Monday, February 15, 2010

Nonfiction Monday

Didja see that the Cybil winners were announced yesterday?

Well, I have two biographies today that were Cybil nominees, the first one written by the same author of the winner!

A Life in the Wild: George Schaller's Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts Pamela S. Turner

This biography of George Schaller follows him from his early interest in animal, to his university days in Alaska, and his research trips around the world-- studying gorillas in what was then the Belgian Congo, tigers in India, lions on the Serengeti, snow leopards in the Himalayas, pandas in China, and the ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau.

As Schaller's career started in 1959, the book shows how he revolutionized how we observe animals in the wild (such as, by quietly observing them and not killing them.) The photographs are all from Schaller's personal collection, so we get a good look at how things looked then. I (obviously) found the chapters on China and Tibet most interesting and wanted a deeper look at all the politics at play, because there were hints at things that I recognized instantly as Chinese face-saving and Chinese politics, but as that wasn't the point or focus of the book, it didn't get into it.

It's an interesting book for middle grade readers who want to learn about conservation of several different animals and how our ideas on how best of learn about and save animals has changed over time. I especially recommend pairing The chapter about tracking snow leopards in the Himalayas in 1969-1975 with Sy Montgomery's Saving the Ghost of the Mountain, about tracking snow leopards in Mongolia.

Book Provided by... my local library

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum Candace Fleming

Did you know that PT Barnum got into the circus game very late in life? He was 60 before he got involved, and then it was because a business partner wanted the fame that Barnum's name would give to the venture (also, Barnum's cash). Who knew?

Well, if you read this delightful, informative, and fascinating biography, filled with informational sidebars and pictures and other ephemera, you will. Seriously, the entire week after I read it, I was telling everyone I came across random facts about Barnum. I annoyed everyone I knew! And people I didn't.

I highly recommend it. It's one of the books that just missed my personal Cybils shortlist. My only complaint is that Fleming relies heavily on Barnum's own autobiographies and there were a few things that made me pause and when I checked the source, it was Barnum's own version of his life, which isn't exactly the most objective point of view.

Book Provided by... my local library

Round up is by Amy over at The Art of Irreverence. Check it out!

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

It's Snowing. Again.

I had to buy myself flowers to remind me that spring will come eventually. You can't tell in this photo, but it's snowing. Again.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I just saw on Color Online that Lucille Clifton died today.

All I can think of is the Ani Difranco song that introduced my high school self to her work

And Lucille your voice still sounds in me
And mine was a relatively easy tragedy

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Poetry Friday

Sunday is Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year, so why not share a Chinese love poem? Chang Yu lived in the ninth century. I got this poem out of the anthology Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry

"Song of Farewell" in the Tartar Mode

The sheen of the willows spreads ten thousand feet,
The fragrance of peach blossoms fills the park.
But when the wind blows it past the curtain,
There's only the scent that clings to the dress.

Lee over at I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the hell do I read? is hosting the round-up!

Book Provided by... my wallet, many years ago.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I've now had a full week off work due to snow. My rapid descent into madness is amusing many of my friends, but... oiy.

One thing that's been nice is I have gotten a lot of reading done. I'm taking a class through ALA on connecting with tween readers, so you'll see a lot of reviews of middle grade fiction that specifically address how tweens will respond. Just thought I'd explain the odd shift in reviewing style.

Confetti Girl Diana Lopez

Nothing’s going right for Lina Flores. Her best friend now spends all her time with her new boyfriend. Her father would rather read a book than deal with his grief after losing his wife. The popular boys have nothing better to do than mock her for her height. Her only outlet is sports, but her English grade is keeping her off the soccer team.

Tween girls will identify with Lina’s confusion—over her crush, her changing friendships, why the school psychologist wants her to write a story, her English vocabulary, and adults in general. The dichos (Spanish-language proverbs) that head each chapter and are sprinkled through the text help illustrate the Corpus Christi setting and Lina’s Latina heritage, without making it a focus of the story.

I especially appreciated Lina’s struggles with Watership Down, as that’s a book my father has been urging me to read since fifth grade.

Additional thoughts: I love Lina's sock obsession. I loved how into science she was. I loved how she wasn't the only one with a crazy parent, and how all the craziness of the parents was understandable and believable. It's such a great book.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Top 100 Chapter Books Part 2

As Betsy at Fuse #8 counts down the Top 100 Chapter Books, I got quoted again! This time for why Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was on my list. Actually, I'm quoted twice, as she also uses the School Library Journal review, which I also wrote.

Snow + Libraries = making the best of things and no fines!

Here's the message from the webpage of the library system I work in--

SNOW CLOSING: The Library System will be closed on Wednesday, February 10th. Fines will not accrue on snow closing days. Library resources will be available online as usual.

It has an animated snowflake next to it. The line about fines not accruing just appeared yesterday (A version of this message has been up since we closed early last Friday.)

And, I just got this email from the library system I live in--


Please do not return materials until Arlington Public Library locations reopen. Materials due Feb. 5 through Feb. 15 are now due on Tuesday, Feb. 16. Please disregard any emails that call for returns before Feb. 16. NO LATE FEES WILL BE CHARGED FOR THE DATES THE LIBRARY IS CLOSED AS A RESULT OF BAD WEATHER. Again, please disregard any emails that call for returns before Feb. 16.

