Wolf Hollow review

Wolf HollowWolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Cross The Bad Seed with To Kill A Mockingbird and add a dash of Night of the Hunter, King Lear (“I would fain learn to lie,” says the Fool), and Rebecca (the first line of this book is just as haunting as “Last night I dreamt of Manderly again”), and the result will most likely be this taut, beautiful terror of a book. I finished it all in one night because I couldn’t stop reading.

This is definitely getting book-talked in the fall of 2016. The students are going to be clamoring for this one.


Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

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Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis

Publisher’s information:

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis
In 1892, America was obsessed with a teenage murderess, but it wasn’t her crime that shocked the nation – it was her motivation. Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell planned to pass as a man and marry seventeen-year-old Freda Ward, but when their love letters were discovered, they were forbidden to ever speak again. Desperate and isolated, Alice pilfered her father’s razor, and on a cold winter’s day, she slashed her ex-fiancée’s throat. Now more than 120 years later, their tragic but true story is being told. Alice + Freda Forever, by historian Alexis Coe and with illustrations by Sally Klann, is embellished with letters, maps, historical documents, and more. (Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe / Published by Zest Books and distributed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / ISBN-13: 978-1-936976-60-7 / $16.99 Hardcover; 224 pages, Ages 16+)

Alice+FredaForever_9781936976607I have to say I love this book. Like many I go through reading phases, including but not limited to: YA Fantasy and Sci-fi, YA Romance, Adult Fantasy and Sci-fi, Comfort Rereads, Biographies, Radiolab-esque nonfiction, and the genre that Alice + Freda Forever falls under, True Crime. One of my favorite true crime stories is that of Juliette Hulme and Pauline Parker, which, while a different story, does contain a couple of similar elements (which is something I asked Alexis about in my interview with her, which you can read here), so when the chance to read Alice + Freda Forever came up, I quickly took it.

In my work as a youth librarian who works closely with educators, I often think about how the books I read could be used by teachers, and I can see a lot of ways that Alice + Freda Forever could be used in high school classrooms and even in college classrooms, in addition to just being a great, high-interest read. Pair it with Orlando and discuss gender identity, or with In Cold Blood to compare and contrast murder narratives. Assign it in a course about civil rights along with reading the works of Ida B. Wells. Include it in a reading list about obscure and outdated diseases. The possibilities are endless and that is, for me, a mark of quality nonfiction.

Although this book is definitely aimed at an older audience, with upper high school at the low end, I am really, really happy to see the copious amount of research that was done, and the list of sources that were referenced. Nonfiction for youth, despite being an in demand property, is, in my opinion, often lacking in references and source material, and the authority of the author is often questionable (have you noticed how many former lawyers write children’s nonfiction these days?). This is not the case with Alexis Coe, I am glad to say.

I also thought the design of this book was beautiful, and spot on for its audience. I can see teens who enjoy graphic memoirs easily embracing this beautifully illustrated title, and reluctant readers being pulled in by the striking red cover.

AliceFreda_parting
Alice and Freda parting.

One final note about this book and its imprint, Pulp. Ever since the term “new adult” appeared on the scene, I’ve scorned it. It seemed silly, redundant, and none of the books bearing that stamp seemed at all fresh or interesting to me. But then Pulp gave me a definition of new adult that I could accept and even support:

At Zest Books, we’ve been publishing nonfiction books for teens and young adults since 2006, but we’re growing up a little bit in 2014: Today we’re proud to announce our launch of Pulp, an imprint for “new adults.” Like our previous Zest titles, the books in the Pulp imprint will include contemporary and narrative nonfiction books, specializing in memoirs, graphic novels, and art and humor books, but for a slightly older audience. […] We’re looking forward to taking even more risks with these books, especially in terms of how we cover our topics. Many of our Zest authors were coming to us because, as readers, they appreciated our honesty and curiosity, but that sensibility is something that has value for adults as well. In fact, that sensibility is already being reflected at sites like Rookie and The Toast, where some of our current authors now publish. Additionally, the issues that we’re now covering for teens—such as sexuality, health, behavior, and relationships—shift significantly as young adults mature, and the Pulp line allows us to expand both what we can cover and how we can cover it. Some of our Pulp books will have immediate appeal to teens in the same way that our Zest Books titles often sell into the adult market. We embrace that fluidity, while at the same time recognizing a need to let booksellers and librarians know how our respective books are intended. (Emphasis added. Via Zest’s website).

