Reading Fun

Nerd Printz Update – Year 2!

Hi and thank you for reading my twice yearly blog updates! Ugh, I really should be better at this. It’s kinda like, what I do, blog. So besides failing last year at posting anything close to a regular schedule I also made little progress on my Nerd Printz Challenge. I started off strong, working through what my library owned on audio but then slowed considerably.

But this year, this year will be…probably more of the same. I’m taking the microscopic momentum I had last year and plan to build on it. To that end 2013 is only 16 days old and I’ve already finished a Printz! YAY! On with the review!

handler_webWhy We Broke Up, novel by Daniel Handler, art by Maria Kalman, 2012 Printz Honor.

  • Story: Min Green writes a long letter explaining why she broke up with her ex-boyfriend Ed Slaterton. She uses the letter to explain each item in a box that she is returning to him that played some role or had significance in their brief relationship. Through the letter we see how popular jock Ed and “don’t say arty” Min first started dating, the brief and rocky course of their relationship before the aforementioned break-up. Usually I don’t enjoy books that present the end and then work backward to tell the story. I like reading to figure out the unknown. But in this case the structure works because although we know Min and Ed break up we don’t find out way until well into their story. I also love the art and how each object opens a new chapter in the story. The objects represent a different aspect of their relationship, good, bad, bittersweet and pointed.On a roll of undeveloped film, “But we never developed them. Undeveloped, the whole thing, tossed into a box before we really had a chance to know what we had, and that’s why we broke up.”
  • Voice: Nailed it. Told in Min’s voice, Handler does an amazing job of creating a unique voice. Yes, it sometimes veers into overly complex but always maintains a conversational and authentic voice. One of my favorite parts of the book.
  • Style: Long form break-up letter with great art.
  • Setting: An  unnamed middle class town, an art house theater, a high school, two houses and a cemetery.
  • Accuracy: Sure, although it kept bugging me that the movie and cultural references weren’t real. Like I get why they were invented, so we all have the same frame of reference (none) but at the beginning I thought, maybe they are. Then I thought, for sure, not they’re not. Then I got sad because I would love to see Greta in the Wild.
  • Characters: Min – Maybe my one complaint of the book is how singularly we’re focused on Min. She’s a great character. Honest, vulnerable, naive, hopeful, lost, and yes, artistic. But by using the letter we only have Min’s perspective. I’m not sure I really need Ed’s but everything we learn about other characters, like her mom, her friends, Ed’s friends, are all from her perspective. Ed – Typical jock with hidden layers, like good math skills and ability to steal sugar from diners. I found Ed interesting but wish I could see him from another perspective from Min’s. We get some from his sister but not enough at times. Al – Min’s best friend. Joan – Ed’s sister. Annette, Jillian – Ed’s ex-girlfriends. Jordan, Lauren – Min’s friends.
  • Themes: Love, Relationships, Friendship, Heartbreak, Honesty.
  • Illustrations/Design: Incredible. I’ve already mentioned the art by Maria Kalman as amazing and tied very well with the story. The cover and end papers are also art by Kalman and set the story very well. The book is printed on heavy-weight, high quality paper which is rare in YA books but was necessary to showcase the illustrations. And the author blurbs on the back are stories of their own break-ups like David Levithan’s “The boy I loved didn’t know I existed. Then again, he was obsessed with Camus, so he didn’t know if any of us existed.” Very nice touch.

Thoughts: On the surface this book is in no way my cup of tea. Break-up story, told in flashback. But with incredible writing, sly humor and amazing honestly, I found myself liking it more and more. Not sure if this it hits all my buttons to be “the bestest book ever!” but it is a great read and I’m glad I finally got around to it.

Four out of Five Printzmobiles

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And in other good news I’m re-reading Looking For Alaska for a book group so I’ll have my first re-read post going up. It’s been about six years since I’ve read it. Hope I still love it since I go on and on about it being John Green’s best.

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The Perfect Baby Shower Present…BOOKS!

Confession time. If you invite me to your baby shower I will completely ignore your registry.  I’m not being mean, or willful. In fact I’m doing the best thing I can for your soon-to-be-child. I’m starting his or her very own library. I’m buying your kid books. Deal with it.

I know it’s popular to ask for a book instead of a card and that’s a great idea. But I don’t feel one book is enough. In fact I know one book is never enough. Do you give your personal childhood favorite? Go with a fancy new bestseller? Board board? Touch-n-feel? Softcover? Hardcover? All tough questions with a simple answer. All of them. You get all of them.

So here’s my go-to list of Baby Shower Book Gifts. I’m always adding to this list so feel free to add your favs too.

