Monday, January 29, 2007


Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen

A Governor General's nominee for literature for children, 2006. By Glenn Huser.

This book's chapters alternate viewpoints between Skinnybones (a 17 year old foster child with attitude and model dreams) and the Wrinkle Queen (an 87 year old opera fan with a dream of her own). The dual voice thing works really well here because it sets up some delicious little ironies (proper dramatic irony, I mean, not Alanis no-a-black-fly-in-your-chardonnay-is-not-ironic irony), letting us readers see how very much alike the two are, while each harbours her own opinions and misgivings about the other.

Together they hatch a crazy scheme to give each their dream, but it involves some serious lies and it's a risky business, to be sure. Stuck together for two weeks on their hare-brained trip, they get along at times and scrap at times, but each sees something in the other, and they are willing to suck up a certain amount to get what they want.

As I was reading, I was imagining the different endings that might result. The heart-warming ending where they come to appreciate each other and live happily ever after, the Stone Angel ending where the old lady dies after her last wish has been fulfilled, and so on. This ending, though, didn't quite fall into any one of the scenarios, but rather blended a few things in a nice, but ultimately more realistic fashion. So while it's a happy ending, it's not a nice easy, rosy, tied-up-with-a-bow one. And it sure doesn't look like it's coming for a while.

Overall? I liked this one. It had shades of other things I've read, but it was fresh enough and tart enough to keep it from being the expected, the trite, the sappy Tuesdays with Morrie for the young that it could have been.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I'm My Own Pusher

New "Pick of the Litter" post up at MommyBlogsToronto!

This one is about picking ABC book for the young ones, along with some titles I particularly like. If you're in the market for such a thing, go check it out.

Next up over there will be one for Black History Month.

That's all!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Playing in Traffic

by Gail Giles.

Stop me when you've heard this before...
A young girl in high school. She's a mass of contradictions - a slut, brilliant, dangerous, unstable. And she's beautiful, but goth and pierced and tattooed and clearly self-destructive. She has no friends, plays chicken with the guidance counselors and acts out in class, takes some drugs, shoplifts, and so on. Oh, you've met her in teen lit before? Yeah, me too.

The other character is more interesting, a nobody in the school who makes himself a nonpresence on purpose. He gets reeled in by her mystery, her promise of sex, her apparently vulnerable side, her stories of abuse. Despite his falling for these lures, he is on the whole a very astute fellow for his age. It works, though, because it isn't the voice of an adult looking back with the knowledge of hindsight, it's the voice of a cynical outsider looking in. He notes, for example, that the story of her taking on the entire football team right on the field is a ridiculous rumour that exists in every high school. He even starts to sense the inconsistencies in her tales, though he is still, mostly, wide open to her.

So there he is, Mr. Beige being drawn into the swirling drama of Gothgirl, and things start getting weird - surprise! Eventually, she asks him to kill her parents. Yeah. heard that story on the news? Me too. Sure, the ending is not the she-turns-out-to-have-a-heart-of-gold epiphany that you might be used to, but it's not the shocking original it seems to think it is, either.

Final assessment? Feh. Didn't hate it, didn't like it, just not really that impressed and found it not that original in the end. I believe the phrase here is "damning with faint praise."

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

This title was much-touted as one of the headlining titles from this past fall, one that no one should fail to recommend to teens with an interest in music. It has some good author cred, to be sure, co-written by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, the former being a pretty hot newish name and the latter being an established Big Name in teen lit. The premise sounded like it had potential: teens meet in club, Nick asking Norah to pose as his girlfriend for five minutes to throw off his ex, and they end of spending a whole amazing night together.

And I started reading. Turns out that the authors each wrote one voice, and they alternate chapters, often overlapping moments at the ends, so that the story is a shared one, told from both viewpoints. Okay, I've enjoyed that device before, like when Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin teamed up for P.S. Longer Letter Later and Snail Mail No More.

The thing that makes this a real standout, though, is the voices. Wow. Sometimes in teen lit, it just doesn't ring true, doesn't sound like who it's supposed to be, but this first-person narrative was pitch-perfect. It's clear that the authors have at least passing familiarity with the punk scene they are using as background, throwing terms with the ease and correct usage of someone who knows what the hell they are talking about. (I seriously hate when grownups try to use slang and get it wrong. Talk about making yourself look out of touch and trying too hard. That gets respect from exactly nobody. Blech.) Being sort of interior monologues mixed with dialogue, I also like how the voices used really capture the emotional ups and downs that the characters ride as the night goes on. When it's all a big exciting swirling jumble of a moment, like when they are dancing or kissing, the words come in a rush all crushed together because oh-my-god, just-can't-think. It really works, and it drags you into feeling how they are without being manipulative, and it is so well done.

