Lincoln! (or, when pop culture aligns with your current obsession)

I am am so excited for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln which now has a release date of November 9.  The Chicago Tribune says this may be the year that the Lincoln wave “crests.”  Get me a surfboard, yo!

Now I have been late to the party on a few things.  When it comes to my Abraham Lincoln obsession, I’m about a century and a half late on that trend.

This all started in February.  I am an audiobook fiend as I am unable to read in a moving vehicle without spewing. I also like to spice up mundane tasks like folding laundry or steaming my dresses by listening to an audiobook (note: that last sentence is going to appear in the personal ad I post at age 85).  Basically, if I’m not reading a book I’m probably listening to one.

I randomly downloaded Chasing Lincoln’s Killer on audiobook.  I knew nothing about Lincoln other than the fact that he wore noteworthy hats.  Within 25 minutes of listening to James L. Swanson’s book, I was hooked.

There is no better audiobook in the world.  Will Patton narrates and he does an impeccable job.

This is the thing: I am Canadian.  Presidents don’t get much stage time on our curriculum. This is about the most excitement we get from a national leader (which, granted, was a big deal):

So before listening to Swanson’s book, I didn’t really get the Lincoln thing.  I certainly had no idea how insanely CRAY the events were before and after his assassination. The General Seward bit!?  Mother of Pearl, I almost had a heart attack.

Since listening to the audiobook of Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, I have watched several Lincoln documentaries and am slowly savouring Candace Fleming’s The Lincolns: a scrapbook look at Abraham and Mary.  No matter what is going on in my life, reading that dang scrapbook totally takes me away.  If I’m having a bad day, it always helps to know that I don’t have to tackle the abolition of slavery.  For some inexplicable reason, anything Lincoln-related has an uncanny ability to distract and comfort me.  This is exactly how those five-year-old boys who are obsessed with dinosaur books must feel.

So if The Chicago Tribune is right and the Lincoln wave is coming, that will no doubt trickle down to children’s books as all thing tend to do.  And I can’t wait.  It’s been tough for me to get Canuck kids and teens interested in Lincoln stuff (or, indoctrinate them with my obsession) because they have no point of reference and don’t really care about American presidents.  And there is so much great Lincoln stuff out there already, with some notable 2012 titles.  These are on my to-read list:

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship by Russell Freedman. Houghton MIfflin Harcourt, 2012

Magic Tree House #47: Abe Lincoln, At Last! by Mary Pope Osborne. Random House, 2012 (also has accompanying non-fiction Magic Tree House Fact Tracker)

Lincoln won the Caldecott,obvi. Abraham Lincoln by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire, 1940.
I need a bigger purse to carry this. Lincoln Shot by Barry Denenberg and Christopher Bing. Feiwel & Friends, 2008.

To close, here I am in a state of bliss outside the animatronic Lincoln Disneyland feature a few weeks ago post-ALA Saturday.  There was no line, because people are suckas and don’t realize that an animatronic Lincoln rivals Splash Mountain.

How Liar & Spy Relates to One of My Darkest Secrets

 

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead. Random House Children’s Books (Wendy Lamb Books). Release Date: August 7, 2012. Reviewed from ALA ARC.

I want to begin this review by making a confession:

I own an Insight From the Dalai Lama calendar.  You ever wonder who buys those for 75% at the bookstore?  It was me.  I admit it.

It is one of those page-a-day rip-off style ones with a new quote for each day. Except for the weekends – there is only one quote/page for Saturday and Sunday.  I guess the Dalai Lama needs some time off too.

What does this have to do with Rebecca Stead’s new book?  Two things.

First, I was incredibly eager to see if Liar & Spy was going to live up to the Rebecca Stead of When You Reach Me.  Like everyone else on the planet, I fell deeply in love with that book and Stead’s writing style.  To me, Stead is the Dalai Lama of children’s books. Her prose are at once deep and moving but always optimistic and full of love.  She writes with such economy and clarity.  If Stead’s words had a body, I think they would look like the Dalai Lama: smiley, comfy and a just a little bit kooky (have you heard the Dalai Lama laugh?  It’s a bit kooky.  But enjoyable so).

I worried that this mix of loveliness and faith that permeated When You Reach Me was a bit of a fluke, and Stead was going to come out next with a dystopian adventure set in Norse mythology or something.  Or that her next book would just be WYRM 1.0.  But Liar & Spy isn’t WYRM 1.0.  It’s just as good.  It might even be better.

