Monthly Archives: January 2014


ImageI finally received my Spiral Vegetable Slicer, which will henceforth be called a Zoodler because it makes vegetables into lovely noodles. What an essential kitchen gadget for those of us who are low-carbers and love pasta! I had had it in my Amazon cart for months, just hoping for Christmas Amazon gift cards. I must be a good hinter, because I did receive some. Oh, how I wish North Carolina bloggers could get paid for click-outs to Amazon, but alas! Amazon and the North Carolina legislature have not settled their war yet, so I am going to gush on about this product purely for love, and not for profit.

ImageHere is the basic machine. You can see that it has a spiky end that holds the vegetable in place and another end that holds a guillotine-looking blade that snaps in place. The other blades are nicely stored beneath, as you can see. There is a slicer blade that makes ribbons, a coarse shredder, and a fine shredder. Today, I am using the fine shredder. You can see my pears, zucchini, and beets waiting in the background.

2014-01-23 18.24.41The first thing I zoodled was a couple of pears, which worked nicely, but needed to be sprinkled with lemon juice quickly to prevent browning. I set them aside for the pear and beet salad, and moved on to zucchini, a vegetable that is practically invented for the Zoodler. Here you can see the zoodles coming out as I turned the handle on the other end. So cute! I made a bowl full of them (top picture) from three zucchini, which leaves a weird core, as you can see. I was surprised by the core, but then I realized that the reason the pears didn’t leave cores is because they dissolved into the mush that ran down the inside of the Zoodler. Aha. No problem, though. I still got a lot of zucchini noodles!

ImageI saved the beets until last because I was afraid that I’d stain the Zoodler. I read in the instruction manual that you can make two cuts on either side of a vegetable to get C-shaped noodles. As you can see, that worked really well, but what you can’t see is that I made the cuts too close together in the center, so after a few turns, the beets split into two pieces. Oh, well. I reconfigured and made smaller C’s.

Yes, the beets made a big mess! After I was done, though, I took the gadget apart and gave it a quick rinse, and it did not stain at all. As you can see below, my counter is still a mess, but the Zoodler is shiny white again. Whew!


My next challenge was to cook the zucchini noodles. As you can see, I cut up the cores into little plugs and threw them in. No, unfortunately, those are not baby scallops. I heated up a bit of olive oil and a pat of butter in a large skillet and got it pretty hot, then tossed in the zoodles and some chopped garlic. I was making the beet salad at the same time, so I didn’t pay close enough attention, and I think I overcooked the zoodles a bit. Practice makes perfect. I think it’s best to stop before they get translucent at all. However, I can tell you that they were delicious! They still held together, and we all loved them. I’m sure that this is just the first of many meals with the Zoodler!



Filed under Diabetes, Food

The 2014 Children’s Book Awards Post-Game Show

We had so much fun this morning watching the webcast of the ALA Children’s Media Awards. There were seven of us around the table, focused on the big screen and munching on snacks.

So, how did we do? Well, the mood in the room was pretty festive, since the children’s book nerds were very happy with the committees’ choices this year. This doesn’t always happen, I am sorry to say, and last year was a great example of a morning spent saying, “What were they thinking?” Not the case this year.

ImageThe Printz award is announced fairly early in the ceremony, and Midwinterblood took the prize! You have never seen anyone so glad to have posted a review on time! I really loved this book, as you can see from yesterday’s hasty review, and my friend Danielle was just as pleased. My beloved Eleanor & Park took an honor, so I can be satisfied with that. E&P also won an Odyssey Award for audiobooks, and since I listened to this title originally, I can heartily agree: the production was fantastic. In a surprise move, the Printz committee gave an honor to Navigating Early, which was one of my top Newbery choices. Interesting. I am glad to see this beautiful book recognized.

