Penguin Young Readers 2017 Book Buzz

At the ALA Midwinter conference I sat through many publisher presentations showing off some of their current and upcoming titles. Penguin is first because they fed us lunch. I’m not the President and the Emoluments Clause doesn’t apply to me. It was yummy.

This is not a complete list. Just some of the ones that caught my eye or are otherwise seem worthy of the buzz.

Picture Books

Penguin has a delightful Ordinary People Change the World series. I admit I thought they looked a little twee when I first saw them but heard from someone who’s opinion I respect that their kid was devouring them up so I got a few to try in the library. Yup, very much enjoyed, so will be getting more soon. These are for the K-2 crowd and they have a new one on Jim Henson.

Tired of reading Scaredy Squirrel when it comes to trying something new? NOPE! by David Sheneman looks gorgeous and hilarious. It’s about a mother bird trying to get her little one out of the nest.

Life on Mars by Jon Agee looks fun, as his stuff usually does. Kid goes to Mars to prove there IS life there with unexpected and hilarious results.

The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra. C’mon! Do I even have to tell you more? Ok, goats with a candelabra (it’s fine, keep going) go looking for the feared Chupacabra with hilarious results.

Charlotte and the Rock looks fun. Girl wants a pet, parents get her a pet rock. Can it love her back? Maybe…especially if not is all as it seems…

Dad and the Dinosaur by Gennifer Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts) and illustrated by the super amazing Dan Santat. Already has a starred review and looks like a beautiful book on facing your fears.

Chapter Books

See You in the Cosmos is one you will be definitely hearing about. Already has starred reviews and sounds great. Being compared to Wonder and Walk Two Moons for it’s grace and emotional journey. A boy who idolizes Cal Sagan (okay, I’m hooked already!) travels around and records what life on Earth is life with the intention of launching his iPod into space the way Carl Sagan’s golden record was launched on the Voyager probe. Along with other things, he discovers some secrets and learns about his family.

Well, That Was Awkward is not something that remotely interests me, but my daughter might like it as well as many fifth graders and middle school students. It’s that whole girl with a crush on a boy who has a crush on her best friend thing, but apparently it’s really well done and getting starred reviews because of it’s wonderful characters and dialog.

Young Adult

I don’t buy YA for elementary school but I like to keep up with what’s out there for my soon to be in high school daughter (AAAAAHHHHHH!) and just because. Three titles they have coming out that look great are City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie Anderson, We Are Okay by Nina LeCour and Alex & Eliza: A Love Story (for those jillions of young Hamilton fans).

Remembering Our Neighbor

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Annette Feil with Harper, 2005

I’m working on some more ALA Midwinter posts to share some of the upcoming books I heard about from publishers but I wanted to let you in on why I had to shorten my conference and couldn’t make it on the big awards day.

When my daughter was about 18 months old we moved from Athens, GA to Lilburn where we had gotten teaching jobs. We moved into a little brick ranch house within walking distance to a cool park and a lovely little public library. I saw this older lady in her 80s outside working on flowers in her garden next door and introduced myself, telling her about my daughter and my wife, Annette.

“Well my name is Annette too,” she said, “so I know we’ll have to be friends.”

And just like that, we were. She was completely delighted with little Harper and we all became adopted family members. Harper saw her more often than her own grandparents and Annette saw us more than her own children (though they are all amazing and visited her quite often. As well as her grandchildren and great grandchildren!)

One day we lost track of little Harper and freaked out. She wasn’t in the house! She wasn’t in the back yard! We ran out into the street and were about to call the police when she came out of Annette’s with a handful of candy. She kept visiting Annette on her own like that for years. (Though she told us where she was going after that!)

She taught Harper to help her plant roses and pick her tomatoes. When Harper began piano lessons she would play for Annette and it brought back Annette’s love for that as well. We gave her the gift of having her piano tuned and got her a piano lamp and Harper would share her sheet music. They played together and for each other quite a bit.

We always knew we’d want a bigger house but put it off for years because of the mortgage crises and then because of Annette. When we finally decided to go ahead and look around it was knowing that it couldn’t be far from her. The one we ended up with was less than ten minutes away.

