Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Does Amazon love books?

I don't listen to many podcasts, because I find them boring, the way I do most TV shows, which is probably because I don't stick with them long enough.  (I wish children's books podcasts were more like PTI.  I enjoy arguing.)  However, I do like the NYT Book Review podcast, and I particularly like last week's episode, because it touches on two issues near and dear to my heart: Amazon and children's book reviews.

In the section on Amazon, Sam Tannenhaus asks something I've been wondering: why do all the major innovations in reading and publishing seem to be driven by Amazon?  For a while, I have perceived Amazon as the big bad, so I was surprised when Nancy Pearl, whose action figure I often receive as a gift, signed a deal with them.  I thought it was the position of librarians to dislike Amazon--especially now that they are encroaching on our territory.  However, my boyfriend often declares, "Nobody loves books more than Amazon."  I think he has a point.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Review: Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves

As soon as I realized the main character in Bleeding Violet was an Afro-Viking, I had to read it.  I've also been meaning to read The Girl who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow and Quicksand by Nella Larsen, but those books don't have monsters.

Afro-Viking is a cool word for the child of a Scandinavian parent and an African or African-American parent.  I'm not positive the main character in Bleeding Violet counts, because her mother is African-American and her father is Finnish.  Finland is not always considered part of Scandinavia.  But I rarely get to use the term Afro-Viking, so I'm going to keep using it until someone corrects me.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

"To the degree that we can ... replace books with people, that’s the future of where libraries are going.”

That's Anthony Marx, the President of New York Public Library, quoted in a 2011 article in The Nation.  He's talking about a plan to convert the Central Library to a circulating library as well as research facility.  The plan involves ripping out a lot of stacks, adding a lot of computers, and closing two branches to pay for the renovation.  I learned about the plan from a passing comment on the Fuse#8 blog--a Guardian article on the subject makes it clear staff are discouraged (forbidden?) from commenting.  However, library users have not been silent.  And there are some irate Slavic scholars out there.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

I was immediately captured by the cover of this book, and my interest in the book led me to the Strange Chemistry website.  Strange Chemistry is a new imprint of Angry Robot, and they've compiled some pretty fantastic lists of recommended fantasy and science fiction.  The lists make me feel like they're positioning themselves on the geeky side of YA fantasy and sci-fi.  And that's a really good thing.  That's where Joss Whedon likes to hang out, right?  While paranormal romance and dystopia have somehow moved into the mainstream, there are still a lot of teens out there who like the kinda uncool stuff, like cosplay and elves.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review: Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

The story of Liar and Spy is told by Georges, a seventh grade boy named after Georges Seurat (more about the paintings of Georges Seurat in a minute).  There's something wrong with Georges, but you can't put your finger on what it is. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

New GC4K Core Title List and Superhero Comics for Children

When the peeps at the Good Comics for Kids blog published their first core title list, I think I called it the most helpful thing on the internet that month.  Well, it's been updated!  And in addition to pointing you to the new list, I wanted to break out one category and look at the choices.

So let's look at superhero and commercial properties (by which I mean characters owned by companies and depicted across platforms, like Transformers, Avatar, Ninjago).  I want to look at this category, because it's still an overlooked and sometimes maligned category.  Although we know how important these action series can be in the development of readers, I think librarians get nervous about buying series that might just be thoughtless spin-offs of games and TV shows. 

For example, there's a new Avatar GN written by Gene Luen Yang.  Gene Luen Yang, people!  I assumed the librarians would be all over that.  But there isn't a single copy in a public library in RI.  Apparently, a fear of comics featuring commercial properties is stronger than the power of a Printz winner's name recognition.

There are also fewer real comic-y comics published for kids.  Although kids love to read superhero comics, as a school librarian, I only buy comics that are intended for children, and that really narrows the field. That's why I think it's important to know which GN featuring popular characters are worth buying, because there are good ones out there, and they mean a lot to some of our readers.

Here's what the GC4K contributors recommend for grades 3-5:
Baltazar, Art and Franco. Tiny Titans series. Illus. by Art Baltazar. DC Comics.  2009-ongoing. 5 vols.
Fisch, Sholly. The All-New Batman: Brave and the Bold, vol 1. Illus. by Rick Burchett. DC Comics, 2011. 128p.
Star Wars Adventures series. Various authors and illustrators. Dark Horse. 2009-ongoing. 4 vols.
Star Wars Clone Wars Adventures series. Various authors and illustrators. Dark Horse. 2004-2007. 10 vols.
Transformers Animated series. Various authors and illustrators. IDW. 2008-2010. 13 vols.
Walker, Landry Q. Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade. Illus. by Eric Jones. DC Comics, 2009. 144p.
I want to briefly note for purchasing purposes that some of these DC titles will be available in hardcover through Capstone this fall, and the Star Wars hardcovers are available through ABDO (Spotlight). 

