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Posts Tagged ‘award’

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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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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Which is harder, having to pick out your favorite dessert from all the desserts in the world or having to pick your favorite among a selection of five? On the one hand you can take everything into consideration but you could also find it hard to choose among favorites; on the other hand having a narrower selection can help you focus your decision but you might end up wishing you had another choice.

Does this have anything to do with being a judge on the graphics novel panel for the Cybils this year? Yes and no. I think the parallel is there when it comes to trying to narrow down the selection of possibilities — graphic novels in this case — but as for working off a shortlist I think the analogy breaks down when you consider it was five people trying to agree on a choice. So then I guess it’s like being at a restaurant with a bunch of people trying to decide on which dessert they’re going to split. It might not be your favorite dessert, but why are you complaining? You get to eat dessert!

I’m going to break this down by category, and I’m only going to be discussing my personal thoughts in the matter. I will not name names (you can go to the Cybils site for that), I’m not going to comment directly about anyone’s choices, and I’m not going to reveal the secret handshake of the gn panel. There will be a peak into the process but only to illustrate my involvement. If you’re looking for dirt, sorry.

Middle Grade & Elementary — The Shortlist
Robot Dreams written and illustrated by Sara Varon
The Courageous Princess written and illustrated by Rod Espinosa
Yotsuba&! #4 written and illustrated by Kiyohiko Azuma
Artemis Fowl written by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin; illustrated by Giovanni Rigano and Paolo Lamanna
Babymouse #6: Camp Babymouse written and illustrated by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

The Winner
Artemis Fowl

What was I thinking?
Looking at the list my first thought was that the category seemed awfully broad, which also made it seem unfair. You would have different expectations for a second grade early readers and a middle grade fiction meant for sixth graders, but in this category you’ve got a cute widdle baby mouse up against a heartless pre-pubescent evil genius. Still, there are those books where the quality would trump the reading level, so looking for the best qualities should yield the correct winner no matter what.

Here’s my first problem: the book I feel belongs here, and would want to win, isn’t here. It’s shortlisted, but in the teen/YA category. Its The Arrival. There was a bit of back-and-forth about this from my fellow judges once I brought up that while I felt it could be appreciated by an older audience I found it more appropriate for the middle grade set. The issues it covers — immigration, stranger-in-a-strange-land, government oppression — these are heavy topics but not outside the scope of the tween audience. Not everything in the book would be readily accessible, but I found its picture book formatting and its limited narrative more in keeping with a middle grade book: indeed, if you were to write the story’s narrative as it’s presented you would find it necessary to explain much of what it only hinted at between the panels.

While this does not make it bad, it makes it bad for a teen reader who is going to blow through the illustrations, glean the basic story, back-fill the missing parts with what they’ve already learned in elementary social studies, and not fully appreciate it at all. This is one of those books (like the picture books of Adam Rex, btw) which I almost feel are more for adults than kids. My total opinion, of course, and it doesn’t change the fact that it wasn’t nominated for this category. So why am I even talking about it again? Oh yeah, that’s right. It would have been my first choice.

My pick was Robot Dreams. I believe I was the only one who wanted this as the winner. Another wordless tale like The Arrival, I felt there was actually a really good character arc and one that was totally age appropriate. There’s friendship and embarrassment and loneliness and abandonment and a whole lot of really great issues that middle grade readers would totally get and not feel preached to. I found its extended storyline to be the most complete and contained and the resolution satisfying without being predictable. Yea, Robot Dreams!

Last on my list? Artemis Fowl, an unimaginative comic book adaptation that, at times, bored me silly with its pacing and often slipped into the thing I hate the most about superhero comics — narratives over action panels explaining what a character is thinking or doing. It’s like voice-overs in movies, there’s good voice-over and there’s bad voice-over and then there’s voice-over that ruins everything else. This one is somewhere between bad and worse. In general I find adaptations troubling — whether book to movie, movie to book, book to graphic novel, comic to movie — because there’s always that problem of the two not syncing up. You can say ‘try not to think about the elephant in the room’ but you’ll find yourself thinking about the elephant in the room: in this case, the elephant is the original book, which I also didn’t think that much of.

