Saturday, July 18, 2009

Epistolary Novels

Having recently read both The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Shaffer and Barrows) and 84, Charing Cross Road (Hanff)--both excellent books; I highly recommend them!--I got to thinking about books written in letters, as both of these are. It wasn't hard to think of several more, for all ages.

For teens there is Daddy Long-Legs, by Jean Webster. I reviewed this one once before, so you can read more about it here. Then there is Karen Hesse's Letters from Rifka, about a twelve-year-old girl fleeing Russia with her family in 1919. Rifka knows that her letters will never reach her cousin, whom she is writing to, so this book is more like a diary than a true epistolary novel, but I thought it worth including here anyway. And for a more modern version of the epistolary style, there is the TTYL series by Lauren Myracle. These books (TTYL, TTFN, and L8R G8R) are written entirely as a series of instant message conversations between three teen girls.

There are a few selections for middle-grade readers, as well, including P.S. Longer Letter Later and Snail Mail No More, both by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin; Dear Mr. Henshaw, the Newbery winner by Beverly Cleary; and the Regarding the... series by Kate Klise. The latter is a little different in that the books include things like newspaper clippings among the letters.

And lastly, I even found an epistolary picture book--two, actually: Dear Mrs. LaRue and LaRue for Mayor, by Mark Teague, which are composed of letters from a dog to his owner.

I'm sure there are more--let me know if you've read others! I love to write letters, which is probably why these books have such appeal for me; I'm dreaming of the day when I can exchange long, witty letters with anonymous Englishmen who send me books and invite me to visit their country and stay with their family or the old woman next door. A girl can dream, right?

Books about words (and how to use them!)

I'll admit, I am a word nerd. And a grammar fiend. And a spelling... whatever. I like it all. I've read and loved Eats, Shoots and Leaves (Lynne Truss) cover to cover, as well as Woe Is I: The Grammarphobes Guide to Better English in Plain English (Patricia T. O'Conner), and David Crystal's By Hook or By Crook (a fascinating, humorous look at the English language). I've even read bits of Strunk and White's Elements of Style for fun.

So over the last year or so I've been delighted to see several similar books written for children. First we have two more books by Lynne Truss: Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why, Every Punctuation Mark Counts! and The Girl's Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can't Manage Without Apostrophes! Along the same lines, I recently checked in a book at the store called Greedy Apostrophe: A Cautionary Tale. This should be required reading for anyone who ever writes in the English language--it's funny and it gets the point across. I told my family about this one, and now my younger brothers will see a typo and say, "Is that a greedy apostrophe?"

On a slightly different note, we got a book in a few weeks ago called The Word Snoop (Ursula Dubosarsky). This is a book all about the English language. It starts by telling about the alphabet (how it all began) and the invention of printing; moves forward through American spelling, punctuation, anagrams and pangrams and all sorts of other "grams," oxymorons, Pig Latin, onomatopoeia, tongue twisters, euphemisms, spoonerisms, malapropisms, and more; and ends with a look at "text-speak" and smileys. Everything is explained in a fun, easy-to-understand manner.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer Books

What are you reading this summer? I started The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn this weekend--figured it was a good book to start on the 4th of July. Others I've enjoyed during the last couple months include The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows) and The Help (Kathryn Stockett).

Last week I finally got around to reading this year's Newbery winner, The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman). I liked it a lot--more than I thought I would, actually, given the title. (I know, I know, you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover! But really, who doesn't?) So I'd recommend that for the age 10-12 crowd--although, be warned, the first chapter is scary.

For the slightly younger set, there's a new Alvin Ho book (written by Lenore Look) called Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters. I haven't read an Alvin Ho book before, but I've heard they're good, and this one sounds like the perfect thing to read during the summer!

And for teens, The Hunger Games is exciting and action-packed, while Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher) is more mysterious and pensive and reveals the impact (whether negative or positive) that people can have on others without realizing it; even what seems like the most harmless action has consequences.