The second reason I bring up my Dalai Lama calendar is because I believe owning one is highly embarrassing. Isn’t it just one step away from owning a Chicken Soup For the Soul book? I mean, really. And I don’t just own the calendar, people.  I save some of the quotes and put them on my fridge. I take them down before I have company, much like a murderer would hide the arms and legs of her latest victim before having a friend over for sushi and Mad Men.

I bring this up because it relates to one of the themes I found particularly intriguing about Liar & Spy, which is the theme of lying to oneself.  I can’t get into detail without blowing the lid off Stead’s now-signature surprise awesome endings, but both main characters – Georges and Safer – have trouble coming to grips with aspects of themselves.  That’s really all the plot synopsis you need. This “coming to grips” theme usually makes up the whole plot of a middle grade book: kid can’t come to grips with the fact she has an absentee parent, kid can’t come to grips with the fact he is partly some sort of magical beast or wizard or whatever, kid can’t come to grips with the fact he is a horn growing out his butt.  You get the idea.  But the brilliance of Liar & Spy is that figuring out our protagonists’ weaknesses compromises the book’s big climax/revelation – it’s not the whole dang show.  And that is cool.

Others have done much better Lia & Spy reviews wherein they don’t divulge personal oddities and/or affection for the Dalai Lama.  Travis Jonker has a great one over at 100 Scope Notes and Betsy Bird included it in her recent post on 2013 Newbery predictions (my money is on her money that it is going to be a Random House vs. Random House kinda year).

To end this post, I think we should all enjoy this moment of the Dalai Lama not understanding a joke about pizza.

 

O Canada on the ALA Exhibit Floor

Yes, I’m still posting about ALA because it was my first one and dang exciting.  If you had just experienced Christmas for the first time on June 22, don’t you think you would still be blogging about it too? I thought so.

Previous to actually attending ALA, I would follow the conference hashtag on Twitter and feel generally sorry for myself that I had never attended.  These feelings of self-pity would really flare when I saw photos from the exhibit floor – “Oh look, there’s Mo Willems just casually strolling by!” someone would post along with a twitpic.  Way to rub it in.

The thing is, I was always really curious to see what the actual booths looked like – especially the booths of my beloved Canadian publishers.  No one really ever posted pictures of the exhibits themselves, just the fabulous people inhabiting them for four days.  So this post is basically for myself pre-June 22, 2012. But hopefully some of you who haven’t attended ALA, or didn’t get a chance to stop at the great Canadian kidlit booths, will be mildly interested.

Kids Can Press

Kids Can Press is the equivalent of the person who really gets the party started.  And, try as you might, it’s hard not to get excited about a Christmas Scaredy book. Behold their booth:

Groundwood Books

Has Groundwood ever published an unclassy book?  I think not.  I am also loving their new book, I Have the Right to Be a Child which teachers will be clamoring for in the Fall, I know. Because I won’t be working for National Geographic anytime soon, all I have is this photo of their banner.  Sigh. But it is a beautiful banner.

Tundra Books

One of my favourites and publisher of Susin Nielsen who I am apparently obsessed with judging by my last couple posts.  And the cover of The French Fry King makes me so happy.

Fitzhenry & Whiteside

Publisher of one of my faves, Shirley Woods – does anyone do books like Shirley Woods?  Novels about fictional animals (that don’t talk and aren’t creepily anthropomorphized!) that are an amazing hybrid of fiction and non-fiction and completely engaging/dramatic?

Annick Press

They do it all.  From the much-buzzed creep show of Erebos (which I still need to read but is never on the shelves) to Robert Munsch to non-fiction queen (and awesome gal) Tanya Lloyd Kyi, Annick is all awesome.

I somehow missed getting a picture of Orca’s booth, which is bad because I love them and they are the closest geographically to my apartment.  They are also coming out with a very interesting new YA series called Seven. The premise: a grandfather with a pretty interesting/adventurous past dies.  He has seven grandsons.  They all takes different paths and are presumably affected by grandpa’s death in different ways.  Each of the seven books is penned by a different, highly awesome Canadian author.  It sounds like a Canuck 39 Clues for teens.  Should be nifty.

Big apologies if I’m missing any Canadian youth publishers here.  It really was great fun to see them at the exhibits – felt like a little bit of home.

Let me close this blog post with a nod to the subpar Sbarro in the Hilton food court, provider of my lunch – a piece of cheese pizza – for three straight days at ALA.  Because I was entirely too busy and overstimulated to find a tastier, more nutritious option, I tip my hat to thee for being so convenient and having a way shorter line than the equally subpar Baja Fresh.


