Sunday, May 29, 2011

One World, Many Stories

Summer reading programs are kicking off soon at the libraries where I work, and this year's theme is "One World, Many Stories."

As I've mentioned before, I believe multicultural stories aren't just for people of color and I love that so many kids will have the opportunity to learn about the big, beautiful world we all share.

Here's a short list of books about people from the four corners the world, including right here in the USA.

Picture Books

Angel City by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Carole Byard
An African-American man adopts a Latino boy and when tragedy strikes this unlikely family, love is what keeps them going. Not for younger readers, but older children can appreciate the book’s message of tolerance and compassion.

D Is for Dragon Dance
by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by YongSheng Xuan
Vibrant illustrations celebrate the traditions of Chinese New Year one letter at a time.

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People by Monica Brown, illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Neruda found inspiration in the world around him and the power of words made him a hero to the people of Chile.

Peek! A Thai Hide-and-Seek by Minfong Ho, illustrated by Holly Meade
Ho brings a cultural twist to the timeless game with a little girl and her daddy playing Jut-Ay, the Thai equivalent of peek-a-boo.

Sugar Cane: A Caribbean Rapunzel by Patricia Storace, illustrated by Raul Colon
The island setting and use of local folklore is an excellent way to introduce readers to Caribbean culture.

Middle Grade Books

The Arrival by Shaun Tan
The simple story of an immigrant arriving to a new land is brought to new heights with Tan’s intricately illustrated, yet wordless, graphic novel.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Esperanza’s life turns upside down when she must leave her home in Mexico and become a farm laborer in California.

The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea by Anne Sibley O'Brien
Presented in a graphic novel format, this story follows the adventures of a young man who becomes a warrior and magician to fight corrupt officials.

No Laughter Here by Rita Williams-Garcia
Akilah discovers that while her best friend Victoria was in Nigeria, she forced to get an operation called female circumcision. The book approaches the topic with compassion and believability.

Running with the Reservoir Pups
by Colin Bateman
Eddie moves to Belfast and falls in with a street gang called the Reservoir Pups in this hilarious and slightly surreal novel.

Young Adult Books

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Yang’s brilliantly conceived graphic novel of three different tales are interwoven into one Asian American teen’s search for identity.

A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
Simone knows she's adopted and it's never bothered her. But then she meets her birth mother, a Hasidic Jew, and learns life is more complicated than she thought.

Cuba 15
by Nancy Osa
Violet didn’t expect to get excited about having a traditional Cuban quinceanero; she didn’t expect to want to learn more about her Cuban heritage; and she certainly didn’t expect that her sudden interest in all things Cuban would cause a rift in the family.

Lives of Our Own by Lorri Hewitt
Hewitt tells the novel in alternating chapters as two girls, one white and one black, try to integrate the Old South Ball.

A Step from Heaven by An Na
Na's delicately written novel follows Young as she moves from Korea to the United States, but the promise of a better life in America fails to appear.

What are some of your favorite stories from around the world? Or from your own backyard?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Entwined Book Review

Title: Entwined
Author: Heather Dixon
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: March 29, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780062001030
480 pp.

Reading copy from local library

There's romance and then there's Romance. Lower case "r" romance is what most people think of when they think of the word, which is pretty much anything the new Old Spice guy offers you in one of his commercials. (You know, walks on the beach, diamonds, tickets to that thing you love.)

Capital "R" romance goes back to the Romantics, the literary and artistic movement in the early 19th century that took off the neatly coiffed wig of the Enlightenment and let its luscious locks get windswept in the moors. Capital "R" romance favors emotion over logic and nature over order. Capital "R" romantics are Byron, Keats, Shelley. And Heather Dixon.

While there is more than a touch of lower case "r" romance in Entwined, it is, at its heart, an unabashed capital "R" romance. Based on the Grimm fairytale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," Heather Dixon creates a truly magical world. Princess Azalea discovers this magical world and ultimately must protect her family from it. But it is a beguiling world, a world Byron would have been at home in, a world ruled by a charming yet mysterious figure known as Keeper.

After Azalea's mother dies, she promises to look after her 11 younger sisters. Her mother loved to dance and it is a gift that Azalea wants to share with her sisters. But their father demands that the girls honor their mother through a year-long mourning and forbids them from dancing. Azalea hears a rumor of secret rooms in the castle and finds one, which leads her to Keeper's world. Every night, she and her sisters sneak into Keeper's domain to dance. And when Keeper demands a favor in return, Azalea doesn't realize how dangerous he is until it is too late.

