Saturday, January 30, 2010

Book Review: Driftless by David Rhodes

Driftless by David Rhodes

Paperback: 9781571310682, Perseus, $16

After a 30-year silence David Rhodes returns with a magnificent novel about the intertwined lives of a rural community. Words is a small town in southwestern Wisconsin where glacial deposits, called drifts, are missing—thus the title. July Montgomery, the hero of Rhodes’ 1975 novel Rock Island Line, is a central character. The novel contains many story lines: The powerful milk cooperative, once the pride of area farmers, is now cheating them. A cankerous retired farmer reluctantly hires Amish men to do work on his house. A young, self-doubting, female pastor finds enlightenment in an unlikely place. There are two sisters, one in a wheelchair, and the other the long-suffering caretaker. Add to this cast a reappearing cougar, children lost in a blinding blizzard, illegal dog fighting, a country singer, an Indian casino, and militias training deep in the forest, and you have a rich portrayal of rural America.

- Joan

Book Reviews: American Rust by Philipp Meyer & Born to Run by Christopher McDougall


by Philipp Meyer

New in Paperback: 9780385527521, Random House, $15

What happens when union manufacturing jobs are shipped overseas? What happens to workers who lose their good paying jobs with benefits? What is life like in cities and towns when work disappears and a slow decay sets in to once-vibrant communities? Philipp Meyer’s debut novel is an absorbing portrait of ordinary people and communities that face the extraordinary and heartbreaking de-industrialization of America. His novel is set in the former steel towns of Pennsylvania, but the experience resonates with many once-prosperous New England mill towns. I can’t stop thinking about Meyer’s characters, the issues they confronted, the complexities of their limited options, and the life-changing decisions they made. There were times I couldn’t put this book down and there were also times I didn’t want to turn the page for fear of finding out what will happen to these people I have come to care about so much, such is the power of Meyer’s writing.

Philipp Mey
er will be at the Odyssey Bookshop, February 16, 2010 @ 7 p.m.
Don't miss this exciting event!


by Christopher McDougall
Hardcover: 9780307266309, Random House, $24.95

If you are a runner this book will absolutely fascinate you. If you are not a runner, the same is true. I am positive that I will never run fifty miles through the Mexican desert, barefoot or with running shoes, but I thoroughly enjoyed Christoper McDougall’s account of the Tarahumara Indians and their extraordinary running abilities in sandals. The book covers a wide range of topics including the physiology of running and the multitude of injuries modern runners face despite expensive running shoes, the necessity of our hunting ancestors to run marathon distances to feed themselves, stories of a quirky band of contemporary ultra-marathoners, and the frugal, but healthy lifestyle of the Tarahumara Indians. This is an inspiring book and I’m considering taking up running again—but I will need to seriously think about what kind of footwear to use.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Ode to Gyo Fujikawa

Gyo Fujikawa (1908-1998) was a Japanese-American illustrator of children's books, working from 1953 to 1990. Though she never married or had children of her own, her illustrations show children of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities, featuring expressive faces and adorable vitality in the lines of their bodies. Her art is a mix of eye-popping colors and activities against a muted background, with delicate lines and exquisite detailed expressions. To read more about her, go here.

A lot of her work is out-of-print, but Sterling has republished some books, including three new titles forthcoming this April 2010. Luckily, her reprinted work retails for $9.95 or below
; don't be fooled by the low price point - the hard cover publication quality and reproduced artwork is lovely. Perfect for a gift or to enjoy at home.