The Library offers a vast and growing eCollection through the website. From the comfort of your own home and computer, you can download audio books and text-based books, do all sorts of research--even learn a language. Any time. All you need is your library card number. And there's no trip to return things when you're done.

Blizzard edition! BLIZZARD!

Boys Are Dogs Leslie Margolis

Annabelle faces several changes after she and her mother move in with her mother’s boyfriend, Ted. In addition to a changing home dynamic and drifting away from her old friends, Annabelle starts at a new school—one without uniforms and with boys. Although she makes friends quickly enough, Annabelle’s first day at school is a disaster. She has a nickname (Spamabelle, which changes to Spazabelle, and then Spaz) by the end of first period. As she trains starts to train her new puppy, Annabelle wonders if some of the tricks—positive reinforcement, commanding instead of asking, and never showing fear—will work on the boys who make her life miserable.

Annabelle’s insecurities, especially over her friendships, will ring true for tween readers. She doesn’t tell her friends what is happening in case they agree with the boys about her “spaz” status. The assertion that “boys are dogs” reads as very combative, but the lessons Annabelle learns—to stand up for herself and not accept verbal and physical bullying—are valuable ones for all tweens, regardless of gender. I especially appreciated that not all of Annabelle’s bullying issues could be solved with her puppy-training manual and they weren’t all solved by the end of the book. It's a happy ending, but not a perfect ending, and those are my favorite types.

Book Provided by... my awesome friend Ann, who picks up ARCs for me at ALA when I can't go!

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Faeries stave off the cabin fever?

Another snow day. More snow expected today and tomorrow. You know it's bad when...

Your Chinese teacher calls for your weekly lesson and asks what's going on and you tell her that you got all the snow in the world this weekend and are getting more tonight and you haven't been to work since Thursday because of it. And she says "Oh yes, I know, I saw that on the news." WHEN YOUR CHINESE TEACHER LIVES IN SHANGHAI! Apparently, my weather woes are international news now. Aiyo!

The Good Neighbors: Kith Holly Black, illus. Ted Naifeh

In this sequel to Kin, (which I reviewed in March) the fairies are getting closer to taking over Rue's town. Rue's still searching for her mother, and her friends are being seriously weird as the fae start to encroach in many different ways on her life.

I really liked this one, much better than the first. And I think I just put my finger on what's a little weird about this series. It doesn't read like a usual one-shot graphic novel even though it's published like one. (Ok, yes, I know it's a series) but I want to compare it to works like the The Plain Janes, or Rapunzel's Revenge (which both have sequels). But, instead, it reads more like Death Note or Fables-- something that's very long-range and almost needs to be considered as a whole instead of individual volumes. Does that make sense? Either way, it requires a brain shift for me when reading, which is something I'll be sure to keep in mind in when the next volume comes out.

In general, I really like Black's work in folklore and how she brings traditional beliefs and lore into a modern setting. I think she's a master at this. She doesn't mess with her supernatural realms, and I really appreciate that. You can tell she's a serious student of this. Also, I'm still blown away by the talk she gave at the National Book Festival in 2007 and her views on urban legends as modern folklore. Good, thought provoking stuff.

Book Provided by... my local library

Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale Holly Black

Kaye's always been a weird girl, but when she moves back to New Jersey and reunites with her childhood friends, she realizes that maybe it's not her fault. Kaye really is a pixie--a changeling baby left behind. A changeling who is now all grown up.

The Faerie Unseelie and Seelie courts have a fragile peace and it's time for the seventh year tithe to ensure the loyalty of the independent fay. If Kaye is offered as the tithe, she can save reveal herself to be a pixie, the tithe will be rejected and Kaye's friends will be free.

But even if you're a pixie, if you're unfamiliar with the ways of faerie, it's a dangerous game.

Holly Black writes a wonderful, modern retelling of "Tam Lin" and showcases her vast knowledge of faerie legend of lore while weaving a tale entirely her own and impossible to put down. Not only do I know want to pick up Valiant and Ironside, but I also want to go reread Pamela Dean's Tam Lin.

So, I read this book two years ago. Luckily, when I went back to my reading notes, I saw that I had actually written out an entire review! Yay! But, back for Weekly Geeks #12, Suey from It's All About Books asked:

Did you think Tithe by Holly Black was dark? Would you recommend it to the YA crowd it's intended for?

Eh... darkish? I mean it's not light and fluffy, but I'm not sure I'd jump straight to dark. If you said it was dark, I wouldn't argue with you, but I don't think that's an adjective I'd use. (How was that for having an opinion? Sorry.) I would definitely recommend it to the YA crowd! It's a great YA book, especially for the middle/older sides of YA. While I wouldn't have an issue with younger YAs (12-14ish) reading it (I would have *loved* it when I was that age) I also wouldn't put it on list of recommended reading for that age group.

When Weekly Geeks repeated that topic a year later, I still hadn't reviewed it, so I got more questions.

Trisha from eclectic/eccentric asks:

Tithe is touted as a modern day fairy tale. Do you think this is an apt description? Why or why not?

Yes. Not happily ever after Grimm type fairy tales, but a modern story about faeries, yes. I loved the idea of what it would like to discover you were a changeling baby and how that would affect your life when you still had to deal with crap like high school. The faerie court politics are classic and seen in more stories that cover the faerie court, but in this one, it sometimes spills over into the local diner...

