Thursday, April 07, 2005

Dancing In Red Shoes Will Kill You by Dorian Cirrone

Dancing In Red Shoes Will Kill You by Dorian Cirrone (HarperCollins, 2005). Kayla is one of the strongest dancers at her performing arts school, but there's just one problem. Or, well, two. Kayla's busty--in a double D/needs-to-wear-three-bras kind of way--and the world of ballet has a very specific body type preference. Will she get surgery? Push back against societal expectations? Find relief in the company of the cute new guy or find out that he's really somehow sinister? Ages 12-up.

My Thoughts

As I've already mentioned, I was a busty teen myself and body-image books are especially interesting to me. I also danced along the borders of the ballet world--taking classes along with tap and jazz, watching with protective interest over my slightly younger "adopted" baby sister, who was on her toes and center stage.

That said, Dancing In Red Shoes Will Kill You is at times funny, thought-provoking, and even romantic. It has a splash of suspense and its share of historical illusions. The novel should be a big hit with budding feminists, the arts-oriented, and those with an emerging political bent. "Once upon a time" will never be the same. Bravo!

Fans of Dancing In Red Shoes Will Kill You might also enjoy Unexpected Development by Marlene Perez (Roaring Brook, 2004).

Cynsational Links

Psst--Wanna Buy A Book? from Where's Lubar by David Lubar in VOYA (PDF file); regular comedic feature, showing off the author's wit and big head. See also David Lubar's humor page.

Combining Humor, Feminism, and Fairy Tales in a Teen Novel by Linda Johns from An interview with Dorian Cirrone, author of Dancing In Red Shoes Will Kill You (HarperCollins, 2005).

Ten Questions with Pooja Makhijani from Exxie's Book Lounge. Thanks, Pooja, for mentioning Greg's upcoming Tofu And T.Rex (Little Brown, 2005).

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobsen

Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobsen (Atheneum, 2005). Jocelyn loves Gabe, loves Benny, but Father Warren sees her as a demon child, a temptation, in league with Satan, all bad. Or is that just a diversion from his own agenda and manipulations? Ages 12-up.

My Thoughts

A riveting look at passion and judgment, hypocracy and innocence. Jennifer offers a compelling read, packed with emotion, searing with suspense, shame, and a godliness where blame is cast. As heartbreaking as it is lovely.

Cynsational Links "the leading online book club for young adult and college readers."

The Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education: "a free-access e-journal published twice a year for international scholars, practitioners, and students of multicultural education."

Some new blogs of note: Sarah Aronson; Meg Cabot; Arthur Slade; Sara Ryan.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

ABC Names Wild About Books Winner of E.B. White Read Aloud Award

The Association of Booksellers for Children has announced that the recipient of the prestigious 2005 E.B. White Read Aloud Award is Wild About Books (Knopf, 2004), written by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Marc Brown.

The E.B. White Read Aloud Award, established in 2004, honors a book that reflects the universal read aloud standards that were created by the work of author E.B. White in his classic books for children: Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. Members of the Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC) select one book a year for this distinction based on its universal appeal as a "terrific" read aloud book for children. This award encompasses both picture books and novels.

Wild About Books is a rollicking rhymed story of Molly the librarian who accidentally drives her bookmobile to the zoo and introduces the birds and beasts to a new something called reading. Molly finds the perfect book for each animal --- tall books for giraffes, small books for crickets, joke books for hyenas – and has them going “wild, simply wild, about wonderful books.” Author Judy Sierra combines clever prose with laugh-out-loud book selections for the animals like:

“She even found waterproof books for the otter,

who never went swimming without Harry Potter”

The original nominations originated from the bookstore membership of the ABC. The committee members responsible for selecting the winning book from the submitted nominations include:


Carol Moyer, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC;

Committee Members:

Beth Puffer, Bank Street Books, New York, NY;

Cammie Manino, Halfway Down the Stairs, Rochester, MI;

Ellen Mager, Booktenders Secret Garden, Doylestown, PA;

Nicole White, Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, CA.

Award committee member Ellen Mager sings the selection’s praises, "Wild About Books has such a beautiful flow to it. Adults get a kick out of the reading as much as the kids. The illustrations are as bouncy as the text."

