Archive for May, 2008

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #63: Featuring Shadra Strickland

h1 Sunday, May 18th, 2008

Jules: Welcome to our weekly meeting ground for listing Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you — as well as our meeting ground for featuring the work of illustrators.

This week, we’re happy that Shadra Strickland has stopped by to share art work from her upcoming illustrated title, Bird, written by Zetta Elliott. Bird will be published this October by Lee & Low Books. This Publishers Weekly link tells us that the book will tell the story of a boy who struggles with his brother’s drug addiction and death through the support of his family.

Just in case you can’t read the text in the image above, I’ve made it a bit bigger for you here, and below that are three more images from the book: Read the rest of this entry �

Poetry Friday: Making a Fist

h1 Friday, May 16th, 2008

This poem was my introduction to Naomi Shihab Nye. I don’t even remember how or when I came across it, but it has stayed with me forever after:

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

little fistClick here to read the final stanza, and to hear Nye herself give a reading of it.

I think this poem really showcases Nye’s economy of language. This poem is stripped of any unnecessary details: where they were going and why, what was really wrong with the poor kid… The line “My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin” is all we need. Ten words, and I know exactly the kind of pain she’s in, and why she thought she was dying.

And then there’s the quiet power of the last line: “I who did not die, who am still living…” The last stanza acknowledges life’s hardships, but puts them in perspective when measured against the strength of a child’s fist.

* * *

The fine femmes at Two Writing Teachers are rounding up for this week’s Poetry Friday. Head on over and see what they got.

YA Co-Review: The Frankie Mystique

h1 Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Jules: It’s been a little while since Eisha and I have done a straight-up co-review—just the two of us—of a YA title, but here’s one — E. Lockhart’s latest, at that: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Hyperion, March 2008).

Fifteen-year old Frances Rose Landau-Banks—class of 2010 and otherwise known as “Bunny Rabbit” to her family—has just returned from summer vacation to Alabaster Prepatory Academy, the elite, competitive boarding school her father himself once attended. “Mildly geeky” before, she gained twenty pounds over the summer, “all in the right places,” and now has a figure that turns heads, the same brilliant mind and quick tongue she always did, and—this year—a new boyfriend, Matthew Livingston, a senior at Alabaster (though, as far as Frankie can figure out, “{t}he only thing {she} herself had done to facilitate the change was to invest in some leave-in conditioner to tame the frizz”).

Matthew’s circle of friends and social world, one of camaraderie, self-confidence, privilege, and ease, is one Frankie finds fascinating and non-existent amongst her female friends. While finding intriguing similarities between life on campus and Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon she’s studying about in her Cities, Art, and Protest course, Frankie has her own internal struggles about being attracted to Matthew, who is smart, handsome, and often endearing but who also refuses to let her into his inner circle of friends. (Matthew even loves words like Frankie, who likes to play with what she calls her own imaginary neglected positives, or INPs, meaning you take a negative word or expression whose positive is almost never used, and you use it. Or “you impose a new meaning on a word that exists but, through the convolutions of grammar, doesn’t technically mean what you are deciding it means.” Think turbed from disturbed or criminate—from incriminate—which she uses to mean “give someone an alibi.” The latter example is a fitting one, indeed, since Frankie herself becomes somewhat of a criminal mastermind herself during the course of the story.)

When she finds out that Matthew and his friends all belong to the Loyal Order of the Basset Hound, a secret society to which her own father belonged when he was a student years ago, Frankie’s interest is piqued. However, not only will Matthew and his friends not let her join; Matthew avoids the subject altogether, never once telling her about it. Thus challenged, she formulates a plan to anonymously work her way into the Bassets and convince them to perform a series of pranks on the school, ones which challenge the status quo socio-political atmosphere on campus. And she does this for many reasons — but primarily because she was tired of being Bunny Rabbit:

Not a person with intelligence, a sense of direction, and the ability to use a cell phone. Not a person who could solve a problem . . .

To them, she was Bunny Rabbit.

Innocent.

In need of protection.

Inconsequential.