The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen

Let us all rise and give thanks for Susin Nielsen’s amazing new book:

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen. Pubs September 11, 2012

I picked this ARC up at the Tundra booth at ALA.  My pal Kay did too.  Before we even read it, we were tremendously excited.  We had a conversation that went roughly like this before the USBBY panel on writing about war for young people:

Kay: I got Susin Nielsen’s new –

Shannon: (interrupting as usual): Oh me too.  It looks really –

Kay and Shannon: (in unison) Really good.

Kay: I think this is going to be the one to really break her into the American market.

Shannon: Me too.  And then we can be all smug about it.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen tells the story of thirteen-year-old Henry and his dad.  They have just moved to Vancouver (the entire story takes place within a three block radius of my apartment which is so cool. But I digress).  Where is Henry’s mom?  She’s in a psychiatric facility in Ontario.  Why is she in a psychiatric facility?  Because Henry’s older brother, Jesse, took a hunting rifle to school and shot a classmate before shooting himself.  Henry is now being encouraged by his hippie therapist to keep a journal as a means to help process his feelings.  The results are hilarious and poignant and absolutely true-to-life.  In other words, you will LOL and you will :`(

That is a crying emoticon by the way – not some weird Canadian symbol used to review stellar books.

You will just fall in love with Henry.  He has gained a bit of weight since the tragedy and refers to his new un-svelte bits as his “wobblies.”  He loves wrestling.  He never fails to notice his female neighbour’s huge bazongas. When he shuts down emotionally, he will only talk in a robot voice. He is both sensitive and rude, deeply insightful and totally clueless.  He is Nielsen’s most authentic, hilarious character to date, which is really saying something because no one can write a middle grade character like Susin Nielsen.

This book also manages to deal with the aftermath of a school shooting in a way that is totally realistic without ever tipping over into melodrama.  Like The Fault in Our Stars was so much more than a cancer book, this is so much more than a school shooting book. There are some definite tougher moments, especially around the bullying that Henry’s brother endured before committing the murder-suicide, but they are quick and never unnecessary.  This is solid middle grade material that is ideal for Grades 6-8 and won’t traumatize your heartier Grade 5s.  I think some librarians might order it because of the subject matter, but they will be pleasantly surprised to find that it makes just as big of a contribution to their humour collection as their “issue” collection. Fans of Tom Angleberger and Jack Gantos will really dig this.

When I was trying to explain this book and Susin Nielsen to my mom, she quickly interjected “I know who Susin Nielsen is, Shannon.  I watched the credits of Degrassi. Credits are very important. Americans are really missing out on how awesome Degrassi Junior High was in the 1980s – the original series before Drake was on it.  The coolest thing about Degrassi was the ensemble nature of the cast.  A few episodes would focus on a handful of characters and then the focus would shift to other characters and their storylines.  Half the fun of watching Degrassi was seeing your favourite characters walk by in the background; the actors would be principal actors in one episode and extras the next. Nielsen wrote a whole bunch of Degrassi episodes, and her mad screenwriting skillz really shine in her novels as she also takes the ensemble approach with her books.  Ambrose from Word Nerd is on Henry’s school trivia team. Karen from Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom is Henry’s upstairs neighbour.  The list goes on.  I can’t tell you how much kids love making these connections and reporting them to us at the information desk.

So for those of you in the know about Susin Nielsen: this book lives up to everything you are expecting and more.  For those of you who are Nielsen neophytes, stock up on her stuff now so you can share in my smugness.

ALA: 7 Published Books, 7 ARCs and Some Susin Nielsen Love

In total, I brought home 14 books from ALA. Of those 14 books, 6 were published books I paid for, 1 was a free published book and 7 were ARCs.

I had heard a lot about people going wild in the exhibits, gunning for stuff like a scene out of Life As We Knew It. And there has been much buzz about that 22 minute ALA book haul video that’s floating around. Stacked has a very thorough post on the whole thing. I’ll admit to watching most of it and being overtaken with jealousy at the Gary D. Schmidt ARC.

It might just be me and my 700 square foot world, BUT WHERE DO PEOPLE PUT ALL OF THESE BOOKS? I have three very skinny, small Ikea bookcases to my name. One shelf is taken up entirely by The Series of Unfortunate Events. Another houses the complete works of Leonard Marcus. That leaves me with 2.75 teensy bookcases. Thus, I have to be extremely selective about the books I bring into my life.

Perhaps the best solution to all of the debates around people going crazy on the ALA exhibit floor is to simply ban exhibit entry to those who live somewhere with an affordable housing market. Us Vancouverites and New Yorkers would be very dainty and respectable because we barely have room to brush our teeth, let alone store an extra book or two. I kid, I kid.

