Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Favorites of 2008

A Happy and Prosperous 2009 to everyone!

This post is to highlight some of the 2008 books I've read, particularly enjoyed, and blogged in 2008.

Caveats: (1) It is not intended to be comprehensive. (2) Really, all the books I've blogged this year are, in some sense, favorites. (3) I am still reading 2008 books and will likely blog some in the future. (4) I have read and enjoyed many more 2008 books than I have had a chance to blog and will likely add them to the blog in 2009.

Young Adult

Shift, by Jennifer Bradbury
Thaw, by Monica Roe

Middle Grade/Tween

The Postcard, by Tony Abbott
The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt
Every Soul a Star, by Wendy Mass
Antsy Does Time, by Neal Shusterman
The Floating Circus, by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

Picture Books

Lincoln Shot, by Barry Denenberg
Me Hungry!, by Jeremy Tankard

Friday, December 26, 2008


PRINCESS BEN, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Houghton Mifflin 2008)(ages 10+). Princess Benevolence has been content living with her parents, the king's brother and sister-in-law, in small quarters outside the palace. Despite being heir to the throne, she's never had any desire to learn the stuff of rulership.

But when her parents and the king are assassinated, she falls under the thumb of the Queen, who is insistent upon her learning all that she has hitherto neglected. When the queen locks Ben into the highest tower in the castle, the princess discovers a book on how to do magic, which can set her free.
But with war in the offing, will that be enough to save the kingdom?

PRINCESS BEN is a fun, lively fantasy, full of personal and political machinations, and a little bit of magic.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


EVERY SOUL A STAR, by Wendy Mass (Little, Brown 2008)(ages 8-12). Ally, who has lived at the remote Moon Shadow campground for as long as she can remember, is passionate about stars, comets, and asteroids. Bree, beautiful and popular, is on the cusp of (she thinks) a career in modeling and seeks only to maintain herself on the A-list of popularity. Jack, overweight and awkward, just wants to be left alone.

But the occasion of the first total eclipse to be visible in the continental United States (in nearly a century) has drawn them (and thousands of others) together at the Moon Shadow campground, run by Ally's parents. Over the next two weeks, the three grow to appreciate each other, the search for exoplanets, and the wonders of the universe.

In EVERY SOUL A STAR, Mass expertly weaves together the threads of the teens' lives and delivers an intricately-wrought story of unlikely friendship, discovering oneself, and star stuff.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


THE CITY IN THE LAKE, by Rachel Neumeier (Knopf 2008). Old magic is stirring at the borders of the Kingdom, until now held at bay by the "Kingdom's Heart," mysteriously associated with the king's son, Prince Cassiel. When the prince goes missing, the entire kingdom is affected by stillbirths and other strange occurrences.

In a small, remote village, the mage Kapoen, who is training his seventeen-year old daughter Timou in his craft, suddenly leaves to find answers in the capital city. But when he disappears, Timou decides to undertake the dangerous journey herself. Can Timou save her father, the Prince, and the Kingdom?

In this elegant first novel, Neumeier presents an atmospheric world of intrigue and treachery. Characters and setting are finely wrought and the story is suspenseful and gripping. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


SQUASHED, by Joan Bauer (Putnam 2001). Ellie Morgan has a dream: to grow the biggest pumpkin in Iowa and beat that black-hearted Cyril Pool once and for all. But an unsympathetic dad, pumpkin thieves, and bad weather get in the way. Can Ellie win the competition (and the boy) and stay true to herself (whoever that might be)?

An oldie but a goodie: Joan Bauer's first novel (and winner of the Delacorte Prize in 1992), SQUASHED, is a funny, heartwarming story about family, love, friendship, finding out who you are, and giant vegetables. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


GONE, by Michael Grant (HarperTeen 2008). To Sam and his best friend Quinn, the coastal California town of San Perdido is beyond boring, except when they are able to get on their boards and do some surfing.

And then, everything changes: instantly, everyone over 15 years old is gone. Disappeared. A barrier wall has appeared around the town, the animals are mysteriously "mutating," and some of the kids are developing strange powers.

Part HEROES, part LORD OF THE FLIES, GONE is a fun, fast, accessible read that nevertheless provides substance for the thoughtful reader.

GONE is the first book in a new series; book 2, HUNGER, is forthcoming in May 2009.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Austin Authors at Bookkids!

The Bookkids blog over at the Book People web site has a great couple posts up featuring books by Austin authors, including Santa Knows, about which they say it's "[p]erfect for skeptics and believers of all ages[;] Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith are a force to be reckoned with, especially when it comes to believing in Santa!"

