Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Review: The Marvelous Toy interactive app

The Marvelous Toy

Words and music by Tom Paxton
Additional musical arrangements by Christopher Kennedy
illustrated by Steve Cox
Interactive e-book app by mobiStories

Interactive e-book apps were one of the hot topics at BEA, and I had the opportunity to preview The Marvelous Toy interactive picture book app. The song The Marvelous Toy, by Tom Paxton, has long been a favorite of kids and adults, and Imagine Publishing created an illustrated picture book out of the song. MobiStories Digital Books has gone one step further, taking the images from the picture book and the audio of the song, and added interactivity to create an enhanced digital e-book app.

The app proceeds through a series of screens, each one displaying art from the book and playing one verse of the song while showing the words to the song. When the verse finishes, you can click on or touch different items in the picture to see them do different things, including the marvelous toy of the title, which does indeed zip, pop, and whirrrr.

The art is lovely, and of course the song, sung by Tom Paxton himself, is wonderful. Playing with the different toys is fun, and overall I think that kids will enjoy this app. My only criticism is that the response on the iPhone app was a little slow, and you have to wait for one animation to finish before you can activate the next one. My experience with kids in general leads me to believe that most will try to touch everything quickly, without waiting for the first one to finish, and when nothing happens they may assume that object doesn't do anything. From what I saw of the computer version at BEA, it seemed that this problem doesn't exist on the computer version.

The book is available as an iPhone/iPad app or as a download for your computer.

On a meta level, I can't help wondering how far you can go and still call something a book. Is an app based on a book based on a song still a book? In one sense, it doesn't matter what we call it, but to some extent it does. There's nothing wrong with kids "reading" something like this some of the time, but I wouldn't want this to become the only thing that kids read. Partly because, although the words appear on the screen, kids don't actually have to read them to enjoy the app. But also because it doesn't leave anything to the imagination, and developing imagination is another important thing that books can do. Even picture books, with art that shows what things look like, still encourage imagination; in The Marvelous Toy print book, for example, kids can see the toy but have to imagine it lighting up, zipping, and whirring. In the app, they can see it and don't have to imagine it. I don't mean this as a criticism of the app, which I like, but more as a musing on the possible implications of where we're headed.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

More BEA 2010

BookExpo America was crazy this year. With the show floor only being two days instead of the usual three, it was a mad rush of activity and I felt like I was on the run constantly trying to accomplish everything.

Tuesday evening I went to Books of Wonder for a Class of 2K10 event. There were 13 YA authors presenting their debut books, released this year.

Of the thirteen, the ones that I'd most like to read are Mistwood, 13 to Life, and Shade.

At Books of Wonder, I also got to meet a couple of teen members of the Wands and Worlds community for the first time, which was a great experience!

Wednesday night I attended the Kidlit Drink Night, organized by Cheryl Klein and Betsy Bird. In addition to Cheryl and Betsy, I also talked to Abby (the) Librarian and her friend Jen. Barry Lyga was wearing an awesome shirt promoting his new book, Archvillain. The shirt read, "I'm not evil, I'm just misunderstood." I also met Elizabeth Kennedy,'s guide to children's books. I looked at her name tag and then did a double take when I realized who she was; I told her I was in the presence of a celebrity! I also met one of the FiveAwesomeYAFans (I'm really sorry but I don't remember your name!) and Violet Haberdasher, author of Knightly Academy, who gave me a bookmark with the great slogan, "Fencing lessons, protocol drills, and death threats. Just your average day at Knightly Academy."

I'm sure there are other people I met, so if I've forgotten you please post a comment here! I didn't stay long, because I don't deal well with noise and crowds, and it was definitely noisy and crowded! But it was fun to go for a little while and catch up with old friends and make new ones.

Most of my time Thursday was spent running between meetings with publishers to talk about the Cybils, and standing in line for autographs. I did find the time to walk the show floor, although not until Thursday afternoon, and saw some interesting things, some of which I'll be posting about in separate blog posts. The books I got that I'm most excited about are:
For the Win
Cory Doctorow
Available now
Multiplayer gaming and gold-farming sweatshops in poor countries

Ally Condie
November, 2010
Futuristic dystopian story with romance

Catherine Fisher
December, 2010
Sequel to Cybils finalist Incarceron and a book I've been looking forward to reading!

Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story
Adam Rex
July, 2010

The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1)
Rick Riordan
Available now

Towards the end of the day, when my feet hurt so much I could barely walk, I had two delightful serendipitous discoveries. The first was coming across origami experts Michael LaFosse and Richard Alexander promoting their line of Origami books. They had some pretty amazing examples of origami with them. You can see some of their work in the photo gallery on their web site at The picture shows LaFosse with an F-14 Tomcat that I watched him fold.

The second discovery was coming around a corner at the very end of the day and finding a small crowd gathered around a booth that hadn't started packing up yet. Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey (Peter and Paul of Peter, Paul & Mary) were there promoting their new children's book, The Night Before Christmas. Unfortunately, I'd apparently just missed them singing, but I did get an autographed CD for my husband.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

BookExpo America (BEA) 2010

Today was the first day of the exhibit halls for BookExpo America, or BEA, the (hopefully still) annual U.S. trade show for the book business. This year the exhibit part of the show is compressed into two days instead of three, and one floor of the Javits Center instead of two. In spite of that (or maybe because of it) the show was buzzing with activity and, well, buzz. The aisles were so crowded you could barely walk, and the autographing area smelled like a locker room. Debate about "p" vs "e" could be heard throughout the exhibit floor, and more than one person was heard to exclaim that print is not dead. And judging from the number of people standing in line for autographed books, print is definitely far from dead.

This morning I attended the Children's Book and Author Breakfast, an event which featured Sarah, Duchess of York as MC, with Cory Doctorow, Mitali Perkins, and Richard Peck speaking. A music group called 4TROOPS, comprised of four combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, performed their song "For Freedom" and sang some beautiful harmonies.

All of the speakers were wonderful. Sarah was poised and funny and didn't seem at all phased by the reporters and camera crews climbing over each other trying to see her. She showed her new line of children's books, and concluded by saying, "I'm Sarah Ferguson, I'm a children's book author and a mom, and I'm proud of it." (I may have the exact wording of the quote wrong, but this is in essence what she said. I apologize for any errors on my part).

Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother and his newest book, For the Win, talked about how much he loves connecting with teens. He called adolescents nature's daredevils, and said that it's a time of taking risks without the experience to necessarily understand the consequences. He talked about the exhilaration of doing things for the first time.

Through the medium of stories about her life, Mitali Perkins talked about books as windows and mirrors. Books can give us a window into another culture or another way of life, or they can be a mirror in which we can see ourselves. Growing up all the books she read had white characters, and yet she connected with those characters in many ways, so the books were mirrors. In the same way, she thinks of her books as mirrors for Asian-American children, and windows for many white American children, as a look at another culture. Yet many white children also find mirrors in her books and connect with them in unexpected ways.

Richard Peck talked about how he had to quit teaching in order to be able to communicate with children. He was quite funny talking about the changes in the teaching profession as a result in the changes of society's attitudes towards children, remarking that the Latin teachers were kicked out and chased out of town by angry mobs, and then after the Latin teachers were gone there was so little English left to teach that the name had to be changed to "Language Arts." He talked about the importance of the book The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, and its influence on Peck's new book, Three Quarters Dead.

After the Author Breakfast, I spent most of the rest of the day bouncing between meetings with various publishers to talk about the Cybils, and standing in autographing lines. I did meet and talk to some interesting people while standing in the lines. Rick Riordan is a champion autographer; his line moved quickly as he chewed through the crowd. Matthew Reinhart apparently signs more slowly, as his line crawled along, but to be fair, his book was a lot more awkward to handle, so that could account for the difference. I was also thrilled to get a copy of Cory Doctorow's For the Win, which I'm looking forward to reading.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Review: The Turning

The Turning Book 1: What Curiosity Kills
by Helen Ellis

Mary Richards lives in New York's Upper East Side with her strict but loving adoptive parents and her adoptive sister, Octavia. After a childhood marred by neglect from her biological parents, Mary knows how lucky she is to have loving parents, even if they are luddites that restrict the girls' access to cell phones and computers. Mary and Octavia attend the exclusive Purser-Lilley Academy, where their only problems are not unusual: fitting in, schoolwork, and boys.