Azalea is often forced to choose between the rules she is expected to follow as Princess and her own wishes. She often makes the wrong choice. But this is what makes her journey interesting and keeps the stakes high. Entwined is a beautifully written book, especially when describing the many dances. I, for one, would love to see the Entwine dance performed.

My only quibble is that with 12 princesses, it was difficult to keep track of them all at first. Having their names go alphabetically from oldest to youngest helped, but it did take me awhile to figure out their ages. The younger sisters were sketches rather than full-blown characters, but the most important of the sisters were well-developed.

I would recommend Entwined to readers who enjoyed Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine or The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor.

Bonus Video: Absolutely lovely book trailer for Entwined

Friday, May 13, 2011

In Which I Profess My Love for Doctor Who and Neil Gaiman

Two of my favorite things are making a convergence this weekend. Neil Gaiman has written the episode of Doctor Who that will air this Saturday, May 14th. To say I am excited is to understate the level of squee this fangirl is capable of.

If you haven't seen Doctor Who since, oh, the 20th century, don't let preconceptions of bad special effects and cheesy aliens stop you from enjoying the reboot of the franchise that began in 2005.

Christopher Eccleston starred as the Ninth Doctor, bringing a edginess to the role. David Tennant took over as the sexy Tenth Doctor from 2006-2010. Matt Smith, the goofiest doctor I've ever seen, now stars as the Eleventh Doctor.

The BBC obviously upped the budget, but what made a new generation of viewers fans of the show is the remarkable storytelling. These stories are smart, funny, tragic, and scary, often at the same moment. Not every episode is an A+, but rarely is an episode anything less than a B.

I highly suggest that you start watching the show from the Christopher Eccleston series, but if you're not sure you want to make that kind of commitment, take the time to at least watch the episode "Blink" from Season Three. You don't need to know anything about Doctor Who except that it involves time travel. In fact, the Doctor is hardly in the episode at all. But it is one of the most gripping hours of television I have ever seen.

Writers have much to learn from watching "Blink," the way writer Steven Moffat plants clues, builds tension, and adds humor to craft a perfect hour of storytelling. (In fact, the episode evolved from a short story the Steven Moffat wrote, which you can read here. But watch the episode first.)
And I must admit, I am expecting that level of excellence from the Neil Gaiman penned episode. Neil Gaiman is a brilliant storyteller and the number of accolades he has garnered is almost obscene. That whole smart-funny-tragic-scary thing is a hallmark of Neil's writing, and he seems a perfect match for Doctor Who.


Yeah, there's a but. The X-Files was once one of my favorite all-time television shows back in the day. Then they did some stunt casting (stunt writing?). Stephen King wrote an episode of the show that was derivative of the Talking Tina episode from Twilight Zone. William Gibson wrote a couple of episodes that I don't even remember anymore (except that they had something to do with virtual reality and artificial intelligence). These episodes were winks to the audience, but not really anything that made the show special.

I soooo want Neil Gaiman's episode to be everything I want it to be. I'm sure Neil and everyone associated with Doctor Who wants that, too. But I've worked production before. Good writing can be sacrificed to production delays. I'm trying to temper my wildly high expectations with reality.

Come Saturday night, though, all I want is an hour of epic storytelling. Is that too much to ask?

In the meantime, here are some Doctor Who related videos to distract you.

Dalek Masterpiece Theater (embedding is disabled, but it's awesome)

Musical Tribute to the Tenth Doctor (a must for David Tennant fans!)

And if Doug Adams had written an episode of Doctor Who, it might have looked like this.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Debut Author Challenge - April Update

Well, all the catching up that I did in March didn't last through April. I've started on Entwined by Heather Dixon, which I'm enjoying. (I also started Delirium by Lauren Oliver, even though it's not part of the challenge.)

But I never finished reading Bumped by Megan McCafferty.

I hadn't really come up with a book review policy when I started the challenge, but last month I realized I needed to come up with one. I gave Bumped a try. More than a try. I read about 3/4 of the book. But it just wasn't working it for me. The world-building didn't engage me. Some people may have L-O-V-E-D Bumped, but not every book is for every person.

And that's when I decided my book review policy. If I don't finish a book, I don't review it. Simple enough.

The next step was to find a book to replace Bumped on my reading list. After researching different titles, I'm going with Through Her Eyes by Jennifer Archer. It looks like a really cool ghost story, which is good because I'm getting a little dystopianed out.

What are you reading this month? Are you getting tired of the dystopia trend?


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