Can't Stop Reading

Lucky for me I get a hefty discount at work, because I just can't seem to stop myself!

Monday, April 10, 2006

This evening is my second time doing a presentation on new books for the Victoria Children's Literature Roundtable. I had a lot of fun doing it last year, and I hope this year is just as good.

Here's a roundup of the books I'll be speaking about:


First up is the Akimbo series by Alexander McCall Smith. Smith has become awfully prolific in the last few years, and this is his first dip into kids’ books. He has another series that will be published this spring, but I'm too lazy to look it up right now. Anyways, so the Akimbo books. Akimbo is a little boy who lives in Africa near a nature reserve, where his father is a ranger. The books are quite enjoyable, though I think that Smith is maybe not so up on the reading levels for kids. Some of the vocabulary is a little complex, but that's really my only complaint. Lots of fun adult-free adventures.

Next is Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look. I love this woman! She has also written an awesome picture book called Uncle Peter's Chinese Wedding, which is great if you want a cultural differences book that doesn't suck. Anyways, so Ruby Lu is an 8 year old Chinese-American Magician. Yes, that's right, and she drives too. But only the four blocks to Chinese school with her baby brother in the back seat. Need I say more? Laugh out loud fun divided into chapters that pretty much stand alone.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo has been stirring up a lot of controversy lately. See here and here for deets. Personally, I loved it. It was definitely weird, and it is definitely not for young kids (I would definitely say 7 and up), as there is some pretty upsetting stuff going on. Maybe read it yourself first. But I love DiCamillo's writing, and the story touched my heart.


Ingrid and the Wolf by Andrei Alexis. Alexis normally writes books for adults (I haven't read any), so I was prepared for it to suck. Hello, Margaret Atwood! But then I read an adorable interview with him, where he said he wrote the first draft, and read it to his kids and they told him it was boring and lame, and he realized writing for kids was different than writing for adults. Yes! Exactly! So I read his book and it was super good. It's about a girl named Ingrid who lives in Toronto and gets invited to spend the summer with her grandmother in Hungary. Her grandmother is a countess, and in order for Ingrid to "truly" become a member of their illustrious family, she must face the maze (featuring a wolf) underneath the hereditary home. How cool is that?!

Quid Pro Quo by Vicki Grant has a protagonist named Cyril. Yeah, you already wanna read it, I know. Cyril is 13 and his mother is 28. As he says, you do the math. His mum used to be a street kid, but she has since straightened herself out and become a lawyer. But then she mysteriously disappears, and Cyril must find her using the legal knowledge he gained when his mum couldn't afford a babysitter. Cyril is hilarious and his embarrassment of his unusual family situation is adorable. But the book is full of enough sarcasm and kookiness to appeal to most boys too.


Marie, Dancing is by Carolyn Meyer, and for the most part, quite the accomplishment. I say this because Meyer takes us into the slums of Paris, circa 1870, and yet, keeps things clean enough for a 10 year old. Marie and her sisters are all ballet dancers, which, it turns out, is not really all that glamorous an occupation. Their mother is an absinthe addict, and the only bright spot in Marie's days are the times she models for the artist Edgar Degas. I also enjoyed the ending, which, while not sad, was not the perfect happy ending of many children's books.

Swear to Howdy by Wendelin Van Draanen kinda reminded me of Harris and Me (you haven't read it?! Run out and get it, right now!). It’s about Russell who moves in next door to Joey. They have an awesome time running around pulling pranks on their older sisters, and generally being boys. The only problem they have is Joey's dad, who is prone to hitting. Until one of their pranks goes too far, and tragedy ensues. The comedy of the first half will suck you in, and then the second half gives you a slap upside the head once you are invested in the characters. A great book about grief and grieving for boys.

I've already covered I, Coriander by Sally Gardner on this blog, check it out just down from here.

13 Little Blue Envelopes is one of those books I wish I lived in. It's the story of Ginny, who gets a package from her recently deceased aunt. The package contains the title 13 blue envelopes, and the first one instructs Ginny to fly to Europe. Once she gets there she can open the next one, which gives her further instructions, etc. Ginny travels all over Europe, experiencing the same things her aunt did before she died. Oh, this book made me cry! It's a wonderful coming of age/discover of self novel for teenage girls.