She wasn’t happy we moved but we ended up seeing her more often. I’d go every Monday after school, take out her trash and recycling and check her mail. Then, more often than not, I’d be invited to sit and chat for a while.

My wife went every Saturday morning to have tea and coffee and sometimes breakfast. Sometimes she’d do a little shopping for her as well. I became her tech guy whenever a TV or phone was giving her trouble.

Finally, last year, she decided she was getting too old to care for herself. No serious physical problems, just too tired to cook and clean anymore. So even though she’d been living alone in that same house for more than 40 years, she had her son find a retirement home for her. It was about only ten minutes away from us going in the other direction, so we continued our weekly visits, helping out whenever we could. My wife did this every single Saturday morning. I went here and there. We all saw her again over the holidays which was a treat I’m eternally grateful for.

She was funny and sweet and interested in everyone. She was in that home less than a year but has three incredibly close friends there.

My favorite recent story about her was when my wife read out the weekly menu to her because her eyes were starting to fail. She noticed the lunches seemed to be the big meal of the day with dinner being lighter fare, which she was a little grumpy about. “Maybe they think if you eat too much for dinner you won’t sleep as well,” my wife told her.

Immediately she shot back with, “I’d rather not sleep!”

She loved food and was an excellent cook. She was the one they went to for every big church event. She was so thoughtful and often had amazing leftovers or desserts for us.

She even called MY parents on the phone, as recently as last week, to check on them.

Thursday was a wonderful day for her. She spent it with her daughter-in-law Norma,shopping and eating out and getting her hair done. She had a bit of a fall when she came back so they called the paramedics. You can’t be too careful with those 94-year-olds no matter how good of a shape they’re in. One of the paramedics flirted with her and she actually danced with him a bit!

Later, she visited with one of her good new friends, showing her the purchases of the day. Her friend said she was going to go change, then she’d come back to pick up Annette and they could go down to dinner together. When she came back for her, our dear Annette had had a stroke and was unresponsive. Those same paramedics came back and took her to the hospital but it was too late. She passed.

So Monday our family joined with hers and many friends to celebrate her life, grieve and have her funeral. The family asked me to be a pallbearer.

We were so lucky to know this loving lady.

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Annette Feil, 1923-2017

ALA Midwinter Report

This will be a short report because something came up I will be blogging about later which prevented me from attending for more than one day.

The ALA summer and “midwinter” conferences are always huge and always in a different big city. Not being one to travel much, I’ve been waiting many years for one of them to come back to Atlanta. It was exciting to be there and I learned quite a bit but if you are not WAY into the youth media awards (Newbery, Caldecott, etc.) on Monday then it’s probably not worth it for you. But that awards ceremony is something to see. Or so I hear. I couldn’t make that this time.

I did, however, get to “walk the floor” and see some cool stuff. More than half of the huge exhibition hall was technology stuff. Not that interesting for me as a school librarian. Most of that was for people at my county level who decide on things for the whole district (or public or university libraries, that kind of thing). But the Library of Congress area sure was cool.

The other side was all the publisher stuff and that’s what drew me in. Tons of upcoming books, Advance Reader Copies, reps to tell you about them and even some authors and illustrators dropping in to sign books.

I got to meet Nathan Hale of the Hazardous Tales series! I even got some signed books from him and got super librarian Andy Plemmons to get a photo of us to show my students.

I got to take pictures of books on display and share them with authors who couldn’t make it. Sage Blackwood and David Lubar are two I follow on social media that appreciated seeing their books being promoted.

I got to meet Library Goddess Ms. Yingling! She lives in a small town in Ohio very similar to the one I did. We both became school librarians. We both have eerily similar dogs. But her blog is about a thousand times more awesome. She reads EVERYTHING she might or has bought for her library and reviews most of it on her blog or on Goodreads.

I got to see, but not talk to, amazing book editor Nancy Paulsen. She’s one of the best.

I felt a bit guilty not being able to participate in the Women’s March so I bought a tshirt from the wonderful Harry Potter Alliance for my daughter that says, “Hex the Patriarchy!” One of my favorite things I say that day was a very big, burly security guard wearing a pink pussy hat knitted for the march.

