57th Street Books' Angela Sherrill picks three books about Wolves

"Teens & Wolves: A Post in Two Voices"


The Program:
 At 57th Street Books, I have a Kid and Teen Critic review program, where I exchange ARCs and galleys for reviews.  ARCs are hand-selected to match the individual reader based on the participant's age, reading level, history and genre preferences. After reviews are submitted, I use them to help determine stock, displays, and promotions; to gauge interest in genres, authors and various formats; and to communicate with publishers on early feedback.  And the review program helps other shoppers make better decisions, especially when buying books as gifts, by posting the reviews in store, online, and in newsletters.

The Reviewer: Jennifer Glick has been a part of the Teen Critic program for over two years.  I have relied heavily on her opinion in my decision-making and find her reviews concise, reliable, helpful and enjoyable. She has helped me discover books I might not have read, and also helped me weed out others I probably shouldn't devote time towards.

The Idea: While my colleagues may call me a spring chicken, I am no longer a teen.  Therefore, the reviews from the teens in our program are essential to balance adult opinions with those of the intended audience.  For this post, I've paired up with Jen to get a more balanced perspective on three young adult novels about werewolves. Yes, teen werewolves.

The Note: These reviews contain spoilers.  Don't say we didn't warn you!

   

Liar
by Justine Larbalestier
Bloomsbury | 9781599903057 | 16.99 | Sept 2009

One of my favorite gals in publicity, Deb Shapiro, from Bloomsbury, got me to read this with her teaser campaign that included a chapter sampler, vague, yet enthusiastic little notes of praise, and of course, the early galley. I jumped in with two feet ready to love what she'd sent. But here's why I didn't.

Micah, the main character and narrator of the book, is a compulsive liar.  I found reading from this perspective endlessly frustrating.  As a reader, I was not able to distinguish between actual people, places, things and events and Micah's revisionist accounts. While this was a unique read, it's not something I felt I would recommend or read again. Mostly because, even though we don't really know Micah's story, the one she tells is that of urban werewolves and their bloody, romantic escapades.

While I suspected teens would be interested in the genre, I had no idea how they would take to the “liar's tale” voice.  Luckily, one of my savvy Teen Critics turned in a review to help balance my own opinion.  Here's her perspective: 

When I first picked up Liar it looked like one of the quickly and shoddily written werewolf novels that the recent Twilight obsession has unleashed, but Liar turned out to be a fantastic surprise.

I absolutely, one-hundred-percent, loved Liar.  The best part about the book is that it follows the life of Micah, a teenage pathological liar who is constantly rewriting her own story.  Thus the reader is never sure which chapters are true, and which convey aspects of a life that Micah wishes was her own.  Halfway through the novel Micah reveals that she is a werewolf, who shifts once a month unless she regularly takes her medication.

This novel is my favorite of the three wolf stories because instead of adding a wolf to an ordinary story, Ms. Larbalestier takes a great story about a liar, and then adds another great story about a werewolf. 

Wow! It''s a good thing I'm not the buyer at a reputable bookstore, huh?  Oh, right. I am. Well then, it's a good thing I have teens who review books for me, huh?

> Justine Larbaleister blogs here and tweets here.

***

Shiver
by Maggie Stiefvatar
Scholastic | 9780545123273 | $8.99 | June 2010

My sales rep and other booksellers really talked this one up early on as “the next Twilight, but with werewolves”.  So I knew it would get some attention and thought I'd give it a read after my recent lack of enthusiasm for Larbalestier's Liar. No dice. While I did enjoy this story a little more, it still fell flat and felt too much like werewolf romance. Which is good in a way, because that is exactly what it is.  Why are these girls dying to be vampires or wolves?  What's wrong with them? Why are so many people loving this story and desperate for it's sequel, Linger, due out in July 2010? For answers to these questions, I turn to my Teen Critics.

Jen hadn't read this one just after Liar, like I did.  I asked her to read this as the idea for this post formulated inside my cynical little head.  Here's what she said:

Shiver is a tale of a doomed romance, as Grace falls in love with a werewolf named Sam who has only a few more months to stay human. Although there are some mystery elements to the novel, the primary focus rests upon whether Sam and Grace are able to keep Sam human. 