Anne Irish, Executive Director, Association of Booksellers for Children is particularly excited about this year’s announcement. "Last year was the inaugural year for the E.B. White Read Aloud Award and the response was really thrilling. Reading aloud to your children is such an important component to nurturing a love of books when children are very young. Our member booksellers – 150 strong! – received such positive feedback from parents and educators alike that an award of this nature existed. We’re confident this year’s announcement will continue that momentum and further the public’s awareness of the importance of reading to your children."

Cynsational Links

Visit Young Adult Books Central and the YA Books Central Blog. Recent interview subjects include: E. Lockhart, author of The Boyfriend List; see the complete list.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci

Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick, 2005). Victoria insists on being called "Egg" in honor of her favorite sci fi heroine, pushes herself to be just as superheroic, and distances from peers, especially boys, who might try to define her in their terms. But she can't accomplish her goals--as a photographer, a scholar, even as a Vampire and Bat Wing apprentice--without reaching out and opening up to the real-world people around her. Ages 12-up. Highest recommendation.

My Thoughts

What I like best about Boy Proof is how fresh and dynamic Egg/Victoria is. Another author might've toned her down, made her safer, more typical somehow. Instead, Miss Cecil writes with courage and reveals E/V for the dynamic, intelligent, out-of-this-world girl that she is.

I read the book in one sitting, now and again pausing to study the striking cover art. It's a tremendous novel. At times funny, at others insightful. Always compelling.

I'm pleased to hear from Candlewick's publicity manager that this novel has already received two starred reviews and am sure it will be a big hit with every teen who's ever felt outside the norm (translation: all of them).

Surf over to The Divine Miss Pixie Woods (AKA Miss Cecil).

Cynsational Links

Late Blooming Writers: "Musings" April 2005 by Margot Finke from The Purple Crayon.

Writing For Children: Meet Author Dori Hillestad Butler from by Sue Reichard. Includes some interesting information about ghost writing series. See also interviews with Jane Yolen and Bettye Stroud.

Interview with Debut Author Mary Hershey from the "Secrets Of Success" column on author Ellen Jackson's Web site. Mary's first novel, My Big Sister Is So Bossy She Says You Can't Read This Book (Wendy Lamb/Random House, 2005). Excellent interview, including such tidbits as how long it takes "a talented, committed writer to break into the field" and thoughts on writing humor. Visit Mary Hershey's Web site to learn more.

Carol Otis Hurst's April newsletter highlights Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata, the winner of the 2005 Newbery Award. It features discussions, activities, related books, and links.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Author Interview: Greg Leitich Smith on Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2003)(Recorded Books, 2004). From the flap copy: Elias, Shohei, and Honoria have always been a trio united against That Which Is The Peshtigo School. But suddenly it seems that understanding and sticking up for a best friend isn’t as easy as it used to be. Elias, reluctant science fair participant, finds himself defying the authority of Mr. Ethan Eden, teacher king of chem lab. Shohei, all-around slacker, is approaching a showdown with his adoptive parents, who have decided that he needs to start “hearing” his ancestors. And Honoria, legal counsel extraordinaire, discovers that telling a best friend you like him, without actually telling him, is a lot harder than battling Goliath Reed or getting a piranha to become vegetarian. What three best friends find out about the Land of the Rising Sun, Pygocentrus nattereri, and Galileo’s choice, among other things, makes for a hilarious and intelligent read filled with wit, wisdom, and a little bit of science. Ages 10-up.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

NPG had more than one inspiration (There are three intertwining storylines, so bear with me):

The main story, with the science fair and the court, came about because I’ve always been interested in the interaction between science/technology and rest of our culture (CP Snow wrote a seminal volume in the 1950s called The Two Cultures, in which he opined that those who do math and science are incomprehensible to those who don’t and vice versa – I believe his recommendation was that science types should take more courses in the humanities and humanities types should take more math and science. Go figure.). Nowhere does that interaction come to a head more prominently than in the courts – a “fact” in law is not necessarily a “fact” in science (or any other kind of reality, for that matter).