I didn't quite get what the jacket flap meant, to be honest, when it talked about them "falling in and out" of love during the night, but again, those ups and downs and stops and starts really pace the book nicely. Each has some ex baggage to deal with, Norah has some sexuality concerns (she's been called frigid before and wonders), and as they like each other more and more, neither wants to mess it up. Occasionally other people intervene, breaking up some tense moments, and it all makes for a nice suspenseful method of pulling you along. I kept not wanting to put the book down, because I wanted to see what came next, if they'd recover from this one, if they'd screw it up, if they'd end up together. And you're rooting for them, because you're getting to know them too and you see it's right and it's all such an urgent crush because it's this one night to see something start to happen or not. So yes, while it's crazily romantic in many ways, it keeps getting grounded again with real emotion, and it feels authentic, like you really are inside their hearts and minds.

It's all just captured so well, I am on the brink of writing a big gushy fan letter to the authors, I loved this so much. Seriously, rarely is there a book that I love so much I just eat it up with a spoon and can't put it down and am left seriously on the horns of a dilemma: Do I want more, or do I want them to just leave a good thing the hell alone for once? Argh, the agony!

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, January 18, 2007


About Advanced Picture Books

What is an Advanced Picture Book? Advanced picture books are a format and library collection that is, typically, wildly under-used. They are stories whose length, language, or theme are suitable for an older child, but whose format places them in the category of picture book. As childrn grow older, they are encouraged to move into chapter books, and teachers will often assign book reports with page minimums, 50 or 100 pages, for example, to encourage children to tackle something that is visibly meatier. This means that picture books are most often left behind after about grade 2, and not considered as reading material for older children. Advanced Picture Books (apics, for short in the library biz) are the exception, the forgotten misfit child of the children's room. So on occasion, I will review one for this site, and mention an age range I see it working for. Generally, though, they work for kids about 6 to 10, or grades 1 to 4 or 5.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


About Publisher Reviews

What they are: Publisher reviews are reviews of books sent to me, for free, by the publisher for the purpose of obtaining a review. I will identify these in the title as Publisher Reviews for clarity's sake.

My promise on publisher reviews: I think I owe it to my professional integrity to review books fairly. Which means that even if I'm getting a book for free, I won't tell you I loved it if I didn't, I will tell you I loved it if I did. As per usual. And as per usual, I try not to pick up a book I have little hope of liking, so my reviews are more likely to be positive than negative. I am not one to give myself the chore of slogging through something unpromising, nor do I see it as fair to someone else to take on something for review when I'm pretty sure from the get-go that it won't be a positive experience for either of us.
These reviews will likely be a little more formal, with a little more explanation about what I thought worked or didn't, and suggestions for the child or teen I see liking it or mentions of other, similar books. If I am not impressed, I do believe in being fair in explaining what I didn't love and talking about what kind of child might enjoy the book, even if I don't. In other words, I am gentle about it, because I think that's only fair, too.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


What To Expect When You're Reading Kittenpie Reads

Hi, all!
Welcome to my new side blog, devoted to recording my kidlit reading.

Posting will be in fits and starts, as my kidlit reading is. I tend to read a bunch of children's and teens stuff, then pause for some adult reading, and since I will post as I read, so it will go.

I'll post largely about fiction for older kids and teens here, while my posts at MommyBlogsToronto are more often aimed younger kids and their parents. (Though not always. I like to leave myself room and try to include people with older kids too.) I will post about picture books individually when I stumble across something I am particularly fond of, though.

I won't tend to write formal review-style posts in most cases - I'm not a formal type, really - but to record my thoughts about what I liked and didn't like, who I think it would work for, and any questions it left with me, as well as any comparisons to other books that spring to mind.

The books will be a mix of old and new, award-type books and fluffier stuff, because it will just be whatever I'm reading. And I try to read across the board as much as possible so that I have recommendations for kids.

If you have recommendations for me based on what I've been reading and enjoying, I'd love to hear them, too - drop a comment!

Labels: ,