The werewolf element made this story unique; instead of being simply a story about two teenagers in love they are a human girl and a wolf boy who are fighting against time and nature to stay together.

Jen thought this one was good, but not great.  While she doesn't have anything negative to say, she certainly wasn't raving about it like she did with Liar.  Therefore, I'd say we came out thinking similarly on this one. A sort of meeting in the middle.

> Maggie Stiefvatar blogs here and tweets here.

***

Claire de Lune
by Christine Johnson
Simon Pulse | 9780670011421 | $16.99 | May 2010

After reading two YA werewolf books, I certainly didn't expect to find myself reading a third this summer.  And then, one day, I got a call from a debut author trying to get her foot in the not-so proverbial door of a brick and mortar bookstore.  After a brief discussion on the possibility of hosting her for a book signing, I, with dread, agreed to read the book and then make a decision on whether we could make this work. I grabbed the galley, took it home, and started reading. 

Much to my surprise and pleasure, I truly enjoyed this one. And before I go on, here's what Jen had to say:

Claire de Lune is the most “traditional” werewolf novel out of the three, in the sense that Claire, the main character, is the werewolf, and she is trying to figure out how to be human and a wolf at the same time.  Claire’s life is further complicated when a rogue wolf begins to terrorize her community, inciting a local scientist to hunt the wolves so that he can attempt to cure them.  The novel gets interesting when Claire falls for the scientist’s son, but is unable to tell him about her true identity.

The mystery of the lone wolf makes you want to keep reading, and the hope for an impossible love keeps the reader entertained during slower scenes.  This book is well crafted and a delight to read – female teen readers who enjoy books about real girls with a splash of fantasy will love this book.

 I was happy to see Jen give nods to three things I couldn't agree with more. They are:

  1. Craftsmanship
  2. Mystery as intrigue
  3. Pleasurable reading

Our opinions diverge when Jen calls this one traditional. I can certainly see how you'd find this one more traditional when comparing this book to the two above, but I found this treatment of werewolves more feminist and enjoyable. Secondly, this one was definitely my favorite on the list, while Jen remained swept away by Liar

> Christine Johnson blogs here and tweets here.

In Summary:

Liar — Read this one if you're looking for a unique voice that will surprise and challenge you.

Shiver — Read this one if you're looking for a star-crossed romance to satisfy your soul.

Claire de Lune — Read this one if you're looking for a well-crafted, mysterious teen novel for the simple pleasure of reading a good story.

Moreover:  I can't wait until Twilight is no longer the starting off point for discussing YA novels such as these three books. It reminds me of the days when Harry Potter was the reference point for all middle-grade fantasy.  That moment seems to have passed. This, too, shall pass. 

In the meantime, I will keep encouraging teens to give all of us in the book world feedback.  I will gather their opinions, introduce them to new materials, and filter all of that through to you.  When you visit 57th Street Books, look for the kid and teen reviews and only after that should you ask me what I think about a particular book or genre.

– Angela Sherrill
57th Street Books 

[Editor's Note: As Angela alludes in her post, Claire de Lune author Christine Johnson will be appearing at 57th Street Books in July.  For more information, head on over to the Kids' Books page at the 57th Street Books site.]

57th Street Books' Angela Sherrill picks 3 little old ladies.

I'm happy to welcome a new set of picks from 57th Street Books' children's buyer and bookseller (and my3books' contributing editor) Angela Sherrill.

  

Three Little Old Ladies 

Over the years, I've been asked for books on many subjects.  One memorable topic I researched and gathered books for was for a local organization who specialized in working with children whose parents, for whatever reason, were not their primary caregiver. Instead, these children were cared for by elderly grandparents.  The organization was in need of books that:

  1. Represented the elderly in a positive light
  2. Showed healthy relationships between young people and the elderly and
  3. Books in which children with this family structure could find comfortable and understanding characters. 

A year or so after working on this project, a display idea started to form:  I should do a display featuring some of these wonderful elderly characters that appear in children's literature. Last week, I watched the Disney/Pixar movie UP, in which the main characters are aged, have a full back story, and relate humorously with the younger characters.  After thoroughly enjoying the movie, I decided now was, indeed, the time to tell you about my 3 favorite “little old lady” picture books. Why wait?  They aren't getting any younger, and in publishing, their fate may be the often unforgiving status: Out of Print.

