Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Review: Under the Egg

I'm judging this book by the company it keeps--on the bookshelf.

Sometimes we love books just for themselves. Sometimes we love them because they remind us of other great stories. It’s like meeting someone and finding out you’ve got good friends in common.

Under the Egg, the debut novel by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (published by Dial BFYR), is a good novel on its own. It’s about art, sweltering-hot summertime in Manhattan, crazy family dynamics, and library research.

But if you want to know this book by its “friends,” here are a few other books it reminds me of:

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konisburg: This, for me, is the gold standard by which art mysteries for kids should be measured. The similarities between Files and Egg are everywhere, from the main characters’ preoccupation with money to the love of museums.
    Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh: The main character in Egg, Theo Tenpenny, shares Harriet’s setting, some of her attitude, and her Manhattan home.


 The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt: As in Egg, two girls try to solve an art mystery together and encounter adventures along the way, traveling from Minnesota to Amsterdam.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey: Okay, maybe it’s a stretch to drag in an adult mystery, but the idea of looking, really looking, at a portrait is key to both. Truth, in both books, is the daughter of time.


There are also similarities between Egg and Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce, another great story about the power of art and specifically about works of art spirited off deep down mine shafts for their own protection.
    Based on the company it keeps, Under the Egg, has a lot going for it. It all adds up to a great art history mystery.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Porcelain Rage

For me, listening to Nick Podehl's reading of Doll Bones was like visiting an extremely creepy graveyard--while driving along in the safety of my car.
Doll Bones by Holly Black has already won a Newbery Honor Award, but I can’t resist adding a short review to the pile.

First off: This is a book I listened to while driving, and it’s as good an audio book since Jason Isaac’s reading of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

Doll Bones reminded me of another chilling audio book, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, read by Jason Isaac.
Nick Podehl does a fantastic job of reading Doll Bones, bringing the three main characters (Zach, Polly, and Alice) to life. I found myself wanting to drive more than usual, which is just plain crazy when you live in the Boston area.

At the heart of Black’s novel is a portrait of rage so convincing it makes your heart race. Early in the book, Zach’s dad throws out some toys he feels are “to young” for his son.

But to Zach those toys are a solid connection to the ephemeral world of imagination. Zach savors the stories he and Alice and Poppy spin, using old action figures, modified Barbies, and a spooky antique porcelain doll locked in a cabinet.

Zach’s rage over losing his action figures exposes unsettling currents of change—of friends growing older and growing apart, of old games giving way to new pursuits, with some players left behind.

There are real chills in Doll Bones, which explains why libraries in my area are divided in where to shelve it: juvenile, young adult, or both.

Spot illustrations by Eliza Wheeler make the book seem younger and feel a bit like false advertising. They’re also completely unneeded. The cinematic quality of the writing brings forth images you won’t soon forget.

Whether in print or on audio, this is a story you’ll want to experience for yourself, before deciding whom to share it with.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Top Take-Aways from NESCBWI 2014

If you're wondering what this has to do with anything, then go ahead and read #1 first.

5. Sometimes your first keynote is so good it’s gonna be hard to top: Laurel Snyder (author of  Seven Stories Up and many other books) gave a rousing and inspiring speech at the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators annual conference in Springfield, MA. Turned out, it was her first such "big" speech, and she was allegedly nervous. Trust me, it didn't show.

Can't wait to read Seven Stories Up! Great review on Rosanne Parry's blog.

I especially loved how Snyder approaches audience. She asks writers to reflect on this question: Whose ear are you whispering into?

4. Book promotion can be a tough job. It can seem endless. So, I especially liked hearing Lynda Mullaly Hunt (author of One for the Murphys) say, simply: “Do fewer things and do them well.”

3. The best workshops or sessions distill what's obvious, although you somehow didn’t notice before. Historian, author, and blogger J.L. Bell spoke about building narrative momentum, but what caught my attention (obvious though it may be) is when he said, “Start your story when things change for the protagonist in a very big way.” Oh…right.

2. Following close on J.L. Bell’s insights, agent Kathleen Rushall took one look at my middle grade novel in progress and said: “Be wary of starting with a dream.” Again, advice that distills the obvious—and obviously should be followed. 

1. Last, but not least, here’s the only take-away with kid appeal: When you gather many, many children’s book writers together for a NESCBWI conference, the hotel will have to turn all the bathrooms on the third floor into women’s bathrooms for the duration. And even that might not be enough.