Booknotized

A place to think, reflect, and talk (mostly to myself) about books I love…and a few that I don't.

Series Review: The 39 Clues February 27, 2012

Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: 2008 – Present
Series: The 39 Clues 1-10; The 39 Clues: Vespers Rising; The 39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers 1-3+
Age Group: 9-12
Genre: Action-Adventure
Pages: various (from 150 – 327)
Source: provided by publisher as reference for freelance work (see below)
Rating Breakdown: Idea 5★; Execution 3.5★

Amy and Dan Cahill are just two regular kids. Amy’s shy and quiet; Dan’s rowdy and hilarious. Except for their grandmother, Grace, they have no family—that they know of—and when she dies, it seems they really are on their own…
 
…until Grace’s will reveals that not only are they part of a larger family, but it’s, well, HUGE! (Not to mention the most powerful in human history.) But before Dan and Amy can get too cuddly, they also find out that there’s a family feud stretching all the way back to Gideon Cahill and his quarrelsome kids in the 1500s that splits the Cahills into four branches. What’s more, they discover that a secret formula lies at the root of the feud—and it’s up to them to find all of the clues before anyone else can.
 
Book 1, The Maze of Bones  by Rick Riordan, sets the siblings off on a globe-trotting trek to uncover Gideon Cahill’s greatest secret. Filled with action, adventure, geographic thrills, and spine-tingling chills, the series continues in the 9 following volumes, each written by a different author (incl. Gordon Korman, Patrick Carman, Jude Watson, Linda Sue Park and several more).
 
Dan and Amy’s story picks up again in series two, Cahills vs. Vespers, with an intermediate novel to bridge the gap, Vespers Rising. I recommend beginning with series one, book one, and working your way up. So far, only two books have been published in the Cahills vs. Vespers series, with book three, The Dead of Night, due out March 6.
 
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I was first introduced to the 39 Clues when I was asked to participate in the creation of some materials for a webcast featuring Ruth Culham—with whom I worked closely on the Scholastic Traits Writing program—and the 39 clues. (You can find the materials I helped generate here.) The webcast and worksheets were designed to get kids examining text and excited about writing by introducing them to the Traits and helping them discover in favorite/familiar books models and mentors for their own work.
 
While I didn’t have to read them all, after book one I found I had quite a fondness for Dan’s quirky character and Amy’s burgeoning sense of self-confidence. Their characters are really lively and well done—and despite the variety of authors, surprisingly consistent. I wound up reading 6 of the 10, and was pleased to revisit their world in the second series this past January when I was asked to participate in another related project.
 
The idea is really stellar and complex (despite some implicit/inadvertent eurocentrism) and the adventures are fun—the pace is nothing if not quick. Historical figures, bits of world cultures and geographic trivia are laced innocuously throughout. I was surprised myself, after the fact, to reflect on how much I had accidentally learned from the series about peope, places, and things I had thought I was quite knowledgable about. Coupled with the interactive website, there’s a lot for unsuspecting reluctant-reading minds to glean.
 
The writing is simple, fairly transparent, and there’s a somewhat “Nancy Drew” quality to Dan and Amy’s sleuthing and often predictable resolutions (which is one reason I didn’t press on to read the final four titles). But the series mixes it up – not always allowing Dan and Amy the spotlight OR the victory outright. Because the Cahill family is so large, there is a vast cast of multicultural characters to meet (though none of them is ever very deeply developed) and the 3rd-person perspective switches up regularly, providing lots of twists and turns.
 
Not deep or heavy by any means, often overly simple for the older reader in me, these are nonetheless fun, light, catching reads that could serve for the kid-at-heart as a good buffer between dark apocalypses and epic fantasies. Something like Spy Kids meets Carmen Sandiego turned print—though generally less cheesy and far more complex. The books had me clue-hunting right along with the Cahills, curious to find out how it would all wrap up in the end.
 
I definitely recommend these book for the 9-12-ers—who I’ve witnessed can get really NUTS for these things!—as well as for the adventurous 13+(+++)-er.
 

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Working With the 100: An Epic Adventure January 9, 2012

 
Now, I know how it looks. I’ve been fairly quiet over the last two months.
 
But that’s only because I’ve been consulting on what was probably the most exciting project ever: Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine’s 100 Greatest Books for Kids feature.

I knew when I took the job that it might mean I had to stay quiet on the blogging front for a little while, but, I mean, who could turn it down?
 
For several solid months, I got to spend my nights and weekends reading, thinking and writing about my absolute favorite topic—books for young people (which I would have been doing anyway…shhh!)—as I worked to curate the list with the expert contributors and amazing editorial team at P&C.
 
In short, I had a blast.
 
While this took up most of my extracurricular reading time, I also couldn’t really post about it: it was TOP secret. Well, at least until the website went live! (At which point I collapsed into a heap and was transported unconsciously to the land of turkey and gift wrap.) Hence my (unusually) un-loquacious state.
 
Despite my tardiness in posting, however, I couldn’t be prouder of the final product. Not only does it cover 100 of the best books written and in print for Ages 0-12 (culled from a list of over 500 titles suggested by literacy experts, Scholastic editors, and parents!), but the website is a TON of fun to play with!
 

