Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fever, 1793

I'm a fan of historical fiction, so was eager to read Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever, 1793, a YA novel set in Philadelphia in 1793 during an outbreak of yellow fever. I wasn't disappointed, and Anderson weaves the historical facts with a convincing, well-written and compelling story. This review from Kirkus gives a good overview:

In an intense, well-researched tale that will resonate particularly with readers in parts of the country where the West Nile virus and other insect-borne diseases are active, Anderson (Speak, 1999, etc.) takes a Philadelphia teenager through one of the most devastating outbreaks of yellow fever in our country's history. It's 1793, and though business has never been better at the coffeehouse run by Matilda's widowed, strong-minded mother in what is then the national capital, vague rumors of disease come home to roost when the serving girl dies without warning one August night. Soon church bells are ringing ceaselessly for the dead as panicked residents, amid unrelenting heat and clouds of insects, huddle in their houses, stream out of town, or desperately submit to the conflicting dictates of doctors. Matilda and her mother both collapse, and in the ensuing confusion, they lose track of each other. Witnessing people behaving well and badly, Matilda first recovers slowly in a makeshift hospital, then joins the coffeehouse's cook, Emma, a free African-American, in tending to the poor and nursing three small, stricken children. When at long last the October frosts signal the epidemic's end, Emma and Matilda reopen the coffeehouse as partners, and Matilda's mother turns up—alive, but a trembling shadow of her former self. Like Paul Fleischman's Path of the Pale Horse (1983), which has the same setting, or Anna Myers's Graveyard Girl (1995), about a similar epidemic nearly a century later, readers will find this a gripping picture of disease's devastating effect on people, and on the social fabric itself. (Fiction. 11-13)

If you're interested in knowing more, check out the website for Fever and also Laurie's site. The site includes a teacher's guide.(She's prolific on the Internet - on-line journal, MySpace, Facebook, etc. Phew.)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Loving a Book by Its Cover (and Design and Text...)

I have a shelf in my living room where I keep by Diana's annuals and other books (of questionable quality mind you) from my childhood. I also keep my current favourites (of excellent quality) I will keep forever and not cull when my children are older. I was looking through them today and came across a recent favourite: When You Were Small, by Sara O'Leary with illustrations by Julie Morstad. It's a charmingly simple tale of a boy who asks his father, "Tell me about when I was small." Each spread describes a situation from the fanciful life, with a literal twist, of a "very small boy." So, we see Henry walking his pet ant, standing in for a chess piece becuase "our chess board was missing one of the knights and you were the perfect size."

It was the lovely illustrations and the book design that first drew me to this book, but the text is charming, simple and fabulous too. The book recently won a design award from the Alcuin Society. You can find more on this keeper at the When You Were Small blog.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Ink Drinker

This is the wonderful, quirky story by Eric Sanvoisin of a young boy whose father owns a bookstore. Our nameless protagonist hates books, but has to work in the bookstore, spying on customers and watching for shoplifters. This is torture until he sees a strange-looking man using a straw to suck the ink out of books. The adventure begins. The Ink Drinker is a slim book, with great illustrations. I loved it for its quirky, thoroughly unique (hallelujah) story. Those who want more can check out sequels: A Straw for Two, Little Red Ink Drinker, and The City of Ink Drinkers. Here's a review of two of these titles from CM Magazine.

As soon as I saw the illustrations, I wondered if this was a European book. Sure enough it was originally published in France. I'm not sure what it is about the illustrations that made me think that, but there are slighly offbeat and definitely not "cutesy." Reminds me somewhat of the wonderful illustrations Stephane Jorisch did for Jabberwocky, part of Kids Can Press's Visions in Poetry series. All of the art in this series is fabulous.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Aleutian Sparrow

After the wonderful introduction to Karen Hesse's writing through Out of the Dust (see my post on July 24th), I've got a few more of her titles to read through. I finished another verse novel, Aleutian Sparrow, last evening. Although I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as Out of the Dust, I did learn quite a bit about the history of the Aleuts during WW2. This story is told by an Aleut girl, Vera, as she and her friends and family are moved from the Aleutians to Ward Lake near Wrangell. Another sad tale of misunderstanding and mistreatment and I wasn't left with the same sense of hope I had after finished the very heart-wrenching Out of the Dust, but I appreciated learning more about this period and these people. Beautiful cover and interior linocuts by Evon Zerbetz.

Blogs to Flog #1

The house is empty, with the hubby and kids away for a few days. I get a lot of work done during these precious days, but I have also been spending far too much time on the computer, snooping around. There have been several sites and blogs I've been wanting to check out, so it's not a total waste of time. Came across a great blog that I think will be useful (okay, at the very least amusing) for children's writers. Editorial Anonymous is the blog of a children's book editor. She's irreverent, hilarious, straightforward and occasionally very snarky. I loved it. If you're a writer and want to get a better understanding of what goes on in the places where most manuscripts go to die (and want to find out why they die) check this blog out.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Summer Reading

The coffee table in my living room, desk (and floor!) in my office, and my bedside table are covered with stacks of books. Some for research for the several projects I have on the go, but most purely for pleasure. What to read, what to read. When in a picture book! I had seen Nancy Hundal's Prairie Summer before, but had never read it. A classmate had looked it over closely when I was at school this summer as part of our discussion of picture books. Hundal is a wonderful writer. So lovely to see someone using descriptive, evocative language for kids and not trying to rhyme everything (or anything). Here's a taste:

Snack packed, we went field-roaming
treasure combing,
through burnt, scratchy grass, never smooth green,
wet-filled like at home.
Saw sloughs, cows lips suck greedily at the edge,
tear away chunks of muddy water.
And saw the sky skid off into forever.
Explored it, mapped it, named it -- the Plains of You,
the Rock of Me.

All the while the dung-tinged perfume of the prairie
tickled our nostrils
never stronger near a wild rose or haystack,
just always there.

Like the mosquitoes, whose tickle
left hard and red and hot imprints to scratch.
Scratch. Scratch.

- from Prairie Summer by Nancy Hundal (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1999)

In this book we explore the summer prairie through the eyes of country cousins who've come to visit their city cousins.

Another Hundal book, which I discovered on my childrens' bookcase when I was trying to cull it, is Twilight Fairies. Again, Hundal's strong, poetric prose comes through: "Mom made a cake, a circle of angel food frosted in pink, sugary bliss. She made dainty sandwiches of tomato and cucumber, pitchers of soursweet lemonade." or "Miranda coud hear the tinklehum of fairymerrymaking as she passed her cake, opened her gifts." Tinklehum and fairymerrymaking -- what great words.