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48 Hour Book Challenge Summary

During the weekend's 48 Hour Book Challenge, I read two and a half books. (More on the half soon. The 2 books that counted came to 292 pages.) I don't know how long it took me in all because I fit everything in between a carnival, the final soccer game of the season, a birthday party, and Father's Day. And I'm not totally surprised to find out that I much prefer sharing children's books with children to reading them by myself. I missed the conversations, the goofy observations, the non-sequiturs, and that magical thing that happens between two people when they read a book together.

One of the books I read, How I Found the Strong, I'll remember for my son when he is older; it would be a good read-aloud for a parent and an eleven year old. Set in my home state of Mississippi, the coming-of-age novel  details  the  awful toll of war, even for the people who stay behind. For a middle-school child interested in, or studying, the Civil War, the fast-paced book ought to be of great interest. Margaret McMullan wrote How I Found the Strong, which is based on family stories, for her son, and  it's a good one for boys.


"Moccasin Thunder"

Because of some mature subject matter, Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson, is geared more for teenagers rather than the 9 to 12 crowd. Alcoholism, abuse, drug use, and very troubled family relations figure in a number of the offerings. Several stories are pretty depressing.

Luckily, the anthology includes Joseph Bruchac's beautiful story, "Ice," set in the Adirondacks and about an Abenaki boy and his uncle; spirituality, writing, doofy "Indian" tourist traps, and Lake George all figure in the plot. After reading that piece, I absolutely want to read more Bruchac, who is a very well-known Native American author. I also enjoyed Cynthia Leitich Smith's "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate," about a young man working at a costume shop and his connection with a would-be customer. In "Drum Kiss," by Susan Power, a bookish Winnebago girl finds friends through storytelling; the story features a touching and hopeful resolution. If more of the works had been like these, I would have been able to give a more enthusiastic recommendation.

This book was #2 for me in the 48 Hour blog review-a-thon.

Moccasin Thunder
HarperCollins Children's Books, 2005
156 pages


"Vamos a Cuba" Banned

Remember Vamos a Cuba, which I mentioned in April? The Miami-Dade school board banned the informational picture book this week. Going against the recommendations of school chief Rudy Crew and two advisory committees, the board voted on Wednesday to remove it from all schools in the Miami-Dade County school system. Terry Aguayo reports in the New York Times,

The book is part of a 24-book series for children in kindergarten through second grade that teaches about travel around the world and different cultures. The other 23 books will also be removed, though the board received no complaints about them.

What in the world? As Book Moot would say, the know-nothings strike again.

Update, 6/22. Click here for information about a law suit being filed by the ACLU and others.


Spies in the NY Times

Joe Queenan, perhaps best known as a reviewer for his raking-over-the-coals of A.J. Jacobs's "The Know-It-All," reviews children's spy books in the June 18th New York Times Book Review, and finds Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider thrillers lacking. Charlie Higson's Young Bond books fare much better. The Times considers a number of other books for kids in the same issue; Lilly's Big Day, by Kevin Henkes, gets a shout-out in the Bookshelf section. Catherine Gilbert Murdock's young adult novel, Dairy Queen, receives some more acclaim, too.

By the way, Jacobs eventually responded to Queenan with a column of his own, "I Am Not a Jackass." Will Horowitz object to being called "a clunky, uninspiring prose stylist" and his novel's being labeled as having "zero intellectual content"? Time will tell.


"How I Found the Strong"

As part of Mother Reader's 48 Hour Blog Challenge to read and review children's books, I chose How I Found the Strong: A Novel of the Civil War, by Margaret McMullan, as my first book. Written for 9-12 year olds, it's the story of Frank Russell, a ten-year-old Mississippi boy who stays at the family farm with his mother and Buck, a slave, while his father and brother go off to fight in the Confederate Army. McMullan does not spare anything about the hardship of war; there are some gory descriptions of a field hospital and casualties and later a lynching.

This is a well-written book about a decent and kind-hearted family, slightly marred by the choice of dialect for Buck's character. At one point Frank and Buck are looking at some fireflies, and Buck says,  "Dere dey all go." He does not always speak that way. I should note that no one in the novel speaks grammatically.

There is plenty of drama here; the novel moves quickly. I would call it both anti-slavery and anti-war—no glories of the Old South here. I give How I Found the Strong four stars out of five.

I started the 48HBC at 1 p.m. and hope to read at least a couple of other books by 1 on Sunday.

How I Found the Strong, by Margaret McMullan
Houghton Mifflin, 2004
136 pages
Hours to read: 2 (on and off)


Poetry Friday: Deborah Garrison

Every time I consider skipping Poetry Friday, in which a bunch of bloggers post poems or poetry-related articles, I think of one more poet to mention. Today's wordsmith is Deborah Garrison, and Random House offers an excerpt from her first book, A Working Girl Can't Win (1998), and includes one of my favorites, "The Firemen." I know those firemen! They worked right next door to the old New Yorker office building, and I used to pass by them every day, too.

