Monday, December 24, 2012

New Reviews: Holiday Picturebooks

Happy holidays to all! This blog will be quiet for a little while as its writers eat cookies and read for pleasure, but I wanted to pop in and direct you to a couple of new reviews on our sister site, SDSU Children's Literature Reviews. Last week saw reviews of Polar Slumber, The Golden Christmas Tree, and Deck the Halls. Additionally, see this link for an archive of holiday-themed picture books. If you have any holiday favorites, please feel free to share in the comments!

Friday, December 21, 2012

This is the Way the World Ends: Top Ten Post-Apocalyptic Young Adult Novels

In honor of the end of the Mayan calendar, I'd like to share my favorite post-apocalyptic books for teens. I'm using the term "post-apocalyptic" loosely, here. Some of these books are set in a distant future, when society has rebuilt itself (in an appropriately dystopic manner), and others focus on the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic event. But they all share the same idea: that nothing is the same as it used to be.

1. Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. When a meteor hits the moon and knocks it out of its standard orbit, the environmental effects are disastrous. Massive tidal waves wipe out all coastal cities, long-dormant volcanoes erupt and choke the sky with ash so that the sun can no longer warm the earth. If you want to be freaked out by the idea of being able to do absolutely nothing in the face of a natural disaster, go ahead and give this book a look-see.

2. Ashes, by Ilsa Bick. Part lost-in-the-woods survival story, part zombie apocalypse, part dystopia, Ashes is the kind of book you'll want to read with the lights on.

3. Blood Red Road, by Moira Young. Whether another world or a ravaged Earth, the setting for Blood Red Road is bleak and dusty. Think the salt flats in Utah, or a dessicated Salton Sea. The story, though brutal at times (particularly when the main character is forced into cage fighting), is ultimately uplifting.

4. Legend, by Marie Lu. I attended an author talk in which Marie Lu admitted that part of the inspiration for writing this book was this: she saw a map of the projected changes to North America with drastic global warming, and Southern California was all but wiped from the landscape. An Angeleno, Lu mused "What if my hometown was completely ravaged?" Legend features a Los Angeles like you've never imagined.

5. Empty, by Suzanne Weyn. What if we really do run out of fossil fuels? Empty imagines a not-so-far future in which that happens. Neighborhoods go dark, nobody can drive, and global warming sends massive storms across the continental U.S. This book is realistic enough to make you want to go out and buy an electric car to help assuage the need for fossil fuels and a crap-ton of matches and canned goods for when we run out of them anyway.

6. Gone, by Michael Grant. Not quite so much post-apocalyptic as teenager's fantasy. When all the adults suddenly poof! disappear, children and teenagers must form a new society on their own.

7. Partials, by Dan Wells. A virus has wiped out everyone in the world except for a small community of survivors in what used to be Long Island. The science-fiction element of a virus that kills newborn babies -- so that no life may ever thrive again -- is compelling, but what really stands out in this novel is a Manhattan that has been overtaken by nature in the wake of human disaster.

8. Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. Overpopulation has forced people into trailer parks that climb into the sky, and everyone now functions within a giant global internet that has usurped the need for any human interaction. While the outside world is disturbing, the universe inside the internet is amazing. Ernest Cline should win a prize for world-building. Read this book. You will be in awe. And if you're a child of the 70s or 80s, you'll enjoy the dozens of references to the pop culture of your childhood.

9. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Do I really need to say anything about this one? It's chilling and thrilling, and if you haven't read it, what's it like under that rock?

10. Pure, by Julianna Baggott. This one earns the prize of best-book-I've-read-all-year. In a frightening future where nuclear detonations have changed the face of the planet and the faces of the people, main characters Pressia and Partridge must figure out what brought them together and what the real significance of the Dome is. The Dome -- a sheltered area around the erstwhile Washington D.C. -- is home to the "Pures," people who were untouched by the detonations. Those not so lucky to make it to the dome (basically everyone who wasn't rich or otherwise already privileged) fused to whatever was nearest at the time of the explosions, resulting in a new society of mutated humans. With themes of gender difference, familial obligation, disability, political unrest, science fiction, abjection, and class difference running through this book, it is ripe for analysis and discussion.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Publishing Response to Sandy Hook

As an offshoot of Alya's post from Monday, I wanted to share this short piece from Publishers Weekly. The article highlights the books and other goods that publishers and bookstore owners are sending to Newtown. In particular, Tanglewood Publishing is donating hundreds of copies of Audrey Penn's The Kissing Hand, which focuses on the great leap young children take when separating from their parents to go to school.