* * * * * * *

So, Eisha. This was my first E. Lockhart book. Gasp! I really liked it. I did not expect the teen-feminist underpinnings (is she known for such things, and I’m just really slow?), and I really liked it. What’d you think? To say we have nui for this book (the neglected positive of ennui) doesn’t really follow Frankie’s grammatical rules for such creations, I suppose.

I guess I should quickly warn first: Some plot spoilers below.

Carry on, then.

Read the rest of this entry �

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Julie Paschkis

h1 Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Julie PaschkisJules: Eisha, Julie Paschkis is visiting for breakfast this morning! I’m thrilled she’s here, especially since it was a real delight to read her interview responses.

I remember during Blogging for a Cure last year when David Elzey at the one-and-only the excelsior file featured Paschkis’ beautiful 2008 snowflake and did this great, little write-up about her work as an illustrator. I think he summed up the appeal of her art work well when he wrote:

“. . . there is something in her illustrations that draws me to them. It’s a strange magnetism, a quiet attraction not unlike the way a whisper can pull you closer and cause you to pay more attention over the din that surrounds it . . .”

And, in talking about her illustrations for Julie Larios’ Yellow Elephant: A Bright Bestiary (Harcourt, 2006), he described her art work as having “a warm glow from within.” I love that. He nailed it.

And, hey, he also talked about her Boston Globe–Horn Book Award acceptance speech for Yellow Elephant and how she shared a detail of one of her paintings with the audience — in lieu of a long speech. Nice. And you were there, weren’t you?

Cover for Yellow Elephanteisha: I was indeed, and it saddens me to no end that I didn’t know David yet. We could have hung out. But yeah, she did unroll a big poster-size print of a painting she’d done when she’d gotten the news that she’d won the BGHB Honor, and it was just as lovely as you’d expect. He’s right — her work just glows. I adore her use of color — those bright, intricate, swirly figures and flowers really pop against the black backgrounds she often favors. He’s also right in that her images can tell a story all on their own — it’s amazing how much detail she can pour into a single illustration.

Also, I remember she had on some very cool tights. Lacy, I think. Possibly purple.

Jules: Well, let’s get right to it, shall we? I know we’re both so honored she stopped by for a cyber-breakfast. And what is Julie’s breakfast of choice? “I have oolong tea — fragrant and floral. About an hour later, I have a huge bowl of homemade granola with yogurt and whatever fruit is in season. I am addicted to Straus Family Farms plain yogurt. It is so good I wrote them a fan letter.”

Julie's breakfast. Yum.

While we’re setting the table, let’s get the basics from Julie: Read the rest of this entry �

Greetings From The Sleepy Time Motel

h1 Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

I don’t know about you, but I find the news of late very sad and quite unsettling. I have to wonder what kind of world my children are going to live in when they themselves are adults. I don’t want to be one of those people who is so out-of-touch with current events, but oftentimes it’s hard to even take it all in anymore. Eisha and I recently had a conversation about all the apocalyptic movies we’ve seen of late, too, Eisha joking that she’s seen enough recently that she pretty much feels like she needs to get ready for the end of the world NOW. And then I had to up and read Susan Beth Pfeffer’s The Dead and the Gone, which is just as mercilessly stark and honest (about, you know, the end of the world when the moon’s too close to the earth) as its prequel (more on that later perhaps).

I’m also not one of those people who refuses to read books with sad endings, no matter the current state of world affairs, but I will say that I’m glad I was reading Barbara O’Connor’s Greetings From Nowhere (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, March 2008) when this news story broke. As well as this one. Not necessarily because reading a story with a happy ending was a necessity at that time, but because Barbara’s story reminds us that, no matter our particular pains and fears and losses, we have each other to lean on. And because, at its core, it’s a story of hope. Might sound corny the way I put it, but . . . well, O’Connor does it up much better than I explained it.

Read the rest of this entry �

Nonfiction Monday: Fish, Fowl, and Conservation

h1 Monday, May 12th, 2008

It’s Nonfiction Monday, and I’m here again with some new picture book titles (I promise to review a novel again one day very soon). These are both biographies (of sorts) that will particularly please those who like seeing eye-poppingly beautiful art in their picture books.