Board Books – Good for little hands and nibblers. Sturdy. Handy.  I recommend anything by Sandra Boynton or that has a manipulative feature like touch-and-feel or lift the flap. Some popular picture book titles also come in board book format but be weary, not all titles translate well to the format.

Picture Books – Classics

  • Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! by Dr. Seuss – I buy this for every single baby shower since it was my favorite book. I inscribe the cover to make sure no one returns it.
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown – A classic for a reason. Get the original, no substitutions.
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak – Hardcover only, wear and tear expected.
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle – Or any title by Carle. Works well as a board book.

Picture Books – New(ish)

  • Llama, Llama, Red Pajama by Anne Dewdney – The rhyme is great and the story sweet.
  • Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems – Actually you can’t go wrong with Willems but these are nice because they can grow with kids when they’re ready for independent reading.
  • A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka – This 2012 Caldecott winner is a gorgeous, mostly wordless picture book that lets you and baby tell the story.
  • Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea – I believe the title says it all.

What’s the most fun is finding a book that I think the parents will love reading as much as the child will. Because for the first few years its you, my friend, that I want excited about reading and books. You’re the one who will pass on the love of reading and stories, not the books.

NerdPrintz Update #2 – Skellig

Another audiobook I listened to awhile ago. I listened to this and Kit’s Wilderness back to back and even though Skellig was the honor I thought this was a more interesting story, more character-focused rather than theme-focused.  My notes, thankfully for you kids and kittens, are more robust.

Skellig by David Almond, 2000 Printz Honor

Story: Michael’s baby sister is very sick so his father and mother spend much of their time caring for her. One night Michael discovers Skellig, a short, odd and very ill man/creature in the dilapidated garage in the back yard.  Micheal tries to help Skellig secretly but eventually tells his neighbor Mina. As his baby sister condition worsens, Michael must confront these grave issues.

Voice: Similar to Kit’s Wilderness yet more direct, less poetic. Use of repetition, “extraordinary,” William Blake.

Style: Also similar to Kit’s.

Setting: English country town, garage behind Michael’s house, Mina’s house, hospital.

Accuracy: Sure (by “sure” I mean accuracy is probably a very important point when deliberating but when discussing winners and honors it tends to be a moot point.)

Characters: Michael, typical 10 year old, sticks up for Mina, concerned for his sister. Mina, quirky, home-schooled by her mom. Dad, keeps Michael out of school when things are bad (I’m not sure why I thought this was important besides as giving the plot a chance to move forward), Mom and baby (clearly I also thought these two were tied/interchangeable), Skellig, creature? Angel? Mystery of who he is and where he comes from. Teasing boys at school.

Theme: growth, perseverance, courage, faith, mystery, interesting use of supernatural/fantasy creature.

Design: N/A but the narrator was fine.

Thoughts: As I said earlier I liked this better than Kit’s. The story was more contained, more focused on Michael, his family, Mina and Skellig. I also liked the relationship between Michael and Mina and how it grew.

Four out of Five Printzes

NerdPrintz Update #1 Kit’s Wilderness

It’s July 3rd! How’s that year long challenge I started at the beginning of the year going…uh, yeah.  Good thing I wrote notes.  AKA this review may be a bit sketchy. But I swear I did read it. I’ll run down the suggested qualities that the Printz committee looks at when deliberating. Again, read this back in February so a little sketch.

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond, 2001 Printz Medal Winner

  • Story: A sweet story about stories and a boy and his grandfather. About the darkness of the past to light of the future, hope. The Game of Death = reborn.
  • Voice: Straight forward language with deep insights. Use of repetitive language, “aged 13” “haunted.”
  • Style: Old timey, folktale vibe.
  • Setting: Stoneygate, a rundown, decaying mining town.
  • Accuracy: Sure
  • Characters: Kit, Christopher Watson; his grandpa, mom and dad; John Askew, a brute; Alice Keenan
  • Themes: Life/Death, Bridging past to present, Hope, Power of Family/Relationships
  • Illustrations/Design: Narrator was alright.

Thoughts: It was one of those stories that grew on me. While listening I found it to be good but not extraordinary. Thinking more on it I really like the relationship between Kit and his grandfather. The stories they share and create are very powerful and speak to the bigger themes in a really lovely way.

Four out of Five Printzes.

Let’s Nerd this Printz Up!

Inspired by former classmate and all around superstar John Schu and his Newbery/Caldecott challenges, I’m pledging to read all the Printz medal and honor books and today my list just got longer.

The 13th Printz winner was announced this morning at ALA’s Midwinter Conference. (Congrats John Corey Whaley, you’re next on my list, seriously!)  Helpfully I already have one 2012 honor in the bag, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater which was also one of my favorite audiobooks.  In fact for each of the years I have read at least one title, except 2010.  Why, I have not a clue, it wasn’t not intentional just a crazy happenstance.  As of today I’ve read 24 of 62 Printzes (Printzz? Printz’? Printzi? Prizies?) so overall I have a strong head start which will hopefully lead to finishing.

