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Last night’s #kidlitchat on twitter was based on a suggestion I made a few weeks back during an open call for topics:

You’re gonna be stuck on a desert island and can have five children’s/YA books with you. Which five? And why?

I totally skipped the why part of the topic in favor of finding ways to subvert the five-book-limit. I mean, come one, if I was hauling favorite books and got stranded with them I was probably carting a good, important chunk of my library SOMEWHERE for a reason, so I probably would have ended up with more than five. But, if only five, of forced, I chose these.

The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (the Zipes translation for now, but ultimately including the ones they recently discovered as well. Enough stories for one-a-day.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, Schindelman illustrated edition. This is pretty much the book that hooked me as an independent reader, and with these illustrations this is pretty much a comfort book.

The Complete Nonsense Verse of Edward Lear. Another comfort book, and if I were stuck on an island I’d want a big, fat collection of short verses that I could memorize over time. Plus, I’m stuck on an island, I’m going to want some fun diversions.

Dangerous Angels, the collected Weetzie Bat stories by Francesca Lia Block. So many comfort touchstones here, but as a former Angelino this one really hits some soft spots.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Huh, ya think I love me some nonsense?

I wasn’t content to stick with just five and I wanted to think about what my 16-year-old me could/would/should be stuck with on a desert island. I wanted a mix of serious and light and came up with this handful:

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I could have put The Count of Monte Cristo here as well. Or Hunchback of Notre Dame. I really like these sprawling epics, full of the whole range of the human condition.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Because.

Nation by Terry Pratchett. This might not stand the test of time, but when I read it a few years back it was the most modern book that felt like a classic to me. I kept feeling shades of Lord of the Flies and The Black Pearl and Treasure Island seeping through the pages.

The Collected Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Because.

Finally, any short story collection by Ray Bradbury. Though I grew up thinking of him as a sci-fi writer I’ve really come to see that his were always stories about people and ideas, and space was just a place to lay those elements out for observation.

At this point I was on a roll, and I felt like there were too many “friends” being left behind. But what else would I want to bring with me? And how to group them?

Under the gun of one hour, could you pick only five books of children’s literature to take with you on a desert island? And which ones?

The clock is ticking!

Next: The Desert Island Archipelago!

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I’m back, I’m tanned (okay, burned in splotchy areas), rested, shaking the sand out of my clothes, and ready to get back into things.

Or rather, I’m ready to see what new things I can get into, because the old things made me want this vacation so badly that clearly there is something wrong with what I’ve been doing.

There are no promises to make here, no resolutions, no grand agenda, but there is an enormous desire to undo what I’ve been doing which isn’t hard, because lately it’s it felt like I’ve been doing nothing.

I have not been reading. For months now. I have picked up books here and there and never got into them then let life get in the way. That’s just stupid. The “life” I let get in the way had to do with things I’d rather not be doing, i.e. a job for money, where the reading constitutes the necessary manna required for the thing I love, which is writing.

So I’m back to reading.

I have not been writing. Not seriously. I have squeezed in 20 minutes here and an hour there but I’ve also only been toying with things until I could find the time to do the “real” writing. Wrong. That’s just flawed thinking. Back-burnering larger projects because I don’t have time for them? No, I MAKE time for them and stop giving myself these little outs of being busy. Busy doing what? Things I hate, things I don’t want to do?

So I’m back to writing.

And the book reviews, my poor sad book review blog. While I have been reading for some reason I have fallen out of the habit of writing about those titles. In the past I have tinkered with the point and purpose of those reviews – initially they were part of my personal exploration and education, then they were an offshoot of both grad school and the reviewing I did for The Horn Book – but I’ve had a sort of crisis-of-faith that reviewing on a blog was somehow pointless. But I was able to do some quality reading while on vacation – my one and only goal for vacation was to read, which I did – and that reading kicked up some spark that makes me want to rethink and revisit the notion of writing about what I read. Hang the purpose and the style, if it isn’t for me first and foremost then it won’t matter to anyone else anyway.

So I’m back to blogging.

I guess there really is a list there, a plan, a scheme. Basics, I’m back to basics. It isn’t hardcore, planned on a calendar and scheduled to the minute, but the desire is there and I think, ultimately, its important for my soul that I get these parts of my house in order. Of those thing the blogging might lag behind the others, as I have recently been reading non-children’s books which don’t fit within the scope of that blog. I see this occasional gorging on “adult” literature as a sort of palette cleansing but also as a way of refreshing my critical reading skills. How much different is reading Don Delillo from a graphic novel? How are short stories for adults different or the same as those for teens? Whole new topics seemed to materialize out of the salty beach air. Cobwebs of the brain, be gone! I have things to think about and discuss!

