Friday, December 30, 2011

Dragon's Year in Review

Stats! We got stats!

32 picture books
9 novels
9 nonfiction
30 YA/juvenile literature
5 memoir/biography
9 short story collections
1 reference book
3 graphic novels
3 poetry
3 books I can't easily classify

104 books total

Which is really pretty abysmal. All I can say is that I worked a lot this year. I had 2 short stories published. I finished writing 2 novels. I read a couple unpublished novels that didn't make this list. And it took me more than 2 months each to wade through The Dancing Wu Li Masters and Partner to the Poor. Theoretically, I could review another Rosemary Wells book right now, but I'd have to get out of bed to find it, so the count stands at 104. Disregarding the kids' books, I scarcely averaged 1 serious book a week.

The YA count was huge, primarily due to the 15 volume Guardians of Ga'Hoole series, plus the Hunger Games, plus my friend Nova's novel, Imaginary Girls

Two of my mentors, Jaimy Gordon and Bonnie Jo Campbell also made the list this year (both with award-winning novels) as did my darling friend, KJ Kabza, with his collection of previously published short speculative fiction. Wow, I know a lot of writers. 

Oh! While I'm name-dropping, I also visually interpreted a poem from one of Ofelia Zepeda's books for the kids at the elementary school where I'm a literacy volunteer, and my fiance emailed Ofelia Zepeda a photograph of the bulletin board (they're both employed at the University of Arizona) and she wrote back, telling him to thank me, and that it was beautiful. And Tom Angleberger also emailed, thanking me for my review of Origami Yoda on another site, saying that I was pretty much the only reviewer to get his book, and I interviewed him. I should publish that interview....

Also this year, my local library system purchased 2 books that I suggested! Partner to the Poor was one. I'm still waiting for the second (about octopus intelligence) but they've cataloged it, so I'm guessing it will be available pretty soon. And, if you didn't catch it above, I'm engaged, so look out for my upcoming review of Miss Manners' Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding. Anyone who knows me will be surprised that there's any element of dignity to my wedding.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Written by: L. Frank Baum

First line: Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife.

Why you should read this book: This classic tale of whimsy and travel through a far-flung terrain where animals may be friends and plants can be enemies has been beloved by children and adults for over a century, told and retold in many different forms. Dorothy, the kind-hearted heroine, her little dog, Toto, and her new friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Lion walk clear across the land of Oz in their quest to send Dorothy back to Kansas after a cyclone carries her to this strange country. Highly recommended for any age, brimming with charm, delightful imagery, and abundant imagination.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Still hung up on the ruby slippers.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Written by: Robert Browning

First line: Hamelin Town's in Brunswick, By famous Hanover City; The river Weser, deep and wide, Washes its wall on the southern side; A pleasanter spot you never spied, But, when begins my ditty, Almost five hundred years ago, To see the townsfolk suffer so From vermin was a pity.

Why you should read this book: I'm looking at the classic text, illustrated by Kate Greenaway's classic drawings, both of which evoke the gentle romanticism of the nineteenth century, when tales of lost children and other such horrible events could be sighed over from a distance of time. In some places, the language and meter may trip up modern young readers, but overall, it's a document that has truly stood the test of time and deserves its many reprints. Whether read as a cautionary tale, a historical document, or a fairy lark, it's an evocative story about a strange man who enters into a good faith business contract, fulfills his end of the bargain but finds his partners renege on remuneration, and takes his revenge with style.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't pay your debts.

The Legend of the Bluebonnet

Written by: Tomie DePaola

First line: Great Spirits, the land is dying.

Why you should read this book: This simple retelling of an old legend recounts a time of drought, when many people have died, and the Comanche people are praying for rain. Upon learning that the gods feel people have become too selfish and require a sacrifice of each individual's most valuable possession, the adults equivocate and rationalize to avoid giving up their favorite things, but a little orphan girl who owns nothing besides a doll given to her by her dead parents understands the true meaning of sacrifice and saves her people. To symbolize their acceptance of her gift, the gods send the bluebonnet, or wild lupine, to indicate their pleasure, and bring back the rains.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Not comfortable with other people's polytheistic traditions.

Lola's Fandango

Written by: Anna Witte

First line: Lola and her family live in a small apartment in a building called The Park.