From Publishers Weekly:

"Kim Pescatelli, a Connecticut mother and knitter, knew that many schools use Audrey Penn’s The Kissing Hand (Tanglewood Books) in kindergarten to help ease children’s anxiety about being separated from their family during the school day. Her idea: to give a copy of the book along with a pair of Kissing Hand mittens with hearts on the palm to children in Newtown." Read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

CFP from the ChildLit GSA: Transformations in Children's and Young Adult Literature

The SDSU ChildLit GSA is very excited to announce our first CFP for the 2012-2013 academic year:
Call For Papers
Open to All SDSU Graduate Students 
Publication: Leafy Lofts: A Journal by and for Those Who Take Whimsy Seriously
Topic: Transformations in Children’s and Young Adult Literature
Submission Deadline: February 1, 2013

Leafy Lofts, the online journal founded by the ChildLit Graduate Student Association, will harness the creative identity of the SDSU graduate student body by showcasing their work. We are accepting submissions from graduate students in all disciplines who have projects related to the study of children’s literature or culture. Unconventional topics and approaches are encouraged; creative and quirky articles are given just as much merit as traditional scholarly articles.

The theme of the inaugural issue is Transformations in Children's and Young Adult Literature. Subjects may include but are not limited to stories of maturation, physical transformations, or the transformations of the genre itself (see topics below for suggestions). The potential organizational structure of the journal will include conference papers (past or present), reviews of scholarly books, articles on the visual elements of children's literature, and original artwork. Because of our opportunity of exposure to Chicano/a children’s literature, we particularly welcome any submissions on the topic of border identity.

Scholarly articles should be conference paper-length (between 7-10 pages, double-spaced, in MLA citation style); conference papers past and present are welcome. Book reviews should be about 2-3 pages, double-spaced. Articles about the visual elements and other informal articles have no page requirements.* Original artwork needs to be submitted in JPEG format.

Topics can include but are not limited to:
Analysis of children's movies
Portrayal of adolescence
Physical transformations into fantastical forms
Transformations of readers' minds
Sociological implications of the popularity of e-books for children
Contemporary interpretations of children's tales
Transformations of the child body
Changes in the genre and its reception
Monumental texts that changed the genre (past and present)
Transformation of fairy tales (retellings in various media)
Any other interpretation of "transformations"

Review Process:
The review process for submissions will include a double blind peer review. The final selections for publication will be based on recommendations from the peer reviewers and a committee from the ChildLit GSA. 

Submission Specifications:
Send your submissions to
  1. State in the subject heading the type of work being submitted: scholarly article, book review, article on visual aspects, or original artwork
  2. In the body of the email, include your name, contact information, title of your work, and abstract (250 words max)
  3. All papers should be attached as a Word document (.doc or .docx). Include ONLY the title (do NOT include your name or contact information in the paper)
  4. All artwork should be attached as a JPEG. If the file size is too large to be sent via email, please contact us directly to arrange an alternative method of submission.

*Copyright Information: Please note that due to copyright laws, there may be images that we will not be able to reproduce; it is up to you to confirm, obtain, and provide us with proof of copyright permission. Otherwise, we can include legitimate links to artwork/images if provided.

Any Questions? Contact ChildLit GSA at

ChildLit GSA website (still a work-in-progress):

Monday, December 17, 2012

Thoughtful Pieces on Coping and Helping Children

The tragic events last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School have left a cold numbness on everyone's hearts and minds. As a graduate student of children's literature, I feel a pang whenever I glance at my children's books--part of why I pursue this is because of the light these stories bring to kids, the excitement, amazement, and comfort they glean from these silly and not-so-silly books.  As such, I particularly appreciated this article on the Huffington Post, about the comfort and strength reading offers in times of trauma. I especially think using children's books to help kids cope--be it focusing on loss, heroes, or families--enables them to connect their emotions more easily to positivity and hope.

