Monday, November 30, 2009


THE WITCH'S GUIDE TO COOKING WITH CHILDREN, by Keith McGowan, ill. by Yoko Tanaka (Henry Holt 2009)(ages 8-12). Eleven-year-old Sol Blink and his younger sister Connie have moved with their father and new stepmother to Grand Creek. Their new neighbor, Fay Holaderry, is a little creepy and may be older than anyone thinks. And then Sol notices that the bone Fay's dog is gnawing on is a human femur...

WITCH'S GUIDE is a fun new take on "Hansel and Gretel," with 21st Century protagonists and all the Old World charm, err, creepiness, of Bavaria's Black Forest. Both sinister and enjoyable, WITCH'S GUIDE will have readers laughing, thinking, and looking for recipes.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


BUG BOY, by Eric Luper (FSG 2009)(12+). It's the height of the Great Depression and 15 year old Jack Walsh is senior exercise boy for his stable at Saratoga racetrack, but aspires to be a world-famous and winning jockey. It's all he can do at the moment, though, to keep his mind on his job, eke out a meager existence, and send modest sums back home.

But Jack gets his chance when his stable's premier jockey suffers an accident at the gate. Jack immediately becomes an unexpected success and celebrity. But between the mobsters who want to fix the races and the fat cats who own them, can Jack make it to the finish line in one piece?

Replete with period detail, BUG BOY exposes in compelling fashion both the glamor and dubious ethics of the 1930s horse-racing culture. Jack is likeable, engaging, and sympathetic. In short, BUG BOY is the fascinating story of a young man deciding who he is and wants to be in a world of temptation, corruption, and (sometimes) integrity.

Friday, November 27, 2009


SEA OF THE DEAD, by Julia Durango (Simon & Schuster 2009)(ages 8-12). Thirteen-year-old Kehl is the youngest son of the premier warrior prince of the Teshic Empire, an empire at war with the rebel Fallen. Training to become a warrior himself, and trying to live up to his family's expectations, Kehl is kidnapped from barracks by the minions of the Fallen King.

Taken aboard their ship, Kehl learns their ways and some uncomfortable truths about the Empire and how his mother was killed...

In SEA OF THE DEAD, Durango offers a likeable and engaging protagonist, as well as rousing adventure; and creates a unique fantasy world with satisfying amounts of both intrigue and blood and mayhem.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


THE EYEBALL COLLECTOR, by F.E. Higgins (Feiwel & Friends 2009)(10-14). In the corrupt city of Urbs Umida, divided between the rich north and the southern slums by the toxic River Foedus, Hector Fitzbaudly is living the life of a scion of society and wealth.

But when his father dies after being blackmailed by the dastardly Gulliver Truepin, Hector loses everything and must make his way on the south side. And all he has left is revenge on the one-eyed man who killed his father...

A companion to THE BLACK BOOK OF SECRETS and THE BONE MAGICIAN, THE EYEBALL COLLECTOR is another winner set in the deliciously creepy world of Urbs Umida. Read them all.

Friday, November 20, 2009


THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE, by Jacqueline Kelly (Henry Holt 2009)(ages 12+). The middle child of seven (the rest are boys), eleven year old Calpurnia Tate is not your typical girl in 1899 Texas. As she becomes fascinated by the natural world, she grows closer to her fearsome grandfather, an amateur naturalist. When they discover a new plant which they send to the Smithsonian for corroboration, Calpurnia begins to struggle with what it means to be a girl in turn-of-the-century Texas and what it will mean for her dream of going to college to become a professional naturalist.

In a voice that resonates with nostalgia, Kelly evokes simpler times and richly details episodes in one summer of Calpurnia's life as she and her grandfather await the important scientific news...

Illinois SCBWI

Last weekend, Cynthia and I had the pleasure of attending the annual conference of the Illinois chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators (SCBWI), which had invited Cynthia to be a keynote speaker. It was a terrific chance to see old friends, meet new ones, and hear interesting things about the state of children's literature and publishing.

