Monday, June 28, 2010

Ending Randomness, Adding Structure

When I began this blog, I didn't know exactly where I was going. I knew I wanted to talk about secular books from a Christian perspective, and I knew that I had a LOT of opinions. I've been adding content fairly willy-nilly and just trying to find my style and my flow. But it is time to start adding more structure. So I'm starting with three defined goals and I'm publishing them to add in accountability (and honestly guilt) so that I do it.

Goal One:
A new review of a children's or teen novel every Thursday morning. (Morning being defined by West Coast time.)

Goal Two:
A feature on picture books every Monday.

Goal Three:
A index listing page of all reviews alphabetically.

My hope is to start this with a review on Thursday, July 1st. I'm at ALA Annual Convention right now where I've picked up some great Advanced Reader Copies to review. I'll head back home in a couple of days, but I'm doing a lot of reflecting about the state of librarianship, of children's and teen literature, and what I want from my career and this blog in particular.

I know that this blog has very few readers right now, but if you have any suggestions please let me know. And if you know anyone else who could use a Christian perspective on secular literature, please share. Somewhere in here is a goal to really start promoting this blog, but I'm not precisely sure how I want to go about that yet.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Tale of an Unknown Country volume 1

One of the biggest trends in graphic novels in the last ten years has been the growth of manga imports from Japan (and manhwa from Korea and manhua from China). These manga books are read right to left and "front" to "back" (in the Western prospective). Many of them are based on anime (Japenese cartoon shows) and are generally known by their large eyed characters. If reading right-to-left completely intimidates you, don't worry, you're not alone. Open the book up from the traditional front and most of the time you'll get a diagram explaining how it works and directing you to the other side of the book. The text is still printed left to right, but you'll read the panels and dialog bubbles right to left. It took me about 3/4ths of the first book to figure it out, but once you get it, it's fun. Promise. In fact what I struggle with most now in manga is telling the characters apart, but I'm working on it. The thing that parents should be wary of is a lot of manga contains graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations, etc. Most manga publishers include an age rating on their manga to help you make a decision..

Book: A Tale of an Unknown Country by Natsuna Kawase

Vital Stats: Published in the US in 2009 by CMX*, 144 pages, black and white throughout
Marketed Toward: Ages 9 to 12
Rating: E for Everyone
The Quick and the Short of It: Recommended for preteens and up, most likely to appeal to girls.
*CMX is the manga imprint of DC comics and is going under this summer. Therefore their titles may soon be hard to get.

Book Synopsis
Rosemarie is the princess of the kingdom of Ardela, a small country that celebrates nature and is primarily tourism based. In fact her country is so poor that she (a princess) sells bread and her brother (the prince) gives tours of the castle to the public (for a fee). Her brother is trying to broker Rosemarie's marriage to Prince Reynol of the nearby science and technology based (and rich) country of Yurinela. (Why yes, I do have my copy of the book right beside me so I can look up how those words are all spelled.) Rosemarie goes in disguise a maid to Yurinela to see what Reynol is like. Though no one is fooled by her disguise, her "meddling" in his life (forcing him to sleep and eat vegetables) causes him to fall in love with her. Apparently his willingness to smile causes her to fall in love with him. (Seriously I could discern no better reason.) Reynol visits her country and after some more shenanigans, they both admit they love each other and the engagement goes on. There are two more volumes in this series that I have not yet read.

At the end of volume one is a bonus standalone story about two teenagers in a school who fall in love. The girl does the announcements and the boy falls in love with her voice. At first she is embarrassed by the crazy stalker, but then she comes to love him as well. (It's short, but trite.)