P.S. Be Eleven, the distinguished title that caused such an emotional response for me, took home the Coretta Scott King award, and well deserved, too. We were also glad to see Markus Zusak, the author of The Book Thief, take home the Margaret A. Edwards award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. He is a wonderful writer, and so young for a lifetime achievement award of any kind. Now if only he would write some more!

Lots of favorites in the Caldecotts. I did not write about these picture book awards, but Locomotive, which won, and Journey and Mr. Wuffles, which took honors, were favorites of mine. Locomotive is actually a very beautiful nonfiction book. Your little ones would really enjoy these.

ImageFinally, the Newbery Award went to my beloved Flora & Ulysses! It was an early favorite for me and kept my heart all year. I am so pleased to see that the committee agreed with me. I can’t imagine a child who wouldn’t be enchanted by this story. The Year of Billy Miller, also a younger choice, won a much-deserved Newbery honor.

All in all, I was so thrilled that I could hardly think of anything else for hours, as you can ask any of my co-workers who, being adult services people, were not quite as emotionally invested as I was. For more details, you can search for my individual reviews of these titles. Now, go out there and put holds on all of these great books for your family!


Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading

Midwinterblood, by Marcus Sedgwick

ImageI am rushing to get this review in the night before the Printz Award is announced, particularly because I believe it to be a strong contender. Should it win nothing, you should still know about it.

This is the story of Eric and Merle, and Eirikr and Melle, and five other pairs in between. In seven stories, we watch a mythological tale being acted out, weaving in and out of history with the players wearing different faces in each age. We first meet Eric in the near future, 2073, as a visitor to Blest Island. He is a journalist intent on investigating the rumors that the inhabitants of this small island in the far north are living extraordinarily long lives. Some say that they live forever. When he arrives, he finds that there are no hotels, and that the residents are not fond of visitors. He does feel an instant connection to Merle, however, and if he believed in love at first sight, he would say that he’s found his soulmate. As the days go by, Eric begins to think that there is a dangerous secret on the island—that is, when he can think at all. He comforts himself with a mug of the island’s special tea each evening and wakes up to a sumptuous breakfast prepared by a hand he never sees. Surely life cannot drift this way forever. Indeed, it cannot.

Mystery, danger, love, and violence work backward through the chapters to a time before stories were written, and always Eric and Merle find one another. Sometimes they are brother and sister, sometimes lovers, sometimes mother and son, sometimes just friends. There are other recurring characters, too, always pulling to the same inevitable conclusion.

If I tell you that I do not care for short stories, you will understand what high praise it is for me to call Midwinterblood a phenomenal achievement. At the moment, I want to start over at the beginning so that I can catch all of the details, now that I know the conclusion—which is actually the beginning. This book is tightly woven and makes a perfect circle from future to past and around again. It is beautiful and tragic and frustrating and sweet. As I have done for earlier books, I will say that I’m not sure why it was published as a young adult book, since the characters are almost all adults. However, unlike The Kingdom of Little Wounds, it is perfectly appropriate for teens, and I think they will like it a lot. But why should they have all the fun? Adults, especially Cloud Atlas fans, will love it, too.

Very highly recommended for teens and adults.

Update: It won!!!!

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.


Filed under Book Reviews

My Printzables

ImageEarly on in the game, I realized that I would not be able to read everything I wanted for both the Newbery Award and the Printz Award, so I chose the Newbery. The books are shorter, for one thing, and I helped to run our library system’s Mock Newbery Club for five years before I became a selector, so I have more experience with that competition.

This is not to say that I haven’t read for the Printz, however. I am more likely to read a Young Adult (YA) book on my own anyway, so it is not a burden to do so. The Michael L. Printz Award is given to the best book written for teens in each calendar year, and if you’ve seen the Hunger Games movies, you’ll know that YA authors are doing some great work and seeing substantial commercial success. The Printz Award is looking for literary quality, rather than popularity, though. One big difference between the Printz and the Newbery is that the Printz can be awarded to any author, regardless of nationality.

