Archive for the ‘contemporary fiction’ Category

No, I’m not dead. I’ve been out of town for the past month. Why? The husband has been interviewing for a medical residency. (You know, like on Scrubs.) But enough of the lame excuses. Tonight is the night!

THE night!

The kidlit versions of the Oscars, only nobody gets bags of swag (that I know of)!

Somewhere in Philly, a group of librarians and other kidlit enthusiasts are locked in (hopefully) heavy, thoughtful debate over who should receive the ALA Youth Media Awards — big time, shiny-sticker book awards that can seriously make a writer’s career. I imagine that everyone who published even a halfway decent book in ’07 should be biting their nails off in excitement right now.

(Unless, of course, the novel contains happily living parents, is on the wrong end of a fantasy trilogy, or has an author whose last name is Selznick. More’s the pity.)

So, let’s get off to a start with a couple of Newbery ‘n’ Caldecott videos!

I didn’t think that The Tale of Despereaux could get any cuter . . . until I saw this little girl talking about it. Really, this is what it’s all about:

On the flip side of that, here’s what happens when we have the inevitable school assignment, “Let’s Do Book Reports on Newbery Winners and Newbery Winners Only!” I’ve no idea what Nancy Farmer would think of this, but I find it strangely mesmerizing:

As for Caldecott books . . . I’d say that 99.9% of online videos concerning Caldecott winners are of adults reading the books to off-camera kids. But the following is a interesting lil’ TV documentary about Snowflake Bentley. Yeah, the book isn’t mentioned at all, but for those of you who appreciated Mary Azarian and Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s book, this is pretty fascinating:

Lastly, the required off-topic goody, which I’m not able to post directly to here. But — it’s rather awesome. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the MUPPET CLOSET!

(With thanks to Kristen.)

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This is what came in for me at the library today.


Help me out, folks — which one do I read first?

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itskindofafunnystory.jpgHey, Ned Vizzini dropped by my library last night!  For an author visit!  And he has one of the best ways of presenting his novels of any YA author I’ve seen!

To wit: he holds one in each hand, then shoves them in front of the audience like a pair of pistols.  “Here are my books — BAM, son!”  Apparently, this is the way to go when spending time talking to inner-city high school groups.  It makes me want to create some sort of book-bandolier.

Anyway, Vizzini spoke before a very intimate group of teens and librarians and gave us the basic run-down on life, writing, et al.  For those of you who aren’t hip with Vizzini’s novels, go here.  As for the author talk, here’s the rundown:

  • How autobiographical is It’s Kind of a Funny Story?  Very — Vizzini suffered severe depression when faced with the pressure of writing his second novel.  Hospitalization for mental health is what he called our society’s “last taboo.”  But is it wrong to write about clinical depression with such humor?  Certainly not.  “We always gain power over things when we laugh at them.”
  • Regarding Teen Angst?  Naaah . . . “The world in which you can sell books of little vignettes doesn’t exist anymore because of blogs.”  Huh.  This made me feel guilty, even though I don’t write slice-‘o-life vignettes.
  • Will he write any more YA?  No — his current project is a novel for adults.  He feels it’s a “little disingenuous to write about high school when I’m so far removed from it.”  Huh.  He should talk to Aidan Chambers.
  • Where does he find the books he reads?  Book Mooch.  I had never heard of this, but now I see that it is awesome.  Go.  Go now.  New books for old!  Or rather, old books for old!  Sweet.
  • The last question of the session was from a teenage girl who asked what music Vizzini listens to.  The question seemed to exasperate him, since he doesn’t keep up with contemporary music, but he says that one band he likes to listen to is a punk group called Wanted Dead.  He says he bought their CD “from some guy wandering around the WARP Tour.”  After looking them up myself, I have concluded that Wanted Dead is a band begging — nay, destined — to have a kitch-cult following.

That’s all, folks!