Click for picture books or for middle grade and YA (which they call chapter books and teen book, respectively).

Also, Teri Lesesne, the goddess of YA literature, has a post about Cyn's forthcoming novel, Eternal. Teri says, "[a]ction, bloodlusting, angels, and quite a bit of dark humor will make this one a winner among the evergrowing crowd of fans of the dark tales of the vampires."

Thanks guys!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES, by Jody Feldman (Greenwillow, 2008). Gil Goodman knows everything about the Golly Toy and Game Company, thanks in part to the fact that his father used to work there. At least, until the Incident. Now Gil would do anything to get out of Orchard Heights, the company town, and leave the entire Incident behind.

His only chance of making that happen, though, is to win The Gollywhopper Games, a competition sponsored by the company and involving stunts, puzzles, and assorted other endeavors related to the company's history. Can Gil win the games and save his family?

THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES is imaginative and fun, the puzzles and stunts creative and thought-provoking. Readers will cheer for Gil to win.

Friday, December 12, 2008


THE UNNAMEABLES, by Ellen Booraem (Harcourt 2008). On the strangely (and secularly) puritanical Island, everything is named after its purpose and everyone is named after his occupation, except for Medford Runyuin, a former mainlander, who was saved from a shipwreck by his parents (who themselves didn't survive).

On the Island, everything impractical is deemed "unnameable," and can get you exiled. So Medford knows he must keep secret and hide the wood carvings he feels compelled to make. This becomes immeasurably more difficult when the Goatman, who has strange wind powers, appears and wreaks havoc on both the physical and cultural structure of Island.

THE UNNAMEABLES offers a fascinating and creepy, yet believable culture; a well-drawn world with compelling and likeable heroes; and intriguing conflicts.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


HOW NOT TO BE POPULAR, by Jennifer Ziegler (Delacorte 2008). Sugar Magnolia ("Maggie") Dempsey's parents, aging hippies, never stay in one place more than a few months and she's getting sick of it. When her parents decide to move from Portland, Oregon, to Austin, Texas, Maggie's had it. She's tired of losing friends and boyfriends and hurting so much when it comes time to leave (again). So she hits on a plan: she will be the antithesis of "popular," thereby driving away anyone who might befriend her. Naturally, there are complications...

HOW NOT TO BE POPULAR offers a hilarious take on popularity and fitting in. The novel is laugh-out-loud funny and offers well-drawn characters in convincing relationships as it builds to a sweet and satisfying conlusion.

Friday, November 28, 2008


ANTSY DOES TIME, by Neal Shusterman (Dutton 2008). Antsy Bonano, the hero of THE SCHWA WAS HERE, is back (and now a freshman in high school). After witnessing an accidental death at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, his friend Gunnar Umlaut announces that he has mere months to live. In a fit of exasperation (as the pair work on a project about Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath), Antsy "bequeaths" one month of his life to Gunnar. Soon, other kids and teachers are likewise bequeathing periods of their own lives, as Antsy's act of (perceived) compassion becomes public and a sort of market develops, with Antsy becoming the arbitrage "Master of Time."

As the situation threatens to explode out of control, Antsy knows he must take it down a notch as (while dating Gunnar's older sister and working in his father's restaurant) he realizes that all is not well in the Umlaut household (or his own, for that matter).

With an utterly engaging narrator (and narrative voice), ANTSY DOES TIME is an altogether funny, thoughtful, and thought-provoking novel about life, death, friendship, and family. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


You know how at the end of the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she only has enough energy to say, after killing the mayor, "Tree, pretty"? That's exactly how I feel now.

We just got back from a terrific five days in San Antonio, where we attended the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolsecents of NCTE). The program for ALAN is available in PDF here. Cyn also did the San Antonio Express-News Children's Book Workshop on Saturday, with M.T. Anderson, Kathi Appelt, and Pam Munoz Ryan.

Thanks to Candlewick Press and Little Brown Books for Young Readers for sponsoring our stay! Thanks also to all the organizers (especially David Gill, who spoke to us about this way back when...), sponsors, and other indefatigable types who made the conference(s) a great success.

Friday, we arrived at the Fairmount about mid-afternoon; checking in, we were greeted by Luke, the hotel dog concierge. That evening, we attended a reception for the Express-News workshop at a private home, where I had the chance to chat with a number of the organizers, as well as Pam Munoz Ryan, and Ken and Kathi Appelt, where we got the details on their trip to New York for the National Book Award gala. Thanks to Nancy, our escort and to our hostess whose name I can't remember right now (sorry!).