I’ve categorized all of the following YA books that were published in 2013 into four groups, along with some short comments. Almost all of those that I read have been reviewed on this blog. If not, there was probably a reason.

ImageGroup One: The Series. First of all, here are the books that I liked (or sometimes loved) very much, but I feel that they are so dependent on their prequels and/or sequels that they cannot stand on their own:

Across a Star-Swept Sea, by Diana Peterfreund (Second in a fun series.)

The Bitter Kingdom, by Rae Carson (Third in a great trilogy.)

The Clockwork Princess, by Cassandra Clare (Third in a fabulous trilogy.)

The Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater (Maggie never disappoints. Second in a wonderful series.  Complex characters.)

Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger (Fun series derived from her adult series “The Parasol Protectorate.”)

The Lord of Opium, by Nancy Farmer (So very literary. Wonderful, but dependent on House of the Scorpion.)

Quintana of Charyn, by Melina Marchetta (Third in THE trilogy. “The Lumatere Chronicles” is THE series for older teens and adults.)

ImageGroup Two: Not winners. Here is another list of titles that I just do not find literary enough for the award. Some of these are top contenders on other lists, but I feel that there are better titles this year. Although they are not my picks for an award, a few were very good reads. If you’d like more information about a title in this list that I did not review, let me know.

All Our Pretty Songs, by Sarah McCarry- So many drugs, and I can’t quite remember the plot.

Far Far Away, by Tom McNeal- I liked this, but not as much as many others did.

The Golden Day, by Ursula Dubosarsky- Characters too young; not enough character development.

The Kingdom of Little Wounds, by Susann Cokal- Absolutely not. This is an adult book—for adults with strong stomachs. What was Candlewick thinking? The characters are teens because they lived in a time when girls married at 13 and were happy to live to age 30.

More Than This, by Patrick Ness- Loads of fun, but derivative. Not as literary as others.

 Rapture Practice, by Aaron Hartzler- Nicely done memoir. I just liked other things better.

Reality Boy, by A.S. King- A compelling story by an exceptional author, but not a favorite this year. I loved her Everybody Sees the Ants.

Sex & Violence, by Carrie Mesrobian. Great character development with a weak ending. Much better than you’re thinking.

The Sin-Eater’s Confession, by Ilsa J. Bick- A rugged read. I could not get over the author’s bigoted depiction of Christians.

The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson- Oh, so pretentious. Many experts disagree, but I did not like any of the characters. It reminded me of the values expressed in Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence: artists are exempt from “middle-class morality.”

ImageGroup Three: I ran out of time. Books that are on many top Printz prediction lists that I did not read, although I would like to, are:

Charm & Strange, by Stephanie Kuehn

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black

Midwinterblood, by Marcus Sedgwick [Update! Please see review on January 26, 2014]

Picture Me Gone, by Meg Rosoff

Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein (Loved the first one.)

Winger, by Andrew Smith

I actually had some of these on my nighttable, but I just ran out of time.

ImageGroup Four: The winners! That leaves me with this list of six favorites for the year, two by one author!

All the Truth That’s in Me, by Julie Berry- Tense, gritty. Great main character in a unique story.

Boxers & Saints, by Gene Luen Yang- This is actually a pair of graphic novels based on the Boxer Rebellion in China, and it works incredibly well! Complex and surprising. Will the committee consider it one work?

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell- Ripped my heart out. My emotions were completely engaged. Tremendous character development. This is my top pick of the year.

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell- A three-layer novel with great characters. Fun, engaging; engrossing story.

The Midnight Dress, by Karen Foxlee- Lush writing, beautiful setting, and a strong main character.

Out of the Easy, by Ruta Sepetys- A true coming-of-age story with an exceptional setting.

In summary, my favorite three, in order, are probably:

1)      Eleanor & Park

2)      The Midnight Dress

3)      Fangirl

All of these favorites are great reads for adults and teens, and these authors are among the best anywhere. Go check them out!