Two other thoughtful pieces on how to guide children through a traumatic experience can be found on:
Educating Alice
The Moving Castle

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Books that Cast a Spell on Me

I'm a big fan of magic: fantastical worlds, untapped energies, roaring spells and philosophical beings that emerge due to a magical universe and reveal deeper elements of humanity. It's what gets my imagination racing with joyful adrenalin. I've shared before with friends, peers, and you that the magic of the Harry Potter series guided me back to children's literature as a whole to discover the possibilities in studying and pursuing it. All comes back to magic... And yet while reminiscing about some of my favorite books from childhood, I realized that the idea of magic without magic is a powerful component of many of my early books--the spells the stories cast was upon my imagination and creativity. So here I am sharing a few, just a handful, of books that I am indebted to for waking up different facets of fantastical thinking in my mind:

1. Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe -- Long before vampires became the sparkly creatures of every teenagers dream, their mystique inhabited a little rabbit, raising the suspicions of the family's keen observant cat, Chester. As a child I adored rabbits and the intrigue of this tale played upon that love completely, making me much more curious, observant, and thoughtful about the ordinary people, places, and animals around me.

2. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien -- the ultimate presence of science astounded me, making the characters more accessible and memorable for me.  The balance between intelligence and the heart twisted around the idea of where magic resides, and the sweet protagonist mother mouse Mrs. Frisby has the coolest name too (who doesn't love frisbees? come on).

3. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery -- You know how he tames the fox, makes it love him and loves it back in return? Yeah, I may have tried that over and over again with the wild bunnies around our home when I was little. Perhaps it didn't work, but I certainly came to care for my little bunny more and more at least. That of course is just one of the epic reasons I love this story.

4. Frindle by Andrew Clements -- Okay I wasn't actually a child when I read this. It was my brother's and I must have been about 15 or so when I did. Nevertheless, it resonates with me always as the perfect depiction of the power of words, creativity, and idea formation in the real world. Plus, I considered time and time again what word would I want to create... still working on it.

What books wove magic spells and enchantments around you simply by their ideas? What shaped your imagination as a youngling? Do share! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Hey baby, what's your faction?"

In keeping with the theme of easy distraction this week, I have a couple of fun diversions for you. I recently read Veronica Roth's Divergent, which came out in 2011 and was hailed as the perfect option for readers who couldn't get enough of The Hunger Games. In Divergent, another young adult dystopian thriller, the society is divided into five factions, each representing a shared set of very specific values. The factions -- Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite -- have their own respective codes of conduct, and the people within them are defined by the characteristics of their faction. For example, the members of Dauntless get around town by jumping on and off of moving trains, and the selfless members of Abnegation always carry extra food to give to the homeless. Amity is filled with friendly, peaceable types; Candor is home to the artless; and Erudite finds its members spending their days in the library.

Of course, there are problems with essentializing an entire community of people, but if there weren't problems, there wouldn't be a book. And much as you may resist wanting to categorize yourself and others, it's difficult to read this book and not consider which faction you would inhabit. To that end, here are three online quizzes that sort you into your faction. (Much like Hogwarts' fabled sorting hat.)

Quiz One
Quiz Two
Quiz Three

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday Pick-Me-Ups

Oh joy, it's Monday and surely you need a pick-me-up if, like me, you had a raucously wild weekend of writing, and writing, and thinking about writing, and being distracted from writing. So here, two delightful looks back on the excellence that is Children's Lit:
  1. Writers' Favorite Classic Book Illustrations -- compiled on The Guardian, authors share the images that best capture the innocence, terror and enchantment of children's stories, images that mean the most to them.
  2. The Year in Miscellanea at 100 Scope Notes -- from Most Disgusting Moment to Jawline of the Year (with some blue LEGOs and a bookmark here and there), this review of 2012 in Children's Lit is really like none other. Really. Even toenail clippings make a cameo. And that is what makes it brilliant.
Hope they lift your spirits up!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Newest Issue of Through the Looking Glass available online

The most recent issue of Through the Looking Glass, an online journal featuring scholarly explorations in children's literature, is available for viewing at this link. General Editor David Beagley states that articles in this issue "explore the huge changes that loom in children's and YA literature through the new world of online media."

Articles that exemplify this include Stephanie di Palma's "Blogging or Believing? Do themes presented by scholarly discourse correlate with the casual conversations of people through the world wide web?" and David Beagley's "Blurring the Boundaries: the changing i-Discourse of children's literature."

This issue also introduces a new column, called A Tortoise's Tale, which features school and classroom issues and ideas. In the inaugural contribution, Amanda von der Lohe discusses the consequences of censoring classic literature in an article titled "Old Jim Won’t Be a N*gger No More: Ramifications of Using Censored Versions of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the Classroom."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Diverse Books for Diverse Readers in the Classroom

An interesting article about diversity (or lack thereof) of children's lit in classrooms cropped up on the NY Times a few days ago. Speaking directly about young Latino/a readers, the article raises questions about the accessibility of multicultural children's books that speak to a child's particular culture. I've mentioned my own experience in lack of exposure to my cultural background from books as a child, and those reflections along with this article make the issue abundantly clear: the books are out there--they do exist--but their lack of presence in schools makes it all the more difficult for kids to be aware of and seek out those books.