Friday, June 12, 2009

BookExpo America 2009 (part 3)

After breakfast we went down to the children's trade show floor to explore the publisher booths and stand in line for book signings. I actually took this picture on Thursday, when they were still setting up, so it doesn't really do justice to how it looked on Friday. But it should give you an idea, anyway--books everywhere, and then way down at the end of the room (all the way to the left of the picture) the lines for book signings. Friday mostly went like this: Walk down an aisle of booths looking at cool things. Stand in line. Get a signed book from a famous author. Stand in line. Get a signed book from a not-so-famous author. Stand in line. Get a signed book from a famous author. Walk down another aisle of booths, looking at more cool things. Check a bag or two so our backs don't break. Repeat.
That's Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry. They signed Peter and the --- for me. I also got a Mercy Watson book signed by Kate DiCamillo, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society signed by Annie Barrows, and Catching Fire (the sequel to The Hunger Games) by Suzanne Collins, among others. Someone interviewed me while I was in line for Catching Fire. I don't know what that was for. (So if you happen to hear me on the radio or something, let me know, OK?)

To end the day, Karlene and I went to a party/reception thing at Workman Publishing. There we made a dinner out of lots of little elegant hor d'ouevre-type things, and also picked up a couple more books. The food was probably the fanciest food I've ever had--or at least the most sophisticated. Fancy Nancy would have loved it. I couldn't decide whether to feel sophisticated because I was at this very grown-up party, or just out of place because I'd never experienced that sort of thing before.

Around 7 or 8 PM we made our way back to the hotel, collected all of our bags (we had each checked three by that point), and started for home. I am quite enjoying having so many new books to read; I was reading one a day for the first few days, but have been slowed by Little Bird of Heaven, by Joyce Carol Oates. (It is pretty long, and too sad to read for long periods of time.)

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed seeing BEA through my eyes. I had a great time, and I hope I'll be able to go back sometime! I'd never seen so many books in one place before; and we hardly broke the surface of what there was to see and do--but what we did see and do was awesome! (If you'd like more information--or a less anecdotal, more informational summary of the weekend--you can visit or search the web for other bloggers' takes on the event.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

BookExpo America 2009 (part 2)

I was actually a little worried about seeing Julie Andrews, because, you know, what if she wasn't practically perfect in every way like Mary Poppins? I needn't have worried. She was. She was the emcee for the event, so she spoke first and then introduced the others. She opened with some jokes about the early hour (8:00 AM), saying "Wouldn't it have been lovely if this had been a pajama party, and we could have all just rolled out of bed to come? I feel almost as if I did." After talking a bit about her writing, especially the book she most recently co-wrote with her daughter, Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies (available in October), she introduced a surprise guest: Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul, and Mary)! He sang "Day Is Done" (to usher in the day), and encouraged us to sing along, scolding us for singing "meekly."
Meg Cabot spoke next. She showed old family photos ("Doesn't it look like I was raised by the Mod Squad?! Seriously.") and spoke about when she first met Julie Andrews, at the premiere for the Princess Diaries movie, and how nervous she was even though "of course she's totally adorable in person!" She also shared her three rules to live by:
1. Never pass a bathroom without going in, because you never know when you'll find another one.
2. Treat people the way you want to be treated.
3. Never give up.

Up next was Tomie DePaola. It's a novel experience for me to have heard someone famous speak on more than one occasion, and this was my third time hearing Tomie, so I took some satisfaction from the fact that he told a story I'd heard him tell before: When he was little he said, "When I grow up, I'm going to draw pictures for books and tap-dance on stage." He has, in fact, been paid for both. He also shared a story about when his alma mater gave him an honorary doctorate in art. Judy Collins was there, and before she did anything else, she said, "All right! I'm going to get this out of the way!" and sang--mesmerizing everyone. "So," Tomie said, "I'm just going to get this out of the way," and he broke into "The hills are alive with the sound of music!"

Amy Krouse Rosenthal began by showing us this video, which is worth watching if you have a few minutes. She organized her presentation as a Q&A, because, she said, she always had a million questions growing up. One of her questions (at the breakfast, not as a child) was, "Can you believe we're all here with JULIE ANDREWS?!" At which point she brought out a favorite from her music box collection. Setting it on the podium, she bent the microphone down so we could all hear it play "Chim Chimeny" from Mary Poppins. Amy seemed like a very interesting person. She loves words and wordplay--she's probably excellent at Scrabble--and then there's that video.

Part Three coming soon...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

BookExpo America 2009 (part 1)

Last weekend was a very exciting one for me--Karlene and I went to NYC for BookExpo America! I'd been looking forward to this ever since I found out Julie Andrews would be there, and it didn't disappoint.