Darren from Bart's Bookshelf

What did you think of the fey lore developed in Tithe?

I liked it, because it was firmly grounded in the lore that already exists. Black didn't make up her own worlds and traditions, she grounded her story in the current lore, which I really respect, because she still made the story completely her own. Also, I sometimes get frustrated when authors take a folklore that we already have in our cannon and mess with it for their own means.

Eva from A Striped Armchair asks:

Some readers I know think Tithe was too dark...what do you think?

Well, I answered this one above. Darkish... definitely not too dark!

Book Provided By... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Top 100 Chapter Books

Betsy at Fuse #8 is counting down the Top 100 Chapter Books. Look for a quotation by me! as to why Pippi Longstocking is on the list.

Nonfiction Monday

It's a Nonfiction Snowday Monday!

First things first-- I have a change in review policy. My old policy was that I would review everything I read that was over 100 pages. Sometimes, I'd make exceptions for books under 100. Mainly these were fiction books that were at least 75 and absolutely loved (such as Friday's review of Love That Dog) or nonfiction books that I was thinking critically about for other reasons (such as Cybils nominees.)

One thing I've found in my work as a children's librarian is that most nonfiction for middle graders is capped at 96 pages. So, unless it was Cybils reading or something similar, my nonfiction blogging is about books written for adults, or teen biographies, because they're the titles most like to break that 100 page barrier.

I am extremely passionate about good nonfiction for students. As such, I am changing my policy. Nonfiction no longer has to break that 100 page barrier to get reviewed. Due to the craziness of general life and my review backlog, I will not be reviewing *all* the nonfiction I read, but expect to see a lot more. It will probably only be books that I think kids will love, are seriously amazing, or seriously flawed. I'm still trying to see where I can set boundaries, but, that's the direction I'm moving in for now.

Now! For some Cybil nominee reviews!:

The Other Side: A Teen's Guide to Ghost Hunting and the Paranormal Marley Gibson, Patrick Burns, and Dave Schrader

From the back: "Maybe you're a budding psychic. Maybe you're a skeptic. Maybe you just want to know if it's Grandma playing with the lights of faulty wiring."

The authors take ghost hunting seriously. As such, this book is full of things not to do and to be careful off. For instance, flash photography in the rain will make a picture of glowing orbs. These are NOT paranormal activity. They're flashed raindrops. Know your equipment.

They want you to be safe (and they're writing for a teen audience, so it's full of practical advice such as "get permission to investigate the location that you are going to.") They know that ghost hunters and teens both tend to get a bad rap, so they tell us how to avoid it, which means being responsible. They don't want you to give other ghost hunters, or other teens, a bad name.

At the same time, this book is full of advice on what equipment to use, how to find a haunted spot to ghost-hunt, (and, once you get there, a ghost) and different types of hauntings. It's everything you could want (even as an adult) if you actually want to ghost-hunt (either as a believer or skeptic) or are just interested in it. It's surprisingly practical.

I'll fully admit that I raised an eyebrow when this was nominated for the Cybils, but I was really pleasantly surprised by how the authors present the information, and how much they welcome new ghost hunters, but respect the field while still having a lot of room for skepticism. (In fact, they recommend having a skeptic on every team to play devil's advocate when reviewing your results.)

Book Provided by... the publisher, for Cybils consideration.

Wizards and Witches Ann Kerns

I'm not sure why this particular volume was nominated for the Cybils and not any others in the Fantasy Chronicles series. I haven't read the others, but they look to be about the same caliber as this one.

This is a very interesting and introductory look at well, wizards and witches. It examines how we view them in current pop culture and how they were viewed historically. It then looks at different children's novels about magical people, with a special emphasis on the Harry Potter phenomenon.

In addition to the bibliography, there's a further reading list at the right reading range (largely made up of fiction titles) and even a suggested movie list!

My one complaint is that while it briefly touches on magical people in other areas (especially in terms of shamanism), the focus is largely western. I would have been much more interested to learn in other views.

Book Provided By... my local library

Round up is over at Great Kid Books!

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sunday Salon: The Snowed-in Spreadsheets!

During Bloggiesta, I mentioned one of my goals was updating my spreadsheets and many people asked how I used spreadsheets for blogging. Well... here you go!

(And if you think these are nerdy and anal, you should see the ones I use for work. Yes, I have multiple spreadsheets for storytime.) Basically, my entire life is lived off a spreadsheet.

Here's the basic blog spreadsheet:

This is where I keep track of books I need to blog about. This is not my list of books I've read (that's in a paper notebook.)

So the columns are date (done in month/year) that I read a book, title, if the review has been written, and notes. My notes column lists what date I've pre-scheduled a review for, if the book was for a challenge, or anything I want to remember when I write the blog post (but not the actual review. I have a paper notebook for things like that.)

I have a spreadsheet for review copies that I'm not going to show you because I'm horrified at how many have gone unread. Also, it's new, so it's not as useful yet. Basically, it goes pub date/title/notes (blog tour, unsolicited, promised review date/etc)/post date (which is 3 months after receiving or pub date, which ever is later, or if I have a promised post date because of a blog tour or something) The 3 months since receiving (ONLY if I asked for the book. It doesn't apply to unsolicited titles) was one of this year's "Be a better blogger" goals. As was "take fewer review copies." I also make liberal use of color coding, to highlight those books that should be read yesterday.

