The Ben Franklin awards are given by PMA, The Independent Book Publishers Association to the most outstanding independently published books published in the previous year. The ceremony itself is fun. It's kind of like being at the Academy Awards, but without the movie stars. For each category, someone from the PMA Board reads the finalists as a video plays showing the nominated books. Then, the winner is announced and comes up to accept the award and make a few short remarks.

Whoever designed the video had a lot of fun choosing music that was humorously appropriate for each category; for example, when the category of best Psychology book was announced, the music from the famous scene from the movie Psycho played. For animal books, the theme from "Jaws" played, followed by "Born Free."

Here are the winners in the children's literature-related categories:

Audiobook - Children's
The Looking Glass Wars, Scholastic Audio

Children's Picture Book
Love, Ruby Valentine, Lerner Publishing Group

Cover Design-3 or More Color (Children's/Young Adult)
Erec Rex: The Dragon's Eye, Firelight Press

Best New Voice (Children's/Young Adult)
Fablehaven, Shadow Mountain (The author of Fablehaven said in his speech that winning it was "...a goofy, happy thing")

Children's Book & Audiobook
A Frog Thing, Kidwick Books LLC

Interior Design-3 or More Color - Children's/Young Adult
How the Moon Regained Her Shape, Sylvan Dell Publishing

Graphic Novel
Treasure Island, Stone Arch Books

Juvenile-Young Adult Fiction
Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You, Lerner Publishing Group

Juvenile-Young Adult Nonfiction
Young Person's Career Skills Handbook, JIST Publishing, Inc.

The Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book (Children's/Young Adult)
Erec Rex: The Dragon's Eye,
Firelight Press

Click here for a list of all the child lit-related finalists.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Book Review: The Call to Shakabaz

The Call to Shakabaz

by Amy Wachspress

When their mother died, Doshmisi, Denzel, Maia, and Sonjay came to live with their Aunt Alice on her ranch. The four children find life on the ranch boring, until Midsummer Eve, when Aunt Alice and the children's two uncles awaken them in the middle of the night. Before they have time to figure out what's going on, the four find themselves sent on a mission, through a gate into the land of Faracadar. In Faracadar, Doshmisi, Denzel, Maia and Sonjay discover that they are "The Four," each with a unique gift that they can use to help people. Faracadar is under the rule of an evil enchanter, Sissrath, and the four children must find a way to rescue the powerful Staff of Shakabaz from him and save the land.

First and foremost, The Call to Shakabaz is a highly readable, entertaining fantasy that anyone can enjoy. But beyond that, it fills some important holes in fantasy literature. The four children are African-American and many aspects of African-American culture are integrated into the story. Also, the people of the fantasy world Faracadar could truly be considered "people of color": besides having darker skin, they also have a kind of aura-glow in a variety of colors, such as red, green, or yellow. You don't have to be African-American to enjoy this book; I found it quite enjoyable and a great read. But it's about time that a good fantasy came along featuring characters that African-American children can identify with.

Another thing that is unique about this book is its message of non-violence. That doesn't mean there isn't violence in the book; there are a couple of battles, and yes, people die. But in the end, the heroes learn that violence isn't the answer and that violence only begets more violence. They teach the people of Faracadar the principle of Satyagraha, or truth-force, as developed by Mahatma Gandhi and espoused by Martin Luther King, Jr. I was skeptical that this could work in a fantasy without being preachy, but the climax of the book is quite moving.

I liked the talents that the four children have. Healing is a frequently used talent in fantasy, but musical ability is not as common. I especially liked that the youngest, Sonjay, becomes the leader. Most books of this type stereotype the oldest as the leader and the youngest as a baby or the most sensitive. It's a pleasure to watch Sonjay's leadership skills develop, much to his own surprise as well as the surprise of his older siblings.

My only complaint about The Call to Shakabaz is that it could have used one more pass of editing: there were several errors in grammar and usage throughout the book.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Scholastic Harry Potter news

Scholastic is sending seven lucky U.S. winners to London for the midnight launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with J.K. Rowling. The seven lucky winners will join 1700 winners from England to meet J.K. Rowling and have their book signed, and will also join the 500 winners from England for the midnight reading.

Click here for information and entry form

I'm also excited because I just discovered that Scholastic's Knight Bus tour will be at Book Expo America next week! I'll be at BEA so I hope I'll be able to see it. I really have no idea what there is to see aside from the bus, but just seeing the Knight Bus would be cool.

Click here for tour dates

Monday, May 21, 2007

Book Review: The Sight (Warriors: Power of Three, book 1)

The Sight
Warriors: Power of Three, book 1
by Erin Hunter

The Sight is the first book in a new series of the wildly popular Warriors books. This book tells the story of three young cats, Hollypaw, Lionpaw, and Jaypaw, as they become apprentices and begin their training. As grandchildren of clan leader Firestar (who was the hero of the first Warriors series), the three kits seem certain to be destined for greatness. And yet, the challenges they face and the choices they make will affect not only their own future, but the future of all the clans.