Other main-session speakers included Yolando LeRoy (Charlesbridge); Michael Stearns (Upstart Crow); Stacy Cantor (Walker & Co.); Nick Eliopulos (Random House); and Alisha Niehaus (Dial).

Altogether, it was an excellent event, characterized by great comraderie and Midwestern efficiency. :-). The night we got in, the group took us to dinner at the Weber Grill restaurant (barbecue was excellent) and the night after, to Uno's.

Some pictures:

I just like this one :-). The event was held at Harper College in Schaumburg and the theme was "Brick by Brick: The Architecture of our Stories," and this sign put me in mind of the Big Bad Wolf. For some reason. And, yes, for the record, the Men's Room was likewise a tornado shelter.

Carolyn Crimi and Michael Stearns engage in heated conversation while Yolanda LeRoy looks on.

Yolanda LeRoy discusses picture book layout.

The panelists (from left to right): Nick, Yolanda, Michael, Alisha, Stacy.

Alisha laughs at something Michael and I are discussing.

Thanks to everyone who drove and organized and escorted and attended!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CLS interview

Cyn is interviewed today by Hip Writer Mama! Go check it out!


ROLAND WRIGHT: FUTURE KNIGHT, by Tony Davis, ill. by Gregory Rogers (Delacorte 2009)(ages 6-10). All ten year old Roland Wright, the son of a famous blacksmith, wants to do is become a famous knight. But only sons of nobles can become knights. But then, he's given a chance to compete to be one of King John's pages. Can skinny, scrawny Roland win and achieve his dream?

ROLAND WRIGHT: FUTURE KNIGHT is witty and fun as it explores a young boy's quest to achieve his dreams while staying true to himself. First of a series.

Monday, November 16, 2009


BORDER CROSSING, by Jessica Lee Anderson (Milkweed 2009)(ages 14+). Sixteen year old Manz, half-Mexican, half-Anglo, is just trying to make it in his small Texas town. With an alcoholic mother and a long-dead father (a possible suicide), it isn't easy. But things start looking up after he and his friend Jed get a job at a local ranch, and he meets the intriguing and sexy Vanessa.

If only they weren't all out to get him...

BORDER CROSSING is a fascinating and disturbing novel of Manz's descent into hallucinatory paranoia and suspicion, a result of his emerging schizophrenia. Using a first-person narration, Anderson skillfully unwraps the contours and tragedy of Manz's life and mental illness. Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


GOING BOVINE, by Libba Bray (Delacorte 2009). Sixteen year old Cameron has been acting even more erratically than usual; turns out, he has mad cow disease and his brain is turning, literally, to mush. In the hospital, he encounters Gonzo, a sixteen year old hypochondriac dwarf, and Dulcie, a punk angel. Together, they undertake a cross country road trip (and more) to find Cameron a cure at a secret medical facility in Disney World.

Throw in a yard gnome who's actually a Norse god in exile, an insidiously catchy tune (you know the one), string theory, and the man of La Mancha, and you have a brilliantly funny novel of life, death, friendship, and life.

Cyn and I had the good fortune of reading an early draft during our 2005 Writefest workshop. The manuscript was massive (400+ pages) but, like the finished work, at once zany and thought-provoking.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


THE BOOK OF THE MAIDSERVANT, by Rebecca Barnhouse (Random House 2009)(ages 12+). The holy woman, Dame Margery Kempe, is on pilgrimage to Rome, so naturally, she must take Johanna, her maidservant. Along the way, the pair fall in with an eclectic group of fellow pilgrims, most of whom treat Johanna as if she was their servant and are antagonized by Dame Margery's frequent preaching and crying and gnashing of teeth (she feels the suffering of the Virgin Mary).

Angry at her situation and her mistress, Johanna is eventually abandoned and so must make her way alone. But how can she, with no money and no knowledge of the language?