Anyway, this book is a great read and belongs in most public and academic library collections, and could certainly see some applications in upper high school courses. Highly recommended.

Daisy to the Rescue: Book Review

Daisy to the RescueTrue Stories of Daring Dogs, Paramedic Parrots, and Other Animal Heroes

By Jeff Campbell and illustrated by Ramsey Beyer, with a foreword by Dr. Mark Bekoff / Published by Zest Books and distributed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / ISBN-13: 978-1-936976-62-1 / $17.99 Hardcover, 320 pages, Ages 12+)

Daisy to the rescue

As a single woman with two cats, I’m always interested in a good “animal saves human” story, especially ones involving animals other than dogs. Cats are more known for their propensity to eat your corpse if you die at home alone (although I recently learned that cats will mostly eat only your face, so as a “green burial” strategy, corpse removal via cat is not your best option) so I’m always on the lookout for a cat hero story to make myself feel better about the beasts who occupy my home.

Campbell’s book meets this need of mine and then some. Not only do cats save lives in this book, so do parrots, potbellied pigs, ponies, and kangaroos. I was personally greatly comforted by the tale of Inky, who saved his owner from being crushed by a fallen door. I hope my cats show the same heroic spirit should I ever become trapped under my refrigerator. Not that I think about that. No.Inky Card front

Campbell divides his tales into four parts to cover a variety of animal stories, including my favorite part, Legends and Folktales. This section includes a story of feral girls in India who may or may not have been raised by wolves, and whether or not a priest was trying to spin their story into an elaborate hoax.

The tale that sticks with me most, though, is the story of Kabang, the Filipino street dog. In the Philippines, street dogs (referred to as aspin) are often raised for meat rather than kept as pets, and live short, brutal lives before being slaughtered. Before this could happen to Kabang, however, she saved the lives of two young girls in the family who had been destined to kill her for food.

Kabang jumped at a motorcyle that was bearing down on eleven year old Dina and three year old princess, knocking the bike over in time to save the girls. In the process, Kabang had her lower jaw torn from her face. The family, despite her ugliness, regarded her as a hero, and treasured her as a member of the family for the rest of their lives.

This is being listed as 12+, and I can definitely see it having wide appeal for advanced elementary school readers through high school students. The stories are short and vividly told, and could even be used as read alouds for a class. I also love that the design of the book will appeal to younger readers without being overly childlike—no older kid will be embarrassed to be seen reading this book, yet the beautiful illustrations will still draw in younger readers.

Share with readers who enjoyed Nubs : The True Story Of A Mutt, A Marine & A Miracle, Alex & Me : How A Scientist And A Parrot Discovered A Hidden World Of Animal Intelligence–and Formed A Deep Bond In The Process, fans of Jon Katz’s books, or people who have read the entire James Herriott canon and are hungry for more animal tales.

This post is part of Zest books True Stories blog tour. I have to say that Zest is now one of my favorite publishers, and I am loving the titles that they are putting out. I’ll be writing about another one of their newest titles on Monday!ZestBooksTrueStories2014

Uncommonly Good Books (and more!) for Common Core Instruction

uncommonbooks (pdf of slide show)coreNovember 1st, ISLMA Conference 2013, Springfield, IL

Hi ISLMA friends! I’ll be updating this post during the upcoming week, adding annotations and the new resources I added for the second chance presentation. Thanks so much for coming, and if there’s anything you’d like to add please leave a comment!

Here is my list of resources from my presentation for ISLMA. Annotations in quotes taken directly from the website of the resource.

This post is updated as of 11/8/2013. It will be a living document and be revised as further resources are found.

ALA

The ALA award and booklists are a natural place to start. Here’s a handy run down of all the lists and awards.