I spent most of the time in the Book Buzz theater listening to publisher reps go over their upcoming titles for the spring and summer and highlighting some of their favorites. As always, there is some amazing stuff coming out!

I may post about some of those titles soon. I chatted with Ms. Yingling about blogging (she does it constantly, I do it…periodically). She said it’d be nice to have someone blogging about all the upcoming titles to look out for. I don’t think I can be the one to do that consistently, but I can do it for this and will try to keep up with at least what I and my students and staff are looking forward to as I look ahead for my consideration lists.

I also got some great ARCs I hope to review soon (as soon as I get them back from My Lovely Bride and my daughter).

I won’t go over the winners here. There are plenty of places for that and like I said, I had to miss that event. But I can tell you that there was a buzz about John Lewis coming and his March books. The third volume won FOUR awards. Before all of this hoo ha came up in the news recently, my book club had already slated us to read the first volume to discuss in…March of course. My girls got me the boxed set of all three for Christmas. I’m waiting to read them but will try to soon so maybe my daughter can read them as well and join us for the discussion in March. Would love to hear her take.

I’ve read on Twitter that at one of the airports, as John Lewis walked down the concourses there where what was described as “rolling standing ovations” for the great man. And he didn’t even have to pay anyone to do that!

There’s Never Been a Great Prequel

Bold statement I know and my research has hardly been exhaustive, but from the evidence I’ve found I think this is true.

I’m mostly talking about movies here, but I’ll dip a toe into books too. There are basically three kinds of “prequels” that will be discussed here and not all of them are terrible. There’s the extended flashback (as in Godfather, Part II). That duel flashback and continuing story gave resonance to the entire work but I don’t consider it a “prequel.” To further bolster my claim that it is not a prequel, just look at the misguided “complete” Godfather where they re-edited all the flashbacks to before the first film. It was tedious.

In pop culture, similar examples would be the “early” X-Men movies where younger versions of the characters are featured. But I don’t really consider those “prequels” in the traditional sense. They are complete stories in themselves and don’t end at the moment the original series begins.

There are also “reboots” that walk the line of a prequel but I’m giving them a pass. The 2009 Star Trek, Batman Begins and 2006 Casino Royale are fun in and of themselves and while they may have moments that call back earlier themes, moments and characters they aren’t really trying to tell what happened before a specific story.

I’m mostly here to pick on Rogue One and prequels in a similar vein. The Lucas Star Wars prequels, Monsters U., The Hobbit movies and to a lesser extent Fantastic Beasts fall into this category of films purposely made to take place and fill in the story of an already existing story or series. They also tend to lead right up to the moment the original tale began.

I first asked about this on Twitter and was not surprised to hear Godfather II mentioned right out of the gate (by the always worth reading Tim Stahmer). It’s an excellent sequel and owes much to its filling in of the backstory to the first film but I think I’ve clearly stated why I don’t count it as a pure prequel.

Of course this is in my mind at the moment because of the disappointing (to me) double whammy of Fantastic Beasts and Rogue One. It’s probably not fair to consider Fantastic Beasts a prequel though, no more than it is to consider those young X-Men movies prequels. It’s a series following different characters (for the most part) in the same fictional universe but not directly leading to the original series. So I’ll skip it.

To be fair to Rogue One, it’s not completely terrible (as Monsters U. isn’t completely terrible.) It’s just that they suffer from something worse (to me). They are unnecessary. 

Good things about Rogue One: the character of Jyn Erso and the magnificent actor playing her. The badass Force believers of Chirrut and Baze. The actors overall. The diverse cast. The lack of romance! (And kudos to Teen Vogue for going into this so well and thoughtfully.) The Vader hissy-fit. The general look of the thing.

Bad things about Rogue One: Maggie Stiefvater summed it up pretty succinctly on Twitter saying it was, “Too strung out to be tense. Not fun enough to be fun. Not philosophical enough to be tragic.” I would also add that I found the CQI-ification of dead or aged actors to be jarring, rather course and not even done as well as it could have been.

The only one of those that really points out the weakness of the idea of prequels though is the lack of tension or suspense. We know what’s going to happen. It’s all right there in the first part of the opening crawl of the original Star Wars film we (or at least I) have seen a thousand times:

“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….”