Galileo is, of course, the most prominent case of this, so I thought it would be interesting to do a science fair story in which, somehow, the science came to be on trial. Since many schools have student courts, the broad outlines were there. I also decided it had to be a comedy, because the interaction between science and the law is often intrinsically comedic, but also because when you say “I’m writing a novel about science,” most peoples’ eyes tend to glaze over (see, The Two Cultures, supra). However, if you say, “I’m writing a comedy that has science themes,” they tend to say, “how interesting!” And that’s how the Peshtigo School came about – it had to be a place that was quirky enough to take science fair and student court really, really seriously.

Elias, Honoria, and Shohei and their storylines were inspired by different things. Elias and his family’s Bach obsession came about because I had a music teacher in grade school who was a Bach afficionado and so we learned, among other things, that Bach had some twenty children. In an era in which having more than two children is somewhat extraordinary, I thought that something could be done with a parent who was a Bach nut, with a large family, and give Elias a sort of sibling rivalry. By doing so, this also paved the way for how the science on trial of the main idea became executed. (Essentially, Elias was contradicting something his brother had already “proven”).

Shohei and his storyline came about because I wanted to explore and poke a little fun at some of the popular notions of race and what it means to be Asian American. Having him adopted by the Irish American O’Leary’s became just the vehicle.

Honoria came about because I needed a character who actually /wanted/ to participate in the science fair. (Part of Elias’s conflict was that he didn’t want to and I didn’t want Shohei to be an eager science type). Intrinsically, too, I wanted that character to be a girl because I think we need more women in science and engineering. Also, since much of the main storyline depends on what is “fact,” I wanted there to be a love triangle, in which I could further explore “fact,” in an environment of secrets and misunderstandings.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

In early 1999, I submitted two pages for an editor critique at an SCBWI conference. The editor liked the two pages and wanted to see the rest. She wasn’t as taken with the rest of the manuscript, but offered good suggestions. She ultimately passed on the manuscript, but recommended another editor. That editor and another also passed on the manuscript, but by then I had an agent, who sent it to Amy Hsu at Little Brown. In December 2001, I got a letter back saying that she was taking it to committee in January, and could I make a few changes? I made the changes, she took it to committee, they bought it, and said they wanted it back the way it was in the first place. We had one round of edits, and then it was published in October 2003.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

Originally, I had come up with two different ideas that I thought were for two different novels - the first, was the Galileo idea. The second was the Bach idea. It wasn’t until I started writing that I realized they were the same novel.

Also, originally, the novel was from a single point of view - Elias’s. Along the way, though, both Honoria and Shohei developed such strong personalities that I thought they deserved a PoV of their own.

The research was fairly involved – I had to research the piranha science project and the plant-music science project. I came up with the title of the piranha project first; it was “Can you teach a piranha to eat a banana?” I thought it was kind of charming and counter-intuitive and non-rhymy, but I had to figure out if it was feasible. So, I read everything I could about piranhas and then spoke with the public affairs person at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago (She in turn relayed some questions to their “piranha guy.”). For the plant project, I had to come up with some fast-growing so that it could be used in the time frame of a school science fair. A little Internet research revealed the Wisconsin Fast Plant project at the University of Wisconsin. They were gracious enough to speak with me and answer some questions, as well.

My Thoughts

Greg Leitich Smith is of course my very cute husband. I'd like to send out my love and thanks to him for graciously agreeing to be interviewed via my blog. Visit his site to learn more about Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003) as well as its upcoming companion book, Tofu And T.Rex (Little Brown, 2005).

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo was a Junior Library Guild Selection, Parents' Choice Gold Medal winner, and winner of the Writers' League of Texas Teddy Award.

More interviews with Greg may be found at Downhome Books and the Web site of Debbi Michiko Florence. A "buzz" review and booktalk for Tofu And T.Rex are also online.

Cynsational Links

Amy Hsu, Editor, Little Brown & Company from Robin Friedman's Interviews with Editors.

"Personal Submissions" by Nina Aviles from the Institute of Children's Literature.

The Smart Writers Journal for April 2005 features an interview with Alex Flinn on Fade To Black (HarperCollins, 2005), which is recommended (especially for those interested in alternating point of view novels); Picture Book or Chapter Book? by Roxyanne Young; Promote Your Books With Writing Contests For Kids by Linda Joy Singleton; and more.