Saturday was the Express-News workshop itself, which Cyn attended while I scoped out the exhibits on the floor at NCTE (after moving hotels to the Westin Riverwalk). At NCTE, I happened upon and then went to lunch with the lovely Rita Williams Garcia. Other folks I was glad to have the chance to chat with included Judy O'Malley and Elaine Scott at Charlesbridge, Jeanette Larson (in a variety of locations), Helen Hemphill, John Green, M.T. Anderson, Tanya Lee Stone, Marc Aronson, Patty Campbell, and Linda Sue Park. Also, we found out that Cynthia's cousin Stacy, in her incarnation as an instructional coach/education doctoral student, was in town when she appeared at the signing for ETERNAL. Later that afternoon, Cyn and I had a drink at the hotel with Marc Aronson, discussing, among other things, boys reading nonfiction.

(Walter and Rita)

That evening, Cyn went to the Candlewick-YA librarian dinner while I stayed at the hotel, ordered room service, and read David Gill's SOUL ENCHILADA (I'll have a more complete review closer to publication date but suffice it to say for now that it is absolutely terrific).

Sunday, we had breakfast with Stacy and then lunch with my editor Alvina Ling (They had copies of Geektastic!) at Las Canarias. Afterwards, we decided to take it easy and went back to the hotel room, where I worked on my WIP for a bit. That night was the joint publisher reception, where I had the pleasure of meeting David Yoo in person for the first time; other notables I had the chance to talk with included Gail Giles, Jim Blasingame (former ALAN review editor and current ALAN president-elect), Bonnie Kunzel (panel moderator par excellence), Walter Mayes (aka, Walter the Giant), Stephanie Lurie, and a host of other luminaries I am too fried to remember right now.

Later that evening I attended a champagne social organized by Sonya Soanes and her husband (thanks guys!) for all the authors. Also there were Walter Mayes, David Lubar, Marilyn Reynolds, Laurie Halse Anderson, Varian Johnson, Margo Rabb, Rita Williams-Garcia, Kathleen Duey (I was delighted to find out that the sequel to Skin Hunger is scheduled for next year!) and another host of luminaries I'm too fried to remember right now (Cyn stayed back at our hotel, since her broken toe was giving her grief and she ran out of vicodin a couple weeks ago).

Monday, the ALAN workshop itself kicked off with Teri Lesesne delivering a terrific and rousing keynote and M.T. Anderson with thoughtful opening remarks (also terrific). We didn't see all the panels, but made it to "Shift Happens: Reading Material that Switches Teens from the Internet to Books," with Walter Mayes, Lauren Myracle, and Shana Norris. After lunch in the restaurant at the Marriott Rivercenter, the afternoon kicked off with an insightful speech by Joan Bauer, and a panel on "sports stories" with Matt de la Pena and Catherine Gilbert Murdock. This was followed by Cyn's panel with Melissa Marr and Rick Riordan, titled "Gods, Foods, and Tattoos: The Mixed Mythos of Urban Fantasy." (Cyn, as always, was excellent, and talked about literary influences on Tantalize and Eternal).

Later that afternoon was a panel called "Fear and Loathing in Young Adult Books," with Nancy Werlin, Gail Giles, and Sheri Sinykin. The workshop broke that evening with a hilarious monologue by David Lubar. Other highlights included chatting with C.J. Bott and Don Gallo (this apparently, is the tenth anniversary of his heart attack at NCTE Nashville), and E. Lockhart, who had her new baby there, as well.

(Me and David Yoo)

The second day of ALAN began with a speech titled "Speaking the twisted Truth to Power," by Laurie Halse Anderson (she blogs ALAN here). My panel on Tuesday was with Dave Yoo and Cory Doctorow, and was called "Let's Hear It for the Boys: Writing for the Teen Male." We did a well-received Q&A (thanks Bonnie!) and then signed.

(Me and Bonnie)

Lunch was again at the Marriott Rivercenter, this time with Walter Mayes and Helen Hemphill. That afternoon, we heard Sharon Flake talk about "Ten Years of Living in the Skin I'm In," and a panel called "War is..." with Marc Aronson, Patty Campbell, and Rita Williams-Garcia. After a break where we had a chance to talk with Patty Campbell, we returned for the last panels of the day, which were "When Love Produces a New Negotiation," with Marilyn Reynolds, Neal Shusterman, and Joan Kaywell; and "New Voices in Young Adult Literature," with Donna Freitas, Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, and Suzanne Crowley.