This Little Old Lady Eats Socks 

Martha Moth Makes Socks
written & illustrated by Cambria Evans
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | 9780618557455 | $16 | Apr 2006

One could argue that Martha, may in fact, not be a little old lady.  The first objection would be the word little.  Martha is a moth of some size. Second, she has neither gray/white hair or is described as a particular age. But c'mon! Her friends are named Flora and Flit. She appears to live alone. She wears an oversized coat, and carries a purse AND umbrella with her when she goes out.  If you're not convinced, read it for yourself.  I recommend you do so, anyway, because this is a truly delightful picture book.

Martha is a nice lady moth who has a bit of a hunger. Because she is a moth, she finds fabrics and dust most palatable.  When she discovers she is out of both (fabric and dust), she heads to the store to pick up more before her birthday guests arrive. Martha ends up sampling a bit more of these delicious treats while preparing dinner (what home cook can't relate to that?) and ends up with little more than a few itchy socks to serve her friends.  But, don't worry. All is well that ends well.

After reading this book I wanted to be or befriend Martha and her buggy pals.  This book makes a great gift for home cooks and foodies, too.  Share it with friends young and old and delight in Evans' illustrations of Martha Moth and her birthday misadventure.

***

This Little Old Lady Takes Baths 

Estelle Takes a Bath
written by Jill Esbaum
illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma
Henry Holt | 9780805077413 | $16.95 | Oct 2006 

Right away, I fell in love with Estelle and her cozy little home.  She sips green tea, does crossword puzzles, has rhinestone cat-eye glasses, striped galoshes, a shower cap, candle sconces, and froggy wall paper.  If you don't fall for the illustrations at first sight, you will when you read the story.

One snow-storming day, Estelle is unwittingly followed back inside her house by a mouse. She makes tea and hops into a nice warm bath.  The mouse, drawn by the scent of her peppermint bubbles, climbs the tub in an unintentionally frightful greeting.  Estelle screams and gallivants about trying to catch the mouse—all in the buff! When the mouse falls into the bath and Estelle realizes he can't swim, her sympathy swells and the unwanted guest ends up sharing her bubbles.

The text has a bouncing rhyme that engages children during story times and multiple retellings.  The illustrations are perfect. And, while I've received the rare complaint or two about Estelle's naked bum, I have to say the sight of this particular little old lady's heiney warms my heart.

***

This Little Old Lady Gets a Pet

Peanut
written & Illustrated by Linas Alsenas
Scholastic Books | 9780439779807 | $16.99 | Aug 2007 

Everything about Alsenas' little old lady book is wonderful.  Just to be fair, I'm a sucker for colored pencil on white background.  Something about the contrast just says "classic picture book" to me.  I find myself drawn to the fun, simple drawings of Felicia Bond's mice, Olivier Dunrea's geese, and Alsenas' simple, clean pictures enhance the story with humor and joy. We share this fun book with pet owners of all ages.

Mildred is most definitely a little old lady.  Her gray hair is pulled away from her face and her clothing and handbags are blasts from the past. What makes this little old lady special, and the story such a funny one, is her failing eyesight.  Mildred meets what she assumes is a lost puppy in the park, but what the images tell us is a small elephant.  Mildred names the puppy Peanut, and they get along well.  When Mildred is confronted by Peanut's true home and owner, she returns him despite her own heartbreak and loneliness.  

There's lots of laughs in this book and this little old lady with wonderful intentions and terrible vision will win you over in the first few pages.  The plus for dog owners is a full spread of humans who look strikingly and hilariously like their four-legged friends.  Don't miss it. It's a hoot!

The Final Word: 

Share one of these picture books where the main character is a little old lady and bring joy to all ages.

 

Angela K Sherrill
57th Street Books, Chicago
kidsboooks@semcoop.com

 

Before the sleds and shovels come out: 3 books about snow for kids

Here at the very beginning of December, before we Snow Belt dwellers come to loathe the very sight of a fresh snowfall, let's pause to appreciate the magical qualities of the white stuff.  Yes, it's three books for kids about snow.