After twelve books, you might think that there's nothing new that could be written about these feral cats. But The Sight not only breaks new ground, it's the best book yet. I love the theme of destiny vs. choice, and if I'm not completely satisfied with how the theme is resolved by the end of the book, I suspect that Erin Hunter intended it that way and has plans to further explore this theme as the series advances. The new series introduces three fascinating new characters, and it will be interesting to watch them develop over the series. The book has a few surprises, but unfortunately these have been posted widely. I won't spoil the book by giving them away here.

For more information about the Warriors Series, see my article in The Edge of the Forest online journal.

14th Carnival of Children's Literature: Fiesta!

Susan at Chicken Spaghetti has done a lovely job with the 14th Carnival of Children's Literature. The carnival has a Fiesta theme, focusing especially on multicultural children's literature, although there are plenty of links (including mine) that aren't really related to the theme. Susan included links and information on Texas festivals and destinations for added color.

Visit the 14th Carnival of Children's Literature

Thursday, May 17, 2007

In Memoriam Lloyd Alexander

From Read Roger I learned the sad news that Lloyd Alexander passed away today. He was an enormously talented and versatile writer and will be greatly missed. Although his Chronicles of Prydain were his most well known books, my favorites were The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen and The Iron Ring. Read the obituary at Horn Book.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Carnival reminder

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm a procrastinator. That's why I'm here, reminding you to submit your post for the fourteenth Carnival of Children's Literature, 24 hours before the final deadline. Susan at Chicken Spaghetti is hosting this time, and submissions are due by May 17. Instructions for submitting are at this post.

Not sure what a blog carnival is? Read about it here.

Cool Nerd

I wasn't going to do it. I saw the nerd test that's been making the rounds, but after getting so involved in the Golden Compass Daemon thing, I was determined to pass this one by. But after seeing it on enough blogs, I couldn't resist and got sucked in. So I was just going to take the test out of curiosity, but not post it. But when I found out that I'm a Cool Nerd, well, I just had to post it! Is that the nerd in me? Here's my results:

Your Score: Modern, Cool Nerd

65 % Nerd, 56% Geek, 39% Dork

For The Record:

A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.

A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.

A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.

You scored better than half in Nerd and Geek, earning you the title of: Modern, Cool Nerd.

Nerds didn't use to be cool, but in the 90's that all changed. It used to be that, if you were a computer expert, you had to wear plaid or a pocket protector or suspenders or something that announced to the world that you couldn't quite fit in. Not anymore. Now, the intelligent and geeky have eked out for themselves a modicum of respect at the very least, and "geek is chic." The Modern, Cool Nerd is intelligent, knowledgable and always the person to call in a crisis (needing computer advice/an arcane bit of trivia knowledge). They are the one you want as your lifeline in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (or the one up there, winning the million bucks)!


Thanks Again! -- THE NERD? GEEK? OR DORK? TEST

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What I'm reading now

Camille from Book Moot has tagged me for the latest meme: what books are you reading now. I like this meme; it's an easy and fun one to do and doesn't require too much thought! I miss out on a lot of the memes because by the time I've pondered the question and decided what to say, everyone else has moved on. Guess I'm just slow! Anyway, here's my list of books I'm currently reading:
  • The Call to Shakabaz, by Amy Wachspress, is a highly readable fantasy featuring African-American characters. I'm about halfway through and enjoying it so far.
  • Although I'm enjoying The Call to Shakabaz, I've had to put it aside for a couple of days to read the latest Warriors book, The Sight, to prepare for the Erin Hunter chat I'm hosting this weekend with the authors of the series.
  • I usually also have a business or technical book going, and right now I'm reading Plug Your Book: Online Book Marketing for Authors, Book Publicity through Social Networking by Steve Weber, which is excellent so far.
  • My 11-year-old son and I still try to read together in the evenings when we can, and lately we've been interested in mysteries. We've read a lot of the Sherlock Holmes short stories, and right now we're working on Agatha Christie. We're currently reading the first Hercule Poirot book, Mysterious Affair at Styles: A Hercule Poirot Mystery.
  • My son and I also like to listen to audio books in the car, and for the last few months we've been listening to the Harry Potter books (which, of course we've read before, multiple times) to prepare for book seven. Currently we're on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but it's going slowly because, due to various circumstances, we haven't had as much time to listen in the car as we usually do.
  • I've also been occasionally dipping into an old edition of Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor, which I picked up at my in-laws from a stack of old books that they were giving away. The book is ok; some of the jokes are funny, but some reflect outdated social attitudes. I'm finding it more interesting for the insight it gives into the author's personality than for the jokes themselves.