Why you should read this book: A touching story about perseverance and dance, this is the story of little Lola, who feels inferior in every way to her big sister Clementina, even though Clementina promises Lola will be just as pretty, and talented, and popular when she's bigger. After stumbling upon a pair of interested shoes in her mother's closet and learned that Mami used to dance flamenco, but no longer does (this issue is not addressed, but adult readers may suspect it is related to Lola's grandmother's death) Lola badgers her father into teaching her this dance. With constant practice, lots of duende (spirit) and a thoughtful gift from Papi, Lola is able to entertain guests at Mami's birthday party and inspire Mami to dance again.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You live in an apartment beneath a rowdy, floor-stomping family.

The Night Dad Went to Jail: What to Expect When Someone You Love Goes to Jail

Written by: Melissa Higgins

First line: This is one of my before drawings.

Why you should read this book: This is a kind-hearted and sympathetically written work for small children struggling with the aftermath of a loved ones incarceration, although the subject matter seems to be of interest to most young children, even if their parents are not prisoners. Sketch, a sad-eyed rabbit child, witnesses his father's arrest; deals with social services, cruel schoolmates, and volatile anger; visits his father in jail and in prison; and eventually, with much support, learns to adapt to a life where he can cope with his father's mistakes and absence. This book includes informative sidebars and an appendix with a glossary, a list of books and website for more information, and an index.

Why you shouldn't read this book: A bunny goes to jail!

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Written by: Gregory Maguire

First line: A mile above Oz, the Witch balanced on the wind's forward edge, as it she were a green fleck of the land itself, flung up and sent wheeling away by the turbulent air.

Why you should read this book: I know I'm pretty late to the party, but I really adored this intense, imaginative work, which paints a full picture of the life of the so-called Wicked Witch of the West, who, in other works, tormented Dorothy during her journey through Oz. Glinda (bubble-headed and class-conscious, but essentially kind-hearted), the Wizard (cruel, calculating, amoral, and self-serving), and even the Wicked Witch of the East (crippled and full of pious self-righteousness) are given detailed treatments and complex personalities, but it is Elphaba, the green-skinned Animal-rights activist and lifelong outsider who becomes the most sympathetic protagonist. Civil rights, political machinations, religious argument, and, above all, a running discussion on the nature of good and evil are among the thought-provoking terrain covered in this ground-breaking fantasy novel.

Why you shouldn't read this book: For you, it was all about Judy Garland and those ruby slippers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

Written by: Chris Van Allsburg et al.

First line: Is there any author more mysterious than Harris Burdick?

Why you should read this book: The celebrated picture book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick offers up fourteen deliciously bizarre drawings, each accompanied by a tantalizing title and caption, with no other indication as to what the heck is going on in the magical and speculative illustration. After twenty-five years, this volume clears up the confusion with fourteen unique stories written by accomplished authors such as Sherman Alexie, Gregory Maguire, Linda Sue Park, and Jules Feiffer. For fans of the original picture book, the contributing authors, or surrealism and fantasy in general, this beautiful volume offers a perfect escape from the mundane world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You prefer the mysteries.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Time for Outrage

Written by: St├ęphane Hessel

First line: Ninety-three years old. The last leg of my journey. The end is in sight.

Why you should read this book: More of a small pamphlet, these are the thoughts of a veteran of the French Resistance who survived World War II and helped draft the U.N.’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights. With the perspective of years, he explains why the gap between rich and poor is unconscionable, how indifference is the most dangerous attitude, and why peaceful insurrection is required to fulfill the promise of human rights. Mass media, mass consumption, relentless competition, and an overall lack of respect, he argues, feed the injustices of our world, and must be resisted.

Why you shouldn’t read this book:  You refuse to compromise your support for aggression on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Weird Parents

Written by: Audrey Wood

First line: There once was a boy who had weird parents.

Why you should read this book: As far as weird parents go, the parents in this book are mostly guilty of overexuberance and really atrocious taste in clothing. In fact, even the mortified child can admit that the ice cream, comic book, and Parcheesi part of the routine is pretty good. In the end, he concludes that his parents are good enough for him.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’ve never been mortified by a family member's behavior.

DK First Animal Encyclopedia

Written by: Penelope Arlon

First line: The animal kingdom is huge.

Why you should read this book: A beautiful reference book for little kids, young readers, and curious adults, this book breaks the animal kingdom down into five parts and then divides each category up into manageable two-page spreads with quizzes and “links” to related sections in the book. Like all DK books, the draw here is the remarkable, full-color photographs, making this book perfect for perusal by pre-readers. A lovely and kid-friendly reference work perfect to be cherished for many years by any animal lover.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t like animals.