Then, there's the challenge spreadsheets...

Here's the one where I track all the challenges that don't come with a list. So, read 100 books from the library, or read 12 historical fiction titles, etc.

The name of the challenge is on top and then the column is highlighted to the number of books I have to read. If there are sub-categories within the challenge, the column will change colors. You can see this in the second column, which is the Marple/Poirot/Holmes challenge. 2 cells are the regular shade of peach, the next 2 are a bit darker, and the next 2 are orange to break up the detectives.

For challenges that come with a list, they each have their own sheet. This is the one for the Guardian Challenge:

The columns are: last name/first name/title/category/read/read for this challenge.

One I've read a book, it gets unhighlighted. A 1 in the 5th column is for all the books I've read off the list. A 1 in the 6th column is for the books I've read specifically for this challenge. So, in this screen shot, there are 3 books I've read. Bridget Jones's Diary was read shortly after publication in 1998. I read Wind in the Willows a few years ago. I read Cold Comfort Farm last month for this challenge (also because I owned it, and it's part of the 1% challenge.) In the last row, there are equations that add up how many books I've read both off the list in general, and specifically for this challenge.

For books that come with a list where I need to read every book on the list, I don't have numbers, I just unhighlight each book as I read it.

Last, but not least, is the BIG spreadsheet- the master sheet. So, all those challenges that come with a list are combined on this sheet:

It goes last name/first name/title/challenges. It's color coded based on how many challenges a book counts for. Once I read a book, I unhighlight it and then put a 1 in the 5th column. At the bottom, I have an equation so it adds up how many books I've read so far. This is the hardest to update at the start of a year. Books that I've read have to be taken off and new lists for new challenges have to be added in. Also, all the books I own, but haven't read, are on the list, so that had to be updated to add in the books I acquired but have not yet read in the past year.

I use Google Docs for all of these, just so I can access them from anywhere.

Any questions?

Saturday, February 06, 2010


The snow! Oh, the snow! Here's the view of the people across the backyard. To put this into some perspective-- last winter we never had to shovel! And it's still falling and we don't have it nearly as bad as the people across the river... knock on wood that we keep power!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Poetry Friday

So, I know I've been pretty down on verse novels lately and haven't read one in a while that I both (a) thought was poetry and (b) liked.

But, I have to say, that I have two that I am completely enamored of at the moment! Love That Dog and its sequel, Hate That Cat, both by Sharon Creech.

Both books are poems Jack writes to his teacher, they're like letters almost, and we only get Jack's side. (If I were a creative writing teacher, I would have my students read these books and then write Miss Stretchberry's response poems.) The class is studying poetry and Jack struggles to understand some of it, to tell why some things are poems and some aren't. And some of Jack's poetry would work as prose, and some is pure poetry. There are big ideas and small ideas and humor and sadness, forgiveness and loss, all in a few pages and a few words.

I love how this book has to be told in poetry because it's about poetry. I love how it references so many other classic and non-classic poems and how those poems are in the back of the book, because while I may automatically get a reference to a red wheelbarrow, most middle grade readers won't. I also love how much Jack loves Mr. Walter Dean Myers and how he wonders if each new poet is still alive. Most of all, I loved that the poems were awesome and good but still read like they were written by a kid.

I didn't even mind the dead dog (to be fair, the dog is dead before the book starts, but it still made me cry!) I want to shout about these books from the rooftop. Love That Dog is going to be the April book for my book discussion group. I decided that as soon as a I finished the book.

And here are two poems to show why these books are awesome (both are from Hate That Cat):

October 12

Something I am wondering:
if you cannot hear
do words have no sounds
in your head?

Do you see



October 17

made my ears frizzle

All that buzz buzz buzz
pop! pop!
drip and tinkle and trickle--
the sounds are still
buzzing and popping
in my head.

And the bells bells bells
in that poem you read
by Mr. Poe
(is he alive?)
all those bells bells bells
all those tinkling and jingling
and swinging and ringing
and rhyming and chiming
and clanging and clashing
and tolling and rolling
all those bells bells bells
and that tintinnabulation
what a word!

... (you'll have to read the book to get the rest! Ha!)

Round up is over at Growing Up with Books.

Books Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Two book-related things today that have me all in a dither:

1. Amazon hasn't put the MacMillan titles back yet. There's a book I need for class and I need it next week. None of the local library systems I use carry it. I can't get to an independent until this weekend, when we're supposed to get 17 inches feet of snow, so even if they ARE open, I won't be able to get there. I could get to Barnes and Noble tomorrow night, but they don't have it at the store, so I had to order it from their website. And pay shipping. (I have Amazon Prime. I don't pay for shipping.) Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

2. I live within walking distance of a branch of my local library. Given that I spend all day every day at a different library in a different system, I usually don't browse. I usually just look up books that my work-system doesn't own or has a long wait for, and put them on hold in my home-system. I went to pick up a book after work today (Yes, I went from one library to another. I am that nerdy.) Now, they have all the hold books on shelves near the check out desk so you can just go over and find yours and bring it up to the desk. I know this is a hot new trend in libraries right now but...