Flashbacks and callbacks in series TV and long running stories can be awesome. I loved seeing the Starfleet Academy Picard get his butt kicked in a flashback. The last episodes of Breaking Bad made some fun references to the beginning of the series. But a whole movie or series of movies filling us in on what happened before we get to the stuff we already know we like? Yawn.

This was a problem with The Hobbit movies as well. I realize that the novel The Hobbit isn’t a prequel to The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote it first. Then later had the idea to expand his fictional universe with the later series. But the movies were different. The original trilogy of films were an amazing achievement and stand alone. Because of various legal reasons Peter Jackson was unable to obtain the rights to The Hobbit until after The Lord of the Rings films were completed. But he didn’t just make a movie of The Hobbit. He made a prequel trilogy to The Lord of the Rings, adding characters and situations and dragging it out in a way that sadly weakened it.

Since I’m a school librarian I’ll mention one children’s book series that could be considered a successful prequel, though I would argue that it’s really a reboot. Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson wrote a series of books about Peter Pan. It was, at first at least, presented as a prequel but there are so many (wonderful) differences that it’s really a “reboot” in the best sense. (This series was pointed out as a “good” prequel by an excellent educator named Sarah Guest, also on Twitter).

So there you have it. As far as I know, there is no such thing as an excellent prequel and there probably won’t be.

I’ll leave the final word to Patton Oswalt.

2017 Picks for the Book Club

January – Ancillary Justice – Leckie

February – Hateship, Friendship, Loveship, Courtship, Marriage – Munro

March – March by John Lewis! (I want to read all three of these…)

April – A Coney Island of the Mind – Ferlinghetti (and we bring poems to read aloud)

May – Symphony for the City of the Dead – Anderson

June – Confederates in the Attic – Horowitz

July – Eating Animals – Foer (and our annual July potluck)

August – I Hate to See the Evening Sun Go Down – Gay

September – Razor Girl – Hiaasen (If in paperback. If not, then maybe this one.)

October – Night Circus – Morgenstern

November – Over the Plain Houses – Franks

December – The Odyssey – Homer

You see anything here you might try? Let me know in the comments below!

Still Here

It’s been a busy school year and when I’m not busy, I haven’t been thinking about blogging. I was just starting to think about it…when the election happened and I really didn’t want to talk more about that.

But I enjoyed posting about that Cinema Club movie and realized I should post about those from now on (if they’re worth telling you about). The others we’ve seen so far this season are worth checking out. The first was A Man Called Ove which is apparently based on a popular book club book. I haven’t read the book and I have a feeling this is one of those rare instances where the movie is at least as good as the book. It’s a funny and touching story of that old guy in every neighborhood who is a bit over the top in his enforcement of association rules. Grumpy, inflexible and unlikable. But some boisterous neighbors move in next door, we begin to learn about his past, and things get interesting.

We also saw Moonlight  which is every bit as moving and perfect as you’ve probably heard or read about. The performances are truly exceptional and the ending made me hopeful for humanity.

The last one we screened was Jackie which has a searing performance by Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy during the time from her 1961 television tour of the White House to an interview with a reporter in the weeks after JFK’s funeral. It jumps back and forth in time and includes some graphic imagery so it’s not for everyone but man is she good. Powerful stuff.

I also need to get back to writing up my Guys Who Read book club books and meetings. The problem with that is I didn’t love the last book and I doubt I’ll finish the next one. But let me just say a few words about the last meeting. After the election I was wishing we were meeting that Thursday instead. I so wanted to commiserate with those guys. But meeting a week later helped us focus on the book and other things before we chewed over that particular dumpster fire.

It really is an amazing group of guys. One had a dog he was training to be a service dog. One had to bring his toddler because his spouse was caring for their newest child. One dapper professor was wearing a suit with a horseshoe crab pin on one lapel and a Black Lives Matter on the other. We did the thing where we had a long list of book suggestions for next year and we went around and around a few times until we knocked it down to twelve. I’m not going to tell you what they are yet because we haven’t picked which books for which months and there may be one or two substitutions before it’s completely locked down. But as always, its a good and eclectic list and it will be a joy to read and discuss them in the coming year no matter what else happens in our country. At least there will still be good movies and books to talk about.