So now we’ll see.

How is your summer shaping up, world? Any brain-clearing vacations on your horizon, any grand plans for these next couple of months?

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Behind the curve. Out-of-whack. Unbalanced.

This is how I’ve been feeling lately. I’ve had issues – issues surrounding free time, issues around the job, issues concerning one late computer – and all sorts of hopes and goals (lets not call them resolutions) for the new year.

But everything feels as slippery and elusive as trying to chase a cat on a greased floor wearing roller skates.

A writer friend noted how many blog posts I produced last year and asked, by comparison, how much time I dedicated to writing for myself. At first my inclination was to feel insulted; clearly I had spent twice as much time writing my own things as I did for the blogosphere.

And then the python of doubt slithered up from the pit of my stomach and gently cut off circulation to my defense mechanisms. In that hazy fog of semi-consciousness I realized that whether or not it was true that I had been neglecting my own work in the past I needed to double-down going forward.

I remember reading some financial advice once that suggested “paying yourself first” with each paycheck, essentially setting aside some savings before even paying bills, to say nothing of extracurricular spending. I realized – am realizing – that I need to apply that same philosophy to my work, that I need to deposit some time in the bank of creative writing before I start spending willy-nilly on the internet.

Ah, but the internet is so much fun, so hard to ignore its siren call!

So, here I am.

Earlier this week I was able to carve out a few hours for my own writing and even managed to get myself invited to participate in a fairly large project for National Poetry Month in April. It wasn’t a lot of writing but it was enough to not feel guilty about making the rounds and hitting some bookmarks that I haven’t touched in weeks.

Including this here blog-o-roonie.

This is my seventh year of blogging. Perhaps I’m feeling some strange itch that needs to get worked out. Rethink what I want to say, who I want to reach, and why. With my creative writing I know that, I understand it better, there isn’t this same question. Here, the exercise of keeping my fingers moving and communicating with the outside world, I have many questions.

The plan is… status quo. For the time being I will continue to add book reviews over at the excelsior file, and my monthly contribution to Guys Lit Wire. Aside from the writing I still have some duties as a Cybils judge again, so that’ll take some time, and I fully expect that these here fomagrams will again appear with greater frequency down the road.

For what it’s worth, I miss being here.

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So I’ve been blogging kidlit book reviews for well over five years now over at the excelsior file. I started out wanting to sort of self-educate, er, myself about the world of children’s literature in preparation for becoming a writer of books for children and young adults. I decided I would review anything that caught my fancy, from picture books to young adult, and with a few excursions into general industry news, I’ve hewed fairly close to being reviews-only.

Sometimes I get a little ranty, sometimes my big ol’ brain gets in the way. Once I had a graduate student who wanted me to essentially grant permission to let them use one particular post as their own graduate thesis. Another time I got a little cranky and really laid into a book that stirred the ire of a certain subset of the kidlit community; I still occasionally get defensive emails sent directly to me from that community, people who clearly should understand the difference between an opinion and a fact. Nonetheless.

As the years progressed I’ve found myself discovering older, out-of-print titles that have stood the test of time. I have reveled the childhood joys of gross humor despite with many a wary librarian might want to hear. And I’ve defended graphic novels as “legitimate” reading though reviews of both good and bad reviews. In fact, one of the things that I came to realize was that by writing both good and bad reviews I’ve walked into a minefield that has divided the kidlit community, but I stand my ground. Without knowing the full range of what I think how can you tell whether or not I have any discernible taste, how can you tell if I’m being fair or even-handed?

Occasionally I make a bad call on a book. As I like to say, I could be wrong. I believe that when it comes to reviews people should read everything and judge for themselves.

While I accept review copies from publishers and their publicists, and occasionally from authors themselves, I am not paid for all this blogging and don’t feel beholden to any outside interest.

So is it so wrong that after five-plus years that I might want a little external recognition?

I want to go to BEA.

I want to win the Independent Book Blogger Award, or IBBY, contest currently being hosted on Goodreads. The winner in each of the four categories will get to go to NYC and attend this year’s Book Expo America

I want your vote.

I want the vote of everyone you can convince to vote for me.

Unless you happen to be in the contest, in which case I’m sorry for bothering you.