YALSA

http://www.ala.org/yalsa/great-graphic-novels
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/outstanding-books-college-bound
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/popular-paperbacks-young-adults
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/quick-picks-reluctant-young-adult-readers
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/readers-choice
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/fabulous-films
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/best-fiction-young-adults
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/amazing-audiobooks

ALSC

http://www.ala.org/alsc/booklists
http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia
http://mrschureads.blogspot.com/ (Newbery and Caldecott Challenges)

Other Book Awards

Cybils
http://www.cybils.com/
The Cybils are given out by book bloggers, whose ranks include teachers, librarians, authors, and voracious readers. Awards are given in many categories, including book apps, speculative fiction, beginning chapter books, poetry, and nonfiction. “The Cybils awards are given each year by bloggers for the year’s best children’s and young adult titles.”

Eisner Awards
http://www.comic-con.org/awards/eisners-current-info
The Eisner awards are considered the “oscars” of comic books.

Science Fiction Awards

I’m a big proponent of using science fiction and fantasy as a way to ease into having kids read books with more “text complexity.” The world building, vocabulary, and themes inherent in most speculative fiction make an easy argument for complexity. Plus, the genres can have a lot of reader appeal (seeing as the dystopian and paranormal subgenres are part of speculative fiction).

The Hugo Awards
http://www.thehugoawards.org
The Hugo Awards are a set of awards given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year.

Mythopoeic Society
http://www.mythsoc.org
The Mythopoeic Society is a national/international organization promoting the study, discussion, and enjoyment of fantastic and mythopoeic literature through books and periodicals, annual conferences, discussion groups, awards, and more.”

The Nebula Awards
http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/
The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy is an annual award presented by theScience Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) to the author of the best young adult or middle grade science fiction or fantasy book published in the United States in the preceding year.”

Multicultural Awards

You can’t deny that we live in a global society, and kids need books that act as windows into this wider world. Being aware of what other countries consider to be excellent examples of children’s literature is one way to do this; seeking out awards for specific cultures is another.

Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals
http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/home/
“The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are the UK’s oldest and most prestigious children’s book awards. Often described by authors and illustrators as ‘the one they want to win’ – they are the gold standard in children’s literature.” Essentially Britain’s Caldecott and Newbery.

International Board on Books for Young People
Hans Christian Andersen Awards
http://www.ibby.org/index.php?id=273
Every other year IBBY presents the Hans Christian Andersen Awards to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature.”
IBBY Honor list
http://www.ibby.org/index.php?id=270

TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award
http://www.bookcentre.ca/awards/td_canadian_childrens_literature_award
“On October 28, 2004 the Canadian Children’s Book Centre and the TD Bank Group announced the establishment of a brand-new annual, children’s book award, the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award for the most distinguished book of the year. “Distinguished” is defined as marked by conspicuous excellence and/or eminence, individually distinct and noted for significant achievement with excellence in quality.”

Tomás Rivera Book Award
http://riverabookaward.org/book-award-winners/
http://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/tomas-rivera-award
“Texas State University College of Education developed the Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award to honor authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican American experience.  The award was established in 1995 and was named in honor of Dr. Tomas Rivera, a distinguished alumnus of Texas State University.”

Bibliographies and Databases

The Center for Children’s Books
http://ccb.lis.illinois.edu
The Center for Children’s Books (CCB) at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) is a crossroads for critical inquiry, professional training, and educational outreach related to youth-focused resources, literature and librarianship. The Center’s mission is to facilitate the creation and dissemination of exemplary and progressive research and scholarship related to all aspects of children’s and young adult literature; media and resources for young (age 0-18) audiences; and youth services librarianship.”

Cooperative Children’s Book Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison
http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/default.asp
Cooperative Children’s Book Center is a unique and vital gathering place for books, ideas, and expertise in the field of children’s and young adult literature.”

Picture Book Month
http://picturebookmonth.com
http://picturebookmonth.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Picture-Book-MonthTeachers-Guide.pdf
Picture Book Month is an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November.

Picture Book Database
http://www.picturebookdatabase.com
Anyone who loves picture books … authors, illustrators, public librarians, media specialists, educators, researchers, students, and parents. The database eliminates the need to consult multiple resources and helps readers find picture books that best suit their needs.”