I will probably STOP using the Arlington libraries because of this. It is such a HUGE breach of reader's privacy and given that I pretty much ONLY use them for hold books and I just can't agree to this system... bad bad bad. Yes, they shelve the books spine down, so it's harder to see what the books are, but that just makes it easier to see who has a book on hold and it's not that hard to flip through and see who's requesting what.

Personally, I'm not very private in my reading habits (which you know, as I blog about EVERYTHING I read right here) but the principle of the thing has me very shaken up and upset and pissed off.

I'm more annoyed at the Amazon/MacMillan thing because they're private businesses and while they're both being stupid, well, it's business and they can do that.

The library, however, is breaking the ALA's Code of Ethics:

We protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.

So, I will be writing a letter to the director of the system and seriously rethinking my library use (Because, I do spend all day at another system, so I'm a bit privileged here, I know.)

But here's the thing-- just two years ago, Arlington libraries had a PR flap about this very thing. And, unlike the branch in the article, these books had no covering, the only concession made to privacy was the books being shelved spine down, which may have not had anything to do with privacy at all-- it makes finding your name (and your neighbor's) much easier...

Odd and the Frost Giants

Odd and the Frost Giants Neil Gaiman

This slip of a book tells the story of Odd, whose name isn't all that odd in his Norse land, but he is still an odd boy. One winter, when the spring doesn't come, Odd runs away and finds an eagle, fox, and bear that are actually Odin, Loki, and Thor transformed. Odd has to help them battle the frost giants to regain control of Asgard. Of course, it's Gaiman, so it's a little weirder and a lot more awesome than that.

While not as show-stoppingly good as Coraline or The Graveyard Book, this is still a delightful read that doesn't require a background in Norse mythology to understand. I most loved the Frost Giant's reaction to Freya, whom he has long coveted, once he had her. It's a great coming-of-age adventure story for younger readers, and a sweet story for older ones. It would make a good pairing with D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths because readers are sure to want to know more about these characters.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 BLAST OFF!

T-Minus: The Race to the Moon Jim Ottaviani illus. Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon

For full disclosure, I went to college with Kevin Cannon (technically, Zander, too, but I don't know him.) When this book first came in at the library, I might have shouted rather loudly, "HOLY **** Zander and Kevin have a book!" Luckily, I was in my office and not out where the kids could hear me.

T-Minus is a graphic novel that tells the story of the space race, from both American and Russian sides. Its focus is on the engineers and craft designers, not the astronauts, which is a different perspective than we usually get. Lots of science and politics while still being easy for a middle grader to understand while not dumbing down the material. I especially liked the look at what each side knew about what the other was doing.

There's been a spate of excellent space books for middle grade that have come out in the last few years, and this is a great fiction addition to them.

Also, I am SO GLAD they made this fiction instead of non. I could see this being marketed as a nonfiction book, but there's an author's note that clearly says what's real and what isn't (like the fact that a few people get combined into one person for clarity, or some scenes and thoughts were invented to fully tell the story.) There's also a some wonderful suggestions for further reading, fiction and non, graphic novel and non, as well as movies and websites. But, STILL FICTION! Huzzah! I worry about the trend we've seen where we tell a fact filled narrative that is still a story and call it nonfiction instead of the historical fiction it more accurately is. And then REWARD such behavior. (We Are the Ship, I'm looking at YOU)

So, the verdict is, T-Minus is awesome.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Interview with Jacqueline Davies

Hi All! As I said yesterday, I'm part of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour!

Yesterday, I reviewed and haunting and wonderful Lost by Jacqueline Davies. Today, she's stopped by Biblio File to have a chat!

My favorite part of this book was Essie's voice. It grabbed me from the first sentence and didn't let go. It's extremely distinctive and consistent throughout the book. How did you find (and hang on to!) her Lower East Side Jewish speech patterns?

Finding Essie’s voice was one of the greatest challenges in writing Lost. It’s an incredibly daunting task to travel back through time to resurrect a way of speaking that no longer exists. As I tried to create an authentic voice of that time, I went back to primary sources. I looked through books that included interviews with Lower East Side Jews at the turn of the century. I studied trial transcripts that recorded speech patterns, word for word. I read through the newspapers of the day, as well as fictional stories by Anzia Yezierska, who wrote of that time in that time. It was very important to me to rely on first-person sources, because anything else has passed through some kind of filter, and that distorts the material. So anything that was created or recorded contemporaneously and accurately, I paid close attention to and took from it what I could.

Then I widened my search and listened to as much current Yiddish as I could—from people, websites, recordings. I listened to the songs. I loved listening to the songs!

Most of all, though, I lived with that voice for ten years. For ten years, I heard Essie talking inside my head, and that, more than anything else, is what made it possible to write the novel in a voice that remained consistent from beginning to end. There are parts of Essie’s speech pattern that have crept into my own and my family’s. Just the other day, my daughter asked a question in exactly the way that Essie would have. We all lived with Essie for the past ten years!

In your acknowledgments, you say that it took you ten years to find a way to tell the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. What about this tragedy spoke to you so strongly?

This book began with a sound. Back in 1999, I was watching Ric Burns’ documentary New York. I already knew the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. I’d studied it years ago in college. But watching that film, I heard a sound effect that was created by the sound engineer: It was his imagining of the sound you would hear when the body of a young girl strikes the sidewalk after falling eighty feet. The sound was like a combination of an overstuffed dufflebag thrown from a great height, a stack of books dropped on a hard wooden floor, and a hand smacking a face. It’s a sound I will never forget, and it had the effect of pulling me back over a century and putting me in that place, in that fire, with those girls. The story I wrote ended up changing many times over the years, but it always goes back to that sound and my wondering of what it must have been like to be there. That’s the hook that always pulls me into writing historical fiction.

