Friday, June 27, 2014

UNCAGED - Book review #kidlit #YA

     Summer is here which means -- beach reading!
     Now, I don't mean to imply that you have to go to a beach. I don't know if other readers find this to be true but I tend to read less for pleasure in the spring and fall. Then when the mercury rises and the slightest move means breaking a sweat, I find a shady spot and plunk down with a good read. Something that immerses me in another (hopefully cooler!) place and time.
     Here's my first recommendation of the summer.

Image from the author's website
     I was fortunate to receive an advance reader's copy of Uncaged by John Sandford & Michele Cook. This is Book 1 of a new YA series titled The Singular Menace. A clever play on words because Singular is the corporate antagonist.
     The advance copy that I received opens with a five page prologue then jumps to the action in chapter one with a group of animal rights-activist teens breaking in an animal experimentation facility owned by Singular. I'm guessing that the prologue is there to introduce the main character, Shay, a teenage runaway from her foster home who wouldn't otherwise show up in the book until chapter four. Personally, I think the book would work better without the prologue and the information it gives away, but that's a small quibble.
      The story isn't unique - kids taking on an evil corporation - but the fast-paced action pulled me in. And once a dog was involved, well that sealed it. I had to learn what happened to him. 
     The book is targeted for ages twelve and up. Book 1 didn't have any explicit sexual or drug content but there is some violence. The description of the research is a bit gruesome, but no more so than scads of highly popular zombie-filled apocalypse films and games for this age group. One character dies (needlessly, I thought).
     Kirkus Reviews described the book as "languid" but I didn't find that to be true. I kept looking for opportunities to sit down and read more. Note: the age range Kirkus gave to the book is for ages 15-18. Since this is Book 1, I didn't expect the ending to be tied up neatly, and it isn't. Bring on Book 2!
     Book 1 is slated for publication on July 22, 2014.

     Thanks to Random House Children's Book Department for providing the advance reader's copy. A review was not required in return. This is an honest review of the book.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Beauty and the Beast - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     I was just introduced to this book last weekend and today is the last picture book review before the summer hiatus. Talk about perfect timing for a perfect picture book!
     The underlying story isn't new, but the re-telling transports the story to West Africa with illustrations that will take your breath away.
     TITLE: Beauty and the Beast

     AUTHOR: H. Chuku Lee
     ILLUSTRATOR: Pat Cummings
     PUBLISHER: Amistad (imprint of HarperCollins), 2014
     INTENDED AGE:4 to 8
     THEMES: Fairy tale, unexpected friendship, love
          "Father had to hurry into the city on business, but before he rode off, my older sisters gave him a long list and asked him to buy them all sorts of finery.
           Father asked what I wanted and I said, "A rose." "
     SYNOPSIS: When the Beast threatens to imprison Beauty's father for taking a rose from the Beast's garden, Beauty offers to take her father's place. Over time, Beauty and the Beast become friends but she is still his prisoner. When she is allowed home to visit her sick father, Beauty has to decide whether to fulfill her promise to return to the Beast, knowing that not doing so may kill him.

     WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK: This story is all about the capacity for and the power of love. What better message is there? And this book captures it in a fresh telling. As a disclaimer, the illustrator was my group leader for a recent writing workshop and the book was a gift to all the attendees. But I didn't write this post out of gratitude even though I have plenty of that. I wrote the post because the book is a sensory delight. Beauty's changing hairstyles alone are a treat, but my favorite spread is Beauty looking at her family in her magic mirror, surrounded by sumptuous fabrics, jewels, and perfume bottles while the stone columns and even a tiny knob on an open drawer sport scowling faces while grain of the wood on the side of the dresser forms inlaid eyes squinting her direction. One column has a carved hand projecting from it holding a pitcher! Note: this version of the tale DOES NOT have the character of Gaston (and his death) and is appropriate for the youngest readers. Doing research for this post I also learned that the author and illustrator are husband and wife and that my 12x12 internet Friend Tanja Bauerle saw some of these illustrations in progress and posted the Kirkus review back in February! Small world (and a lucky woman).

     RESOURCES/ACTIVITIES: The most obvious activity for all ages is a discussion of the importance of appearances. Does it matter? Should it? 
     Older readers may want to compare this story to the Disney version. A lot of the online resources relate to the stage productions of Beauty and the Beast. 
     The ESL teaching workshop, ESL, has vocabulary and comprehension worksheets that could be modified to this version.
     You can view the first eight pages of Beauty and the Beast on HarperCollins Web Sampler. Read the Kirkus starred review here
    While not directly on point with this book, I found a fascinating storyteller's website, Beauty and the Beast Storytellers from Ithaca, NY who do school visits. Their teacher's guide relates to the the visual aspects of hearing a storyteller tell this story but some of the questions were thought provoking for all stories.
     The free coloring book pages I found online all use the caucasian Disney version of this story. Same for Beauty and the Beast cakes on Pinterest. If there are multicultural versions out there, let me know so I can link them!
     Find swatches of colorful fabric and dress up as characters from this version of the story. 
This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF 

I will be posting this summer, but no more perfect picture books until fall. Follow me to keep in touch!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Picture Book Boot Camp - June 2014

     I have been lying low the last two weeks. Ten days was vacation, which I will post about later because it was the most amazing volunteer vacation ever. The last four days was a picture book book camp hosted by the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, Pa.
Cabin #18 (19 and 20 in the background)

     The faculty for the four day experience included Pat Cummings, Bruce Degen, Denise Fleming, and Paul O. Zelinsky.
     Re-read that last sentence, picture book writers!
     Yes, I spent four days with picture book rock stars. The especially great thing about it was that these rock stars weren't twerking twerps, they were talented, generous, funny people who came with the purpose to help the nineteen writers who were accepted to the program.
     If that isn't enough to get your heart beating fast, the last two days of boot camp added Laurent Linn, Rachel Orr and Rotem Moscovich to the faculty. In addition to their vast knowledge of the picture book industry, these folks also shared their expert techniques on how to make s'mores. Count me among the initiated. Good stuff.
     I can't possibly capture everything I learned in this post, but I will share a few highlights of Highlights.
     1. Emotions are everything in a picture book. Your character MUST elicit an emotional response from the reader.

     2. Follow your passion in writing a story but before you submit the story to agents/editors be sure you know who the audience for your story will be.

My group leader, Pat Cummings, and me
     3. Black bears are big! Baby bears are cute. We got a visit from Mama and her baby before sunset of  the first night session. Sadly, I took a photo but in the excitement forgot to click "save" and so it is lost to the digital ether.

     4. Writers are a multi-talented bunch. Be prepared to share your talent(s) at a moments notice. I am hoping no one was taping my moment in the spotlight. . . .

     5. Keep working on new material. It may take ten years (or longer) to sell your story. 

    6. Set writing goals. Put in the work. Never stop.

    7. Hearing praise for your work and having supportive writing friends make #6 easier.

     8. The staff at Highlights will provide delicious food, morning yoga and a quiet place to work. Just do it.
     9. Everyone looks better in a mustache.
Paul O. Zelinsky

Laurent Linn

Denise Fleming and Pat Cummings
     My antiquated flip-phone photos of some of the other faculty didn't turn out. I'll post a few more in the writers and writing section of my blog.
     If you have any specific questions about this great event, shoot me an email or PM.