Monday, December 31, 2012

A Quick Recap of 2012 Favorites

It’s time to make lists of favorite things, so here’s a recap of my favorite new books for young readers published in 2012. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to story fans, ages two to one hundred and two.

If you’re looking for more detailed reviews, just click on the titles or scan my earlier posts for this year.

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole. My favorite picture book that can't be read aloud. (It's wordless.)
It’s A Tiger! written by David LaRochelle; illustrated by Jeremy Tankard. My favorite picture book that demands to be read aloud.
Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. One of three favorites for  middle-grade readers.
Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Another favorite for middle-grade readers.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. A final middle-grade fave.  
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. My favorite read for young adults.

The Fairy Ring: Elsie and Frances Fool the World (a true story) by Mary Losure was a great nonfiction read for kids. And, um, is it fair to mention that I had great fun writing another nonfiction kids' book: Hope and Tears: Ellis Island Voices?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Song & Fiction

Several years ago, my mother and I put together a list of great picture books to share during the Christmas holidays. Today, I’m sharing a snippet of a lovely book for middle grade readers from award-winning Canadian author Brian Doyle.

The wonderful thing about Doyle’s writing in Angel Square is his use of specific details. His description of the Woolworth’s department store on Rideau Street, Ottawa, Canada, in December 1945 captures the place and time as seen by Tommy, the young narrator, a boy growing into a man:

Woolworth’s. A Christmas madhouse. Perfume and candy and squeaky wooden floors. Records playing. The smell of perfume and chocolates mixed. Salesgirls with lipstick and earrings and long, curly hair. And pictures of Santa Claus everywhere. Long red and silver fuzzy streamers swinging and arching over the aisles. Wind-up trucks crackling away and the smell of hot dogs and fried eggs at the lunch counter. And toast. And the smell of damp fur and wet cloth and wet leather, the snow on people’s clothes melting in Woolworth’s. And people at the doors stamping their feet. The salesgirls and saleswomen laughing and talking to the people and to each other and the salesgirls’ earrings sparkling and their long, curly hair bouncing and swinging over the perfume and around the chocolates and the toys and the toast and the pictures of Santa Claus.

My favorite part? “And toast.” Actually, the whole book reads like buttered toast. Your holidays will be richer for reading Angel Square.

Happy Holidays from the Story Slinger!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Splendors and Glooms

I came to this book reluctantly. When I was working in a middle school library a few years ago, Schlitz’s book Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was awarded the Newbery Medal, and trying to bring young readers to that book was a particularly hard struggle. (It didn’t hurt that students at my middle school weren’t studying Medieval history, so there was no natural curriculum tie-in.)

I would have no problem getting kids to pick up Splendors and Glooms, Schlitz’s most recent book—a novel about childhood, puppets, magic, powerlessness, friendship, and more. Schlitz’s background research on Victorian era London is evident from the beginning. She paints a backdrop of a fog-choked city filled with workhouses for the poor and fanciful puppet theaters to entertain the rich.

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, two penniless orphans, work for the puppet master Grisini. Schlitz focuses first on Grisini’s wonderful ability to bring puppets to life on stage, so that readers only gradually become aware of the magic he practices—and the darkness of his heart. In a startlingly awful moment, Grisini enchants Clara, a wealthy young girl, turning her into a puppet on strings.

Parsefall is not immediately aware of the soul trapped inside, so he naturally plays with the puppet Clara. Somehow the strings act as a magical conduit of thought and emotion, bringing the two characters together. “When he played upon her strings,” writes Schlitz, “Clara glimpsed the splendors and glooms that haunted his mind.”

This kind of writing is haunting...and a wonderful treat. So many times novelists become carried away with description, slowing action down to a crawl. But Schlitz peppers even her descriptive passages with active verbs, so the story flies along like the wind: “It was a boisterous wind that drove the clouds across the blue sky and scattered confetti on the cobblestones.”

While many books are celebrated for having powerful first lines, I loved the last line in Splendors and Glooms best  of all. Lizzie Rose, Clara, and Parsefall are attending a funeral which has gone on much too long. They can’t wait to leave and get back to the business of living:

“They were waiting, all three of them, for the moment when the could be alone again and free to laugh together.”

The only small complaint is that the story did, after all, have to end. I wanted it to go on and on.