We’re making a party out of the ALA Children’s Media Awards at our library. Tune into the webcast here by 8:00 on Monday morning, January 27th. No matter which titles garner the medals, all the readers win!

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed are completely my own and do not reflect those of my employer, several friends, or the professional medal-watch bloggers. But we have fun.

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The Golden Day, by Ursula Dubosarsky

ImageIn an old house in Paris that was covered with vines

Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines….

The smallest one was Madeline.*

In an old school in Sydney (not sure about the vines), there lived eleven little girls who went with their teacher, Miss Renshaw, to the Ena Thompson Memorial Gardens to see Morgan, the poet-gardener, and to bask in his wisdom. Morgan led them to a cave on the beach to see the Aboriginal paintings. They all returned except for Miss Renshaw. The headmistress and others begged the girls to tell them more about their poetry outing, but the girls sat there silently. After all, Miss Renshaw had said to them, “We won’t mention this, will we, girls? We won’t mention this to anyone. It will be our little secret.”

The main action of this short novel takes place in 1967, when the girls were probably about eleven years old, followed by a few brief chapters on their graduation day in 1975. Within the 149 pages, we get to know four of the characters better than the others: Cubby, Ichara, Martine, and Bethany. (Four of the girls are named Elizabeth.) Cubby is probably the main character, and we see most of the story through her eyes. Ichara is the one whom Miss Renshaw criticized as being a realist, when the world needs idealists. Martine is from New Calcedonia and speaks with a French accent. Bethany weeps uncontrollably in almost every scene.

There are many mysteries here. Who is Morgan, really, and why did their teacher trust someone they met in the park? When it comes to that, what do the girls really know about each other? Who are they when they are not in school? Sometimes they live complicated lives for little girls. Above all is the tension caused by the girls wanting desperately to keep the secret, yet caring very much what happened to their beloved Miss Renshaw. Who will crack, and will it be too late? As an adult reader, I was so aware that when an adult tells a child, “Let’s keep this our little secret,” it’s never wholesome. Did Miss Renshaw run away with Morgan, or is it something much worse?

I could not help remembering the movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, also set in Australia during a school picnic. Then of course, the lines from Madeline also played through my head whenever the girls went anywhere, putting on their hats and pulling up their socks.

Ms. Dubosarsky has created an effective emotional piece in the few pages that she used, and it was very well done. It is not a Printz pick for me, though, for a few reasons. First of all, the girls are only ten or eleven years old for about 85% of the book, and the Printz Award is for teen literature. Secondly, none of the characters is completely developed, and I do tend to gravitate to characters in a novel, rather than plot or any other element. Thirdly, there are several other works this past year that I like much better.

In my next post, I intend to write up which books I hope to see win the 2014 Printz Award. Stay tuned!


*Bemelmans, Ludwig. Madeline, 1939.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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P.S. Be Eleven, by Rita Williams-Garcia

ImageI will admit that I put off reading this novel until I just could not avoid it any longer, since it is at the top of many of the Newbery contender lists out there. The problem is that it is the sequel to One Crazy Summer, a book that made me very, very angry. I just wasn’t sure that I could handle that much negative emotion again, but I decided that I had to give it a try.

Oh, it made me furious. But then it was so good.

Here’s the setup. In One Crazy Summer, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are sent to spend the summer with their mother, née Cecile but now styling herself Nzila, in San Francisco. Not that she wanted them—now or when she gave birth to them, but the girls’ father thought that it would be a good idea for them to get to know their mother. Cecile had abandoned them in order to become a Poet to the People and work as a part of the Revolution. When the girls arrive, she gives them food money—grudgingly—and leaves them to themselves. They hang out at the People’s Center each day with the Black Panthers. No thanks to Cecile, who is incredibly full of herself, they are not kidnapped or killed, and they escape starvation. Delphine has been forced to be a mother to her sisters since they were born, even though their grandmother, Big Ma, lives with them in Brooklyn, and she manages to get them safely through the summer in California.