A Mango-Shaped Space has also previously been discussed, here (scroll down)>


Operation Red Jericho by Joshua Mowll is all concept. I didn't personally enjoy it, but I'm not a 12-15 year old boy. The book is made to look like a small journal, and features the story of Becca and Doug, a brother and sister who live in the 1920's. Their parents have mysteriously disappeared and they are now on board their uncle's ship in the South China Sea. There are pirates and mysterious new elements and scientists and secret societies and illegal fortresses. Most importantly however, is that the story is told through diary entries, mini biographies, sketches, and diagrams. One very cool looking book.

Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge is one of those books that makes me really want to talk to the author. Where did she come up with the idea of creating a world that is a mixture of the political upheaval of seventeenth century England and the saint worship of medieval Eastern Orthodoxy? The story of Mosca Mye is one of those old-fashioned yarn type books that I love. Normally I am not a big fan of books where I don't care for the protagonist, but Hardinge's imagination took hold of me and wouldn't let me go. I hope to hear more from her.

The Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix so far have four books, but there are to be seven. They follow young Arthur Penhaligon, who is unfortunate enough to be the heir of the Architect. Unfortunately the Will is the only one who recognizes him, so he must wrest the Keys from each of their guardians. All this takes place in the House, which was the first structure built by the Architect before she mysteriously went away. Yeah, it's weird, but it's cool. Arthur makes a great reluctant hero, and the poor guys is forced to go through a dangerous adventure every day, what with time running differently in his world and the House. Poor kid.

TheBartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud has finally reached its conclusion this year. Though I really enjoyed the antics of magician's apprentice Nathaniel, djinni Bartimaeus, and commoner Kitty in the first two books, somehow the third didn't have all the magic for me. Still worth the read though, as Bartimaeus remains as entertaining as ever.


The Thief, the Queen of Attolia, the King of Attolia is the longest ranging EVER fantasy series. Megan Whalen Turner wrote the first one in 1988, and number three just came out this year. Yeah. I'm glad I discovered them just recently because it would have been killer waiting that long. These books follow Eugenides, Queen's Thief of Eddis, a country that's a lot like what Greece would have looked like in the middle ages, sans Christianity. Eugenides is a great character, and totally unpredictable. I was continually surprised by the happenings in these books, and really, really enjoyed them. I gotta tell you, these three are my picks of the year. Really, even if you don't like fantasy, or kid's books (why are you reading this?!) they are worth picking up. Turner's writing is superb.

That's a tough act to follow for poor Mimus. Lilli Thal's English translation debut is no Thief, but it's pretty good nonetheless. It's about Florian, who is the prince of Moldovia. When he's called over to Vinland to celebrate peace between the two enemy countries, the predictable strikes. His father and all his most powerful lords are in chains in the King of Vinland's dungeon, and Florian is forced to become apprentice to the King's jester, Mimus. Though it was slow to start, I really enjoyed this one, once I got into it. I'd be careful giving it to kids though, as there is quite a lot of violence, and much of it is emotional in nature. Definitely some upsetting stuff going on.

Okay, so that's all there is! Phew!

4 Comments:

  • At 8:37 PM, Anonymous robyn said…

    wow! i had no idea andre alexis had written a children's book. i really like the way he wrote his protagonist's memories in 'childhood', and i can see him writing a strong children's book based on the way he captures the uncertainties that come with being a kid. now i want to read it!

     
  • At 11:15 PM, Blogger bookstore girl said…

    Aha! That is exactly why I do not usually like kids' books written by people who write for adults. Because writing from a childlike perspective does not make for a book that kids want to read. Story is so much more important than anything else in a kids book, and I think that's what Alexis was getting at in his interview. Unfortunately I don't have the issue of Quil & Quire it was in, but it was in the fall, and I think worth digging around for. The article also interviewed Shyam Selvadurai, who wrote Swimming in the Monsoon Sea for YA, and Cinnamon Gardens for adults. And someone else that I don't remember.

     
  • At 8:03 AM, Anonymous robyn said…

    in 'childhood', he speaks as an adult of his memories. maybe i didn't say what i meant, but i think i was agreeing with you, ali. part of why i liked childhood was because it didn't sound like a man (alexis) writing in child's voice; instead, it was a man (the protagonist) reconsidering memories, memories which were very much articulated by an adult. i guess the reason i think he would be good at writing a book for kids is not because i thought he would write in a child's voice but because of his clarity. he is capable of capturing images and ideas without fuddling up the tone of the book. i think this stems from the protagonist's adult thoughts on kid matters. the fact that narrative figures more in kid's lit is the big reason why i want to read his book. i already appreciate his style and ideas, but i am interestd in reading something by him with a linear narrative. again, all this is based on the one book i have read by alexis, so i am really just talking out of my ass!

     
  • At 8:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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