Who to tag? I'm going to tag Midwestern Lodestar and Kim Baccellia. If y'all want to play, feel free to join in!

Opera, tragedy, and a sense of hope

Last night I attended an opera for the first time in my life, and all I can say is, wow! I've always thought that I didn't like opera, which was a mistake, since I've never actually seen an opera. The reality was far different than I expected.

My opportunity to see an opera came about because my son David is singing in the children's chorus for the Baltimore Opera Company production of Tosca. I've seen parts of it throughout the last few weeks at rehearsals, but last night we actually got to see the performance in its full glory. It was simply amazing! It was far, far better than any movie I've seen in recent years. In fact, it makes most modern movies seem bland and insipid.

Tosca has everything you could want in story: love, jealousy, politics, a smarmy villian, torture, personal heroism, and yes, tragedy. Set in Rome against the background of the Napoleonic wars, it tells the story of the painter Cavaradossi and his love, the singer Floria Tosca. Cavaradossi risks his life to help an escaped political prisoner, and finds himself at the mercy of the evil Baron Scarpia, who also desires Tosca and uses the situation to his advantage. You can find a full synopsis of Tosca in Wikipedia. It helped that the Baltimore Opera Company projects English surtitles on a screen above the stage; I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it as much if I hadn't understood everything that was going on. The principals were outstanding, at least to my uneducated ear and eye, and when Antonello Palombi, who played Cavaradossi, sang the aria in the third act where he is writing his farewell letter to Tosca, it gave me chills.

I wasn't the only one who was enthralled with the performance. Many of the children's chorus parents bought tickets for the kids to see Acts 2 and 3, since the kids are only in the first act. All the children's chorus (mostly preteens) that I could see from where I was sitting were leaning forward in their seats, totally engrossed in the show. To tie this in with children's literature, it brings me back to the discussion about a "sense of hope" in children's literature. Last year, J.L. Bell of Oz and Ends wrote an interesting post in which he questioned the emphasis on a sense of hope in children's literature. Bell asked whether a sense of hope is always necessary or even appropriate in children's books. Watching the kids last night, I would tend to agree. All the kids really seemed to enjoy the show, in spite of (or partly because of?) the tragic nature of the story. Is it really necessary for everything to have a happy ending?

I'm already eyeing the Baltimore Opera Company's schedule for next year, wondering which ones would be good to go to. I'm really proud of David for all the hard work that he's put into this. He and the other children did a great job. Bravo!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Book Review: Unicorn Races

Unicorn Races
by Stephen J. Brooks
Illustrated by Linda Crockett

Sparkly. Purple. Unicorns. Oh, my! Unicorn Races is a gorgeous picture book that will delight any imaginative young child. Each night Abigail leaves her bed, dons her favorite princess dress, and rides her noble unicorn to a clearing in the woods, where she officiates at the unicorn races. The unicorns come in all different colors, and the races are also attended by elves and fairies. After the race, everyone dines on a feast of cakes and cookies and sundays. What's not to like about this book? It has everything a child could wish for: a nighttime adventure, lots of magical creatures, and a feast of sweets. The gentle story is accompanied by beautiful, richly-hued illustrations of fairies and elves and brightly colored unicorns. And sparkles - lots of sparkles. My favorites are the tiny fairies who appear on every page. In one early illustration, a fairy is shown exiting a doll house and being chased by the cat. The book has a quality feel to it - even the cover is soft and padded. This is a book that is likely to become a favorite, treasured book to be read again and again.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Lady Friday discussion

Don't forget that the Lady Friday discussion has started over on Scholar's Blog spoiler zone! If you've read Lady Friday, head on over and contribute your thoughts on Arthur's growth, the parts of the Will, favorite characters, and the ambiguous 'S'! Warning: the discussion contains spoilers, so you may not want to read it until you've read the book. Click here to join the discussion. Anyone can join! All you have to do is post your thoughts in the comments!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Review gratitude

Two great reviews of my husband's book, The Dark Dreamweaver, have been posted during the last week:
  • Carrie Spellman reviewed it for TeensReadToo. Carrie gave it five stars and called it "A great fantastic adventure that seamlessly weaves a good story in with important lessons." Read the review here.
  • S.M.Duke reviewed it on his blog, The World in the Satin Bag (which is also the name of his YA fantasy blog novel, which can be read on his blog). Mr. Duke called it, "...a powerfully driven tale with swift and well drawn action, interesting puzzles, and a well paced plot." Read the review here.

Thanks so much to Ms. Spellman and Mr. Duke for your kind words and for taking the time to review it!

If any bloggers or reviewers would like a copy, I'd be glad to send you one. Just email me at sruth at wandsandworlds dot com.