For those interested, this is what I scooped up:

6 Published Books I Purchased

 

From L to R: Stay by Deb Caletti, I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, The Monster’s Monster and Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S.King, Amulet #1 by Kazu Kibuishi

Stay completely floored me in the sense that I was never able to sympathize with girls in relationships with scary dudes before reading this book. Jon Klassen is Canadian (!) and I Want My Hat Back has saved my butt zillions of occasions in storytimes with rowdy six-year-olds. Patrick McDonnell makes my heart warm. A.S. King makes complex things easy to understand. A signed Kazu Kibuishi will bring me tons o’ cred with nine-year-old male patrons for the foreseeable future.

 

1 Free Published Book

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

My pal Kay and I are apparently the only people in the world who have yet to read this book. Please don’t tell Mr. Schu. But it will get read!

6 ARCs

 

 

L to R in order of pub date: Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead, Everyday by David Levithan, Amulet #5 Prince of the Elves by Kazu Kibuishi, Drama by Raina Telgemeier, In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz, Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

 

I think these were probably on most school and youth librarian’s lists to grab, so nothing terribly original here. But I want to tell you – especially you Yankees – about this, the seventh and most blessed ARC:

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen. Tundra Books. Pubs September 11, 2012

Susin Nielsen is the next big thing. There is an episode of The Simpsons where Bart brings Santa’s Little Helper in for show-and-tell and Milhouse proudly brags “I knew the dog before it came to class!” Not to liken Susin to a cartoon dog, but this captures how most Canadian librarians feel about Susin Nielsen. We are going to feel very smug and brag alot when she gets 200 person signing lines at future ALAs.

She is a mix between Tom Angleberger, Jack Gantos and Susan Juby with just a touch of a teenaged Dav Pilkey (she isn’t afraid of some potty language). She was a screenwriter for Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High (the original series pre-Drake). Degrassi taught every Canadian born between 1979-1984 about being a teenager. She is funny, smart and somehow has access to the brain of a Grade 7 boy. If you haven’t read Word Nerd or Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom, you are missing out. My buddy Vikki has a great review of Clooney here.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen is about a thirteen-year-old boy (named Henry K. Larsen, not surprisingly). Henry’s brother shoots a classmate before shooting himself. Tough stuff? Yes. Will Susin Nielsen somehow manage to infuse this terrible tragedy with enlightening-but-sensitive humour? If her track record is any indication, yes. I will be celebrating Canada Day this weekend lounging in Saskatchewan and reading this book (right after I wrap up a Quill & Quire review of another Canadian favourite’s new YA novel). I can’t wait.

ALA 2012: Top Ten Awesome People I Met/Pestered

I’ve been thinking about the best way to translate all my ALA notes and thoughts in blog form.  Originally I thought I would give reports on each day but they have all burred together.  So I’ve decided to do a series of posts this week that are less chronological and more categorical.  And contain numbered lists because those are always a gas.

I am going to kick it all off with a Top Ten list of awesome people I met over the three days.  Now, I obviously met more than ten awesome people, but these ones really made an impression on me in one way or another; some I only talked to for 30 seconds, others for hours.  Some I ended up chatting with after sessions or in the exhibits, others were simply trying to answer the call of nature when I forced myself upon them.  But they were all, to use a phrase I recently heard on reality television, dabomb.com (translation: the bee’s knees).

10. A.S. King

Ask the Passengers was on my list of ARCs to pick up and I happened upon A.S. King’s signing line at the very end of her hour. This meant that I didn’t have to wait in line for eight fortnights to talk to her.  She is the coolest person ever; so mellow and just cool. Not making fans feel like weird crazies is a rare gift that authors have and she excels at it.  Also, I learned that Vera’s last name is pronounced Deetz and not Dee-etz. Good to know.

9. Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray is one of my favorite audiobooks of all time.  I have listened to it over and over again, especially while running.   Whenever I feel like I can’t make it another kilometre, listening to Ruta’s book really puts everything into perspective: I’m not starving in a Siberian gulag so I can probably bust out another 3km.  I attended the fabulous USBBY panel on writing about war for young people and wanted to talk to Ruta afterwards but she was quickly bombarded with people. When I saw her in the bathroom at the Newbery Caldecott Banquet, I knew I had to make my move.  She has to be one of the most animated, lovely, genuine people on the planet.  She either is an incredible actor or sincerely didn’t mind hearing how much her book meant to me with a full bladder.

8. The Gals at the Little, Brown Booth

I’ve always had it in my head that Little, Brown is a very glamorous publisher.  I don’t know why – likely because all of their books knock my socks off.  But despite producing books that are consistently critical darlings, the gals at the LB booth were the friendliest, most enthusiastic people on the exhibit floor.  They talked excitedly about all the books while still gracefully managing the hoards of drooling librarians in clamoring hoards shouting “Is this free!?” while waving about hardcover books clearly marked with price tags.  There were a couple of LB gals, but we’ll count them as one entity for the sake of this list.