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fallfestival3.jpgOnce a year, a conglomerate of children’s literacy-type people (librarians, teachers, museum workers, etc.) from the Pittsburgh area put together a lovely one-day conference featuring a bevy of children’s authors and illustrators. This year’s get-together featured Sharon Flake, Brian Pinkney, and Katherine Ayers. Not bad, eh? I took notes throughout the day’s lectures and workshops. Here are the highlights:

sflake.jpgSharon Flake

  • What a classy lady! I don’t know if I’ve seen another author who manages to radiate warmth and humility the way Ms. Flake does. Even though she’s been a big author in the kidlit world for quite a few years now, she kept saying over and over again in her lectures how amazed she is that she is successful at what she does. It’s a “dream come true,” she said, but not from the success so much as the many opportunities she has to talk, laugh and hug children wherever she goes. Lucky lady.
  • As a child, Flake didn’t particularly enjoy reading or writing — she was a “reluctant reader,” a category she hadn’t ever heard of until she became popular. How fitting it is that her books are frequently used to entice reluctant readers to the joys of the written word, eh?skinimin.jpg
  • Last little bit: although I came to truly love Flake by the end of the day, the writing exercise she gave in her writing workshop is one of the most bizarre I’ve ever heard of. She broke the class into groups, then had each group imagine and list what they would do for children if they had $90,000 to spend. Then each group had to write a rap song about their list, and sing it for the whole class. Yeah, it was fun, but . . . whoo.

katherineayers.jpgKatherine Ayers

  • Ah, our Pittsburgh native! (Yeah, yeah — Sharon Flake is a Pittsburgher, too, but she isn’t from here, she’s from Philly, a fact that we forgave her for some time ago.) Ayers is most beloved ’round these parts for her historical novel Macaroni Boy, which is set in the Strip District of Pittsburgh. (Ahem. The Strip is not the town red-light district. It’s a group of warehouses and international import shops that run in a strip along the Allegheny River.)
  • What’s interesting is that the idea for Macaroni Boy was suggested to Ayers by her editor after watching a Rick Sebak documentary about the Strip District. (Sebak has produced many documentaries about Pittsburgh, hot dog stands, farmer’s markets, and the like for PBS). Ayers later met up with Sebak at a party while in the middle of writing the novel, and he immediately let her know about the Strip District’s Great Banana Explosion of 1936.macaroniboy.jpg
  • You heard me. Banana Explosion. Yes, it really happened. It was caused by gas in the ripening room of a fruit warehouse. It blew out all of the windows of an entire city block? And who could pass that kind of a story up? Lo, and behold — it’s in Macaroni Boy! (Haven’t read the book? Go put it on your to-be-read list, ASAP. It’s fun.)

bpinkney.jpgBrian Pinkney

  • What’s it like growing up with Jerry Pinkney for a dad? Full of self-confidence, apparently. Brian says that he never had any doubts that he wouldn’t be a successful artist, since he saw his dad painting every day, and it looked easy. Huh.
  • Pinkney had the guts to show us his first self-portrait, made when he was thirteen. Here it is (although the picture I took of it is darn grainy):


  • Ain’t it just groovy? I don’t know what I like better, the rhinestones on the jeans, or the “slow motion” lines around the left hand.
  • Speaking of kung fu, Pinkney’s a pretty accomplished tae kwon do enthusiast. Ever read Jo Jo’s Flying Side Kick? Well, Pinkney does a pretty mean flying side kick, himself. He showed us a picture of it, and I wasn’t able to capture it, but dude. It was hot. Pinkney hasn’t made the pantheon of Hot Men of Children’s Literature, but he certainly, certainly should.jojosflying.jpg
  • Oh yeah, and there was something in his talk about illustration, the scratchboard process, and working with his wife, Andrea Davis Pinkney. But I can’t seem to remember what it was after the blinding coolness of the flying sidekick.

That’s all for tonight, folks!  Thanks for staying tuned!

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