Then Mary has an encounter with a strange cat, an encounter that leaves her with...fur? Yes, fur: an orange patch of it on her leg, that she tries to keep hidden under her socks. More strange things keep happening, and finally Mary learns the truth: she is Turning, Teen Wolf style, into a cat, and that she is one of a rare group of teens that can do so. Being a cat is exhilarating, but the Turning itself is painful, and Mary finds herself caught in the middle of a brutal war, and between two very different boys.

The Turning was different than I expected. I had thought that it would be a lot about what it was like for a teen girl to experience the life of a cat, but while there are some passages from the point of view of Mary as a cat, they are few and don't give a strong picture of what it might be like to be a cat. That's not a bad thing, but it just means that the audience for this book is different than I had thought it would be. I interact a lot with fans of animal fiction, and I thought it might be a book that would appeal to them, but after reading it, I wouldn't put it in that niche.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, however. This is a compelling and immersive book that keeps you turning the pages. It has interesting characters that have a lot of teen appeal, and the story moves along quickly and keeps you involved.

For the most part, What Curiosity Kills does pretty well in the diversity department. New York looks like New York should: with a diverse array of characters of all ethnicities and backgrounds. Mary's adoptive sister Octavia is African-American and one of the most interesting characters. Octavia is the captain of the debate team, assertive and smart, and not afraid to show it. Asian characters probably fare the worst; the mean girl is Chinese, and the "bad boy" who tries to tempt Mary into joining the "other" group of cats is Korean-American.

One thing that bothered me was the climax, which seemed contrived to me. I can't say too much without giving away spoilers, but the situation seemed to be artificially set up to create a moral dilemma. It seemed to me that there would have been other options that Mary could have used; those options might still have been morally ambiguous, but at least wouldn't have had the same implications. The climax, for me, marred what was otherwise an enjoyable book.

What Curiosity Kills is the first book in a series, and it will be interesting to see where Helen Ellis goes with this series.

FTC required disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review. The links above are Amazon Associate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

MotherReader announced next 48 Hour Book Challenge!

For the last four years, MotherReader has organized what she calls a 48 Hour Book Challenge: an unrestrained orgy of reading lasting 48 hours over the course of a weekend. It's that time again: that weekend when you can legitimately say, "Sorry, I can't. I have to read." The challenge this year takes place on the weekend of June 4-6, 2010. You can choose your 48 hours any time between 7:00am Friday and 7:00am Monday.

Details and sign-up here.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Free Comic Book Day

Yesterday, I saw a blurb that today was Free Comic Book Day, and that comic book stores nationwide would be giving away free comics to anyone who stopped in. I'm generally not a comic reader, although I did enjoy some of Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics a while back, but I was intrigued by the idea, which is "to reach out to those individuals unfamiliar with the comic book specialty market, not to mention a comic book shop." I was also curious to see what comics might have to offer, so I dragged my husband and son into our local store to check it out.

I found that I was generally underwhelmed by the selection of free comics. Granted, we didn't go until late afternoon, and I knew we were in trouble when I saw the sign on the door that said, "We open at 11. Line forms here." So I assume there would have been a greater selection of comics if we'd come earlier.

However, the problem with the comics that were available is that most of them fell into two categories: kids' comics, and superhero comics, neither of which interest me. If the point of the promotion is to attract new readers, it seems to me that there would be an advantage in showing a wider range of comics that might appeal to more new people. For example, as a fantasy/sf reader, I had hoped to find some good sff comics to check out. (I know they must be out there). I looked at the list of comics offered on the Free Comic Book Day web site, and there are a couple that would have interested me, but unfortunately they weren't available in my store.

I picked up the Oni Press Free For All, because it includes a story from The Crogan Adventures, which I was curious to see since Crogan's Vengeance was a Cybils finalist. I also picked up one called Weathercraft, just because it looked different and unusual, although I'm afraid it might be too unusual for me: on a quick look, I don't understand it, but I want to spend more time with it and see.

But I'm most excited about the book that I bought: the hardcover of The Stand: Captain Trips, the first part of the graphic novel adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand, one of my favorite books of all time. I'm looking forward to seeing the artwork and how the book was adapted to the form (once I can get it away from my son, who is already immersed in it). So for me, at least, the promotion was successful, because I, a non-comic reader, went into a comic store and came out with something that excited me. It just wasn't free.

FTC Disclosure: Some of the links above are Associate links, and I receive a small percentage of any sales made through the links