Check out the interactive website where 10 books will be revealed every week in the countdown to the mysterious #1!

Be sure to investigate all the widgets and enter for a chance to win a copy of 1 of the titles every week.

 

 
 
You can sort by Fiction/Nonfiction (and fiction type), Age Group, Award Winners, and more. Once you have your list, click on the book covers to find out more about each individual title.
 

 
As an added treat, the magazine editors and I chose 10 books throughout the list that grabbed our attention for various reasons, such as “Best Bedtime Book,” “Most Exciting Ending,” and “Favorite Fantastic Setting.”
 
Click here to find out more about the 100 Greatest Books for Kids feature: why we did it, how we did it, what’s up next, and more.
 
Then, be sure to subscribe to P&C asap if you want to receive a print copy of the March issue that will contain all of this and more.
 
 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * GIVEAWAY! * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 
Now, I want to hear from you. Let me know: what books would YOU have put on the list? What would have been your number one? Be sure to include your email address with your answer! (Or leave a comment on this post.) One lucky winner will get a copy of one of the books from the list in their age group of choice. (Book to be supplied by moi, and this giveaway is in no way affiliated with Parent & Child.)
 

 

 

 

My Personal Bookprint October 22, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, as part of a side project I’ve been working on with a parenting magazine, I happened to be collecting data from a website that prompted me to stop and think about the 5 books that have influenced me most, or my “bookprint,” as it was called.

This will be easy, I thought. So, I settled in to my couch cushion, and began what I assumed would be a quick process of popping in a few titles and moving on. One hour and one sleeping leg later, This is really hard, was going through my mind. And, I think most people who have read consistently throughout their lives will probably have a similar experience.

However, it was totally worthwhile. So worthwhile, in fact, that I wanted to take a few minutes to share my results and encourage others to do the same. What the exercise did was twofold: it not only made me stop and remember all of the wonderful books that have made an impact on me throughout my life – those little explosions of awe that were bright enough to still be echoing around in my mind – but also caused me to see myself somewhat differently, to understand myself better. You see, the process of elimination (because you can only have 5), really made me stop and think if I’m being honest, truly, transparently honest, then which books, which reading experiences really define me? and why?

Some of the results were expected. A couple of them surprised even me.

What didn’t surprise me all that much was that all of the books that ended up on the final list were ones I read as a young person (before 15). After all, that’s when we’re most impressionable, it’s when the basis of our personalities, outlook, and worldview are formed. It’s also an era of books I have yet to let go…and may never. I am what I read, then and now.

 
The website was Scholastic’s You Are What You Read. It’s a part of their “Read Every Day, Lead a Better Life” campaign, which is in turn coupled to their very unique Reading Bill of Rights document. “Literacy – the ability to read, write and understand – is the birthright of every child in the world…” meant a lot to me before this little exercise. But, having had the opportunity to think more deeply about how books have shaped who I am today, I find it now means a whole lot more.
 
Think about it: Who would we (as human beings) be without books?
 
 

Here’s my bookprint. What’s yours?

 
1) The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

The Harry Potter books (my own love of them and their phenomenal success worldwide) inspired me to think – and write my masters thesis – about the ways in which literary society is forming and reforming around and apart from postmodernism, expanding into something new. I think that the HP books have shaped our culture irrevocably, and for the better. They’ve opened us back up to “positive possibility” (as opposed to the “negative possibility” promoted by much of theory in the last 100 years) and that is saying something.

 
2) Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I saw (and subsequently developed) a lot of myself in Anne: using big words, being feisty and independent, doing everything “to the max,” and loving wholeheartedly. She helped me understand that those were good qualities, and that I should always be true to that piece of my nature.

On a humorous side note, I asked for the films for Christmas last year, and got Anne of Avonlea from my sister. We (my sisters, brother, husband, and I) stayed up all night watching the 4-hr, 2-disc classic, most of which I was convinced my husband would miss. I just didn’t think it was his kind of thing. However, when the closing credits came on, he was still wide awake, staring thoughtfully at the screen. Then, he turns slowly toward me and studies my face for a moment before saying, “Hhh. Now I understand you,” and stands up to head to bed.

 
3) Gone With the Wind by Margarett Mitchell

This was actually a last-minute substitution. It bumped The Chronicles of Narnia (*gasp!*), which I did not think was possible. However, when I stopped to examine myself more closely, I realized that a lot of Scarlett – like Anne – lives on in me. She taught me that women can be strong, brash even, and still be desirable; make mistakes and recover from them; march on through the difficulties that life, society, and a patriarchal system have handed her, and be ok enough to look forward to “tomorrow.”

 
4) The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper

Another surprise for me, though perhaps it shouldn’t have been. I can still, very clearly, recall my mother reading this book to us. She, through this book, provided me with a mantra (and philosophy) that has lasted a lifetime. “I think I can,” has gotten me through some of the toughest times of my life, and I am definitely a different person for it.