So here’s the deal. You go to the Goodreads page where they’re holding the contest and you get four votes, one for each category. I guess that means you have to sign in, which means I guess you also have to have a Goodreads account (pretty crafty of them), but if you do and are so inclined and would be so kind…

I’m the excelsior file, in the Young Adult and Children’s category. Unless the order comes up randomly each time you check in, I’m toward the bottom of the page.

Feel free to tell your friends. Feel free to alert your followers on the facebook and the Twitter, I won’t mind. If I win, and there’s some way I can verify that any one person’s effort helped put me in the finalists category I’d be more than happy to bring back some swag from BEA for them. I haven’t the slightest clue how to do that, so I think I’d take the best, most sincere claim around.

I’m not on my knees, I swear. But if you would be so kind…

Thank you.

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In case you’ve forgotten your middle grade math, the headline translates to Valentine’s Day plus Graphic Novels equals True Love Always. Admittedly a little silly, but this was the year the graphic novel panel essentially agreed on the winners out the gate. That can either be viewed as a unified affirmation of what was good or, more cynically, that there was only one clear choice in each category surrounded by fluff that made the decision inevitable. The truth is probably located somewhere in between.

But first, a little business. If you haven’t done so already, got check out the winners of this year’s Cybils Awards.

Now, there’s plenty I can say about some of the choices in the other categories, most of it surprise about the number of books that weren’t on my radar, but I was on the Graphic Novel panel this year and will contain my comments, briefly, to our selections.

In the elaborate (not) process I use to determine my rankings, I actually had a tie between Anya’s Ghost and Level Up. I would have been happy to have either book as the winner, but here’s the thing about Anya’s Ghost that gives it the edge for me: I had a hard time articulating what it was about it that made me like it so damn much. I understand the mechanics of storytelling, sequential narrative, illustration, and the sort of stories that I like but in the end I was at a loss to articulate it. I felt bad for the publisher, First Second, who sent me an advance copy of the book practically a year ago because I felt like I owed them a review on my blog. I still do, as far as I’m concerned, and maybe I can finally do that. Not today, not here, but soon.

In short, Anya’s Ghost felt like the most complete graphic novel, most satisfying in terms of narrative arc, balance of humor and seriousness, light and dark, and was the most novel-like of the entries.

In the middle grade category things were a little more interesting. For me, mind you. Two of the books I felt sort of disqualified themselves because they didn’t belong in the graphic novel category at all – Wonderstruck is very clearly a middle grade book and should not have even made it to the first round judges, similarly Nursery Rhyme Comics was an anthology and a picture book for older readers, but not a middle grade graphic novel. These personal disqualifications should not be taken as a knock against their quality – indeed, I would have loved to see Nursery Rhyme Comics considered in the picture book category as a finalist – but it did not belong, thus narrowing the field.

A third book, Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, wasn’t even mentioned as a possible finalist in the category by any of the other panelists. I can’t speak for the others, but I found elements of this book troubling at the content level. Throughout the process I have deliberately kept myself from seeking out other reviews so as not to pollute my opinions, but I hope to work this all out in a review and then see what others have said.

With three titles eliminated all that was left was to decide between was Zita the Spacegirl and Sidekicks. The short answer here is that Zita had a lot more going for it in terms of humor and adventure, and by comparison Sidekicks felt slight. The best I can articulate, it was a little like putting any generic comic book adaptation of a Cartoon Network show up against Jeff Smith’s Bone books. With that in mind it wasn’t hard to decide that my first pick was…

Nursery Rhyme Comics.

Huh?

Yes, despite the fact that I don’t think anthology comic collections should be considered graphic novels (any more than a short story anthology should be considered a novel) it was, by far, a much better quality product. But in the end I had no desire to defend or attempt to justify a variance in my own personal criteria when I was going to vote strongly against Wonderstruck if necessary. And as an aside, even if I did consider Wonderstruck a graphic novel I don’t think it had a solid enough word-image connection, as emotionally compelling, or a strong enough sequential narrative to put it above Anya’s Ghost. I know people think Selznick has invented this great hybrid of storytelling but, really, those of us who have studied film know a storyboard when we see one.

And there you have it, my brief explanation of how the Cybils Graphic Novel Awards shook out from my personal perspective. I don’t know if any of my fellow judges have any plans to discuss their view of the process but if so I’ll happily update this post with links to their examinations. I will say, this was the most unanimous, least contentious judging panel I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.

