Friday, September 25, 2009

Upon Secrecy

Selene Castrovilla brings a fascinating story from American history to life in Upon Secrecy, a suspenseful new picture book published by Calkins Creek Books/Boyds Mills Press. Set during the Revolutionary War, it shows how members of the Culper Spy Ring eavesdropped on the British, wrote secret messages, and fended off highway robbers to deliver crucial information to George Washington. This gripping narrative of the spies' most important mission keeps the tension alive, while period details and illustrations add to the drama. Extensively researched, the book includes a timeline, bibliography, places to visit, and even an explanation of the invisible ink, or "sympathetic stain," that enabled the spy ring to send messages undetected by the enemy.

Castrovilla's previous picture book for Calkins Creek, By the Sword: A Young Man Meets War also has a connection to the Culper Spy Ring. The book paints a suspenseful portrait of a young Benjamin Tallmadge as he and his beloved horse, Highlander, fight to defend New York against the British. As George Washington's chief of secret service, Tallmadge later organized and ran the Culper Spy Ring. By the Sword tells the harrowing dual stories of how Washington manages to save his men-and the American cause-by stealthily retreating across the East River, and how Tallmadge risks death by returning to save Highlander. Castrovilla found this account in Tallmadge's memoir, and knew it revealed an important human side of the revolution-one not usually addressed. By the Sword was a 2008 IRA Notable Book, a 2010 New York State Charlotte Award recommended intermediate reading selection, a Kansas Reading Circle recommended title, and a 2009 Moonbeam Children's Book Award gold medalist.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Boy Who Went Ape

THE BOY WHO WENT APE was illustrated by a prolific artist, Richard Jesse Watson. This is a very interesting book because the author is Richard's son, Benjamin. I hate to say this, but boys will go ape over this book. The plot is dead on target for boys with clever and punchy prose. It all perfectly comes together with Richard's magical illustrations. I had a chance to speak with Richard about his book. Below is what he told me:

"My wife, Susi, and I went to the Portland Zoo to sketch and photograph chimpanzees. We took about a thousand photos over a couple of days, and I did bunches of sketches. At first the chimps ignored us as just another gawker, but the longer we hung around, the curiouser they became. I would show the chimps my drawings, and they nodded or sniffed their evaluation.

I discovered a paper from Sri Lanka, made out of elephant dung, which I used to paint the illustrations on. Since the book is a whacky book, it needed a different approach for the illustrations. For instance, instead of straight lines to border the illustrations, I used drippy paint lines to get a more organic feel. I wanted things to be more "viney" or "jungly".

Working with Ben was such a hoot, but hard too. We both had different ideas at times in our vision of the book. Usually the illustrator and author are working separately. Doing a book together is like two different archeologists digging from opposite sides of the world and meeting in the middle, then trying to figure out how to get out alive. "Wow! It's hot in here, my shovel 's worn out, I'm disoriented... are those dinosaur bones? How do we wrap this up & get back to the real world?"

Also working on a book is a long and at times stressful endeavor. Add to that two strong willed people, stir into the mix the fact that both apples fell from the same tree (does that make sense?) and voila! You have apples trying to write! No, seriously, you have different points of view: the word-centric author, and the image-centric illustrator. And with father and son, its, well, what can I say, father knows best. Yeah, right. I quickly realized that my son often (don't tell him I said so) had better ideas than me. Oy vey!

Over all, all this was a blast, and I want to do more books like this."

I highly recommend Richard's new book and his school visit program.
Click here for Richard's website.