My Take
Despite occasionally being confused as to who was whom (particularly among the male characters), I enjoyed this book. It was a quick light read and exactly the sort of thing I would have loved as a 10 or 11 year-old girl. She's a princess and she is going to marry a prince, but only if she really loves him. No one's pressuring her into it, her brother turns out to have her best interests at heart. I can see 10 year-old me happily curled up on my pink rose bedspread reading this on a rainy afternoon. This series will have little to no appeal to boys. Often manga series can run into many volumes (40 or 50+ easily) and this one is happily complete in three. All in all it's a good choice for dipping your toes into the manga waters. I will be reading the next two volumes.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection
All of the characters in the book are teens. Rosemarie's marriage negotiations are handled by her (slightly older) brother and Reynol's marriage negotiations are likewise handled by his older brother. (And by handled, I mean the older brothers make the final decision and hold all the power.) Books that depict teenagers falling in forever love and getting married are always slightly worrisome to me. I feel it can send a wrong message and give too much weight to teenage infatuation. While some people marry their high school sweethearts, most teenage relations are ephemeral. Also, where are the parents? Why are there no older adults anywhere in the book? There's no explanation for their absence, they simply don't exist, only teenagers who are close enough to the readers to be relatable, but old enough to act with a degree of independence. Mostly safe for a Christian family.

Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. - Jeremiah 29:6

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Binky the Space Cat

It's summer, time to run, to play, and to read light fluff for fun. Perfect season for graphic novels. This is one of my favortie graphic novels from last year (it helps that I'm a cat person) and sure to be a fun summer treat for any beginning reader.

Book: Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires

Vital Stats: Published in 2009 by Kids Can Press, 64 pages, full color throughout
Marketed Toward: Ages 6+
The Quick and the Short of it: Highly recommended for kids from beginning readers to beginning chapter book readers

Book Synopsis
Binky would like to be a space cat, but he's never left his space station (family house). As he plots and trains to go into outer space (outside) he continues to battle the aliens (bugs) that occasionally invade his home. He's finally ready to go, he built his spaceship, packed extra kitty litter, grabbed his stuffed mouse, but he realizes something. Can he really leave his humans behind? They need him to stay and protect from the aliens (bugs).

My Take
Love this book! It's colorful and engaging with a lot of jokes that will appeal to kids. Kids love to laugh by feeling superior so they'll chuckle when Binky labels bugs as aliens and the garden as outer space. It has a good balance of sweet, funny, adventure to appeal to both boys and girls, though I expect that it's appeal tops out at about 9 or 10 years old. I highly recommend this for early elementary school students.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection
I see no issues with this book. It might be worth noting (to some) that Binky lives with two humans a mother and son and no mention is ever made of a father or lack thereof. He simply just lives with those two.

I love the house where you live, O LORD,
the place where your glory dwells.
- Psalm 26:8

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Geronimo Stilton

The perenially popular Geronimo Stilton is constantly in demand at my library. Originally written in Italy, they're an amazing import for emerging readers. They're perfect beginning chapter books that capture kids who are transitioning from picture books and readers to novels.

Book: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye by Geronimo Stilton

Vital Stats: Published in 2004 by Scholastic, 116 pages, full color throughout
Marketed Toward: Ages 9 to 12
The Quick and the Short of It: Highly recommended!

Book Synopsis
Geronimo Stilton is harried newspaper man living in a world of mice. He likes cheese and a quiet orderly life. All of that is turned topsy turvy when his sister, Thea, shows up with a treasure map and convinces him to join him on an adventure. They're also joined by their cousin Trap and a stowaway. As they make a brave sea voyage, they might just discover that what they though of as a treasure is different than the treasure they find.

My Take
These books are unbelievably colorful and engaging. Words are often written in a fun color and font in the middle of the text for emphasis. (Think like a comic book with POW being surrounded by a balloon.) Perhaps it's my grownup brain, but it took me about half the book to adjust to that, yet children eat them up. As of this writing none of the copies (and we have many) are available at my library because they're all checked out. Yesterday I had three children ask for these book by name within 90 minutes. They're fun, sweet, adventurous, and wonderful. These are at the top of my list of recommended books in the beginning chapter book range. (So in my opinion, probably works well for kids ages 7 to 10.)

Possible Issues/Christian Connection
I didn't see any issues in this book. Recommending without reservation.

Education Connection
Did you know that I write another blog? It's more geared for professional librarians and covers library programming and issues. One of my favorite programs is a book club for 1st to 3rd graders (age 6 to 9). Here is an entry about when we used this book as our book club choice. I've actually re-done this book club since then and should post an update. You might find some fun ideas to use even at home when your children read the Geronimo Stilton books.