In P.S. Be Eleven, the girls have just arrived back in New York and their house in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. Their father has taken the opportunity, while his daughters were away, to woo and win the hand of Miss Marva Hendrix.  When Delphine writes to her mother to tell her how she feels about that, Cecile writes back that these matters are for grown-ups, and she puts the post-script, “P.S. Be eleven.” I almost threw the book across the room. What she was saying, to me, was, “Now that I don’t need you to act like the thirty-something, responsible adult that I’m supposed to be, and you are safely a full continent away and therefore not in my life anymore, act like a child.” Delphine was regularly beaten for her sisters’ bad behavior, since she was supposed to be in charge. Vonetta and Fern were intolerable, with a sing-songy parroting that was tiresome by page two, and completely out of control in public. Big Ma was the ruler of the house, and their father was a total wimp. The only character I liked was Delphine, but she was a gem.

About a third of the way through, the book takes a turn, beginning about the time that they get a letter from the army saying that their Uncle Darrell was coming home from the war in Vietnam. Just like that, my heart was engaged. I remember those days. No one who is too young to remember the Vietnam War can understand what it is like to have all of the boys you know being drafted into a war with thousands of casualties broadcast on the news every night. My brother was drafted just before we moved from Georgia to New Jersey, and we were not there when he left. I thought my mother would die of sorrow. He made it through, but so many did not. When Big Ma welcomed her younger son home, I wept.

There were other subplots that resonated with me, as well. The girls see the Jackson Five for the first time on TV, and they go wild. Michael Jackson and I were born the same year, and I remember the girls I babysat for being crazy about him and his brothers. In politics, Shirley Chisolm runs for Congress—and wins. She is the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress, and later becomes the first major-party African-American candidate for president. Even Delphine’s very kind father does not think that it is right for a woman to be involved in politics. I remember my own father saying much the same thing. Sometimes we forget how recently these battles were fought. There are drug problems, speeches from Bobby Kennedy, phonograph needles, and arguments over whether girls should ever wear pants. Such a blast from the past. I was six years old before I saw a girl wearing pants, and she was the daughter of my parents’ friends from New England. Southern girls wore starched cotton dresses, even for play.

In the end, I realized that a writer who could elicit that much emotion, even if it’s not the reaction she intended— or maybe it was—is a superb craftswoman. I think part of my hesitation is due to the fact that I can’t tell how Rita Williams-Garcia feels about Cecile. Perhaps if I could discern some disapproval, I could jump on the bandwagon for this book. On the other hand, a writer who does not reveal her hand in her creation is skillful, indeed. Delphine develops so much maturity in these few months, as does Vonetta, and even their father grows a bit of a spine. Changes take place, and the ending is not neat and tidy, as so many children’s books would have it. I still cannot get past Cecile’s abandonment of her children, and I still do not care for many of the other characters, but Delphine is worth it. She is beautifully written.

Not my favorite, but I’m glad I read it. If it wins, I can at least agree that it really is distinguished.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Zora Needs Your Help

ImageOur next-door neighbors, Steve and Dawn Carlin, have two beautiful little girls. Eva is the older sister, a lively gymnastics champ whom we expect to see in the Olympics a few years from now. Zora is the younger daughter, a sweet and loving child whose biggest triumph is getting through each of the twenty or thirty seizures that she has each day.

During more than one night when Zora was just a baby, we saw red, flashing lights and rushed to our windows, then prayed when we saw the ambulance workers taking the tiny child to the hospital. Since her mom is a nurse, we knew that something had happened that was even beyond her skill, at least at home. We found after a time that Zora had epilepsy and that Steve and Dawn were working tirelessly to find doctors who could help her. They tried many, many serious medications and treatments, including the ketogenic diet. Imagine if your four-year-old could only eat fat: pure butter, mayonnaise, and so on. Imagine trying that for a month and it doesn’t even work.