Writing For Children: Empowering Young Girls -- Author Julia Devillers from by Sue Reichard. Julia is the author of How My Private, Personal Journal Became A Best Seller (Dutton, 2004) and GirlWise: How To Be Confident, Capable, Cool, and in Control (Three Rivers, 2002). Visit Julia's Web site to learn more.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Happy Birthday, Hans Christian Andersen!

Master storyteller Hans Christian Andersen was born on April 2, 1805--two hundred years ago today--in Odense, Denmark.

Books to look for include:

The Perfect Wizard: Hans Christian Anderen by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Dennis Nolan (Dutton, 2005)(Jane herself has been oft called "America's Hans Christian Andersen");

Hans Christian Andersen: A Celebration by Newbery Medal Winner Karen Hesse (Scholastic, fall 2005).

The best overview resource on the Andersen 200th birthday is "Happy Birthday, Hans Christian Andersen! Preschool through elementary school" by Marjorie R. Hancock from Book Links (March 2005).

April 2 also is International Children's Book Day (see IBBYs latest related news and information).

Cynsational News & Links

Hans Christian Andersen's Life and Works: Research, Texts, and Information from the Hans Christian Andersen Center at the University of Southern Denmark.

Hans Christian Andersen 2005: official site for the 200th birthday celebration; requires a Flash plug-in.

An Interview with Children's Novelist Kashmira Sheth, author of Blue Jasmine (Hyperion, 2004), winner of the Paul Zindel First Novel Award, from Debbi Michiko Florence's Web site. Read chapter one and visit Kashmira Sheth. Debbi also updated her interview with author Vivian Vande Velde and offers a Buzz Review of A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson (Holt, 2005)(see my blog entry on the same novel).

Greg Leitich Smith blogs about Pinned by Alfred C. Martino (Harcourt, 2005).

Thanks to Julie Lake for meeting me for lunch this week at Suzi's China Grill & Sushi Bar. Julie is the author of Galveston's Summer of the Storm and regional advisor for Austin SCBWI.

And I'm honored to hear of sightings of two of my books, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) and Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002), on sale at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles

Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (Harcourt, 2005). Comfort Snowberger, age 10, and her family "live to serve." As owners of a small-town funeral home, they honor the dead and support those left behind. Comfort has grown-up sensitive but matter-of-fact about death, even when it strikes those she loves most. Her cousin Peach, on the other hand, is a messy, mortifying disaster, a burden and an embarrassment, and her best friend Declaration at times a prickly mystery. Not that Comfort is left to cope alone. She has a family, a whole community behind her, and the world's best funeral dog, Dismay. Ages 8-12.

My Thoughts

Those who keep up with my blog know that this book has taken me longer to read than most, partly because I've been busy getting my revision in and partly because it was so deeply felt that it seemed best to absorb it in small doses.

Each Little Bird That Sings may be the most honest and profound look at life and death ever crafted for a middle grade audience. It offers truth, hope, and, most impressively of all, perspective. Humor is also a welcome ingredient as is a small-town charm, both benefts of Deborah's powerful voice.

Deborah was the Alabama Children's Author of the Year, 2004, and the recipient of the 2004 PEN/Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Working Writer Fellowship.

More Thoughts

Yesterday's trip to the dentist reminds me of Open Wide: Tooth School Inside by Laurie Keller (Henry Holt, 2000). Y'all will be thrilled, I'm sure, to learn, that I have excellent oral hygiene.

Note that Laurie is also the author of another picture book I love, The Scrambled States of America (Henry Holt, 1998), especially for its emphasis on one of my home states, Kansas.

I'm getting ready here for the Texas Library Association conference in Austin next week. If you're incoming, see Greg's Austin Restaurant Guide for TLAers.

Cynsational News & Links

The YA Authors cafe topic for April 5 is YA Comes Out: Queer Themes in Teen Lit with guest host Brent Hartinger, and guests Ellen Wittlinger, Julie Anne Peters, Alex Sanchez, and Chris Tebbetts. All chats are held on Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. EST, 7:30 Central.

The 1st Annual Community Literacy Fair, serving Shriners Hospital for Children in Los Angeles and the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation, will be April 8 from noon to 2 p.m.

Learn more about National Poetry Month.

More personally, take a virtual tour of one of my alma maters, The University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor.
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