Archive for May, 2008

Poetry Friday: The Small Room Between Sentences

h1 Friday, May 30th, 2008

I finally got my library copy of Naomi Shihab Nye’s newest book, Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose (Greenwillow; February 2008), and it was really worth the wait. (Eisha’s Poetry Friday post on Nye two weeks ago held me in good stead, though.) I’m still reading, but I wanted to share some poems and prose from it, and when I asked Naomi if I could do so—share some poems in their entirety—she gave me the go-ahead. Yes, this moment of beauty is brought to you by Naomi Shihab Nye, and I extend warm thanks to her.

Honeybee, thus far, has been a rewarding read, and I suspect that reading it again later is only going to unveil even more layers, more threads, more insights. In the introduction, she explains her fascination with bees in college and discusses the “bee woes” of today — “many reports said {in 2007} at least one third of the honeybees in the United States had mysteriously vanished.” She collected theories, she tells us, and became “obsessed…This is what happens in life. Something takes over your mind for a while and you see other things through a new filter, in a changed light. I call my friends ‘honeybee’ now, which I don’t recall doing before. If I see a lone bee hovering in a flower, I wish it well.” Read the rest of this entry �

Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #75: “Knoxville Girl,” Kerry Madden

h1 Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Kerry Madden; photo credit: Lucy Madden-LunsfordThere are two reasons I’m hosting a rather random interview with author Kerry Madden today: First, her Maggie Valley trilogy of books, whose third installment I finished a few months ago, are so positively good—so full of love and laughter and warmth and fairies-in-the-holler and mountain music and family and honeysuckles and bookmobiles and Ghost Town in the Sky and wildflowers and Daddy’s banjo—that I wanted to ask her a bit more about writing them and try to convince any of our loyal readers who perhaps haven’t already read them to COME ON and DO SO already, ’cause reading them is like giving yourself a gift. Whew.

Second, there is a large part of my heart still nestled in East Tennessee — in the foothills of the Smokies, where both Eisha and I went to college and where I decided to stay and study some more and work, volunteer, get married, give birth, etcetera etcetera and all that. And Kerry herself, my friends, is also a Knoxville Girl (though, to be sure, she’s also lived and travelled all over the world). WOOT! (I refuse to yell GO BIG ORANGE!, with respect to my football-fan friends. You’re all gonna have to settle for WOOT!) Best of all, she writes about the Smoky Mountains in her Maggie Valley trilogy with such vividness that she so clearly takes me back there — and without me having to jump in my car for the 200-mile drive.

And, honestly, there’s another reason: Kerry is just a neat person. Interesting. Smart. Funny. A style all her own, in just about every way. I only briefly met her last summer at The Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, and I found myself wanting to talk to her for much longer than I had time. And, yes, it’s true that an author’s personality should have no bearing on whether or not I like her book; I can separate Kerry from her books, and I can evaluate her books based on her talents as an author (and I happen to think the books are great and her talent is immense). But, well, like I said, she just seems endlessly interesting: She’s a “journalist, mom, explorer, biographer, essayist, poet, author, writing instructor,” as her site’s header will tell you — and you can add playwright to that, too. And so I wanted to chat with her some more.

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Picture Book Round-Up ‘Round the World

h1 Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

Come. Take a trip in my airship…around the world a bit for a look at some picture books from across the pond. Let’s get right to it . . .

No! That’s Wrong!
by Zhaohua Ji and
Cui Xu
March 2008

Move over, Pigeon.

Here’s an interactive picture book from Chinese illustrating duo Zhaohua Ji and Cui Xu. Collectively, they’ve apparently won awards for their illustration, cartoons, and fiction in China as well as in Japan and Europe, yet this is their first picture book. And in it they ask such philosophical questions as: When is a hat not a hat? And when are underpants not underpants?

In the opening spread, we see a pair of red underpants (red? Ooh la la. No ordinary skivvies for those people) fly off a clothesline, landing in the next spread on a rabbit’s head. What’s this? he wonders. It’s a hat!

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YA Co-Review: Debbie Harry Sings in French

h1 Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Jules: Last week we talked gender politics and feminism à la E. Lockhart. This week it’s gender and sexuality and identity, issues deftly explored in the debut novel from Meagan Brothers, a Pushcart-Prize-nominated poet who, according to her bio, has made a name for herself in New York City’s spoken-word scene.