But I was determined to take the comic graphic novel on its own and it still lost me. It took me a while to figure it out but it comes down to the character of Artemis himself. Here, with his big head (Manga inspired?) and his emotionless face he reminded me of nothing less than a pre-teen Ernst Stavro Blofeld. That’s right, the bald baddy from Bond movies. In those films Blofeld serves as the foil against which Bond reacts. Blofeld has no backstory, none that’s relevant at least, he merely wants to blow up the world, steal the gold, kill Bond, whatever the plot needs to keep Bond moving forward. He’s a 2-dimensional cutout and that’s all we need because he isn’t the star of the film. And that’s the problem, I don’t buy Artemis Fowl as anything more that a 2-d character and I don’t find the story compelling as a result. I don’t care if the faeries get him or kill him, I don’t care about his missing father or his demented mother, I don’t care… and that’s the point where you lose me.

But I was outvoted. C’est la Guerre.

Teen/YA — The Shortlist
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Flight #4 edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Laika written and illustrated by Nick Abadzis
The Professor’s Daughter by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert
The Plain Janes by written by Cecil Castellucci; illustrated by Jim Rugg

The Winner
The Professor’s Daughter

What was I thinking?
I work the other direction on this one, what I was thinking was yes! Actually, I had two first picks and would have been happy with either winning, The Professor’s Daughter and The Plain Janes. As different as they are to one another I felt they both had merit and would give them both the award if I could. When the majority went for The Professor’s Daughter I was happy to let it go at that.

Push-to-shove, The Plain Janes does have some clunky transitions at times, and I think it traffics in some visual stereotypes that could have (and should have) been avoided. The frumpy drama girl? Really? Please. The cop from casting central? I hear your donut calling. I’m also a little unsure of the transition from big city to small town but I forgive it these problems because it deals in teens dealing with teen problems in a graphic novel. I understand there’s a second Plain Janes book due out soon and I’m looking forward to it.

There are some I have spoken to outside the gn panel who didn’t “get” The Professor’s Daughter. I think I can pinpoint the problem in a single word: European. There are many who do not get certain picture books for the same reason, that there is a very different sensibility for the picture book in Europe, just as there is in graphic novels and sequential storytelling. Compare Tintin with any of his American contemporaries from the 1950s, say Will Eisner’s The Spirit. That’s the difference, and The Professor’s Daughter gets its strange rhythms from that tradition. And I liked that it as coming from a different place, a place almost more in keeping with a horror movie from the 1930s, one with a sense of humor and a strange sense of the fantastic. One thing I will say, I was never really sure where the story was headed… and I mean that in a good way!

So why, if I felt so strongly about The Arrival, didn’t I give it either my top two spots on this list? Simply, it canceled itself out. I didn’t feel it belonged in this category and couldn’t vote for it as a teen/YA winner. There was some brief discussion as to whether we, as judges, could move books between categories as we saw fit (I believe there was a question about the age appropriateness of Robot Dreams belonging in this category) but in the end even if I had voted The Arrival for teen/YA it didn’t have enough support for a win.

I need to make a side note here about Flight. This collection of stories by various artists is the graphic novel equivalent of a short story collection. As with most collections of this kind some stories are going to hit, some will flop, and a room full of people aren’t going to decide on which are better than others. Something I had pointed out to me recently, something I knew but never thought about long enough to articulate, was that generally the only collections that work are single-author collections. Where the stories may vary the connecting thread of a single author’s world view is always present somewhere, if only in the punctuation.

Another problem I had with Flight is that much of what it contained, while suitable for teens, would really only be appreciated by a true young adult, a person in their 20s questioning and considering and exploring their place in the world. The pieces in Flight are more mature and they benefit from a reader with a variety of experience. This is the second year in a row that one of the Flight volumes has been nominated and, like as much as I did, I just can’t see it ever winning.

So that’s that.  I hope I don’t need to remind anyone who has gotten this far that these are my opinions and, well, you can take them for what they’re worth.  I enjoyed my duties as a judge and hope I get the opportunity to participate in the Cybils in the future.

Y’all can start in with the brickbats now.

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