 
5) Wynken, Blynken, and Nod by Eugene Field

Finally, this book (or, poem, I really should say), though it might surprise some that I included it, didn’t surprise me. At least not this year. I actually realized that this work belonged on my list many years ago during an undergraduate course that was partially on children’s literature. First introduced to me in an elementary school spelling book, Field’s elegant poem opened my eyes to the world of beautiful text and the power of metaphor. It helped shape the books I read thereafter, and is an important piece of the reader, writer, and editor that I am today.

 
 

Finally, because it’s really just not fair to leave them out, here are the books that didn’t make it in, but really should be up there, too:

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swam by E. B. White
Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
Green Eggs and Ham and Dr. Seuss’s ABC by Dr. Seuss
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nihm by Robert C. O’Brien
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Mother Goose
The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Where the Wild Things Areby Maurice Sendak
The Wind the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
. . . and many, many, many more.

 

Book Review: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick October 11, 2011

Release Date: September 13, 2011
Publisher: Scholastic
608 pgs

★★★★★

It’s 1977, and somewhere in the quiet woods of Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, lives Ben Wilson. His mother has just died, and though his aunt and uncle welcome him in, he just cannot seem to feel at home. Something is missing. When he finds a 12-year-old clue about his father, Ben decides that the search for that mysterious man is the answer to all of his empty longing.

Flash back to Hoboken, New Jersey, 1927, where the story of a young girl is depicted only in pictures – or is it? Rose lives her life shut away in her home, and she, too, is longing. Longing for something . . .

The collision of their worlds will leave you speechless.

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Summary is not something that suits this book, really, so apologies for my somewhat cryptic attempt above. That’s because the storytelling in Wonderstruck is utterly unique. I did not realize, when I sat down to read it, that I was embarking on a sensory journey that would leave me mystified and in awe. Needless to say, the book’s title was chosen well.

Subtle and unobtrusive, it nevertheless defies all of the rules about reading that I – unwittingly – have always taken for granted. Text is text, right? Pictures are pictures, right? Wrong.

Selznick has created a masterpiece wherein the line between letter and sketch gradually blurs into one unified experience.

Like its similar, but intrinsically different sibling, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (movie directed by Martin Scorsese out Nov 23!!), Wonderstruck is a revolutionary publication. (I can’t quite bring myself to call it a “text.”) It will alter the way you look at and define “books.”

So much more than a picture book, this story can’t simply be read: it has to be experienced. I highly recommend.

 

(P.S. Don’t be daunted by the page count – the balance of text and illustrations make it a fairly quick read.)

 

Steampunk Dream Home August 19, 2011

Filed under: Steampunk — Booknotized @ 11:10 am
Tags: , , ,

 

It’s for sale. Only $1.75 million.

 

*shakes piggy bank.*

*jingling ensues*

 

 

I’d like to imagine this is something like the inside of the Leviathan. Or, maybe Godshawk’s head

 

 

(Click photos for link to original Yahoo article. And here to see a slideshow by the WSJ.)

 

 

…or maybe just my summer home…
 

 

According to the original Yahoo article, “The bathroom is divided into two sections accessed by a pulley.”

 

Click here for photos of a costume party held in the apartment.

 

$$$ Click HERE to BUY. $$$

 

Book Review: The Art of Steampunk by Art Donovan June 27, 2011

Filed under: Books,Nonfiction,Steampunk — Booknotized @ 3:43 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Release Date: August 1, 2011
Publisher: Fox Chapel

★★★★

I received a copy of this book as a courtesy from the team at Fox Chapel after running into them at BEA2011 this past month in my professional capacity. I’m not sure they knew I was also a book blogger, but this one was too exciting not to talk about.

A fan of steampunk literature, I was immediately intrigued by the content. So used to building the worlds in my head, coupled together from snippets I’ve seen of Victorian technology and fashion, tidbits of old Jules Verne and the more recent Wild Wild West (1999) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) films, I was psyched about seeing some of the world come to real, hard life. After all, imagination has its limits. What better way to flesh it out than with photographs?

And, in The Art of Steampunk, the steampunk world really does take full form. Inside are well over 100 full color photos of some of the most intricate and finely crafted oddities you’ll ever see. From Eric Freitas’ exquisite and ethereal clocks, to Kris Kuksi’s detailed warships—oh, and don’t miss Richard Nagy’s fully-functioning brass, leather, and copper laptops—the 17 artists showcased here have really populated the world of idea with extraordinary reality. Their pieces, all exhibited at Oxford University’s Museum of the History of Science 2009-10 Steampunk show (curator, Art Donovan), will make you catch your breath. The intricate delicacy, brassy trim work, and tongue-in-cheek aplomb continually snagged me between the urgent desire to linger and the giddy itch to flip to the next discovery. Truly, whether chuckling or scrutinizing, you can’t help but marvel at the all-around genius of their painstaking handiwork.

The only flaw I saw in the book was its overemphasis on preserving the details of the Oxford exhibition, which I fear may give shelf-browsers the impression that it’s more a commemorative booklet of the event than a printed showcase of the art. However, as redundant as the forward, introduction, and introductory essay become by page 33, the front matter does contain some truly enlightening information about steampunk subculture and its art that explicate in enough detail to enlighten both newcomers and die-hard fans alike.

Verdict? A must for the avid steampunker.

 

 
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