THE BOOK OF THE MAIDSERVANT is apparently based on the 15th century Book of Margery Kempe, the first autobiography in the English language. Told with a fresh voice and wry humor, MAIDSERVANT offers an fascinating glimpse into the travails of 15th century life.

Monday, November 09, 2009


I WANT TO LIVE: THE DIARY OF A GIRL IN STALIN'S RUSSIA, by Nina Lugovskaya (Houghton Mifflin 2007). In 1932, in the heart of Stalinist Russia, thirteen year old Nina Lugovskaya began writing her diary. It covers everything you'd expect: stories of her friends, crushes, siblings. And experiences with the police state that sent her father to prison camp.

The diary was seized by the NKVD (forerunner to the KGB) when Nina herself was arrested at 18 and used as proof of Nina's anti-Soviet sentiments. The volume(s) was uncovered after the fall of the Soviet Union in the KGB archives.

I WANT TO LIVE is a chilling account of life in a totalitarian state. Particularly intriguing are the passages marked by the State as indicative of anti-Soviet thoughts. At once terrifyig and compelling, I WANT TO LIVE offers a searing portrait of the girl, the place, and the period.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Texas Book Festival

In honor of the book festival, the Statesman had an article on Saturday about the Austin writing scene.

Our goings-on this year began at the Children's Author and Moderator party graciously hosted by Clay Smith, literary director of the festival.

After much Tex-Mex and one or two libations...

Me: Is the very tall blonde woman whose name tag says "Jane Smiley" THE Jane Smiley?
Cyn: I don't know, why don't you go and ask her.

Later, while I was in conversation with Jacqueline Kelly and a gentleman from PW, Jane Smiley approached, and I blurted, "Hi! I love Moo!" Jacqueline Kelly also expressed admiration for that book, although much more serenely. So, anyway, Jane Smiley was very gracious as we talked about humor and horses and writing...

Next morning, Cyn and I went over to the Capital and ran into Ken and Kathi Appelt in the green room (author reception)

At noon, we attended the Small Town Girls panel with Jill S. Alexander, author of The Sweetheart of Prosper County; Heather Hepler, author of The Cupcake Queen; Jacqueline Kelly, author of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate; and Diana Lopez, author of Confetti Girl. All offered fun insights into their writing and writing processes.

Later, was the Deals with the Devil: Writing about Faustian Bargains, with Cyn and Daniel and Dina Nayeri, authors of Another Faust. The discussion, led by moderator, April Lurie, ranged from literary antecedents to, well, Faustian bargains, and what teens look for in fiction. Daniel and Dina, whom we met for the first time, are smart and fun. You should go out and read their book, even though Daniel is a Sooners fan.

After the signing, Cyn, April, Daniel, Dina, our author escort, and I headed out for an early dinner at El Chile on Congress. Margaritas and chile rellenos were excellent, as was the conversation. After taking the Nayeris through the lobby and bar at the Driskill Hotel, Cyn and I called it a night.

Sunday morning, we got up early to have brunch with Anita Silvey, whom Cyn had met up in Vermont last summer. We had a lovely time at Moonshine, where we all ate far too much :-). Conversation ranged through a variety of publishing-related topics and we all agreed that sunlight seems to make people more optimistic. :-).

Cynthia attended the Ouch! That Hurts panel featuring Libba Bray, author of Going Bovine; Jessica Lee Anderson, author of Border Crossing; and Sara Zarr, author of Once was Lost; while I concurrently attended Anita's talk on her new book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book. Insights from prominent personages were both surprising and gratifying.

After the signings in the signing tent, we all (and with the addition of Erin Edwards and Emily from Book People) wandered down Congress Avenue for dinner at Roaring Fork in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel. Food and conversation were, again, outstanding.

More photos to come. Also, check out Cyn's blog for her take on the event.
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