How much research on hat making did you have to do? Have you ever made a hat?

A lot! When you have a character doing something in a book, you have to know how to do that thing. So I had to know every step of making a frame hat, especially a hat as stupendous as a Merry Widow. It wasn’t just about hat-making, though; it was about hat-making at the turn of the century. Luckily, I was able to get my hands on a few hat-making manuals written in the Teens and Twenties. I also have stacks of books that show photographs of vintage Edwardian hats. I love those hats. Every hat described in Lost is an actual hat in one of those books.

I’ve never made a frame hat before, but I’ve made many knitted hats. And I’ve done a lot of sewing and designing of clothes over the years. I like to work with fabric and yarn. I like the feel of those materials in my hands.

So, this is a blog tour for an award for Jewish books. One of the things I loved about it was that while Essie was Jewish and that was a big part of her, the story would have also worked if she had a different ethnic or religious background. Why did you make her a Jew?

You’re right. Essie could have been an Italian immigrant—most of the workers at the Triangle were either Eastern European Jews or Italians—and there was a time early on when I experimented with the idea of going that route. Both of my mother’s parents emigrated from Italy around 1915.

But the experience of Jewish immigrants at the turn of the century was different in many ways from that of Italian immigrants, both in terms of why they came to this country (religious persecution versus economic hardship) and why they stayed (or ended up going back as so many Italian immigrants did). In early drafts of the book, I was exploring the themes of opportunity and fate and luck, and I think at that stage my main character could have been of nearly any ethnic background. But as the book developed, the theme that emerged was one of loss, and that’s a theme that particularly resonates with Jewish history, culture, and ethos. As the book is now, I couldn’t imagine Essie being anything other than Jewish.

There's been a lot of talk lately in the blogosphere lately about diversity in books. On January 4th, Colleen from Chasing Ray dared us to name 10 books with Jewish characters that weren't about the Holocaust. It was pretty hard and over half my list were books written by Judy Blume 20 years ago. Why don't we see more non-Holocaust books about Jews?

I’m glad this discussion is underway. It gives all of us the chance to recall some of the great books with Jewish main characters that have come out in the last few years: The Other Half of Life by Kim Ablon Whitney (a WWII story, but not a Holocaust story), So Punk Rock by Micol Ostow, Naomi's Song by Selma Silverberg, The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah by Nora Raleigh Baskin, Letters from Rifka and Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse, and then the series of American Girl Rebecca books written by Jacqueline Denbar Greene.

When talking about diversity in books, we each—writers, publishers, reviewers, readers—bring something unique to the table. I can speak only as a writer, which means my view has both insights and limitations.

There are several possible reasons we don’t see more non-Holocaust books about Jews. It might be that writers aren’t writing that kind of book. It might be that writers are writing it, but publishers aren’t publishing it. It might be that writers are writing it, publishers are publishing it, and reviewers are ignoring it. Or it could be that writers are writing it, publishers are publishing it, reviewers are championing it, but readers aren’t buying it. And of course, if readers aren’t buying a particular kind of book that might lead to fewer writers writing such books, and it will certainly lead to fewer publishers publishing these books, because publishers respond to the marketplace. I remember when I showed an early draft of Lost to my editor, we talked about the similarities between the fire scene and accounts of the World Trade Center falling. My editor told me, “Teens don’t want to read about 9/11,” and that awareness of what teens want and don’t want was part of our discussion. So are we talking about a cycle here, and if so, who started the cycle turning: writers, publishers, reviewers, or readers?

As a writer, I don’t write books because of a personal or social agenda. Some writers do, but I don’t. I have a lot of causes I feel passionate about, but that’s not where my art comes from. I write because I have a story to tell, and out of that may come a call to action or the expression of a personal view I hold. But it’s never the reason for writing the book. I also don’t write books in response to the market. I don’t survey the market, identify a hole, and say, “I’m going to write a book to fill that hole.” Some writers do, but I don’t. I can’t write a good story if I’m following the dictates of an agenda or the marketplace. The only way I can write a good story is if I let the story itself guide me. So that’s how I do it.

It might be useful to flip the question around and ask, Why are there so many books about the Holocaust? From an author’s perspective, I can only say that writers look for conflict in telling a story, and it’s hard to imagine a more compelling, moving, heartbreaking, significant conflict than the Holocaust.

That said, I look forward to the day when the Jewish experience—along with the experiences of every ethnic and religious group — is portrayed in children’s and teen literature in a way that is full, well-rounded, and balanced. The responsibility for moving toward that goal belongs to all of us.

And now questions about you:

What is the worst job you ever had?

Oh, I’ve had some doozies. I think the winner, though, is the time I spent selling solar doors by phone. Can you believe such a job existed? I was in college at the time and needed a job that could work around my schedule. I would make cold calls—that’s right, dialing right out of the phone book—and try to get people to agree to have a sales rep visit their home. The vast majority of the people I called were elderly. Many of them were shut-ins, and they just wanted someone to talk to. Of course I listened! You could tell how lonely they were, and besides I like listening to the stories that people tell. So at the end of an hour, I would have completed two, maybe three, calls. But because I only got paid for sales calls that eventually led to sales, I never made a dime!