It turns out that Zora does not just have epilepsy. This year, the Carlins found out that she has Dravet Syndrome, a mutation of the SCN1A gene. It is not hereditary; it causes developmental delays; it can be fatal; and at this time, it is not curable. Also known as Severe Myoclonic Epilepsy of Infancy (SMEI), this disorder came into the limelight on CNN last year with the story of a little girl named Charlotte, who had up to 200 seizures daily. Like the Carlins, Charlotte’s parents had tried everything and researched tirelessly. They heard that a certain form of medical marijuana was showing promise, and they were able to obtain a small amount for a great deal of money. Charlotte’s seizures stopped immediately. You can read the CNN story here.

Charlotte's Web plantsThe type of medical marijuana that Zora needs is more accurately described as cannabis oil, now popularly known as Charlotte’s Web, after the child described above. It is only 1% THC, so there are no narcotic effects. Steve tells me that it was discovered while people were trying to make a stronger form of marijuana and failed miserably, so it is also known as Hippies’ Heartbreak. Rather, this strain of marijuana is high in cannabidiol, or CBD, which has no intoxicating effects at all. Unfortunately, Charlotte’s Web and all kinds of medical marijuana are illegal in most states, including North Carolina. Steve and Dawn have joined support groups and written to our legislative leaders numerous times with no result. The politicians read up to the part about marijuana and they can’t see anything else. There has been another famous case of Dravet in North Carolina recently, and the family ended up having to establish residency in Colorado. Now the family lives apart, since the father needs to stay in North Carolina for his job, and the mother and child live in Colorado so that the child can receive treatment. This is ridiculous!

Opium_poppyAs far back in history as we have written records, we know that plants have been used as medicine. White willow bark was used by the Native Americans for pain relief, and now the chemists render it as aspirin. Of course, you can still find the willow bark in health food stores. Many people take Echinacea to build the immune system, and the pretty foxglove flowers that we had in our yard in Georgia are the source of digitalis, a heart medication. Even closer to medical marijuana, we have used medicine from the opium poppy for centuries. When my mother was in the hospital in horrific pain last summer, she was given Dilaudid for relief. Laudanum in Victorian times, opium in the middle east, cocaine to Sherlock Holmes, and morphine to many patients today— they are all derived from the opium poppy. Dilaudid’s street name is Hospital Heroine. Did she get addicted? Yes, but she got over it and is now happily living alone at age 86. She would not have survived without this drug. What if the government denied it to her because some people use cocaine recreationally? Why should that even have any bearing on the question at all?

Zora’s parents know that there is a drug that can help their daughter to find relief from her constant seizures and the cognitive damage that they cause, but the government will not allow them to purchase it. We can all help by informing our legislators—and anyone else who will listen—about Dravet Syndrome and the success of cannabidiol in its treatment. Many children die of Dravet, so time is of the essence. If you would like to know more, you can go to the websites, a family resource and support group site, or, a nonprofit group dedicated to research. You can also Google “Charlotte’s Web,” and after the book and movie hits, you will see many news articles about Charlotte’s family and the progress being made in other states with the legalization of this drug. Wherever you live, there are children with Dravet who need your help. Cannabidiol is not a cure, it’s just a treatment, so if you are so moved, you may wish to donate to the foundation to further their research for a more permanent solution. The Carlins and Zora’s story will be on NBC17 (WNCN) in February.

Please remember Zora in your prayers, and when you hear conversations in the future concerning the legalization of medical marijuana, please try to inject some sanity into this often hysterical discussion. It’s not about abusers getting high; it’s about kids who can learn to talk and read and have friends for the first time in their lives.


Filed under Life's Travails- Big and Small

Better Nate Than Ever, by Tim Federle

ImageNate is sure that he was born for Broadway, but unfortunately he was actually born in Jankburg, Pennsylvania (motto: 48.5 miles from Pittsburgh!). Nate and his friend and partner-in-crime, Libby, have been practicing and planning his big break for years, and now the time has come. When Nate’s parents leave for a marriage-healing weekend away, Nate packs up his backpack and takes off for the bus station. He blusters his way onto the bus and lands in fabulous New York City just in time for an audition for a new musical of E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.