By then, of course, we were completely fried, and went over to Luca for a drink and dinner with David Gill and Walter Mayes.

(David Gill, snarling).

NCTE/ALAN is one (or two) of the most fun, exhausting, and exhilarating of all the writing/reading/teaching conferences. I'm going back to bed...


ME HUNGRY!, by Jeremy Tankard (Candlewick Press, 2008). "Me hungry!" complains Edwin the caveboy. But his parents are too busy to make him dinner, so he decides to go hunting himself. This involves a hilarious sequence of encounters with Pleistocene dangers until, eventually, he encounters a woolly mammoth...ME HUNGRY! features terrifically fun illustrations and sparse "caveboy" style prose. ME HUNGRY! is a great, fun read-aloud and offers a unique take on an age-old and universal dynamic. ME LIKE!

Oh. And Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2008

MASTERPIECE, by Elise Broach

MASTERPIECE (Henry Holt, 2008), by Elise Broach. Marvin is a beetle. James is an eleven year old boy. When James receives a a pen-and-ink set for his birthday from his artist father, Marvin discovers he has a talent for drawing. When he presents his first piece as a birthday present to James, the miniature is mistakenly attributed to the boy. Which leads to James (Marvin) copying a Durer so as to foil an art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of art...

MASTERPIECE is full of charm and intrigue, and, in short, is a heartwarming novel of mystery and friendship and Albrecht Durer.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

SWORDS: An Artst's Devotion

SWORDS: AN ARTIST'S DEVOTION, by Ben Boos (Candlewick Press, 2008). In this nonfiction picture book, Ben Boos provides extensive descriptions and detailed illustrations of various (most?) swords throughout history.

A long-time afficonado of swords, Boos describes the blades themselves, the manner of their making, and their historical contexts. Readers will find themselves poring over both text and images of this fascinating book.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


NATHAN FOX: DANGEROUS TIMES, by L. Brittney (Feiwel & Friends 2008). Thirteen year old Nathan Fox is an acrobat/actor in the same theatre company as young Will Shakespeare. Unbeknownst to him, Will and Nathan's sister, Marie, are employed by Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen's spymaster, who also wants to recruit Nathan. After a period of training, soon Nathan, his sister, and one Sir John Pearce are off to Venice to try to forge an alliance with the Doge against the Spanish.

There they encounter the famous general Othello, his new wife Desdemona, and his sinister ensign, Iago. Forced to accompany the general to Crete, the three are soon caught up in treachery and mayhem.

DANGEROUS TIMES is terrifically fun, clever, and accessible. Nathan himself is well-developed and the use of Shakespeare's Othello is fascinating. Full of, but not burdened by, period details, DANGEROUS TIMES should appeal to fans of both historical and spy fiction (and, of course, Shakespeare!).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


KEEPER OF THE GRAIL (The Youngest Templar, Book 1), by Michael Spradlin (Putnam, 2008). Fifteen year old Tristan is an orphan abandoned as a baby at a Cistercian monastery in England. Having no other prospects, when a noble Knight Templar named Sir Thomas offers to take him into service, he accepts. But Sir Thomas is on his way to the Holy Land with Richard the Lionheart, where the Templars are to defend the stronghold of Acre.

As the city is about to fall, Sir Thomas reveals to Tristan that the Templars are the keepers of the greatest artifact in Christendom -- the Holy Grail. And he, Tristan must now spirit it out of the city to England and keep it out of the hands of the Saracens.

Together with the archer Robard and the mysterious Maryam, Tristan escapes treachery and death, but perhaps not the high seas...

A rousing adventure, KEEPER OF THE GRAIL is a fast-paced tale that provides a new take on the stuff of legends.

Monday, November 17, 2008


LINCOLN SHOT: A PRESIDENT'S LIFE REMEMBERED, by Barry Denenberg, ill. by Christopher Bing (Feiwel & Friends 2008). This handsome biography of Abraham Lincoln takes the form of a volume of antique broadsheet newspapers including articles, advertisements, and headlines ripped from, well, yesterday's news. Told in engaging prose, with photos interspersed with graphics, LINCOLN SHOT offers a fascinating glimpse into the trials of Lincoln's life and presidency. LINCOLN SHOT is accessible, surprisingly thorough (given the format :-)), and highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Literary goings on...