I also like "Worked Late on a Tuesday Night" with its description of the area near the New York Public Library on 42nd Street, "Midtown is blasted out and silent."

Copyright restrictions are quite tight on these works, so to read  them in their entirety, go visit  Random House. On the site, I read that Deborah Garrison has a new book coming out in February 2007. Great!


An Intro to Terry Pratchett, by Guest Columnist Michele Fry

Terry Pratchett. Ever since starting to read the lit blogs, it's a name I've heard over and over. For some time now I've needed a tutorial on this writer, and I know that others would appreciate it, too. I've asked Michele Fry, of Scholar's Blog in the UK, to write this guest column. Thanks, Michele!

Terry Pratchett is the astonishingly popular author-creator of the Discworld™ series; reportedly 1% of every book sold in the UK is written by Pratchett—that’s all books, not just fantasy ones. He has also written some non-Discworld books as well, of which more later. First a brief explanation of Discworld for those who are unfamiliar with it. As suggested by its name, this is a flat world carried on the back of four large elephants, which are themselves standing upon the back of the giant, space-faring world turtle, Great A’Tuin, which endlessly swims through space.

For readers new to Discworld, a good starting place is Pratchett’s marvellous “Discworld for children” trilogy featuring the apprentice witch, Tiffany Aching: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, and the forthcoming Wintersmith.

Tiffany is the kind of child who, reading in her book of stories that Jenny Greenteeth has eyes the size of soup plates, measures a soup plate to check the size; she knows the meanings of lots of words (no one has ever told her that you’re not meant to read the dictionary like a novel); she’s the kind of child who, hearing stories about the “wicked old witch”, wonders “Where’s the evidence?” In The Wee Free Men Tiffany encounters Jenny Greenteeth and this leads her to taking on the Queen of the Faeries herself (and this being Terry Pratchett, we’re not talking Tinkerbell fairies !); she also finds herself temporarily the Kelda (leader) of the Wee Free Men (aka the Nac Mac Feegle), 4 inch high blue men with an over-aggressive attitude (they love fighting, stealing and drinking, preferably all at once !), but astonishing loyalty. In the sequel, A Hat Full of Sky, Tiffany goes to stay with Miss Level to learn to be a witch. Unfortunately, just before she leaves the Chalk (where she lives), she attracts the attention of a “hiver” a bodiless creature that likes to inhabit minds until the minds’ owners go mad and die. The manner in which Tiffany chooses to deal with this frightening and threatening creature is remarkably mature and unselfish, and the book itself is a compelling look at the power of storytelling (something which Pratchett discusses again and again in his books).

Other books by Terry Pratchett that are written for children but serve as a good introduction to his books for readers of all ages is The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, a Discworld parody of the tale of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, and non-Discworld books that include the Bromeliad trilogy (Truckers, Diggers and Wings) about a race of Nomes (beings akin to Lilliputians, but with far more advanced technology, and the YA Johnny Maxwell trilogy (Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny and the Dead and Johnny and the Bomb), featuring the sensitive and thoughtful teen Johnny Maxwell and his friends.

Michele is an independent scholar (i.e., not attached to a university) based in Oxford. She writes and reads every day—sometimes she reads an entire book in one day, sometimes she doesn't, but she rarely averages less than four books a week. She did a degree in English and History in the late 90s as a mature student, but has loved these subjects since her school days. She has been writing and publishing articles about fantasy fiction (for children and for adults) ever since completing her degree in 2001. She has been a fan of fantasy fiction since the age of 8 when a teacher read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to her class. Her favourite authors include J R R Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, Juliet E McKenna, Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Pullman and Geraldine McCaughrean.

You can find some of her thoughts and comments about Terry Pratchett’s books on her blog as follows:
Personal isn’t the same as important
The Matter of Elves
Dragons and Turtles: Myth and Fantasy
Inspiring Criticism


Reading Drop-off After Age 8

In a study by Scholastic, researchers found a significant drop-off in children's reading after the age of 8. I was happy to read that one of the solutions  was to continue to read aloud to kids. Book recommendations, by both librarians and parents, were also seen as key.  (News analysis via Publishers Weekly.)

1000 people (500 kids, 1 adult or guardian per child) were involved in the study, which does not seem overwhelmingly high to me, but I am no statistician. The whole report is available online at Scholastic; I have not read it yet.


Picture Book Poet Laureate

Last week Donald Hall was named the new poet laureate of the United States. He will succeed Ted Kooser, taking the role next fall. See the Boston Globe for more details.

While many literary folks and others admire Hall's poetry, children may know him best for  his wonderful picture book,  Ox-Cart Man. The Horn Book said, "Like a pastoral symphony translated into picture book format, the stunning combination of text and illustrations recreates the mood of 19th century rural New England." If you haven't read this one, do seek it out. Barbara Cooney's art is lovely; in fact, the book won the 1980 Caldecott medal.