Friday, November 30, 2012

Meet the Author: Hannah Gomez

Why do you write for teens?
I think it’s the same reason I like working with them. I remember what it was like to be one so strongly, and I didn’t really enjoy it. Books were something that I really did love, however, and not only are they where I found people like me inside the pages, but they also helped me connect with real life people who loved books, too. Also, I’ve grown really disenchanted with “adult literary fiction” because it’s so insufferably similar and full of purple prose, whereas I think YA authors and editors are so much more willing to take risks, create new narrative styles, and blend genre.

What's the most difficult part of crafting a story?
Writing it. I hate writing. I love research, I love outlining and planning, and I actually adore editing and rewriting. But first drafts are the most painful thing EVER.

How does your writing offer something new to the children’s literature world?
I guess that remains to be seen, but I like to think that I can do a lot for diversity in the field, both as an author and in the content. I don’t write “multicultural literature” because that’s a misnomer and very Orientalist. But I write about people who look like people I know look, people who have mixed or complicated backgrounds like mine, and people who don’t already see themselves in hundreds of books, because I certainly had trouble finding those books when I was young (and still do now).

(Sarah) Hannah G√≥mez grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and got her BA in creative writing at the University of Arizona. Now she lives in Boston and is completing a master’s in children’s literature and a master’s of library and information science at Simmons College. She is at work on any number of things at any given time, and she blogs at

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Olive and the Big Secret

by Tor Freeman
Templar Books/Candlewick | 2012
Buy now!

Molly tells Olive a secret and Olive does pretty well not telling anyone until she finally cracks and shares the secret with Joe (she almost told Ziggy!). Joe tells someone and that someone tells someone and pretty soon, word gets back to Molly, who confronts Olive straightaway. It's the classic story of how secrets become not-so-secret anymore.

The mostly spot art and large type is perfect for early readers as well as for younger kids as a read aloud. Hints on the end papers and on the title page give some clues into what the big secret is all about, and work in concert with the back endpapers to confirm it. Heavy glossy paper and lots of white space add to the overall appeal of the design. Freeman's animal characters are endearing (Olive is a cat, Molly is a bunny, Joe is a turtle, and so on . . .).

This is the perfect book about an important lesson without being too heavy handed about it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Just One Day

by Gayle Forman
Penguin | January 8, 2013
Reviewed from ARC
Pre-order now!

Allyson and her best friend, Melanie, are on a big pre-college trip around Europe that their parents paid for to enlighten their minds. Melanie's been living it up, enjoying their young guide's frequent bar trips while Allyson's been playing it straight like she always does, never taking chances or risks. When the girls see a version of Twelfth Night performed by a Shakespeare street theatre troupe called Guerrilla Will, Allyson notices Willem, a handsome Dutch guy. Next thing she knows, she's going with him to Paris for just one day, leaving Melanie in London with a promise to keep the secret from Allyson's parents.

A series of events in Paris lead to strong feelings between Allyson and Willem and doesn't end well. Allyson returns first to London and then to the U.S. and back to her controlling mother's arms. She begins college on the pre-med track her mother has had her on since she was 13. And everything slowly starts to come apart.

Just one year later, Allyson decides she must find Willem and learn what happened that night in Paris. In true Gayle Forman style, the book grabs the reader from the start, moves along at a fast pace, and invites the reader to think and feel right alongside Allyson. This, like Forman's other books I've reviewed: If I Stay and Where She Went, is part of a planned duet. I'm really looking forward to the second one!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Z is for Moose

by Kelly Bingham
illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Greenwillow | 2012
Buy now!

This is one of the stand-out books of the year! (I can hardly believe I've not included it in the Book Pile until now, actually.)

Zebra is organizing all the things that represent the letters of the alphabet as they line up to appear in the book. Starting before the title page, we see Moose holding up the curtain so the reader can have a peek at everyone getting ready. On the copyright page, the stairs and doorway appear and Apple holds Ball's hand (and Ball has its teddy bear). Zebra, with his referee shirt, cap, and whistle, is ready to go.

Apple heads boldly up the stairs and sits on the stage while "A is for Apple" appears below it on the page. (Zebra peeks in to ensure everything is going smoothly.) Things progress just fine through B and C and suddenly, there is Moose, with "D is for Moose" above him, and Zebra charging in telling him, "Moose? NO. Moose does not start with D. You are on the wrong page." Moose departs, right across the gutter into Elephant, who is doing his thing over on the E page. From here, things only go down hill. And then end in a lovely friendship-filled ending just right for a picture book!

When I gave this book to my niece, she howled. She laughed. She giggled. She insisted we read it over and over and over. She brought it to school and insisted the teacher read it to the class. She howled some more. She's 4. I hope every kid who encounters this book gets as much pleasure as Sonia does from it! I think they will. (And grown-ups? You can have a chuckle too!)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tons of Trucks

by Sue Fliess
illustrated by Betsy Snyder
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | 2012

This chunky book with interactive tabs, parts that move, and textured sections is perfect for new babies this holiday season. Adorable animals including a kangaroo (complete with joey in her pouch), a turtle, a mouse, and a hippo drive the trucks and work around them.