Here is a list of her books that are currently available:

Oh, What a Busy Day
Hardcover: 9781402768194, Sterling, $9.95, Pub. Date: April 2010

Let's Play
Board Book: 9781402768217, Sterling, $5.95,
Pub. Date: April 2010

Puppies, Pussycats & Other Friends
Board Book: 9781402768231, Sterling, $5.95, Pub. Date: April 2010

Other Board Books:

Ten Little Babies
9781402757006, Sterling, $5.95

Baby Animal Families
9781402757020, Sterling, $5.95

Penguin, $5.99

Baby Animals
9781402757013, Sterling, $5.95

Other Hardcover Classics:

Fairy Tales and Fables
9781402756986, Sterling, $9.95

Mother Goose
9781402750649, Sterling, $9.95

A Child's Garden of Verses
9781402750625, Sterling, $9.95

A Child's Book of Poems
Sterling, $9.95

The Night Before Christmas
9781402750656, Sterling, $9.95

She has many more currently out of print, like these two:

Let's hope Sterling, or another publisher, will bring them back into print soon.

To read this post in its original location on my personal blog, go here.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ode to Little Golden Books

I've recently rediscovered the joys of Little Golden Books, published by Random House.

Have you had the same problem I had? They've been around for so long, lurking in the back of my childhood memories, that sometimes I forget there continues to be waves of children through my shop that are meeting them for the first time!

I have to thank Kate at A Child's Garden for the display idea - get a square basket, long enough and deep enough, yet narrow enough, to hold and highlight 20-30 Little Golden Book titles, create a sign, stand back and watch them fly out the door!

Here are some of my childhood favorites:

Baby Farm Animals
by Garth Williams
9780307021755, $3.99

Home for Bunny
by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Garth Williams
9780307105462, $8.99

The Poky Little Puppy
by Janette Sebring Lowery, illustrated by Gustaf Tennggren
9780307021342, $3.99

The Shy Little Kitten
by Cathleen Schurr, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren
9780307001450, $3.99

One from my father's childhood that he shared with us:

Mickey Mouse Flies the Christmas Mail
by Annie North Bedford, illustrated by the Walt Disney Company
9780736424240, $3.99

I'm sure there are others, but those are the top few I remember.

Now for some Little Golden Books (some classic, some new) I've discovered in adulthood:

Animal Orchestra
by ILO Orleans, illustrated by Tibor Gergely
9780307982872, $3.99

I Can Fly
by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Mary Blair
780307001467, $3.99

Puss in Boots
by Kathryn Jackson, illustrated by J. P. Miller
9780375845833, $3.99

Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland
(I'm sure that doesn't surprise you given my established love of Alice in Wonderland)
created by Lewis Carroll, adapted by Al Dempster, illustrated by Walt Disney Studios
9780736426701, $3.99

New titles to be released in 2010:

A Day at the Seashore
by Byron Jackson & Kathryn Jackson
9780375854255, $3.99

I'm a T. Rex!
by Dennis Shealy, illustrated by Brian Biggs
9780375858062, $3.99

It would be an oversight not to mention that the Walt Disney Company has produced a Little Golden Book for almost every one of their animated films, and Pixar has a few as well, as do the companies that produce Barbie, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Dora the Explorer.

While those are not my favorite, I have recently become enamored with the newest Disney film The Princess and the Frog, and so, subsequently enjoy the Little Golden Book version:

The Princess and the Frog
created by Random House Disney
9780736426282, $3.99

What are some of your favorites?


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Top 10 Middle Grade Books of All Time - My Contribution

At the beginning of the year, Betsy Bird, in her column for School Library Journal, announced the contest for Top 100 Children's Fictional Chapter Books.
Those who would like to participate should figure out their top 10 choices and submit them as part of this round-up (here is the information). My top 10 are listed below.

This was extremely difficult. How are you to make this determination? What criteria should you consider, and what points have more weight? Are they best sellers in the store? Are they best sellers nation- & world-wide? Are they my own childhood favorites? Did I read them in school or on my own? How many times I have reread them? How have children now reacted to books from my childhood? What books have I loved more recently? Which books am I forgetting because of pressure? What amazing books out there deserve to be on this list but which I have not read (yet)? Almost all my books have female protagonists - how would this list change if I was male or gearing it toward male readers?

After weeks of contemplation (alright, I did it this morning), here are my top 10 - in a particular order (10 is the top, 1 is the bottom).

10. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
Desert island top pick (I actually have 2 top picks, but the other one is an adult novel). Rose has been recently orphaned, and after 13 years of being an only child, has been sent to live on Aunt Hill where she finds six aunts and seven boy cousins. They rough her up, she calms them down. One of Alcott's best, I think.

9. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
A classic for a new generation of readers. Winner of the National Book Award, this story takes place in Arundel, Maine, where the Penderwicks go on their summer vacation. Their normal vacation spot is booked, so they end up renting a small cottage on the property of a large house. Before you know it, the four sisters are up to their noses in adventures, involving, at times, yes, two rabbits, the boy next door (friend or foe?), their dog, Hound, a bull, the gardener, the cook, and much much more. It's an unforgettable summer for the entire family.

8. Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
This is a perfect collection for the entire family. Quietly funny, heartwarming adventures, and silly old bears. Timeless. Classic.

7. Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
As delightful as the Julie Andrews movie adaptation is, there are four Mary Poppins novels that just scream to be read! One of the original "everyday magic" sort of books. Delightful!

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling
One of the newest "everyday magic" sort of books, this book is this generation's Chronicles of Narnia.

5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I can't imagine anything more tantalizing than a big old house with secret passages, a hidden garden, a mysterious boy, and exploring the courage to make friends and your own happiness.

4. Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell
A brilliant combination of text and illustrations, Christ Riddell has introduced an energetic new heroine. I call this series "tame mysteries" because they're filled with excitement but are not scary. Half the text of the story can be found in the detailed illustrations. The color palette of black, white, and one other color make the illustrations charming and easy to examine for the little tidbits Riddell hides in them.

3. Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Rambunctious and precocious, Clementine is also incredibly generous. What I love best about this series is that though she gets into scrapes, a) they come from a place of good intentions, and b) her parents understand her - they love her and care about her and so when she gets into trouble, they are there to help her figure it out.

2. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Not only great historical reads, but this series is a fabulous jumping-off point for discussing all sorts of topics - from the Pioneers to Native Americans to crafts to animal care to sibling and family relationships - this series has it all!

1. A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter
Little known outside of the Mid-West, Gene Stratton Porter was a great writer of strong-willed, intelligent (often female) characters, and a tremendous naturalist. I learned more about being outdoors, and about trials and tribulations of human nature, from her books than anywhere else.

Because this was so difficult to do, and because I want to share the other great books that popped into my head, I thought I'd add two other lists here, titles only:

Favorites from Childhood:

Her Father's Daughter by Gene Stratton Porter
Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster
Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter
An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott
Little Men/Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott
Little House on the Prairie
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Eight Cousins/A Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott
A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Favorites from the last 15 (or so) years:

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M. M. Blume
Ottoline & the Yellow Cat/Ottoline Goes to School
by Chris Riddell
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Kiss the Dust by Elizabeth Laird
Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse
King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry

I'm quite sure that as soon as I get home, or as soon as I get to work, I'll see thousands of titles that need to be added to these lists, so stay tuned, but in the meantime -

What are some of your favorites?


Book Review: Delcroix Academy, Book 1: The Candidates by Inara Scott

Delcroix Academy, Book One: The Candidates by Inara Scott
Hardcover: 9781423116363, $16.99, Harper,
Pub. Date: August 2010

Another perpetual search: teen reads suitable for non-teen readers (and teen readers as well). Here's a new one to add to that list, and you know what I like best about it? The paranormal powers discussed in this book have nothing to do with vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, necromancers, ghosts, angels, or fallen angels. Don't get me wrong, I like me a good vampire/werewolf novel just like almost everyone else. But it's nice to break away from that every now and again, with your good, old-fashioned, unexplainable paranormal ability.

Danica Lewis tries her best to be the most mediocre person around. She dresses in neutral colors so she can literally blend into the background. Her desire to go unnoticed doesn't stem from a place of hostility – rather, she's afraid to care about people too much. When she does care, and she sees someone she likes being threatened in some way, bad things happen to those doing the
threatening. Bullies have tree branches suddenly dropped on their heads. A man threatening her grandmother "slips" and ends up in a coma.