For the next few months I’m going to be reading the ones I’ve miss or intentionally skipped and rereading other I haven’t read in a long time (Looking For Alaska, Jellicoe Road *note buy more tissues*).  I also plan to write a small review for each title, my take, thoughts on why it won and it’s place in the canon (does YA have a formalized canon? Hold please…okay Google is unclear, will investigate further.)

First up tomorrow will be Kit’s Wilderness, 2001 Winner, and Skellig, 2000 Honor, by David Almond, mostly because I’ve just finished them.  Yeah, I won’t really be doing this in any real sort of order so deal.  To the Printzmobile!

Reading Goals 2012

I read 200 books last year.  I was promised a fancy web badge from Goodreads (I’ve yet to see it, teases.)  This year I will not be reading 200 books.  Okay, dollars to donuts I probably will read something close to that number anyway but as a goal I’m not going for a repeat.  To much stuff going on at the end of the year, NaNo in November, birthday/holiday madness in December.  This year I’m making smaller more targeted goals.

Finish all the ARCs I currently have.

I’ve gotten better at not letting my eyes be bigger than my…uh..reading stomach.  I pass on all but the most “OMG where did you steal that??!!” titles.  Never the less I still have a whole bookcase full of them I need to read.   So that’s February’s task as January’s is cycling through the books I have checked out and trying very hard not to check out anymore.

Read all the Printz Medal and Honor books.

I’ve already gotten through 50% of them anyway so it shouldn’t be too hard.  Do we have Going Bovine on audio?

Examine Books More Closely

I like many books I read.  It’s not hard.  Have a clear voice, a good writing style and decent characters and I’m pleased.  But there are some books I love.  I worry when I’m in this speed reading mode I miss out on important insights and revelatory quotes.  I’m an English major dammit and I need to analyze some shit sometimes.

Blog About that Shit More (see above)

(You thought I was going to say read the “classics.”  Ha!  Everyone says that and no one ever does.)

Image Credit: seasonal wanderer via flickr

Overuse of The Chosen One aka The Harry Potter Syndrome – pt. 1

I’m having issues with a lot of the dystopian YA books out right now.  Since the genre took over for sparkly vampires which took over for magical fantasy of the YA de jour there has been numerous novels set sometime in the near to far future.  Required elements include an authoritative, controlling government, impossible love because of strict class systems, near or post apocalyptic society.  Which is all fine.  It’s the same reason we read romance and mystery novels.  It’s nice to read a familiar structure, easier to get into the story.  But there is one trope I’m ready to see go away, the Chosen One.

It is, as usual, Harry Potter’s fault.  Well not totally.  The Chosen One is a tale as old as time.  Literally.  You can trace its origin through ancient mythologies, religious texts and classic literature.  No, that alone isn’t the problem.  The issue lies when the main character’s position as the Chosen One drives the plot.  Harry Potter begins as The Boy Who Lived, a great Chosen One title.  But that was the beginning.  From there JK Rowling moves Harry through a unique and exciting world where he has to deal with the fallout of being the target of Voldermort’s violence.  But she allows Harry to move away from that initial role.  He grows, dates girls, makes mistakes, USES ALL CAPS EMO ANGST FOR ALMOST AN ENTIRE BOOK.  As the series moves on we’re even given reason to doubt his Chosen One status.  Maybe it was supposed to Neville all along.  What starts as a choice made external to the character becomes his internal struggle to define who he is and who he wants to become.

Then we moved to paranormal romance which is really where trouble begins.  So many of our main characters find themselves going about their lives and then bam! They find out about some latent supernatural abilities, inherited magical artifacts or just have good smelling blood.  Yep.  Fragrant Type O – (I made this up. I don’t know Bella’s blood type and please, don’t tell me.)  What bugs me is how it takes the onus off the main character to make choices that effect their actions and their outcomes.

In a supernatural world that can be forgiven to a certain level.  It’s a kind of fantasy finding out you’re not just a lonely orphan but have something extra to elevate your situation.  But in dystopian stories, most are working on the premise that events are happening in a real, non fantasy world.  So the free pass of being the Chosen One becomes harder to pull off.  It’s easy when the defining feature of the dystopian world is a controlling government or society to let the major decisions come from that external source instead of from the characters.  The Chosen One has decisions made for her.  And it annoys me to no end.

For tomorrow’s homework please come to class with examples of both kinds of Chosen One tropes.

Image Credit: Soksia via Flickr