Apparently, this first novel of Brothers’, Debbie Harry Sings in French, is being released today (Henry Holt); Eisha and I shared an ARC of this title, which is why we’re able to tell you about it now (and the fact that we’re telling you about it on its very release day is a stroke of luck. We’re not normally this organized.) And, for the record, quoted excerpts in this post are subject to change, since we read an advance copy. Oh and also: As always, some plot spoilers are included below.

Brothers tells the story of sixteen-year-old Johnny. His father is dead, and his mother—as a result—descended into a depression she’s only now stepping out of when the novel opens. Johnny is picked on at his high school in Florida for wearing eyeliner and being all-around left-of-center, and he mostly hangs with his best friend, Terry. Eventually, Johnny ends up in rehab for alcoholism after his very own near-death experience (which impacts him — “some of the other Goth kids I knew were always talking about death in a weird, detached kind of way. It was like they wanted a zombie-movie version of it, not the real, messy, emergency-room version. I thought like that, too, for a while. But something changed, and I couldn’t think that way anymore.”)

Johnny’s mother sends him to live with his paternal uncle and his daughter (“Bug”) in South Carolina. It’s there that Johnny meets Maria. And Reading Rants put it so well that I must quote them here:

“It’s Love and Rockets at first sight, except for the troubling fact that Maria initially thought Johnny was gay. Why? Just because he likes to Robert-Smith-it up a little? Johnny knows he’s not gay, or he wouldn’t dig Maria so much. But what do you call it when you like girls, but you secretly want to try on that little white dress from the thrift store that looks exactly like the one Debbie Harry wears on the cover of Parallel Lines?”

I’m sorry, but that “Love and Rockets at first sight” bit made me happy. I used to be a fan when I myself was in high school.

So, right. Focus, Julie . . . Johnny falls for Maria and also falls hard for Blondie’s music (“Listening to Debbie Harry sing the French part of ‘Sunday Girl’ was somehow more reassuring than anything the counselors had told me so far”) — and Blondie’s “tough, but…really beautiful” stage presence. “It’s not like I just think of Debbie and, bang, I’m cured,” he tells his guidance counselor at school. “It’s . . . I dunno, meditation or something. If I’m in tough situation, I think about how cool and tough she is, and I try to be cool and tough, too.” Finding strength in that persona and how her music makes him feel, he eventually takes it a step further by dressing as her and, ultimately, entering a drag show. He also learns more about his father than he ever knew before while staying at his uncle’s.

So, what’d you think, Eisha? I was really wow’ed by this one, and if this is Brothers’ first book, I can’t wait to see what she does next. I’m probably getting ahead of myself, but there was one part of this book that I thought was so beautiful, I had to put the book down and just savor it for a moment. A great read overall, I thought. What about you? Read the rest of this entry �

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #64: Featuring Barry Moser

h1 Sunday, May 25th, 2008

Edited to add on Sunday night: I say, since folks were so busy today on this holiday weekend, that we leave this post up for a bit longer. If you are so inclined, feel free to leave your kicks on Monday, too (which you’re always welcome to do anyway)! Happy Memorial Day to all . . .

Edited to add on Monday: For a beautiful Memorial Day “Dedication,” go read Sara’s original poem.

Jules: Well, howdy, friends. Put on your best bib and tucker, ’cause we’ve got art work from one ace-high illustrator this week, the one and only Barry Moser, whose woodblock-
engraving illustrations in last year’s Cowboy Stories (Chronicle Books; September 2007) are being featured today. I’ve had this book for a while and have been slowly enjoying it, particularly Moser’s highly dramatic, black-and-white illustrations — all line and shadow and heroism and wonder. Yes, this is a round-up of tales of the quintessential American icon, the cowboy — from authors such as Louis L’Amour, Annie Proulx, Dorothy M. Johnson, Elmore Leonard, and much more.

And one reason I’m sharing these images this week is that my father-in-law, a true cowboy at heart, had a bit of a spill this week — fell off a horse and broke some ribs. He’s going to be okay, but these images are for him and all the other cowboys and cowgirls who get right back up and get back on their horses—in more ways than one—after they’ve been thrown off.

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Seven Impossible Interviews #74
(Summer Blog Blast Tour edition):
Javaka Steptoe

h1 Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Javaka SteptoeWelcome to the fifth and final day of the Summer Blog Blast Tour. We hope you’ve enjoyed all the interviews as much as we have.