Well, we're approaching the mid-point in November, which means you should be aware of some great upcoming author-type stuff here in central Texas.

First up is the Austin SCBWI holiday meet and greet from 6:30 to 9:30 PM on Thursday, November 13, at Book People at Sixth and Lamar. Open to the public, the event will include panels on picture books, middle grade novels, and YA novels, as well as typical party stuff and door prizes, including school visits from assorted Austin SCBWI authors. In addition, Phil Yates is going to be dressing as a pirate and presenting his new book, A Pirate's Night Before Christmas.

This weekend, Cyn and I are doing a brief stopover in College Station, where Cyn is speaking at the Brazos Valley SCBWI chapter's fall meeting, and we're both critiquing manuscripts.

The following weekend, Cyn and I are down in San Antonio for the annual NCTE/ALAN conference. (We spoke at the conference two years ago in Nashville and it was a blast). Cyn is speaking on a panel about fantasy and I'm on a panel with Dave Yoo and Cory Doctorow about "writing for the teen male."

Finally, y'all should take a look at this article from Good Life magazine (warning: it's in PDF format), by Austin's own Lindsey Lane.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Halloween Happy Hour! [Updated to add link]

(Okay, two weeks before Halloween, but you get the idea). Last night Cyn and I had the pleasure of hosting a Halloween social for members of the Austin youth literature community. The theme was "pizza and chianti." Pizza came from Rounder's Pizzeria. Guests brought bottles of their favorite red wine. We also got a vegetable platter, a fruit platter, and assorted Halloween candies from Central Market. Anne Bustard made some of her great sugar-butter cookies (in the shapes of scaredy cats and broken (winged) bats). And Shana Burg made some terrific caramel apples!

(Alison Dellenbaugh gives the haughty sneer of the leporine vampire, while Meredith Davis and I mug for the camera).

(Strange and spooky decorative items)
(At first, people seemed oddly reluctant to dig in)
(Ahh, finally!)

See other party posts and pics by Jo Whittemore, P.J. Hoover, Jenny Ziegler, and Cyn.

UPDATE: Also see Shana Burg's hilarious post on caramel apples!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Random notes...

Congratulations to the National Book Award finalists: Laurie Halse Anderson, E. Lockhart, Judy Blundell, Tim Tharp, and Texas' own Kathi Appelt!

Kathi is a finalist for THE UNDERNEATH. Cyn has an interview with her today.

Cyn also has a post up about here about the Hill Country Book Festival we attended last weekend.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

University of Illinois Youth Literature Festival

So if you happen to be in the neighborhood of the University of Illinois (i.e., my undergraduate alma mater) on Saturday, stop in for the Youth Literature festival. Cynthia will be there, along with a host of other authors.


THE ADVENTUROUS DEEDS OF DEADWOOD JONES, by Helen Hemphill (Front Street, November 2008)(ages 9-12): When freeman (from birth) Prometheus Jones wins a horse in a lottery, the scoundrels who traded him the ticket object. So Jones grabs his cousin Omer and they escape to the cattle trail, joining a drive that will take them north to South Dakota. Problem is, it's going in the wrong direction. Jones wants to get to Texas, to track down his father...Good with both a horse and a gun, Jones soon proves his worth on the cattle trail. But can he protect his cousin and make it down to Texas?

Evocative of old-time dime novels and based on a true story, DEADWOOD JONES is refreshing yet charmingly old-fashioned. A western for the modern audience, DEADWOOD JONES will please readers of all ages.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

BREATHE: A Ghost Story, by Cliff McNish

Breathe: A Ghost Story, by Cliff McNish (Carolrhoda, 2006)(8-12): Twelve year old Jack and his mother Sarah have moved into an old farmhouse in the country. There, Jack discovers that he, and he alone, can see the ghosts that have been haunting the place for more than a century. Some are children and one - called the Ghost Mother - is more than she seems. Suddenly, Jack is in a race to unearth the truth about them all before he and Sarah are lost.

Breathe is an altogether suspenseful and truly scary novel that intriguingly probes the boundaries between love and self-indulgence. I picked it up intending to read a few pages before bed and ended up having to read the whole thing...

Friday, September 12, 2008


Well, it looks like we here in Austin are going to avoid the worst from Hurricane Ike. Some rain bands, maybe, and some gusts up to 50 mph are being predicted. (Just last night, they were thinking it could have hit with 50 mph sustained winds and heavy rains). Check out the National Hurricane Center for full information.