This fast-paced and uplifting novel is told in first person by the intrepid Nate himself, a short, chunky thirteen-year-old whose backside is saved more than once by his estranged Aunt Heidi. Nate is completely open about the fact that his parents constantly compare him to his older brother, Anthony, school jock and everything his father ever wanted to be. Nate is continually beaten up at school for doing socially unacceptable things like belting out show tunes in the restroom. Federle has written his sympathetic main character in a pitch-perfect voice. It’s impossible not to like and root for this plucky, determined young star.

Realism is not necessary for all novels, but Nate does get more than his share of breaks. An obviously confused young boy on the streets of New York would probably not fare as well as Nate, and one hopes that readers would understand that.

This book has been mentioned for the Newbery, but I do not think it will win for a couple of reasons. As you may have guessed, boys who are absolutely sure of all the words to Phantom of the Opera may not be as certain of their sexuality, particularly at the age of thirteen. Nate is very tuned in to the issue of homosexuality and is amazed to find out that New York, as opposed to Jankburg, is very accepting of gay relationships. While Libby is back home thrilling to the sight of Nate’s brother, Anthony, with his shirt off, Nate sees two boys kissing in a club and finds out that his aunt’s roommate dates other men. All of this is related very innocently—no sex scenes at all—but it is an important theme in the book. Since the Newbery Medal is for the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature, any sort of sexual discussion probably pushes it up out of the range, even though the upper end is fourteen. Unfortunately for Better Nate Than Ever, it is probably too young for the Printz Award, since it is for teen literature, and Nate is truly young for his age. Such a conundrum.

All that being said, awards are not everything, and if you have a child born to tread the boards, they will be fascinated by all of Nate’s suffering in front of pretentious directors and casting teams and the emotional rollercoaster of callbacks. He is quite a personable young man, and since all of his family problems are not solved in this volume— and in many ways his adventures have just begun—a sequel has just come out called Five, Six, Seven, Nate! The show must go on.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Across a Star-Swept Sea, by Diana Peterfreund

ImageLady Persis Blake appears to be nothing more than a beautiful, air-headed socialite who only cares for clothes and hairstyles. Her friend, the Princess Isla, has recently become the regent of Albion when her parents died in an accident and her brother is still a baby. Persis throws Isla’s parties and gives her fashion advice. In the neighboring kingdom of Galatea, a revolution is taking place in which the “regs” (working people of the middle class) are capturing the aristocrats and dosing them with a drug to destroy their mental faculties in revenge for the years that the aristos kept the workers “reduced” so that they could only perform manual labor.

Handsome and brilliant Justen Helo, a descendant of the revered scientist, Persistence Helo, who discovered the cure for the Reduction, runs away from his guardian in Galatea and makes his way to Albion, where he hopes to work against the terrors of the revolution. The princess concocts a public story that Justen and Persis are romantically involved, although the proud scientist Justen could never be interested in a shallow flirt like Persis. Little does he know that Persis is the true identity of the famous Wild Poppy, a spy who has been rescuing the aristocrats of Galatea and bringing them to safety in Albion. Persis does not trust Justen and has reason to believe that he is a spy, as well.

Diana Peterfreund continues her sci-fi reinterpretations of classic literature in this post-apocalyptic version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Last year, she released the spectacular For Darkness Shows the Stars, a seemingly impossible sci-fi rendition of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. This second volume is not a sequel, but it makes much more sense if the two are read in order. Some of the same characters appear, and the world-building is much clearer in the first book. I may have read Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel at some point, but I know it best from the movie starring Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour. If you haven’t seen it, you should go put it in your Netflix queue right now. I’ll wait.

Back? OK.