Reading Rockets
http://www.readingrockets.org
“Reading Rockets is a national multimedia literacy initiative offering information and resources on how young kids learn to read, why so many struggle, and how caring adults can help.”

Text Types

One of the elements of the Common Core State Standards is the different text types children will be required to read, including fairy tales and folk tales, myths, drama, poetry, and technical writing. These are some of my favorite sources for a wide variety of text types that have kid appeal.

Best American Series
http://www.hmhbooks.com/hmh/site/bas
The Best American Series is an annually-published collection of books, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, each of which features a different genre or theme. Each book selects from works published in North America during the previous year, selected by a guest editor who is an established writer within the given field.”

Sur La Lune Fairytales
http://www.surlalunefairytales.com
SurLaLune Fairy Tales features 49 annotated fairy tales, including their histories, similar tales across cultures, modern interpretations and over 1,500 illustrations. Also discover over 1,600 folktales & fairy tales from around the world in more than 40 full-text eBooks. Read the SurLaLune Blog where daily postings discuss fairy tales in popular culture and academia and more.”

Bloggers

Bookshelves of Doom
http://bookshelvesofdoom.blogs.com
Leila reviews a lot of speculative fiction, and also reviews for Kirkus.

Shakespeare Teacher
http://www.shakespeareteacher.com/blog/
“This blog isn’t exclusively about Shakespeare. Instead, it is approached with the philosophy that a love of Shakespeare is only the beginning of a life of examination and discovery. This is a blog that documents that journey, and tries to have some fun along the way. The title, I think, has more to do with the author than with the intended audience at the moment.

I am involved with a variety of professional activities in the broad field of teacher education. I only occasionally teach Shakespeare, but that’s where my background and passions lie, and the name Shakespeare Teacher makes sense to those who know me.”

Stacked Books
http://www.stackedbooks.org
One of the most comprehensive book review sites for YA literature. Great booklists, great information about the publishing industry, and thorough reviews– great to turn to when you need the full scoop but don’t have time to read the entire book yourself.

Audio & Visual Resources

Lit2Go
http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/
Lit2Go is a free online collection of stories and poems in Mp3 (audiobook) format. An abstract, citation, playing time, and word count are given for each of the passages. Many of the passages also have a related reading strategy identified. Each reading passage can also be downloaded as a PDF and printed for use as a read-along or as supplemental reading material for your classroom.”

L.A. Theatre Works
http://www.latw.org/
L.A. Theatre Works is a non-profit media arts organization based in Los Angeles whose mission for over 25 years has been to present, preserve and disseminate classic and contemporary plays.

Our unique hybrid form of audio theatre and innovative use of technology in the production and dissemination of theatre keeps this venerable art form thriving, assuring wide and affordable access.”

National Theater Live
http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/
“National Theatre Live is the National Theatre’s groundbreaking project to broadcast the best of British theatre live from the London stage to cinemas across the UK and around the world.”

Digital Theater
http://www.digitaltheatre.com/
“Digital Theatre works in partnership with Britain’s leading theatre companies to capture live performance authentically onscreen. With our unique methods we bring online a library of diverse and acclaimed productions from some of the finest theatre talent around. Each production is available to rent online for a limited period or downloaded to your desktop and enjoyed as many times as you wish.”

Review: The Lions of Little Rock

The Lions of Little Rock
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t cry at books. It’s happened only a couple of times. I’m much more likely to cry at television or movies, mostly because of the added manipulation of the music and cinematography. For a book to elicit such a reaction, it has to be darn powerful.

From the goodreads summary:

“Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn’t have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear – speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family.

But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn’t matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.”

This is a book, above all, about ethical courage, a topic that is near and dear to my heart. It is a book about speaking up for what you believe in and what is right. It is a book about taking risks, being true to one’s self, and finding one’s place in the world.

I loved that the author, Kristin Levine, was brave enough to use accurate language in this historical novel. I’ve called out other authors for dropping the ball on this issue, and I appreciate that Kristin used the accurate terms and epithets, not because I like those terms, but because using them is important to the story, and the cumulative effect of those terms and this narrative is what, ultimately, had me crying at various points in the story.