"Old trucks, New trucks, ARMY CREW trucks!" one page declares and a koala with a pink bow on her head holds a wrench, working on the flat tire on the old truck while genderless cats of every color move "Top Secret" boxes in the Army truck. The little mouse appears on every page and it'll likely be fun for tiny readers to look for it.

The moveable parts are sturdier than most, making this a safe choice for even the most destructive of new book users!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Red Knit Cap Girl

by Naoko Stoop
Little, Brown | 2012

This New York Times Best Illustrated Books of 2012 winner is about a small girl who is trying to get close enough to the moon to talk with her. She and her small white bunny try everything to no avail. She asks for help from the wise owl, who isn't much help at all. Finally, she devises a plan which at first seems to fail, but then.

This charming, quiet story is a pleasure and the artwork makes it that much better. Fairly often, I need to check the copyright page to figure out how art was rendered. This time, though, I knew from the start this gorgeous art was done on plywood. The knots and contours of the wood shows through the art and onto the page, lending movement and emotion to each image. In some cases, bare wood has been left as a border, or as a part of the overall illustration. Stoop uses ink, paint, and pencil on the plywood, which lends a multi-layered feel.The matte pages add to the overall aesthetic.

Don't miss this one. Red Cap Girl and White Bunny will share their adventures with your littlest reader!

Friday, November 16, 2012


by Louis Sachar
Farrar, Straus and Giroux | 1996

I had forgotten how amazing Holes is. As a Newbery winner, it obviously is good, but it's not just good--it's truly amazing. I know two of the people who were on the Newbery committee that year, actually. I'm so pleased they chose this book. If you've read this book before, read it again. And if you know a child of either gender between the ages of 10 and 18, give it to them to read or read again. It's that good.

Stanley Yelnats is fat and bullied. His family struggles economically and things are pretty tough. One day, while he's walking along, a pair of sneakers falls from the sky, clocks Stanley in the head, and he's arrested for stealing them. Turns out they are some valuable sneakers. He's sent off to Camp Green Lake, in the middle of the desert in Texas. And there he is made to dig a hole each day, alongside the rest of the campers/prisoners who are also digging holes. The holes must be exactly 5 feet deep, 5 feet wide, and 5 feet across in every direction. They measure with their shovels. The Warden is looking for something.

When Zero is punished one day for helping Stanley dig his holes in return for reading lessons, he takes off across the desert and is left for dead. Stanley follows the next day, and together, they survive the desert, hatch a plan, and return to camp. In the grand climax of the story, all the pieces of the book fall together--stories told intermittently throughout the text involving Stanley's great-great-grandfather and a family curse and the story of the woman outlaw Kate Barlow and her forbidden love, Sam the onion man.

I don't own this book, but I'm going to buy a copy right now. You should too. (Note: I've not seen the movie, but if you've only seen the movie and never read the book--get the book. I bet it's better.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Duckling Gets a Cookie?

by Mo Willems
Hyperion | 2012

The latest installment in Willem's pigeon book series involves a very cute little duckling, who, because he possesses some manners, gets a cookie. And of course, along comes the pigeon in all his glory and has a fit because he never gets what he asks for. What happens next is totally unexpected and kind of hilarious. You'll love it. And so will any kid reading alongside you.

The very clever end papers give a hint about the story and as usual, the story starts before the first page, in this case on the copyright page where the pigeon declares: "I do not like the look of that title." This sort of metatextual joke is one of my favorite things about picture books, which can do all kinds of fun things with art.

I think, in 2012, the pigeon is as recognizable to young Americans as Mickey Mouse is. Don't miss his latest story!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Zoe's Tale

by John Scalzi
Tor | 2008

Zoe lives on Huckleberry, a planet that's part of the Colonial Union. She has her adoptive parents, John and Jane and two Obin, Hickory and Dickory, charged with making sure she's safe, because she is actually the lynchpin in universal peace. When John is chosen to command a new colony on the new planet of Roanoke, Zoe leaves with him, Jane, and 2500 other colonists and heads to their new home. What they don't know is that the Colonial Union has sent them purposely off course to a different planet to hide them from the evil Conclave. And it ends up that only Zoe can save them all in the end.

Scalzi's Old Man's War trilogy, published for adults, ended with The Last Colony, the story of the group's trip to Roanoke, told from John's (Zoe's dad) perspective. He returns to the same story to tell it again--from Zoe's perspective. Zoe's Tale works as a stand-alone novel and there's no need to have read The Last Colony to love it. And, the best part is, even though Zoe's Tale was also published as an adult novel, it is really a YA novel. It's protagonist and storyteller is a teenage girl, and the story is just as concerned with teenage problems as it is with interplanetary warfare.