As inconspicuous as Danny wishes to be, certain people are watching. Two recruiters for Delcroix Academy, the prestigious private academy on the other side of town, show up on Danica's grandmother's doorstep, offering Danica a full scholarship for all four years of high school. Danica knows she would be crazy not to accept, but why would Delcroix – the school that collects the best of the best – want ordinary her (well, ordinary minus that special power she's not thinking about)?

Danica's freshman year begins, and against her better judgment, she begins to make friends. Maybe this is a place where anything's possible. But just as she's beginning to let down her guard, her new friend Jack reveals Danica's not the only one with a power, and they both may have been specially chosen to attend this school. Delcroix's students excel at gymnastics and are computer whizzes, but what if some of them have special powers too? Danica doesn't want to believe it but what other explanation could there be for receiving a full scholarship and for Cam, the hottest guy in school, to hang around her a lot? He must be part of the group of Watchers, evaluating her on the power she struggles to keep hidden. It can't possibly be that he likes her. Could it?

Now I have to be honest. I know most girls out there will probably be drawn to Cam, the perfect, charming, handsome older man, but I can't help but hope that Danica's friend Jack, the pierced, tattooed, misunderstood classmate of hers, gets the girl in the end. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Book 2.

- Rebecca

Book Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Greene & David Levithan

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan
Hardcover: 9780525421580, $17.99, Penguin, Pub Date: April 2010

In my continued search for YA (and other) books that deal with sexuality issues in a positive light, I'm pleased as punch to now share with you my GBLTQQA pick for 2010.

For a teen audience, 14-18 year-olds, Will Grayson, Will Grayson embodies some prime characteristics for earning this title from me: notably, it's funny, full of teen snarky brilliance, with accessible gay characters who aren't necessarily depressed about that fact. Not everything is (excuse me) rainbows, but the drama comes not through struggles with depression, eating disorders, dysfunctional families, death, suicide, hate crimes, etc. etc., but from the rest of everyday teen interaction.

Told in alternating storylines, this novel is about the lives of two teenage guys, both named Will Grayson. One gay, one straight, both are struggling with their own issues in their own little universes. Little do they know, about halfway through this book, their worlds will collide, intersect, and bounce away again, having been irrevocably, permanently, and ultimately
positively altered. Both voices are unique and full of teenage snarky wisdom, with running commentaries on everything from male enhancement internet ads, parents, obscure bands, and the benefits (and detriments) of shutting up and speaking out. A perfect follow-up for audiences clamoring for books similar to My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger; while a very different story, the best similarity between the two books is the brilliant portrayal of the normalized
intersection of gay and straight teenage lifestyles, friendships, and relationships.

Need I mention that with the dynamic-duo co-authors of this book, it's no surprise this novel has made the top of my list? Both Greene & Levithan have the superior ability to write about teens in a way that respects them, and the beautiful, crazy, inside-their-own-heads world they often live in, and enjoys discussing big and little life issues that pays equal homage to both. Longest run-on sentence of my life, but hopefully you get the point: these guys are good. Read 'em. And read Will Grayson, Will Grayson.


Summer 2010 Picturebook Highlights - Random House

Next up in the series of "Summer 2010 Picturebook Highlights" is....Random House!

by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by S.M. Saelig
9780679867098, $7.99, Pub. Date: April 2010

Though I haven't read the full text yet, this lullaby bedtime story written by the author of The Magic Treehouse series sounds lyrical and dreamy, with soft delicate illustrations to match. I'm a sucker for bedtime books, apparently. Here is the publisher's website description:
Out of the night the shimmering Moonhorse appears, and a young girl leaves her father napping on the front porch to join the silver-winged horse on a wondrous adventure among the constellations. They gallop past stars and comets, past the Dipper and the Ram, then lasso the crescent moon and pull it across the clear night sky. At last the sleepy rider returns home safely and the Moonhorse disappears into the dark.