This story isn’t only important when studying history, but in this time of “binders full of women”, it also serves as a springboard to talk about who is qualified or entitled to do what, and why. Marlee is a whiz at math, and wants to grow up to build rockets (which reminded me of the most excellent play Flyer by Kate Aspengren, read it), but will she get the chance since she is a girl?

As an accessible description of an important historical period, a beautifully rendered tale of friendship, and an issues novel that provokes discussion, this book succeeds on all counts, and is highly recommended.

Boundtrack suggestions: Fables of Faubus by Mingus, That’ll be the Day by Buddy Holly.

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Review: It’s a Tiger!

It's a Tiger!
It’s a Tiger! by David LaRochelle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fans of Grumpy Bird will love the Tankard illustrations in this new picture book, which easily pairs with classics such as Head to Toe, I Went Walking, Brown Bear Brown Bear, Going on a Bear Hunt, or Walking in the Jungle.

The bold illustrations and clear, dynamic text make this book perfect for storytime. Toddlers and preschoolers alike can RUN from the tiger, climb the ladder to make an escape, tip-toe past snakes, and jump into a flower bed (that is hiding tiger that they must run from).

This book is a perfect fit for my Mini Movers storytime, so if you do a similar program, be sure to add this title into the mix!

It’s a Tiger! will be released July 18th. Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.

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top 11 posts of 2011

When I first started this blog, I had no grand aspirations. I am passionate about the library field, child development, and children’s literature, and I wanted to have a place to express my thoughts, and I hoped that I would garner at least a dedicated, engaged readership. Fairly early on, I experienced the Elizabeth Bird bump, and for that I’ve always been grateful. I appreciate my twitter friends for all their conversation and ideas, and frankly, without them I probably wouldn’t be writing much at all.

Looking at my top posts, I realize that people love it when I write about things that a lot of librarians are probably thinking but are too scared to talk about, and my programs for children. I’m going to make an effort to write more about these topics in 2012, and also write more from the gut and the heart, no matter what the topic (my angsty review of Ingenue being an example of this new goal).

Thank you to all my readers for commenting, emailing my posts to your colleagues, and generally being awesome. Let’s do more of this in 2012.

top posts (excluding static pages):

11. Meow Mix. I think this is solely because of the cat picture, although I think my cat who doesn’t know how to meow storytime through line is pretty awesome.

10. Make it Happen: Teen Space. Pretty much an airing of grievances post that also allowed me to congratulate and laud a fellow librarian. Now complete with a comment I didn’t initially approve because it’s super negative, but hey, whatevs. Different strokes for different folks.

9. New Storytime Favorites. Why is this so popular? I dunno. Probably because I mention cats and I’m a librarian. The cat/librarian diagram is so venn it’s almost just a circle.

8. Tales of the Madman Underground: A Love Letter. This was a very personal post and book review, and I almost didn’t publish it. But this book is amazing and I think that librarians—much like teachers—need to fight for the right to be real, flawed, human people with pasts and problems like any other people. Just because we work with children doesn’t mean we’re all Mary Poppins, and we shouldn’t be punished for being real people. But seriously, read that book.

7. The Ethical Librarian. This one is me totally ranting and raving on my high horse while my horse is standing on a soapbox. You might as well call me the Bughouse Square librarian. I took an information ethics class in library school, one of the few actually challenging courses I took, and it ruined me forever. You’re welcome.

6. #makeitbetter. I just hate bad librarians. Sorry if you’re one of them.

5. You might not being doing it wrong, but you could certainly do it better. Ah, my screed against library schools. I might not get so worked up if I weren’t $50,000 in debt, but that ship’s sailed, huh? Good times. And by good times I mean kill me.

4. Librarian, Weed Thyself! Wherein I apply the CREW and MUSTIE methods to people. I am a monster. A pudgy, cuddly, hyberpolic monster.

3. Beginning Reader Storytime. A warm and fuzzy post about how I revamped my library’s preschool storytime. How…charming.