Now to keep chipping away at next month’s book (which I’ll never finish), The Iliad…

The Eagle Huntress

_74151933_82So I joined The Cinema Club again (with My Lovely Bride this time!) and wanted to share the most recent film we screened.

It’s called The Eagle Huntress and it’s good. It’s about a 13-year-old girl in a nomadic Mongolian tribe who wants to become the first female eagle hunter. This is a big deal because eagle hunting is almost a sacred rite passed down from father to son for many generations. It’s also a difficult and dangerous endeavor.

For example, you don’t just tootle on down to the pet store to pick up a baby eagle. You have to find an eagle’s next out in the wild that has a healthy female eaglet that is around three months old (big enough to begin training but before it can fly), then you have to do some dangerous mountain climbing to retrieve the eagle from the nest while the mother eagle is gone and before she comes back or game over. And YOU have to do it.

If you are successful with that, then you have to enter the yearly prestigious Eagle Hunting Festival where you have to be judged with your eagle performing various difficult trials. Then, even if you can do well enough at that, you have to actually go out in -40 degree weather in the mountains of Mongolia and hunt actual foxes with your eagle or you are not a “real” eagle hunter.

And you can’t do any of it without the support of your family, the training of your father and the blessing of your grandfather. In a culture with incredibly strict and enforced gender roles.

Good luck with that!

And if you are a documentation on a shoesting budget who wants to film all this? You have to bring a minimum of crew and equipment and figure out how to film the mountain climbing, the intricate festival, the insular nomadic community, the shy main subject, and the -40 degree hunting which in no mean feat.

It’s inspiring and I can’t wait for it to be out later this week so I can tell my students about it.

In an added girl-power bonus, the film is narrated by Daisy Ridley; Rey from The Force Awakens.

Here’s What 4 Years of Book Club Looks Like

This is a photo from a fellow Guys Read book club member. He started in June of 2012 with On Writing by Stephen King on the bottom left shelf and Thursday we’ll be meeting to discuss Packing for Mars by Mary Roach which you can see on the top middle next to the funny bookend/tissue dispenser.

So satisfying! I read books: sometimes buying them, sometimes getting them from the library. Sometimes I get it on Kindle or audio. So while I keep a good list of the books I don’t have a monument like this one. As he says, “A job well done.”

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The Boys (and Woman) of Summer

This month’s Guys Who Read book club meeting was to discuss Roger Kahn’s 1973 tome, The Boys of Summer, subtitled “The classic narrative of growing up within shouting distance of Ebbets Field, covering the Jackie Robinson Dodgers, and what’s happened to everybody since.”

So yeah, it’s a long book and I skipped big parts of it but it’s very interesting for this non-sports-fan and was absolutely loved by the baseball fans in the group. And it was one of those book that has so much in it, sports, history, race, sociology, writing, and more that we pretty much discussed the book the whole time.

The meeting was held at Joe’s house. Joe picked the book and had us out on his back deck with grilled hotdogs, Brooklyn beer, and Cracker Jack.

And there was a female guy who read the book and joined us! She said she’d gone into the Little Shop and thought to herself that joining a book club might be fun, so got the flyer with the list of all the clubs and what they were reading. She likes baseball so picked up our book bu then noticed the name of the group was GUYS Who Read. Well, it can’t hurt to ask, she said to herself and contacted our fearless leader who fearlessly invited her to come to the meeting. She was great and says she plans on returning.

One of the most fascinating tales from the meeting came from Tony, now a physician but in the mid 80s a kid in need of a summer job in Baltimore who became one of those vendors who carry bunch of beer, shouting out their lungs and running up and down the staduim steps. There is a lot going on in that job and he could write a nice long narrative piece about the ins and outs of what he experinced. Did you know they have (or at least had) to buy thier own product and would take a loss on what they didn’t sell? That there was a strictly enforced hierarchy with sangria sellers on the bottom where everyone has to start (“Fuck you, sangria man! I want a beer!”) with peanut sellers on top and hot dogs being the hardest to deal with? It’s crazy stuff.

Next month is Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires and our yearly mega cookout. There’s rumors of a whole lamb this time. Mmmmm…