A bunch of events here have been canceled or postponed, including the "Day with an Editor" event planned for Saturday for the Austin SCBWI, and the UT football game.

Other than that, things are fairly calm, though supposedly we've had an influx of evacuees...Stay safe and dry, everyone!

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who wrote Cyn or me about our status. In the end, other than partly cloudy skies today, the hurricane completely missed Austin. And fortunately, it seems the storm surge in Galveston was much less than predicted, although Houston seems to have gotten more wind damage than anticipated. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Ike's path.

Oh, and if you're interested in the Galveston hurricane of 1900, check out Julie Lake's Galveston: Summer of the Storm. Cyn interviews her here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Houston in the summertime

Cyn and I decided to take a weekend off and decided to spend it in the vacation spot of Texas: Houston. Not your idea of fun in August? Well, it was a little swampy, but we spent most it it indoors, checking out some of the museums down in the Museum District.

We drove out on Thursday afternoon and checked in at our hotel, the Hotel ZaZa, right across from the Fine Arts Museum and a block away from the Natural Sciences Museum. The hotel was a riot. The place appears from the outside to be a renovated early-twentieth century hotel or apartment building and is decorated in a sort of quirky yet swanky, retro-style, with photos of various celebrities and the occsional animal head.

We were a bit hungry by this point so we had a late afternoon pizza via room service; (foolishly) we went down to an early dinner that evening at the hotel's Monarch Restaurant. We weren't enormously hungry, so we split some appetizers and side dishes (portions are huge). The Salt & Pepper Rock Shrimp and the Deconstructed Tuna were outstanding, as was our "entree" (really, one of the salads, followed by the White Cheddar Truffle Mac and Cheese.

Next morning, we were up early to hit the Natural Sciences Museum. Noteworthy permanent exhibits include a vertebrate paleontology section (including the above T.rex and edmontosaurus), a butterfly garden (a four story tall atrium garden with fountains and waterfalls and countless butterflies swooping all around), and African and Texas wildlife displays.

The highlights of our visit, though, were the Leonardo da Vinci special exhibit and especially the Lucy special exhibit. The da Vinci exhibit included many models of the inventions from his sketchbooks, allowing close up and (sometimes) hand-on views.

The Lucy exhibit started with a fascinating history of Ethiopia section including movies and artifacts. We then moved on to the australopithecus portion of the exhibit which included a video on the discovery of Lucy and then the main event was the display of Lucy herself. The fossil bone fragments are laid out on a slab, with a reconstruction of Lucy standing beside it and a panorama of human evolution behind it. Very well-done and impressive. More images can be found here.

The next day we decided to brave the Houston weather and went over to the Houston Zoo. Highlights included the reptile house, and large mammals, including giraffes and Asian elephants. In most cases, you can get up pretty close to the animals, which is a lot of fun. Also, the zoo seems to have a successful breeding program: we saw baby elephants, giraffes, wild pigs, and many others. (They're also apparently working on an expansion to be completed in 2010, but I couldn't find the info. on the web site). Feeling a bit hot and sticky, we went back to or hotel for lunch and took it easy for the rest of the afternoon, ate, had a glass of wine, and watched news and Olympics.

All in all, a fun weekend - we need to get back there sometime...perhaps in March :-).

Friday, August 15, 2008

In re the Beijing Olympics

So we're at the end of the first week of the Olympics and I have a few random thoughts:

1. Wow. The opening ceremony was spectacular. And a little creepy, especially the part where the goose-stepping soldiers took the Chinese flag away from the little girls...

2. The air quality in Beijing sucks. It makes LA look like it has the atmosphere of a pristine wilderness.

3. Venues are terrific. Whoever designed the Bird's Nest stadium should get a medal. Ditto the swimming cube.

4. The first US medals were a gold, silver, and bronze sweep in women's saber. How cool is that?

5. On the Chinese women's gymnastics team-
Cyn: How old are they?
Me: They're supposed to be sixteen.
Cyn: They are not sixteen.

6. Is it just me or are about half of the swimmers for foreign countries going to college in the US?

7. Does the Chinese government really take children away from their parents at three if they are athletically promising? What happens if they can't cut it? (Or don't want to?). Do they do the same if you're good at math?

8. The best thing about NBC's coverage of the games is that they use Arnaud's Bugler's Dream (which ABC introduced back when they covered the games).

9. NBC's coverage has improved somewhat over the past decade and a half. It's not nearly as sappy as it used to be. Still, they could stand to tone it down a bit.