2. How to Become the Best, Most Versatile Baby & Toddler Programmer Ever. Babies and toddlers are tricky audiences.

And, unsurprisingly, the number one post of 2011 is…

1.  Summer Reading, Pain in my a**. So many people enjoyed my rants about the sacred cow of summer reading, which really pleased me. I love when people reassess long running programs with a fresh eye. Can’t wait to see what people do with their 2012 summer reading programs.

Happy new year, everyone!

Love,

Miss Julie

books to give, books to get

Books to Give

If you need ideas for holiday gift giving this year, and want to give a book, I highly recommend going over to Mother Reader’s site and utilizing her “Ways to Give a Book” series. Quality stuff, and if you have to participate in the craziness of STUFF exchange, you might as well give a book. Since I never have any extra money, I hardly ever am able to give gifts, but even I will break down and buy a beloved classic at the thrift store to share with my nephew or other children I am lucky enough to know.

Books to Get

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

I hate snow. A fresh white blanket of it only reminds me of The Stuff, and if I have to drive in it–ugh. So much unhappiness.

Yet this book, with a layer of fresh snow at its heart, has managed to win me over. The quiet, simple, understated prose is perfectly suited to the topic of what happens over and under a layer of new fallen snow, and the bold lines and clean images of the art are a perfect complement. This book is an ideal one on one bedtime readaloud during the season, and it would work equally well being read aloud in a science classroom during a discussion of seasonal changes or hibernation. Bringing quality literature into all curricular areas–not just during language arts–is critical if we want to keep kids reading and excited about reading.

This book also presents a conundrum–Baker and Taylor suggests a nonfiction number for it, which I suppose makes some sense, especially with the rich author’s note and further reading suggestions, but I also think it would be better served in a public library being shelved with the picture books. What do you think? Where would you put this book?

The Conductor by Laetita Devernay

Somewhere in my childhood I must have had a book that was tall and skinny like this one, because the shape seems so familiar, but I can’t quite place it in my memory. The story–a wordless one, of a conductor conducting a symphony of nature, transforming leaves into birds and back again–also seems familiar, but I can’t tell you why.

The lines and limited color palette certainly bring to mind Caps for Sale and Edward Gorey, and the environmental slant reminds one of The Lorax, but I think this book reminds me of so many other things because it is just a good book–it knows what its saying, but it is also loose enough to allow for many different experiences while reading it. I think it would be amazing fun to play different pieces of instrumental music while viewing this book, and see how the music changes the way the swooping leaves and birds appear to you.

Both books are review copies kindly provided by the publisher.

 

 

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

In 2012, A Wrinkle in Time will be fifty years old, and I’ll be one of many people celebrating this marvelous, mind-bending, heart opening piece of children’s literature.

It’s been a dark and stormy week here in a Chicago, which makes it a perfect time to reminisce about this, one of my favorite books of all time.

It was 1988. I was in the fourth grade, I had English class with Mrs. Sandoval. I loved her name–it was pronounced “Sanduhvall” (rhymed with fall)–but when I saw it, I always imagined an oval shaped sand box. I loved her eloquent speeches, her expressive reading voice, her slightly bohemian clothing, and her ginger hair. I loved her classroom, full of books and rich with new ideas and words. One of her rules was to “finish assignments within the allotted time.” I had no idea what “allotted” meant or that it was an actual word, and I, in my over-read fourth grade know-it-all-ness, asked her, “Are you sure you don’t mean ‘allowed’?” She kindly said no, allotted is the word she meant to use, and she gave me the dictionary so I could look it up–and so began my love of dictionaries.

We read so many good books in that class, including A Cricket in Times Square and Charlotte’s Web. Half-way through the year our class reading assignment was A Wrinkle in Time. The edition we read had this amazing, wackadoodle, good show sir worthy cover:Isn’t that insane? It completely blew my nine year old mind. The wings for arms, the creepy red-eyed disapproving turtle face, the mountains…several kids in my class mumbled and groaned their displeasure when they saw the book (actually, they hated every book, and I hated them with equal fervor), but I could hardly wait to start reading.