Where do you do most of your writing?

I write at home, in my office. A few times a year, I manage to sneak away from my family for a three- or four-day writing retreat, and those times are always particularly productive for me.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I take care of my three children. I read. I knit. I garden. I run three miles a day. I try to sleep! That pretty much takes care of the day.

What are you reading right now?

At the moment, I’m reading What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, which is a collection of New Yorker essays written by Malcolm Gladwell on every subject under the sun. I’ve also accepted the challenge of the students at Fox Hollow Elementary School in Port Richey, Florida, to read along with them every title on the Sunshine State Readers List, so I’m reading a lot of terrific middle-grade fiction, like: Igraine the Brave, Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It, and The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School. The kids are way ahead of me, though. I still have six more titles to read on the list, and the deadline is fast-approaching!

What are you watching these days?

You mean television? Uh, did you see my answer to the question what do you do when you’re not writing? Honestly, I don’t have time to watch television! Except for the occasional Celtics game, the TV in our house is pretty much a dead zone. I do watch movies, though. Mostly documentaries. I just watched “The Boys of Baraka,” and tonight my daughter and I are going to watch “Across the Universe” (her choice).

What are you listening to?

When I turn on the radio (in the car or when I’m cooking), I listen mostly to NPR. When I run, I listen to a weird mixture of singles that motivate me to keep going. My current running playlist includes Cold Play, the Beastie Boys, Joe Cocker, The Fray, The Chiffons, Sheryl Crow, and Jack Johnson, among others. My son Sam and I swap an iPod Nano back and forth for running and skiing, and so I sometimes listen to what he’s listening to: Jay-Z, Counting Crows, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Lady Gaga, Shwayze, the Doors. The kid’s got wide-ranging taste in music.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

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Monday, February 01, 2010

My Guardian Wrap Up Post

Oh, this is hard to admit, but I think I failed at my own challenge. Ah well.

I came really close and read a lot of books I wouldn't have otherwise read, so not all is lost. I'm excited to try again next month!

Here's what I did get done:

Comedy Books:
Bottle Factory Outing
Cold Comfort Farm
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Family and Self:
Ballet Shoes

The End of the Affair

Wintersmith (for Discworld)
The Golden Compass (for His Dark Materials)

I'm half way through Cranford, which is one of the books for State of the Nation. I didn't do anything for War and Travel, but I have a lot of Tintin checked out from the library.

Overall, 8.5 books. Not too shabby. Not like I was eligible for any of the prizes anyway!

End of the Affair

Last Sunday, I was reading in bed and Dan was whistling Forever Young. It was unbelievably annoying so I asked him to stop because I was trying to read. He's used to me being able to read through anything, so he looked over "Really? What are you read-- wait? GRAHAM GREENE? You're reading a book for adults?!"

I think his brain might have exploded this weekend when he caught me with some Elizabeth Gaskell.

The End of the Affair Graham Greene

On the surface, this is the story about what happens when our narrator, Maurice Bendrix runs into Henry Miles one night. Bendrix used to be having an affair with Henry's wife, Sarah, but she left him eighteen months ago. Bendrix hasn't gotten over it. Having the Mileses appear back in his life reopens the wounds that Sarah left. Bendrix wants to hurt her like she hurt him--he wants his revenge. As the story progresses, we get bits and pieces of their original relationship, how it began and the day it ended...

In the beginning, Bendrix claims that this is a record of hate far more than of love, for he hates Sarah now and wants to destroy her. Of course, despite Bendrix's protestations of hate, as the story goes on we see how his hate is a mask for his pain, he doesn't really hate at all. As Sarah says, ...Maurice who thinks he hates, and loves, loves all the time. Even his enemies.

It's a story of acceptance of loss, of London during the war (such minor details, such as standing on the sidewalk, the glass of blown-out and shattered windows under their feet). And it's a book about spiritual growth. Sarah left Bendrix for God. At the beginning, none of the characters believed, but in examining what happened and what happened after, Sarah becomes a Catholic believer and at the end, Bendrix and Henry aren't as sure in their atheism. For, in Bendrix's destroyed house, only the stained glass window survived, unmoving and unblemished by the bombs.

Perfectly crafted, Greene explores these relationships between people and religion with a slight hand (the entire book is only 192 pages). The prose is quiet and understated, but there is so much depth. I can't wait to read more of his work.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Nonfiction Monday!

So, it looks like Amazon will "capitulate" to MacMillan, but their books aren't back on the site yet. (Some were back, and then taken off again... ergh.)

For today's nonfiction Monday, I'm highlighting a book that's currently unavailable. Yes, I realize the oddness of linking to Amazon for a book you can't get there anymore, but can get anywhere else. But, these books will come back, hopefully really soon. I'm mad at Amazon and rating both companies a "fail" but, I don't have the time to reevaluate my associates relationship and where to link to and all that right now. I need to madly finish reading and reviewing books for my Guardian Challenge.

Which Way to the Wild West?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You About Westward Expansion Steve Sheinkin

I read Sheinkin's King George: What Was His Problem?: The Whole Hilarious Story of the Revolution when it was shortlist for the Cybils last year. His latest effort, about westward expansion, was nominated this year. This is the story of westward expansion of the west--the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Short sections, cartoon illustrations, and the most excellent back matter makes this a solid book with excellent kid appeal. I especially like how he breaks his bibliography into type of source and subject.