7. The LaJolla School Librarian I Met in the Scholastic Line

I don’t remember her name!  And we were instantly bosom buds after bonding over our love for Me…Jane. After picking up Drama ARCs we headed over to the Little, Brown booth way in advance for Patrick McDonnell and compared notes on books.  We also discussed the fine line between beloved books at ALA and that sad species of librarian who lugs around eight tote bags full of Proquest magnets and other things that really just aren’t worth carrying around in such large quantities.

6. Cara Pryor

Cara is actually a colleague from a neighbouring library system who I sort of knew before ALA, but only sort of.  But what I knew of her, I liked.  And when we randomly ran into eachother outside of the subpar Baja Fresh in the Hilton food court we immediately agreed to go to Disneyland together.  We had a great time and talked about everything under the sun.  And now we are real life friends! (I think.  Cara if you’re reading this and don’t want to be real life friends, I understand.  We’ll always have Splash Mountain).

5. Tracy Lerner

Tracy is the Senior Manager of Library Marketing at Random House Children’s Books and made all the arrangements for my trip.  She is also the sweetest person in the world and we are both obsessed with Friday Night Lights.  Although she has a soft spot in her heart for Matt Seracen and I have to say that I will never forgive that SOB for hitting it and quitting it with Julie Taylor so hard in Season 4.  But we both follow the Gospel of Tim Riggins.

4. Kathy Jarombek

Kathy is the Head of Youth Services at the Perrot Memorial Library in Old Greenwich, CT and I had the pleasure of sitting beside her at the Newbery Caldecott Banquet.  She was a very good friend and colleague of Kate McClelleand and Kathy Krasniewicz and it meant alot to me to hear about the librarians behind the Random House scholarship I was so lucky to win.  Kathy is also going to be on the 2014 Newbery Committee with Mr. Schu and I can’t wait to see what they choose! Oh, and she told me about the Morris seminar which I am most definitely going to apply for in 2014.  Given my audiobook obsession, I would love to be on the Odyssey committee one year.  And, one day, I would like to bring some Canadian love to the Geisel or Newbery committees.

3-1. The Trinity: Betsy Bird, Mr. Schu, Travis Jonker

I realize that using the trinity description here could rub some people the wrong way, so let’s use the Jay-Z triangle instead:

These are the three people I most wanted to meet at ALA.  I am huge fans of their writing and work and am always inspired by their passion and dedication.

As I detailed on my Day 1 post, I ran into Betsy about 3 seconds after getting to ALA.  So while I wasn’t prepared with cogent things to say, seeing her was like rubbing a magic monkey’s paw in that was a prophetic omen of the amazing time that was to come.

I also got to meet Travis and John after their standing room only session on apps. Then I saw them again at the Newbery Caldecott banquet. Both of them are so kind and open and gracious despite the fact that they are pretty big deals.  I’m talking about them like they are twins, but they just share a bunch of great qualities.  WAIT A SECOND – I think the children’s literature community needs to band together to fund a remake of Twins starring Travis and John.

I particularly like this picture of us as we appear most angelic:

I am also in possession of the most AWKWARD VIDEO OF ALL TIME wherein my boss was accidentally taking a video of us for many seconds as we pose for what we think is a still photo.

So there you have it.  Next up will be a list of ALA ARCs that I collected and am most excited about – and a Canadian title takes the number one spot!

ALA 2012: Day 2 (just the Disneyland part)

I had very high and mighty aspirations of blogging about all my ALA days in the evenings when it was all fresh in my mind.  But I sort of got sidetracked tonight…

In the Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room...

Yes, my pal Cara and I went to DISNEYLAND!   I really didn’t have any intentions of going but when I saw how close it was, I just couldn’t resist.  And I had a free evening.  So it really would have been wrong NOT to go (and take the obligatory ears shot):

The best part was definitely getting to see my beloved Abraham Lincoln…in animatronic form!  Now you’re not supposed to take pictures in the Lincoln show, but if I recall the constitution correctly, there is something in there stating that one MUST take photos of favorite robot presidents.

Of course, Day 2 at ALA had lots of other fantastic things to offer which I will look forward to telling you (yes, you, my lone reader) when I have washed the Splash Mountain water out of my hair.

And tomorrow is going to be even more exciting because it is the Newbery Caldecott Banquet!

I never thought my brain would burst with excitement, but it’s entirely possible that will happen in the next twelve hours.