For our final SBBT interview, we’re thrilled to be talking with the hardest-working man in picture books: author/illustrator Javaka Steptoe. The talented Mr. Steptoe sprang onto the picture book scene in 1997 as the illustrator of the poetry anthology In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers (Lee & Low). His mixed-media collages — created from “paper with pastel; applique; and a multitude of found objects, including fabric, coins, seashells, buttons, sand, seeds, and leaves” (School Library Journal) won him instant acclaim – and the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for 1998. As SLJ went on to say: “The artwork vibrates with emotion; even the simplest pieces, showing torn-paper figures on a solid background, capture the powerful bond between parent and child.”

Next up was the daunting task of re-illustrating a classic: Charlotte Zolotow’s sweet ode to siblinghood Do You Know What I’ll Do? (HarperCollins, 2000), originally illustrated by Garth Williams. The updated classic won Steptoe further accolades: Publisher’s Weekly raved “…His stunning illustrations… create layered, almost three-dimensional portraits of the striking African-American siblings. Their love for each other is tangible, yet he injects the same playfulness and humor inherent in the text.”

A Pocketful of PoemsSteptoe followed this up by collaborating with Nikki Grimes on the poetry collection A Pocketful of Poems (Clarion, 2001). School Library Journal praised the “playful and thoroughly successful pairing of words and pictures,” stating that his illustrations “give the book an urban, upbeat, and contemporary look.”

For his next project, Steptoe made the leap from illustrator to author/illustrator, in his original picture book The Jones Family Express (Lee & Low, 2003). The story of Steven, a boy who creates the perfect gift for his world-traveling aunt using a discarded model train and a lot of imagination, is the perfect vehicle for Steptoe’s collage art. Says SLJ: “Young readers will identify with Steven’s struggle to choose a perfect present and his excitement over Aunt Carolyn’s invitation for him to join her travels — but it is the illustrations that will cause them to linger over this book and delight in the colorful details.”

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Today’s Summer Blog Blast Tour Schedule

h1 Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #73
(Summer Blog Blast Tour Edition): Polly Dunbar

h1 Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Polly Dunbar{Note: The rest of today’s Summer Blog Blast Tour interview schedule is posted at the bottom of this interview.}

See Flyaway Katie on the book cover below, brought to life by illustrator Polly Dunbar? I’m about as excited as she looks, because Polly, pictured here, has stopped by 7-Imp today to chat with us. Polly—who lives and works in Brighton, England, and happens to have one of the most entertaining web sites of children’s lit— has a style all her own. Her books, both ones she’s illustrated and author/illustrated, are testaments to the power of a child’s imagination, and her energetic mixed-media illustrations, whose palettes are saturated with the loveliest of all colors, manage to be both spirited and cheerful and convey great depth all at the same time. And, in what seems to be a running theme this week, Polly has also talked in previous interviews about the freedom she feels in writing and illustrating for child readers:

I think the younger [readers] are, the more freedom you have with being experimental. Very young kids will accept anything. Their eyes are still so wide open. That’s why picture books for me are the most exciting area to work in.

I’ll show my work to a grown up, who will just sort of flick through it and say, “I like that colour.” A child will be absorbed in a different way, and that’s lovely and really rewarding.

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Today’s Summer Blog Blast Tour Schedule

h1 Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Here is the interview schedule for today. Enjoy!

Here’s the schedule for the remainder of the week. Until tomorrow . . .

Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #72
(Summer Blog Blast Tour Edition): David Almond

h1 Monday, May 19th, 2008

{Note: The rest of today’s Summer Blog Blast Tour interview schedule is posted at the bottom of this interview.}

If you haven’t read anything by British author David Almond, here—in the words of reviewers who covered his first novel, Skellig, winner of the Carnegie Medal and Whitbread Children’s Novel of the Year Award as well as a Printz Honor—are some of the themes you’re missing: “the transforming power of caring and love” (Publishers Weekly); “worlds enlarging and the hope of scattering death” (NY Times Book Review); “loneliness, friendship and grace” (ALA; Printz Award Selection Committee); “the fearful, wonderful fragility of life” (author Richard Peck); “essential goodness, faith, truth, and love” (author Karen Cushman); and “miraculous happenings” (The ALAN Review). In their review of Almond’s first novel, School Library Journal best summed up what I think is Almond’s greatest strength as a writer: “The beauty here is that there is no answer and readers will be left to wonder and debate, and make up their own minds.” In their review of Skellig, the New York Times Book Review praised my second favorite thing about Almond’s writing: his subtlety.

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