First is a new biography of the one and only Jacques Cousteau, Manfish, by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by French illustrator Eric Puybaret (Chronicle Books, April 2008). Berne sets out to tell us the life story of Cousteau—but only to some extent. Her bigger purpose is to convey his passion for conservation and teaching conservation to the world, particularly children. Berne opens it on quite the lyrical note:

Bubbles rising
Through the silence of the sea,
Silvery beads of breath
From a man
Deep, Deep down
In a strange and shimmering ocean land
Of swaying plants and fantastic sea creatures,
A manfish
Swimming, diving
Into the unknown,
Exploring underwater worlds no one has ever seen
.”

This is our opening spread, Puybaret showing us Coustea from behind in a stunning underwater world of aquamarine. “Our story starts many years before, in France with a little baby boy born under the summer sun,” the book continues. Jacques was a curious boy, interested in not only water, but also creating his own books, machines, blueprints, movies, and more. After joining the French Navy, he sailed the world and filmed what he saw: “In China, he filmed men catching fish with their bare hands. They held their breath underwater for many minutes. Jacques wondered what that would be like.” Read the rest of this entry �

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #62: Featuring Jules’ Funky
Mother’s Day Art (Humor Her, Please)

h1 Sunday, May 11th, 2008

Jules: Well, this is a first. The illustrations we had planned to feature this week didn’t quite pan out. I hope that we can show them to you at a later date, but I have something to show you all anyway in the spirit of Mother’s Day.

So, there was this picture book released last year, entitled My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks: And Other Funny Family Portraits, and it was created by Hanoch Piven (released by Schwartz & Wade Books in May of ’07). In an Author’s Note, Piven explains the idea behind the book: He had once spent three unforgettable days in the oncology department of a medical center in Israel, conducting a workshop, “Drawing With Objects,” with sick children and teens. The children “created self-portraits and portraits of their families using objects found in everyday life…” Piven used the experience to create this picture book, the story of a fictional girl who has to draw her family in her classroom — regular ‘ol pen on paper, you know. But, she tells us, “{t}here are so many things about {my dad} that you don’t see in this picture.” As a result, she decides to make portraits of her mother, father, brothers, dog, and herself with objects instead. And she goes on to describe each portrait and each family member. Her dad, for one: He’s as “jumpy as a SPRING and as playful as a SPINNING TOP. He is as fun as a PARTY FAVOR. But sometimes he’s as stubborn as a KNOT in a ROPE.” And, of course, she creates an image of him using these objects (the springs are eyebrows, the spinning top is his nose, the rope with the knot is his mouth . . . you get the picture).

It really is a neat book. Good concept. A great tool for having children create their own family portraits, using objects. You’ll see good reviews at PlanetEsme, Kids Lit, and Book Buds—just to name a few.

But . . . there was just one thing that bugged me: The portrait of the mother. “My mommy is as soft as the softest FLUFF and as bright as the brightest LIGHT. She is as tasty as the crunchiest COOKIE. No, TASTIER! She’s as delicious as a CROISSANT. That’s my yummy mommy! (Mommy, I’m going to eat you all up.)”

Soft? Sure. Bright? This is good. Tasty? Meh. And then to continue on about how edible this girl’s mother is when the girl could have found some more objects and described her mother with a bit more detail? With respect to Hanoch Piven, who really has created a playful, very fun book here, most mothers I know—including myself—are more complicated than that and . . . well, don’t want to be so easily consumed.

So, I’ve been meaning to make my own portrait ever since this book first came out, and I thought, why not on Mother’s Day? It’s pictured above. Here goes nuthin’ . . . Read the rest of this entry �

Poetry Friday: Light Caught Inside

h1 Friday, May 9th, 2008

I’m going to stray a bit this week from the usual share-a-random-poem moments on Fridays, which are always lovely, and tell you about two new picture books: The second is written in rhyme (rhyme that won’t make you want to gag)—and it just so happens that it’s an exemplary book for the wee, wee, wee’est in your life—and the first is by a picture book author who has been reading and writing poetry with children for many years (and who is also a visiting poet in schools), Susan Marie Swanson. And a beautemous book it is, indeed. I also snagged a spread from each book so that I can show you some of the art work inside.