Two of them were recently featured in the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2009 (A Penguin Story and The Snow Day).  Though they were both published earlier this year, the NYT reviews were the first I'd seen of them, somehow.  I tracked down copies of both and I was completely charmed.  The third is a book I spent all summer talking about with my booksellers - it takes a close look at the science behind snow, with real photographs of super-magnified snow crystals.

A Penguin Story
by Antoinette Portis
HarperCollins | 9780061456886 | $17.99 | December 2008

For a couple of years now, whenever I begin to talk to one of my buyers about a new book that touches on childhood creativity, or with kids creating something new from the stuff around them, my savvy buyers give me a little shake of the head and say something like "Nope. We've got Not A Box."  After this happened a few times, I asked my buyer to show me this magical ur-book of youthful creativity.  And of course, that's exactly what Not A Box turned out to be.  I had nothing to compete with Not A Box.

And now, the Evil Genius author and illustrator who has frustrated so many of my book presentations is back with another delightfully charming story, sure to squelch any future sales I might otherwise make with books about penguins.

In A Penguin Story, Edna the penguin has finally grown weary of the somewhat limited palette of colors in her antarctic world: white snow, blue sky and water, black sky at night, and the black and white of her fellow penguins.  She bravely leaves her colony in search of some other colors that believes must be out there.

When she stumbles upon a scientific expedition, she soon sees that there are more colors than her usual blue, white and black - she sees sweeping tents, cold weather gear, and especially a mitten, all made of bright orange.

The hilarity of a whole colony of these charming little penguins "helping" the human scientists pack up to go home brings the story to sweet closure with the gift of a glove.

***

The Snow Day
by Komako Sakai
Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic | 9780545013215 | $16.99 | January 2009

There's an entirely different snow story working here - the quiet warmth of a wintry day spent close to home, the unlooked-for pleasures of a day with no school and no work, mother bunny and child watching a storm blow through, waiting for dad to come home safely from a trip.

From the first quiet panels as the small bunny wakes up to discover a darkly snowy day beginning, this is the best kind of story to share with young readers on the sofa watching their own snow day underway.

Komako Sakai's other book published in the US is Emily's Balloon.  You can find out about more books published by Arthur A. Levine by following them on Twitter.

***

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter's Wonder
by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, Ph.D.
Chronicle Books | 9780811868662 | 16.99 | October 2009

After two imagined journeys through snowy tales, some readers may be wondering what it is that makes snowflakes form?  What is the lifecycle of snow?  Perhaps those readers would be surprised to learn that some snow crystals are not flaky at all, but can be cylinders. What is the truth behind the story that each snowflake is unique?

With drawings, actual photographs of highly magnified snowflakes, and tips on how to catch and observe your own snow crystals, The Story of Snow would make another great companion book for a snow day at home!

The Story of Snow

Chronicle Books' page for the book offers a downloadable teachers' guide.  The microsite and blog for The Story of Snow can be found at StoryOfSnow.com.  Mark Cassino has a separate blog for his photography here.

my3books links: Jake-The-Girl from A Great Good Place for Books

Jake-The-Girl sends word that she's posted a response to the "my3books" concept yesterday at her blog, and included her own "my3books" take on Great YA Dystopian Science Fiction.

I'm a reader of science fiction, too, so I was happy to click through and check out her list.  I can already tell that she's my kind of bookseller - her 3 picks included two books I already own and one that I had completely missed but I must now own.

I'm posting a preview of Jake's post here, and recommend that you head on over to her blog to read the whole thing.

Her three picks, with excerpts:

Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow
Tor Books | 9780765319852 | $17.95 | April 2008

"This is a frighteningly real look at the not-so-distant future of technology, seen through the eyes of a school-skipping, video-game-playing techno-geek."

***

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic | 9780439023481 | $17.99 | Sept 2008

"Readers of this blog know that this is my favorite book of all time ... This book is full of non-stop action. It is an emotional rollercoaster. It is the best book EVER."

***

Skinned
by Robin Wasserman
Simon Pulse | 9781416974499 | $9.99 | Aug 2009

"Most dystopian science fiction is action-packed and full of technical jargon. This one isn't. It's more of a moral and ethical look at the future of medicine, and how far we will eventually go to keep our loved ones in our lives."