And that opening line! Who else could get away with using that line outside of the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest? Madeline, that’s who.

Here’s a synopsis from the publisher’s page, and the synopsis I remember from my youth, for you sad, sad people who haven’t read this book yet:

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.

I immediately loved and identified with Meg Murray. Like Meg, I was an ugly duckling who had to protect herself and a younger brother from the cruelty of other children. I admired Meg’s hot-headedness and her willingness to stand up for herself and her beliefs. When I was faced with bullies, I tended to hang my head and wish for them to go away. I wished I had Meg’s foolhardy bravery and determination (I developed it as an adult, much to the chagrin of some of my friends, family and colleagues) instead of my low self-esteem and self-hatred.

I loved other characters, too: Charles Wallace, Mrs. Murray, the Ws, and I loved loved LOVED Calvin O’Keefe. What dorky, awkward girl didn’t love charming, awkward Calvin? He’s like the proto-Rory* (maybe that’s why I love Rory so much…) I loved to hate IT and its creepy, pulsing brain-ness, and the man with red eyes. I loved how Mr. Murray was real and flawed and yet Meg still loved him. (I myself had a real and flawed father who was proving to be less and less loveable every day, but that’s another story for another time).

I wanted to live in that rambling old farmhouse and eat tomato sandwiches and have an attic bedroom and a dog named Fortinbras. I was fascinated by how they made hot cocoa with milk, since I was used to powdered hot chocolate made with boiling water, usually in the microwave. I was as amazed at the mundane day to day details as I was at the time and space traveling aspects. This book was everything I needed and wanted.

I loved this book so much that not even hearing my fellow students reading aloud in their plodding monotones could hurt the story. While they stumbled along I was reading ahead, silently, desperately wishing to reach the end while simultaneously wanting the book to go on forever.

I cried when Meg saved her brother by loving him. I had never felt love like that from anyone, and I didn’t think I ever would. I couldn’t think of anyone in my life who would risk so much to save me, and I felt miserable, yet strangely elated—if brassy, bitchy, mousy, insecure Meg could find love, didn’t that mean that someday I could, too? I wished, that when I was cold and alone and scared, that I could crawl into the warm, loving arms of an Aunt Beast.

When I re-read this book, I experience my own wrinkle in time. I am simultaneously an adult, identifying a bit more with the adult characters in the novel, finding myself somewhat exasperated with Meg’s behavior, and a child, thrilling to the romance, danger, and overwhelming love of the novel the same as I did the first time I read it.

Someone recently told me that they’ve never read Wrinkle, yet they really enjoyed When You Reach Me. I said, I’m glad you enjoyed the book, but you only had half the experience.

You should fix that. Right now.

Especially if it’s a dark and stormy night as you read this.

Book Review: Ultraviolet

Ultraviolet, by R.J. Anderson.

Once upon a time there was a girl who was special.
This is not her story.
Unless you count the part where I killed her.

Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison’s condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can’t explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori — the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that’s impossible. Right?

Read this book immediately if:

  • You like unreliable narrators, like Liar by Justine Larbalestier
  • You loved Girl, Interrupted, either the movie or the book.
  • You loved One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, either the movie or the book.
  • You loved the book A Wrinkle in Time
  • You like tall, gangly, awkward boys/young men. Faraday, a young scientist who begins working with Alison, the main character, is like Calvin O’Keefe to the nth degree: super smart, super sensitive, and super sexy. Also, he has (at least when Alison looks into them) violet eyes.
  • You were ever jealous of that perfect girl in your class that always got everything you ever wanted
  • You’re interested in rare diseases. Alison, the main character, has (among other issues) a condition known as synesthesia, which is a disorder which can cause a person to strongly associate numbers with colors, or perceive sounds as having colors (hence Faraday’s violet eyes).
  • You loved Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlen.
  • You love a wrenchingly romantic final line (which I will not give away here, but damn, that was a good ending).

I was sent a complimentary copy of this book from the great folks at Lerner Books/Carolrhoda lab in return for identifying a reference to a review of Lolita and I am so glad they sent it to me; it’s totally one of my favorite books of the summer.