To Be Like the Sun by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine (Harcourt, April 2008) is written, it’s safe to say, in a free verse style (I see that School Library Journal refers to it as free verse, too—”lyrical free verse,” at that). In this luminescent book, which celebrates both the sensual and abstract joys of summer, a young girl ponders a little sunflower seed in her hand:

“Hello, little seed,
striped gray seed.
Do you really know everything
about sunflowers?”

The girl then proceeds to break up the earth to plant her seed, considering the “real work down in the dark” the seed does:

“Not radish work or pumpkin,
not thistle work—
sunflower work.
All the instructions
are written in your heart.”

Read the rest of this entry �

Happy Vampire Month!

h1 Thursday, May 8th, 2008

Slurp!What, no one told you? You left your glow-in-the-dark fangs at home? Not to worry, you’ve got the whole rest of the month of May to catch up. At least, according to First Second Books, who has declared this event in the interests of promoting Vampire Awareness and Understanding, so we can work towards a future when Humans and Vampires can coexist in Harmony and Happiness. Or maybe they just want to promote some books. Whatever, vampires are fun.

If you’d like to celebrate with a book, particularly a graphic novel, might I suggest:

Life SucksLife Sucks, a graphic novel by Jessica Abel (of La Perdida fame), Gabe Soria, and Warren Pleece (Can that really be his name? Really?). It just officially debuted from First Second, and I really enjoyed it.

Meet Dave. He’s a vampire, but he’s not happy about it. His boss Radu at the Last Stop convenience store forcibly “converted” him to create the ultimate employee: loyal to his master, and willing to work nights. But Dave used to be a vegetarian, and his heart really isn’t in this new un-life. It gets weird when he starts crushing on Rosa, a goth girl who thinks vampires are sexy and glamorous – the exact opposite of his reality. But should he tell her? Or should he just give in and make his first kill? And how can he keep his rival Wes – an asshole-surfer vampire – from taking her just to piss Dave off?

Read the rest of this entry �

Seven Questions Over Breakfast
(In a Blue Room) with Jim Averbeck

h1 Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

This is author/illustrator Jim Averbeck. He’s showing us the real life of a Regional Advisor, as he used to serve as the Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for the San Francisco Bay Area. “What do you mean they turned the room we planned on using for critiques into an ADA bathroom!” he’s screaming here. “What do you mean the speaker’s plane is late! What do you mean they didn’t deliver the coffee? ARARR-
RRRghhh!!” (That’s his own, original ARARRRRRghhh there, verbatim. Nice argh, huh?)

Below that picture is a less-stressed-out picture of Jim (“My critique groups friends call this my ‘dappled boycake’ picture,” he told me. “Harassment! It’s tough being a man in a woman’s world. It was taken at a writing retreat I did with them at the house in Sonoma County”). I’d say waaaay less-stressed-out, since he’s all reclining in the sun there, looking like he’s just had a very filling breakfast.

Breakfast? you say? Oh yeah, Jim stopped by for breakfast here at 7-Imp for our illustrator interview series. And here’s the thing: Jim’s an illustrator but not a published one — yet. But, after reading Jim’s debut picture book, In a Blue Room (Harcourt, April 2008)—which was illustrated by Tricia Tusa and is seven kinds of fabulous (reviewed here by Yours Truly)—I visited his site, saw some of his art work, and lined him up for an interview in our illustrator series. (I even tacked on a few extra questions specifically about his career thus far). Seriously, people, have you read In a Blue Room yet? I’ve been runnin’ my mouth about how it’s one of the best picture books I’ve seen this year. Let’s take a moment here and soak in some of its picture-book-goodness: Read the rest of this entry �