So there you go: a focused list with which you can introduce kids to important characters in the American canon.  Add to that the Marvel picture books I reviewed and you've got a nice superhero collection for young children. I'd add the Ralph Cosentino books, too, actually--especially for the Wonder Woman book.  And whatever you do, don't skip the Star Wars, because it features characters of many colors.  (I haven't read all of the others, so I'm not saying they don't.)

Now I'm going to take my own advice and get the Transformers GNs for my library.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Here's the short version of my review: Is the second Zita book as awesome as the first one?  Yes.  And since the first one was pretty much my favorite children's GN ever, I'm just going to try not to gush too much.  Ready?  Go.

In the first installment of Zita's adventures, she accidentally zaps her friend to another planet.  Her search for her friend drives the plot, and while she ends up saving the planet, that's mostly a bonus.

However, in this second installment, Zita is famous for her planet-saving.  Everywhere she goes, aliens beg her for autograph.  So when a robot shows up who can do a remarkable impression of Zita, our heroine is happy to take the afternoon off. Unfortunately, by the time the afternoon is over, robot Zita has accepted a mission to save another planet and real Zita's friends have taken off without her.

Despite the "spacegirl" in the title, I read the first Zita book as a fantasy.  When Zita pressed that irresistible red button and followed her friend across the universe, it was like Alice falling down the rabbit hole or Lucy pushing aside the last fur coat.  There was no real scientific explanation for how Zita traveled, and when she arrived, there were alien lifeforms wearing top hats and speaking in Cockney accents--not to mention talking animals and a man with a magical flute.  As a regular fantasy reader, I felt very much at home.

The second book is unmistakeably sci-fi--not because there's any hard science, but because there are  recognizable sci-fi scenes: Zita in an escape pod shooting past stars, robot police stomping down hallways, maverick pilots repairing clunky spacecraft.  There's a beautiful cuteness to all of these scenes that seems Japanese-influenced to me.  This could be a superficial observation.  I see many-tentacled creatures and adorable robots and I think Japanese!  But there's a spacecraft that looks an awful lot like Howl's Moving Castle.  And there are mecha.

Look's like Howl's Moving Castle, no?
The second book is also wider in scope and more action-packed.  It introduces two new characters, and with them, a more complex network of relationships.  I didn't have as strong of feelings for these new characters as a did for the crew in the first book, but that's not necessarily a criticism.  I think it's partly because there's more action than character development, partly because the new characters are less helpless, and partly because the author puts more distance between Zita and the reader.  The characters from the first book make brief appearances at the end, but you have to have read the first book to appreciate their role.

What I mean about the distance between Zita and the reader is this: in the first book, we see everything through Zita's eyes.  This time around, Zita's reputation precedes her.  We see posters of Zita before we see her, and the author gives us glimpses of scenes in which she doesn't appear.  Because we're not inside Zita's head all the time, there are also moments when she seems less noble than she does in the first book, like when she steals a random space craft to chase after her friends.  Also, when she saves the day at the end of the story, she seems driven more by a desire to establish her identity than to protect others from harm.  It's the slightly disreputable nature of both Zita and the motley crew she falls in with that really intrigue me about this series. 

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next in Zita's saga.  Since Legends ends in a cliffhanger, I'm sure there's more to come.  I wonder whether the series will continue in picaresque form or whether there's an over-arching storyline that hasn't really been introduced.  Is there a reason why the red button landed in Zita's backyard?  Are characters like Piper and Pizaccato looking out for her on purpose?  Are the police after her for more than the stealing of someone's ship?  I'm not saying I think Zita is some kind of "chosen one."  After all, the first book pokes fun at that kind of plot.  Plus Zita's too much of a space cowboy.  I mean girl.  But I'm kind of hoping for an epic battle of good and evil. 

This book is sure to please fans of the first book as well as devotees of the Amulet series.  I also think that the uptick in action will make this a good recommendation for kids who like Missile Mouse and perhaps manga series like Neon Genesis Evangelion ... not that the kids are reading that these days.  I'm trying to think of robot manga that the kids are reading these days and I'm drawing a blank.  But kids still like robots, right?  I know they do.  In fact, Zita is now officially one of the many graphic novels that are making sci-fi cool at my urban elementary school library.  So, go robots! 

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl will be published Sept. 4, 2012.  I got a copy from NetGalley.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ha ha! Or I could just read the directions

Today I noticed that NetGalley totally has instructions for downloading galleys to your ipad using Bluefire!  I might try that app, too, but I'm a little worried about overusing my Adobe ID.  For now, I am happy with my German solution.