One note is that everyone is portrayed as a cartoon characature type of illustration. This is true in his other books as well. It's an illustration style that really works but... even though they fit with the style of the series and style of every other person depicted, cartoon characatures of Native Americans and Chinese immigrants made me cringe, because of our past with such images. Especially because they're wearing stereotypical dress, which is historically accurate, but... something about it twisted in my gut. Maybe I'm being too sensitive or careful, but...

It's still a great and enjoyable book that I think kids will really like.

Roundup is over at Wild About Nature, where they're celebrating their first birthday with prizes!

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

China Challenge: February Reviews

Leave your China book review links below! Don't forget that the Spring Festival (aka Chinese New Year) is on February 14th.

Guardian Challenge Finish Line

Well, it's February 1st, and then end of the Guardian Challenge (you have until midnight your time) so, leave your link to your wrap-up post below! If you've already given your wrap-up post because you finished early, don't worry about it, but feel free to add it again.

There will be prizes drawn for those who finished!

Also, I had a lot of fun with this challenge and WILL be doing it again, but it won't start up again until March. There will be a few changes, but stay tuned! I hope you'll join me for Guardian 2.0.

Year of the Historical/ Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour

The Sydney Taylor Book Award is awarded by the American Association of Jewish Libraries. From their official site:

The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. Presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) since 1968, the Award encourages the publication and widespread use of quality Judaic literature. Gold medals are presented in three categories: Younger Readers, Older Readers, and Teen Readers. Honor Books are awarded silver medals, and Notable Books are named in each category.

Lost Jacqueline Davies

This is one of this year's honor books for teen readers.

This is two stories in one. There is the storyline of the past, outlining the birth of Essie's little sister Zelda and how Essie became Zelda's main caregiver. Essie would do anything for Zelda and this storyline progresses quickly as Zelda grows until it meets the present. The other storyline is what is happening now. It's quickly apparent that when it comes to Zelda, Essie is not the most reliable narrator. Essie's working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory where she meets the new girl, Harriet. Everything about Harriet is wrong. She's too fancy and obviously lost. She doesn't belong, but she intrigues Essie and they become friends.

There are those of us who see "Triangle Shirtwaist Factory" and know how this story will end. But while it gives us a horrific climax, the fire is not the focus of the story. Essie and Harriet have both lost something and are, in their own ways, lost. The layers in this story and the types of loss that are explored and ignored make this novel unbelievably haunting.

My favorite part of the book was Essie's voice. It is one of the most distinctive and memorable voices I've read and brings us right into the early twentieth century immigrant communities on the Lower East Side:

Mama is on the bed grunting like a pig, and Ida Pelz from next door is telling her to push. This is the fifth time Mrs. Pelz has helped Mama get a baby out. The first two times brought me, then Saulie. The last two times brought nothing but grief.

Saulie is in school, unless he's hooking, like he does most days. I should be in school, too, but clever me, I told Mama that my ear ached, and so she let me stay home.

And don't you see how God works in this world? Such a little lie it was, but this, this is my punishment. Standing in this dark hole of a room while Mama's insides spill onto the bed. I'm just ten years old, I shouldn't see any of this, but there is no one else to help. And Mrs. Pelz, she needs the hands.
(page 1)

She draws you in and keeps you as the storylines flip back and forth. I also really liked the design of the book. The storyline in the past is printed on a grayscale picture of a cracked wall (the same wall on the cover, but without the hats.)

That's not the greatest of photos. Not only is the text flipped, but the real pages are grayer. However, you can see the plaster missing from the wall at the bottom and top of the page. It's a really nice touch to the book and really helps in providing a big clue that this storyline is a different time than the other one.

Overall, I loved this book. AND! Stay tuned because tomorrow (Tuesday) I'll be interviewing Jacqueline Davies. Here's the schedule for the entire blog tour of Sydney Taylor award winners:


April Halprin Wayland, author of New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Categoryat Practically Paradise

Stephane Jorisch, illustrator of New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Frume Sarah's World

Margarita Engle, author of Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category at bookstogether


Robin Friedman, author of The Importance of Wings Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category at Little Willow's Bildungsroman

Jacqueline Davies, author of Lost Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category at Biblio File (HEY! THAT'S HERE!)

Jonah Winter, author of You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Get in the Game: Read! and cross-posted at


Elka Weber, author of The Yankee at the Seder Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at BewilderBlog

Adam Gustavson, illustrator of The Yankee at the Seder Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Great Kids Books

Judy Vida, daughter of the late Selma Kritzer Silverberg, author of Naomi's Song Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category at The Book Nosher


Jacqueline Jules, author of Benjamin and the Silver Goblet Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at ASHarmony

Natascia Ugliano, illustrator of Benjamin and the Silver Goblet Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at The Book of Life

Deborah Bodin Cohen, author of Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Ima On and Off the Bima

Jago, illustrator of Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Jewish Books for Children


Annika Thor, author of A Faraway Island Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category at Teen Reads

Ellen Frankel, author of The JPS Illustrated Bible for Children Sydney Taylor Notable Book for All Ages at Deo Writer

Book Provided by... my wallet

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.