If America Were A Village

America, with all its diversity, is not easily defined. David J. Smith's If America Were a Village takes a snapshot - past, present and future - to help define America for children. Using the same successful metaphor of the international bestseller If the World Were a Village, the book shrinks down America to a village of 100. The metaphor helps children easily understand American ethnic origins, religions, family profiles, occupations, wealth, belongings and more. Shelagh Armstrong's expansive illustrations imagine America as a classic, vibrant small town. Who are the people living in this vast and varied nation? Where did they come from? What are they like today? How do they compare with people in other countries? The book's simple statistical analysis provides a new way of learning about where people live in America, the state of their health, the shapes and sizes of families, what they use and more - forming a concise picture of a country.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Let Slip The Dogs Of Love

LET SLIP THE DOGS OF LOVE by Eugene Kachmarsky is one of the most unique anthology of short stories, I've seen in sometime. I believe theses stories will appeal to many YA readers. They're written from a variety of ethnic perspectives—including one exploring the North American Native POV—highlighting the experience of natives transplanted from their indigenous lands to North America. Racial, cultural, sexual prejudice, socioeconomic injustice and personal emotional struggle are common themes explored in a number of genres—ranging from straight fiction, to psychological suspense, to crime drama, to fantasy (urban and magical), and in cases, fusions of all the above—all with an accent on the hidden beneath the apparent, the extraordinary behind the ordinary, while attempting to discover the causes of many of the actions that we often affect.

Some of the characters whose stories are told include: a controlled-substance addict; a heartless, ruthless, misanthropic yet patently cowardly municipal communications empire mogul; a biker with a missing testicle; a young, gay, black, radical civil disobedient with a bent for vengeance with flair; a professional hit man and biker-gang rat with a tragic sense of timing; a grown-up spoiled brat who thinks managing a network of government assassins makes him one; an eight-year-old boy who dies at an airport and ends up correcting a grievous injustice committed over 250 years ago; a despondent writer who writes his own epitaph moments before being murdered; a skateboarding boy whose leg is broken by bullies and the 10 year-old Punjabi girl with a miraculous healing touch who befriends him; a professional hockey player from Eastern Europe facing extorting murderers and fighting back with his computer-hacking genius.

To Learn more about Eugene and his unique book, click here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Night Runner

NIGHT RUNNER tells the story of Zach Thomson, a teen who moves to the Nicholls Ward to deal with strange and severe allergies after the death of his parents. Life isn’t easy, but it isn’t bad either. And strangely enough, the institution becomes a sort of home to Zach. It never once crosses his mind to leave...until the night someone crashes through the front doors and tells him to run. Now he's on a race for answers--about his past, his parents, and his strange sickness--even as every step takes him closer to the darkest of truths.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Breakthrough

In THE BREAKTHROUGH, thirteen-year old Jack is plucked from the clutches of a riptide by his older brother, Michael. When Michael slides into a coma, Jack can’t live with the guilt. He wanders to a carnival and sneaks into a hot air balloon basket. Without warning, the balloon lifts into the air, transporting Jack to the fourth dimensional planet of Venus. When a Venusian gives Jack a magic crystal to heal his brother, Jack thinks his problems are solved—but they are just beginning! Soon, Jack finds himself trapped on Pluto, a planet controlled by the tyrant Danko. Danko learns of the crystal and will stop at nothing to seize it and ultimately control earth.

THE BREAKTHROUGH appeals to boys because it is a plot-driven story, with fantasy, mystery, a ruthless villain and plenty of “gross-out” scenes. Here’s an example of a scene where the main character, Jack, accidentally rolls into a nest of insects:

This unique novel was written by Ann Tufariello. Below is a little taste of Ann's wonderful prose:

"A hissing, buzzing sound nudged me out of the trance. What was that? Soon, a slight tickling sensation escalated to a pinching. Something was crawling all over me or, rather, thousands of creepy things were crawling all over my body, nipping me. The prickly bush must have been a nest of insects. Bugs marched across my face, down my neck and under my shirt. Each one feasted on my flesh as if I were a rotting corpse. The incredible itching and stinging was too much to bear. I screamed, jumping up and shaking my arms and legs. I tugged at the bugs, trying to pull them off of me, but it didn’t help. Instead, more and more bugs crawled up and down my body, sticking to my clammy skin and gnawing me. Then, the buzzing sound got louder and louder and I could feel bugs scampering in my ear canal. I jammed my finger in my ear and tried to yank them out, but I pushed them in further. I screamed for help but only the howling wind answered my call. Then, I remembered my crystal."

Visit Ann's site by clicking here.