Busing Brewster
by Richard Michelson, illustrated by R.G. Roth
9780375833342, $16.99, Pub. Date: May 2010

Local author, Rich Michelson, of R.Michelson Galleries in Northampton, has succeeded, again, in writing an engaging picturebook about tough race relations with great sympathy and interest. R.G. Roth's illustrations complement the tone of the story perfectly. He is also the illustrator of 2006's This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt, read to the tune of "This Old Man, He Played One", another personal favorite.

Drum City
by Thea Guidone, illustrated by Vanessa Newton 9781582463087, $15.99, Pub. Date: June 2010 - from Tricycle Press, distributed by Random House

From first-time author Thea Guidone, this book is going to be a new storytime favorite. So much to do! Pretend to be a drum, have a drum parade. The story is catchy, but the illustrations bring the story to the next level. I first fell in love with Newton's illustrations when I saw the recently released
Let Freedom Sing. I hope you'll enjoy them too.

Enjoy! - Rebecca

Summer 2010 Picturebook Highlights - HarperCollins

Last week marked the beginning of the summer buying season.

"Summer?" you might be asking yourself. "But it's January!"

That's how it works, folks. We buy months in advance, and sometimes we forget how excited we were by the time a book actually comes out. To that end, here is a list of some things to look for this summer, published by

Willoughby & the Moon
by Greg Foley

9780061547539, $18.99, Pub. Date: May 2010

Willoughby isn't afraid of the dark. He just wants to know where the moon goes each night it gets smaller and smaller and smaller. As he steps through the door of his closet, Willoughby gets his wish during an overnight adventure on the moon. This is a follow-up to 2009's Willoughby & the Lion. I enjoy all of Greg Foley's picturebooks, though I think the art he's doing with the Willoughby series is particularly innovative. Whereas the first Willoughby book was black and white with gold accents, Foley picks up the shimmer irridescent quality of the moon in this new black, white, and silver picturebook.

Princess Says Goodnight
by Naomi Howland, illustrated by David Small

9780061455254, $16.99, Pub. Date: May 2010

Not too syrupy sweet, this picturebook is a delight for the girly child. The illustrations are done by the same David Small whose book Stitches was just a finalist for the National Book Award. He has won a Caldecott Honor for his illustrations for his wife, Sarah Stewart's, book,
The Gardner. He also illustrated 2008's That Book Woman, a personal favorite of mine, about a traveling librarian who brings books to people in remote places of the country.

City Dog, Country Frog
words by Mo Willems, pictures by Jon J. Muth
9781423103004, $17.99, Pub. Date: June 2010

A dynamic duo, this is one of those picture books that manages to capture sweet without being saccharine. City Dog becomes friends with Country Frog. Jon Muth's dreamy watercolors show them playing during Spring, Summer, and Fall. When Winter begins, City Dog runs to find Country Frog, but Country Frog isn't there. Spring comes again: City Dog is sitting near Country Frog's rock, when Country Chipmunk finds him, and the reader knows the friendship cycle, like the seasons, will begin all over again.

Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World)
written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat

$16.99, Pub. Date: June 2010

This one is just a silly hot mess. A girl creates a robot for a science project. She wins, of course, but then it starts destroying the world! So, she scientifically enhances a Toad to take it out. Really, a toad? He's better at being a hero than you might think. But just when the world's safe again, it's the toad's turn to run amok. This book is very funny, and the illustrator is doing some interesting shout-outs to a Godzilla-like Japanese influence. Different, fun, & graphically interesting.

Always Listen to Your Mother
by Florence Parry Heide & Roxanne Heide Pierce, illustrated by Kyle M. Stone

9781423113959, $15.99, Pub. Date: August 2010

Ernest is a good boy and always listens to his mother. When she encourages him to play with the new boy next door, little does she know that listening to the
other mother allows Ernest to do all the things his own mother would never let him do. Florence Parry Heide wrote the recent hit Princess Hyacinth, the Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated, illustrated by Lane Smith. This new picturebook should be another storytime favorite.

Enjoy! - Rebecca