10. Bob Costas is no Jim McKay. But doing Bela Korlyi's live reactions to the gymnastics was brilliant and hilarious.

11. Michael Phelps is clearly a space alien. So is Jason Lezak. And Dara Torres.

UPDATE: Okay, British swimmer Simon Burnett (who apparently is a former NCAA champion for the University of Arizona, see 6, above) has another take: "I think I've figured out Michael Phelps. He is not from another planet; he is from the future. His father made him and made a time machine. Sixty years from now he is an average swimmer, but he has come back in time to mop up."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Writing, gathering, and other stuff...

Last Wednesday, members of the Austin youth literature community gathered at Waterloo Ice House (north) for an informal gathering and happy hour.

Cyn has an extensive post about it here. (She also explains the pseudo-perforation on my neck (Frances Hill has a matching one)). A number of other folks already blogged rather extensively: Alison Dellenbaugh; P.J. Hoover; Varian Johnson; and Don Tate.

This coming weekend, come on out the the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting to hear Helen Hemphill talk about plot; and check out ArmadilloCon, where Cyn is on panels Saturday and Sunday.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

July goings-on

It's been a fairly quiet month. After we got back from Michigan, Cyn and I hunkered down a bit (or tried to, anyway) to work on current projects. Cynthia's Blessed was just announced on Publisher's Lunch, and the paperback of Tantalize was just released on July 22. It includes an excerpt from Eternal, which has a March 2009 release date.

We had great fun listening to P.J. Hoover speak at the SCBWI Austin monthly meeting on time management and then had a lengthy lunch with a group of fellow authors. Afterwards (and inspired by our trip to the U of M Natural History Museum), Cyn and I went down to the Texas Memorial Museum, which we hadn't been to in years (hence the giant quetzalcoatlus above).

We managed to sneak in a few movies over the past couple months, too (the fact that we're on something like day 37 of 100+ weather might have something to do with it):

Prince Caspian: Took some liberties with text, not least of which is that Caspian himself is about ten years too old, but all-in-all pretty good.

Indiana Jones: It was a little over the top in some places, but it's worth seeing just for Marian.

The Dark Knight: Wow. I wasn't really sure we needed to see another Batman movie with the Joker, but I enjoyed this on enormously. Heath Ledger's performance was amazing. Overall, the film was very good, intense, and (but?) not really the feel-good stuff you usually see from summer blockbusters.

The X-Files movie: Very glad to see Mulder and Scully together again. This is another one I liked a lot more than I thought I would -- Although I raised an eyebrow at one or two aspects, it felt like one of the better stand-alone episodes of the show.

Oh. And did I say it was a quiet month? Well, not entirely. I'm delighted to announce that my brother and his wife just had their first child, Olivia, born last Thursday! Baby and mother are both doing fine. Woo-hoo! Congrats!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Michigan trip

Cyn and I are just back from southeastern Michigan, where we spoke at a graduate children’s literature class at Oakland University, in Rochester.

We flew out on Saturday and stayed that night in Ann Arbor, which we hadn’t been back to since we graduated law school.

We walked around the law quad a bit and had lunch at Red Hawk, which was new back then. Then we drove out to the farm of author Shutta Crum and her husband. They gave us the grand tour and fixed an excellent spinach lasagna for dinner. Then we had dessert and drinks out in their “playhouse” (a converted garage) with a group of children’s lit. folks from the area.

Sunday, we explored a bit more, bought some UM garb, and checked out the “fairy doors” on Main Street and had lunch at Cafe Felix. Afterwards, we went over to the Natural History Museum and perused their ancient life displays. After our fill of dinosaurs, we drove up to Oakland University, where we stayed at the Cobblestone Manor, a charming and convenient bed and breakfast just minutes from campus. (Proprietors were delightful, and the breakfasts were terrific and generously portioned). That evening, professors Linda Pavonetti and Jim Cipielewski took us on a driving tour of campus and showed us Meadowbrook Hall.

Monday morning, I was up early to go for a run, then had breakfast, and went to give my talk. It appeared to go successfully (only one or two folks nodded off :-)). That night, Linda and Jim took us out again to dinner and then to dessert at Cook’s Farm Dairy – they make ice cream from their own cows’ milk. Absolutely fantastic and you also get to go nose to nose with the cows.

Next morning, Cyn spoke to great acclaim. After signing our books and getting a tour of the school of education, we went back to the B&B. We had a glass of wine with Marie-Louise Gay, who was speaking Wednesday and who arrived just as we’d uncorked the bottle. After dinner at Bistro Bourdeau in Auburn Hills, we called it a night.