I’m not sure that this is a Printz type of book, but who cares? The most amazing thing about both of these stories is that they work. What a risk, to try to rewrite beloved classics with wild technology and futuristic societal mores! There’s a bit of hard thinking, a bit of romance, and a lot of fun.

Highly recommended for teens and adults.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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2014 Newbery Picks

ImageThis season, I have read some wonderful children’s books while preparing to make predictions on the Newbery Medal. The Newbery award is given to the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature written by an author who was either born in the United States or lives in the United States at the time of publication. The book has to have been published in the previous calendar year, and must have been originally published in the United States. It has to be complete in itself, that is, not dependent on prequels or sequels. Of the twenty-ish books I’ve read particularly for the award, these five stand out to me, arranged in my idea of their audience, youngest to oldest.

  • The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes
  • Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo
  • The Thing About Luck, by Cynthia Kadohata
  • Navigating Early, by Claire Vanderpool
  • Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan

ImageI am very conscious of the books that I did not read, most notably Jerry Spinelli’s Hokey Pokey and Rita Garcia-William’s P.S. Be Eleven [reviewed January 20, 20104]. (I did read the previous title, One Crazy Summer. Does that count?) I just could not read another children’s book! Furthermore, none of the nonfiction that I read met my idea of a Newbery winner, even though I enjoy nonfiction and usually find at least one worthy title each year. I am also well aware of the fan clubs for Far, Far Away and The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, both of which I liked, but not as much as these titles. Far, Far Away may actually be too old for Newbery, but the committee may not agree with me, and I could never connect with the characters in True Blue Scouts.

ImageI am a character-driven reader. If the author has written strong characters and I fall in love with them, the plot is not as important to me as it would be to someone whose favorite genre is more plot-driven, such as a thriller. I also treasure distinctive writing, particularly witty banter and exquisite turns of phrase. All of these five titles have strong characters whom I remember clearly and fondly. The writing was probably most distinctive in Flora & Ulysses and Navigating Early, with the best dialogue in The Thing About Luck.

ImageMy friend, Martha, who runs the Mock Newbery Club in our library system, mentioned months ago that even the very best offerings this year have flaws. I have to agree. The Thing About Luck has info-dumps about wheat harvesting, Navigating Early requires suspension of disbelief for some of its more fantastical coincidences, and Counting by 7s is partly told by adult characters and some of the plot twists seem somewhat contrived. As for these three older novels, I am most pleased to suspend disbelief for the fantasy in Navigating Early, but then I am a big fan of magical realism.

ImageFor the two younger novels, The Year of Billy Miller is probably the most flawless book I’ve read this year. It is more straightforward than the other books, too, but that is not negative, considering the age of the target audience. Flora and Ulysses has quirky characters in crazy situations, a type of book that I adore, but it may not appeal to a group that is looking for a book that will be assigned in school for decades to come. As an aside here, Kate DiCamillo has just been named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. An excellent choice! All of her books are brilliant, each in its own way.

ImageThe Newbery Committee usually chooses a book on the high end of the range, so I’m thinking that Navigating Early could be their choice. If they decide to go with a younger audience, I’d say The Year of Billy Miller. For myself, I’d be very happy with Navigating Early, and my younger choice would probably be Flora & Ulysses. However, I really love all five of these titles, and I recommend all of them highly for you or your children.

The 2014 Newbery announcement will be on January 27th, so we still have a few weeks to go. If I read something better in the meantime, I’ll be sure to let you know!


Postscript: Yes, I can think of a nonfiction book that I loved! Leon Leyson’s autobiography, The Boy on the Wooden Box, was quite distinguished, and a story that children should read for generations. I don’t know why I forgot about it.

Update: I went on to read Better Nate Than Ever, by Tim Federle, reviewed on January 15, and P.S. Be Eleven, by Rita Williams-Garcia, reviewed January 20. Of these two, only P.S. Be Eleven is a strong contender. Although it is not a favorite of mine, it is quite distinguished.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.


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