So how to work around that? Well, there are countless diverse blogs for one, you need only run a search to find one you like. But the NY Times has pulled together their own resource as well: Books to match Diverse Readers, a collection of first chapters from diverse books for second to fourth graders highlighting black, Latino, Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native cultures.

Nevertheless, as more books get exposure, our collective awareness and understanding gets stronger too. Authors like Julia Alvarez, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Alma Flor Ada and Gary Soto are familiar, but can we expand that? I personally feel uninformed in many ways, and hope to change that quite soon, if only to be able to recognize authors and identify the wealth of their works in a snap. On a side note, I happened to play a pick-up tennis game with Gary Soto in Berkeley a few years ago (which was totally awesome by the way). I hadn't the slightest clue who he was though until he finally shared with me bit by bit, yikes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Top Ten Books I'd Want On A Deserted Island

Oh, hey, remember when I did two other top ten lists? I'm still not on a regular rotation joining in the group of bloggers who consistently do the Top Ten Tuesday lists hosted by The Broke and the Bookish blog, but I haven't forgotten about this charming little meme. The next one I'm going to tackle is this: The Top Ten Books I'd Want On A Deserted Island.

Is it possible to narrow this list down to just ten? If I were stranded on a deserted island, I would want an entire library. Stranded, with no outside obligations? Think of all the reading time! I mean, after I hunt for food, find a water source, and build a sophisticated fort for shelter, of course. But if I'm limited to ten, these will do the trick:

1. Castaway. I've written about this book before. I'll want it on the deserted island for survival tips.

2. Speaking of survival tips, I'm going to cheat a little: obviously I will need The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook.

3. The Velveteen Rabbit. Because I'm going to want to cry over something other than how much I miss home.

4. War and Peace. Because when else am I going to have the time to read this book?

5. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Because it is the best one.

6. Anna and the French Kiss. Because it is tres charmant, and I will want to escape into a fluffy world of teenage friendship and romance.

7. Macbeth. So that I can recite Lady McB's monologues without fear that anyone will overhear my awkward attempts at acting Shakespeare.

8. The Grimm Reader. Because even (especially?) on a deserted island, I'm going to need fairy tales for escape and imagination.

9. Kate Bernheimer's My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. To compare these 40 re-envisioned fairy tales (by a variety of authors) to the classics represented in The Grimm Reader.

10. A GIANT blank journal, so that I can write my own story.

What books would you want on your lonely island?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

You Get to Answer Hamlet's Eternal Question, and Much More

Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? How you would try to carefully pick and navigate through this maze of pages in order to emerge triumphant? Or rather, like me, in search of every untimely demise the author had to offer? Oh, childhood.  Well, a Canadian comic book writer, Ryan North, is writing one... on Hamlet (read about it here). And the premise alone is brilliant.  at least a hundred different storylines and outcomes (one of which is actually the Shakespearean original, if you choose your path the way the Bard intended), all carefully construed around the characters and drawn from their personalities and histories. I think it sounds fabulous and enriching--literary adventures are the most grueling and daring of all! And rather a concise, in-one-volume approach or reimagining of the many ways people write or create stories based on a classic or well-read book--what they imagine characters might be like in a different situation, or had they chosen a different path. The best part might be learning all the details you don't realize are included in the play itself until they manifest themselves into the dead character whose ghost you are now following.

But you must also read about how other people must agree with me because of the money he has raised on Kickstarter. It will shock you. And perhaps return some faith in humanity's love for creativity, imagination and the written word (as well as exceptional illustrations from at least 30 different artists).

So I wonder, will CYOA books come back to the forefront? I loved them as a kid, but their existence whittled away. On the one hand, one might think an author would have a difficulty truly developing a character or plot, and bringing up all encompassing themes seems like an impossibility; thus authors may not find it rewarding or fulfilling to their purpose. And yet, as I hope will be the case with this, the world is all the more fine-tuned and detailed. Plus, a depth can be found in the characters who may struggle between a right or wrong, a good or bad, and show where their inner demons may lead them (by the way, that inner demon would be you in this case! Hmm...). Something to ponder in your free moments.