All in all, it was a terrific event – Linda and Jim have a great program and are consummate hosts. Many thanks to everyone!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Awesome Austin Writers' Workshop

So. It's eight o'clock at night and the house feels oddly quiet. (For one thing, Cynthia is asleep :-)). For the past three days, the place has been overflowing with energy, excitement, and creativity. This past weekend, Cynthia and I had the privilege of hosting a workshop for advanced writers in our house.

It was the culmination of a month-long process that started when twenty-seven Austin area children's authors submitted up to ten pages of manuscripts to be read and critiqued by every other participant and Cynthia, who moderated the forty minute sessions.

Participants included Brian Anderson, Varsha Bajaj, Chris Barton, Gene Brenek, Shana Burg, Anne Bustard, Tim Crow, Betty X. Davis, Meredith Davis, Alison Dellenbaugh, Erin Edwards, Debbie Gonzales, Helen Hemphill, P.J. Hoover, Varian Johnson, Julie Lake, Lindsey Lane, April Lurie, Mark Mitchell, Jane Peddicord, Liz Garton Scanlon, Jo Whittemore, Phil Yates, and Jennie Ziegler. (Brian Yansky and Frances Hill submitted manuscripts but unfortunately had to drop out at the last minute).

The manuscripts were amazing, fresh, and fun. The level of discourse was extraordinary - thoughtful and spirited, but never mean-spirited.

Carmen Oliver and Donna Bratton worked as "pages," arranging and picking up breakfasts, fresh fruit, soft drinks, ice, snacks, and generally performing all those indispensable behind-the-scenes tasks without which an event of this scale could not possibly happen. They were tireless, thoughtful, diligent, and performed above and beyond with a wonderful verve, aplomb, and humor.

Julie helped collate and deliver packets; Brian and Frances, Gene, Tim, and Shana provided extra chairs; Tim additionally provided serving platters, ice, and coolers; Meredith ran invaluable errands; and Helen opened up her condo for the Saturday night party. Many thanks to everyone for their help (and please forgive me if I haven't specifically mentioned a contribution).

The weekend on site began early Friday morning with a continental breakfast of kolaches, fresh fruit, and yogurt. We then kicked off the work part of the workshop with five sessions of forty minutes each, with five minute breaks in between each session.

We then sent the group out for lunch, and followed up with another five sessions to end the day. Delighted and exhausted after the first days' work, a number of us then went out to dinner and margaritas at Maudie's, Too.

The next morning, the pages arrived early with bagels and muffins from Einstein Brothers. followed by another days' worth of sessions and discourse.

That evening, we headed over to Helen's for the party. She and her husband, Neil, were extremely gracious and generous hosts. Many thanks for their hospitality! (Catering was through Pascal's [fantastic!] and included shrimp, empenadas, stuffed mushrooms, crab cakes, beef canapes, salmon cups, and small pastries).

Donna and Carmen dived into the final day of the workshop by arriving in style (and in costume - I'll let you go to Cynthia's blog to see) and with breakfast tacos (also from Lone Star Kolaches). And by this point, everyone was feeling a bit punchy... :-).

Finally, at noon, after our last five sessions, the pages surprised us by presenting us (!) with a gift basket of delicacies. And then, Jane Peddicord and the rest of the participants presented Cynthia and me with some extraordinarily gracious words, a library bird house, and a gift certificate to Book People.

To the pages and participants: We are incredibly humbled by this generosity. Thank you for everything and for your roles in making this weekend a success.

Now get back to writing. :-).

UPDATE: See Cynsations, with more pictures, for Cyn's account.

Monday, June 23, 2008

DAEMON HALL, by Andrew Nance

DAEMON HALL, by Andrew Nance (Henry Holt, 2007)(ages 10+). Best-selling horror writer Ian Tremblin is holding a short story writing contest for teens - the winner will get to have his or her story published.

The catch? The five finalists must spend the night with Ian in Daemon Hall, the infamous haunted mansion whose builder killed his entire family, then hanged himself in the study. The five arrive at sundown, per instructions, without phones or flashlights and accompany Ian upstairs, where they read their stories aloud. At the end of the night, Ian will pick the winner. If any survive...

DAEMON HALL is a fun yet seriously creepy novel. The individual contestants' stories are themselves engaging and the over-arching framework successfully works to build the suspense, as the reader is caught up in the mystery of what is going on and who, if anyone, will make it through the night.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...