Andrea, John, Sarah, Emily, (and fearless leader Liz) it was a pleasure and an honor working (briefly) with you all!

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I review books. I get books sent to me. Sometimes people ask if they can send me books, and sometimes they don’t, and sometimes I ask for them.

I review books for two reasons: one, because I am on an endless quest to discover and understand the process of storytelling and enjoy the possibilities of a public platform (blogging) for discussion; and two, because I like discovering things and sharing those discoveries. After five years or so of doing this I probably could (or should) turn this reviewing into a revenue-generating enterprise. Unfortunately I have those artistic genes that don’t seem to understand commerce.

But in the end, for all my reviewing, I someday want to publish my own books. I want, like many other authors, to see my name on the cover of a book. Not because I’m egotistical but because there’s a certain sense of acknowledgement involved. When you can point to a book with your name on the cover there’s a certain level of validation of all the unseen hard work that’s gone into getting it there. I’ve talked to many authors, published and aspiring, and I know how long that journey can be, and how satisfying the end of that journey can feel when it shows up in a bookstore.

Today my name appeared on the cover of a book. The back cover of a book, but it’s still there!

I was blurbed. A quote from one of my reviews appeared among the four blurbs on the back of the book. Along with Maurice Sendak.

I’m published! Sort of!

It’s a small thing, a little goofy to be giddy about, but it came at just the right time for me. Some days it feels like everything is in a great holding pattern, that wheels are spinning but the vehicle isn’t moving, and then you get a little nudge that says “Look at that! You aren’t just talking to yourself!” (Although, technically, if the voice inside your head says that you are talking to yourself, but you get the idea.)

Alright, so another item checked off the list – see my name on the cover of a published book. Now I need to add a new one: See my name on the front cover of a published book.

Specificity, that’s the ticket.

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Okay, no I didn’t.

But I was conferred the distinction of a Versatile Blogger Award from Heidi Mordhorst over at my juicy little universe. Having already made one cultural reference in the title of this post (from the movie version of A Christmas Story) I think it only appropriate (and versatile) to make an Eeyore-related point of saying “Thanks for noticing me.”

And with the award comes some major responsibilities. Okay, so some call them rules, but I like the idea that award winners have a certain set of “responsibilities and duties herein.” You know, like a Miss America.

  • Thank the person who bestowed the award on you
  • List seven random facts about yourself
  • Spread the love by passing along the award to five other bloggers – and let them know

This last part should be easy as I am trying to be more comment active among the various bloggers I follow in keeping with a blog comment challenge posted by Mother Reader. But lets take care of business first, shall we?

First, a heartfelt thank you to Heidi who is most talented in both teaching children and writing poems. Despite her protestations that she barely manages two posts a week, when she does post they are far more fulfilling that a lot of places I’ve been to that confuse quantity with quality. If you don’t already make weekly pilgrimages to Heidi’s site via Poetry Fridays, why not go now and bookmark her for future visits.

Now, seven random facts. Boy, this takes me back to all those random facebook memes I used to get sucked into. Back when I was on facebook. You know, back in the first decade of the 21st century.

  • If I eat anything with garlic in it I crave chocolate like mad.
  • And while I’m on the subject of food, I find cooking meditative, and I like to blend ingredients according to what color combinations I think work best.
  • I used to troll thrift stores for photo albums, and when I was a teacher I had a collection of the notes kids used to write in class and left behind. I called these my memory orphans.
  • I love drinking ice-cold beverages in the winter, provided I’m inside and it’s warm.
  • For a brief period of time in high school I thought I wanted to be a photojournalist but I was afraid to travel. I was nearly 40 before I got over that travel fear.
  • I was a radio DJ for the better part of the 1990s. Man, that was fun.
  • Amsterdam is my favorite city to visit, with New Orleans a close second. If I were an international jet-set writer the dust jacket bio would say “…and he divides his time between his homes in Amsterdam and New Orleans where he collects photo albums from thrift stores and occasional DJs local radio stations.”

That was fairly random, no?

Right, now on to the “pay it forward” portion of the program. These would be the bloggers who I visit practically daily (stalk might be a more appropriate word, since I don’t comment as often as I should) that are truly worthy.

poet Laura Salas
the aforementioned Mother Reader
Jules over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Laurel Snyder
and Colleen Mondor over at Chasing Ray

And that should cover it! Once again, a hearty thanks to Heidi for the initial award, and a congratulations to the latest round of recipients!

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