Anyone who likes YA lit will likely love this. Anyone with a child who likes fantasy books will also love this. It's well written and a really well-paced and exciting story. It's one of my favorites I've read this year. (Don't dismiss it if you usually don't go for Sci-fi--you'd really be missing out!)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Noah Webster & His Words

by Jeri Chase Ferris
illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
Houghton Mifflin | 2012

This nonfiction biography picture book about Noah Webster and the creation of the first dictionary is fantastic! Full of great facts and the story of how Webster became the father of the American dictionary, it is written clearly with excellent definitions of fourteen words built right into the story.

From the first page:

"Noah Webster always knew he was right, and he never got tired of saying so (even if sometimes, he wasn't). He was, he said, full of CON-FI-DENCE" [noun: belief that one is right] from the very beginning."

The whimsical drawings bring the story even more to life, and the prodigious use of squiggles in the art bring a "handwritten" quality to all the illustrations. One awesome detail in the illustrations stands out. On a page about how Webster sailed to Europe to use the libraries in there to finish his dictionary, the illustration is of a boat on the ocean. The ocean waves are made of words, all having to do with ships. I only know that because I looked them up! Taffrail, gaff, moonraker, stunsail, tilller, halyard, and more are spread across that ocean and it's a lovely detail!

The book includes a detailed timeline that interweaves Noah Webster's life with important American dates; after all, he was born in 1758 and died in 1843 and during his lifetime, the United States was born. He is buried in New Haven in Grove Street Cemetery next to Yale. The book also includes a longer note about Noah Webster and a bibliography that includes websites.

Biographies are not boring! And this one proves it yet again.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Castle: How It Works

by David Macaulay
David Macaulay Studio/Macmillan | 2012

David Macaulay's new early reader series, My Readers, kicks off with Castle: How It Works. David is already famous for his other Castle book, written in 1977, along with his other amazing books about buildings (Mosque, Pyramid, City, and more) as well as the one that started it all in 1973, Cathedral. He is also lauded for his The Way Things Work books. You should check out all of his books, but for now let's stick with this new one in this new series.

Here, David explains how a castle works in words and pictures accessible to new readers.  He writes in the second person, addressing the child reader and inviting them into the castle. He gives a a tour about how things work for both friends and foes of the castle.

Some text examples:

"If you are friend you must first climb a steep ramp. It ends at a wooden drawbridge. The drawbridge crosses the moat."

"If you are a foe, or an enemy, you won't be let in. To capture the castle you will have to surround it and wait. This is called a siege."

The clear and precise language allows early readers to investigate both words and pictures independently.

The book includes a Words to Know section complete with a diagram of the castle's parts, a list of websites to visit to learn more, and an index for the most intrepid readers. Jet Plane: How It Works is also available already, and more titles are planned.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Children's Book-A-Day Almanac

by Anita Silvey
Roaring Brook Press | 2012


Anita Silvey is a legend. She's a former editor-in-chief of the Horn Book Magazine, former children's publisher, and current writer and professor. She's also a really, really nice woman.

For the two years-plus, she has blogged her recommendations of the best books for children, both classic and new, at Anita Silvey's Children's Book-A-Day Almanac, available here. And now, the blog has been turned into an easy-to-use, affordable reference book that belongs in every library, on every teacher's desk, and in every parent's home.

Beginning on January 1 and containing 366 entries (one for February 29, too!), each page highlights a different book for children in every age-level and every genre from The Very Hungry Catepillar to The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, and Treachery. Each entry contains a synopsis of the book and information about it written in the first person, which feels almost like Anita has joined the reader in the classroom or living room to help the reader understand why the book is important. She ends with recommendations about for whom the book might work best and with suggestions on how to use it with students or kids. A sidebar on each page notes important things that took place on that date such as birthdays and historical events.

The book is appended with a guide to major children's book awards, a book and author index, an index of books by type, an index of books by age, an index of major holidays, and photo credits. All this back matter makes the book even more user-friendly. At the fantastic price of $19.99 and with its easy to hold and flip-through paperback format, you may want to buy a few of these as holiday gifts for folks you know!

Friday, November 2, 2012


by Uma Krishnaswami
illustrated by Jamel Akib
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux | 2003

It is the end of the dry season in an Indian city and a young girl and her family await the monsoon rains that will wash away the dust and bring renewed life. As they go from home to market to the streets, they wish and hope that the rains will come soon and in just the right amount. Too little rain means difficulty as does too much.

Akib's soft drawings are perfect for both the mood and topic of the book. The family includes the protagonist, a young girl and her younger brother, mother, father, and grandmother. They live in a modern, upper-middle-class home and wear a mixture of Western and traditional Indian clothing. The book introduces a weather phenomenon most American children won't be familiar with and places it in a place that looks both familiar and foreign at the same time.

On the copyright page a brief, helpful glossary explains a few Hindi words not defined in the text. This is a lovely book. Don't miss it's quiet and graceful story.