We left CT on Thursday morning and arrived in the city in time to check into our hotel room and get hot dogs in front of the Javits Center for lunch before attending a couple of educational sessions with hundreds of other booksellers and librarians. After these we went back to the hotel, changed into sneakers, and set off to find a bookstore. At this point it was raining--not hard, but enough that we were pretty wet by the time we got to our destination--where we discovered that the store had very unusual hours, none of which included the hour we were there. There was, however, a nice little Austrian restaurant across the street, so we had a delicious dinner and warmed up a little before heading back out into the rain. That night, after watching a little bit of the National Spelling Bee on TV (I had no idea that was how to pronounce blancmange!), we attended a reception for Avin Dominitz, who is apparently a brilliant man, and huge in the world of bookselling. I'd never heard of him before that day (although he did lead the session on handselling that I attended), but it was a neat experience nonetheless.
(This is the view from our hotel room. We were on the 17th floor.)

Friday morning we woke up at 5:15 and were out the door around 6:00, heading back to the Javits Center. We were able to take the subway part of the way, but then it was four long blocks of walking in the rain--which turned into eight blocks because we walked two before realizing we were going the wrong direction. (Yep. We're good like that.) We shot envious glances at a man with an umbrella large enough for four and received a pitying look in return. Finally we arrived and found the booth where we could get tickets to get signed books by some of the more famous authors. They'd run out of Julie Andrews tickets at 6:30, but we were able to get a few others--Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson, Joyce Carol Oates, and Suzanne Collins. At this point I would have also liked a booth handing out towels with which to dry my feet, but I quickly forgot my discomfort in light of the fact that it was time for the Children's Author Breakfast with Julie Andrews, Tomie DePaola, Meg Cabot, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal!

Part Two coming soon...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Don't Let the Pigeon Be the Principal!

If you're a fan of the Pigeon books by Mo Willems, take a few minutes to watch this video put together by the first grade class of Parkview Elementary. Very well done--Pigeon sounds just like I imagined! (HT: Fuse #8.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dawn Aldrich Signing

Join us on Thursday, April 30th, at 4:00 PM to meet Dawn Aldrich, author of the picture book Auntie's House.

Told from the child's perspective, Auntie's House answers the universal questions of every child left in the care of someone other than a parent: "What will I do all day long? Are there fun things to do here? Will Mommy come back for me?"

Dawn Aldrich is a native to New England. She resides in Connecticut with her husband, Peter. Together they've raised two adult children and have one granddaughter. She holds an Associates Degree in Radio & TV Communications from Endicott College and a Bachelor's Degree in Christian Education from Houghton College.

Friday, April 10, 2009

What just arrived...

I just had the pleasure of checking in a few books that look really good. The first one I pulled out of the box was Nana Cracks the Case!, by Kathleen Lane. The back cover reads, "Nanas, you see, are not supposed to become backhoe operators or marine biologists or circus performers (actually Nana did not join the circus, she only substituted while the trapeze artist recovered from a broken leg), and they must never--because they are so very fragile, you see--become detectives." Tell me you don't want to read the book now! I sure do. It even has a reversible cover, "perfect for sneaky detective work!"

The next one was called Escape Under the Forever Sky, by Eve Yohalem. It's about a girl who is the daughter of the American ambassador to Ethiopia, and she gets kidnapped. It is apparently based on a true story, and looks riveting. (I read a few pages in the middle. Now I want to read the whole thing.)

Finally, for you fans of Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace, a book called Little Oink. Similar to their book Little Hoot, in which an owl wishes he could go to bed earlier, Little Oink is about a piglet who wishes his parents would let him clean his room. Cute!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kids Heart Authors

Mark your calendars--Valentine's Day, 2009 is going to be a special day at The Alphabet Garden and independent bookstores all over New England! From 10-12 on February 14, over 100 authors of children's books will be gathering at local bookstores to sign books and talk with young fans.

The Alphabet Garden is privileged to have seven authors coming that day:
Tony Abbott (Secrets of Droon)
Leslie Bulion (The Trouble With Rules)
Kate Duke (Archeologists Dig for Clues)
Kathleen Kudlinski (Boy, Were We Wrong About the Solar System!)
Donna Marie Merritt (Too-Tall Tina)
Pegi Deitz Shea (Patience Wright: America's First Sculptor & Revolutionary Spy)
And Cheshire's very own A.C.E. Bauer (No Castles Here)!

Check out Kids Heart Authors for more information--and if you're reading this, but don't live near us, check out the listing of participating indies to find a store near you!