Sunday, November 23, 2014

Miami Book Fair 2014

Yesterday I got to go to the Miami Book Fair and wow, was it terrific.  In case you didn't know, there is a completely AMAZING book fair in Miami every year in November.  The down side is that the weather in November can be a bit dodgy.  It's Miami, so what that translates into is pretty much a range of choices... either it's sunny, quite warm and muggy or we get a cold front and it can be quite cool and windy.  This weekend we had the remarkable combination of lots of wind, muggy, rainy and not too hot.  Although it was not picture perfect weather, the event was as usual, just wonderful.

The first thing that's awesome about the Miami book fair is that they invite authors from all over the place to come and speak.  Miami is a bilingual kind of town so there are many Hispanic as well and English speaking authors.  There is also an amazing range of authors from chefs to political commentators to fiction, poetry, non fiction, murder mysteries and kids books.  In fact, it's a little hard to plan your schedule because there are so many amazing authors speaking all at the same time.

I'm really lucky because my husband is a chef and one of his former colleagues is one of the culinary geniuses at Miami Dade College (his name is Jose Casales and he is awesome!).  Two years ago, Jose invited us to come and volunteer and it was a blast.  My husband got to make desserts and I got to run food into the author's suite (all those authors!  Squueee!!!).  But this year, he got to make more desserts and I got to sign authors in at the desk.  So it was pretty thrilling when Kazu Kibuishi, the author of the Amulet series (which my students are completely insane over) walked up to the desk.  I tried not to gush too much or drool on his shoes but when I asked if he could sign my books it was hard not to swoon as HE DREW THE CHARACTERS right on the inside cover of the book and then signed his name!  I went to the session that he did with two other graphic novelists (Ben Hatke who wrote Zita the Space Girl and Dave Roman who wrote the Space Academy) and they spent the hour drawing and talking about how they come up with their ideas.  One of things they all kept saying was that they weren't particularly good artists to start with but that they really liked drawing and by doing it over and over again, they got better and that, really, the only reason they were good is just because they had done it so often and that they were doing their own thing, not copying someone else's work.  The other thing that Kazu said that really resonated with me is that it takes him about 8 months to create an Amulet book and that the time includes the time to completely re-write the book 4 times.  He creates as he goes and sometimes he ends up in places he doesn't really like, so he goes back and does it again.  I really loved that.

I also got to sign in Katherine Applegate.  I didn't remember to bring any of her books along (rats!) but she was so nice and so friendly.  I really enjoyed her talk about Ivan and how she'd gotten her idea to write the story.  It was also really cool that two of Ivan's zookeepers from his zoo in Atlanta came to hear Katherine speak.  They'd brought a copy of a book that Ivan had personally put his fingerprint in (how cool is that?).  

The last two authors I didn't get to sign in but boy was I glad I went to hear them.  They were two of the National Book award finalists this year and I LOVED their books.  One was Deborah Wiles who wrote Revolution, which I reviewed here.  The other was Eliot Schrefer who wrote Threatened, which I reviewed here.   Eliot talked at length about how he'd gotten the idea for his book which started with a pair of jeans and ended with an afternoon of watching Youtube videos.  Isn't that funny how one little thing can spark your imagination?  Debbie (that's how she introduced herself to me!) used a lot of her own experiences of spending summer in Alabama during the 1960s to build Revolution.

I missed some really great opportunities too... John Cleese spoke on Sunday night and Jason Seigel was there promoting his new book but you can't do everything, but I'm glad I got to see some of it!  You should totally go next year!  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

This week's reading

I've been reading a big mix of things this week.  I finished another one on the short list for the National Book award for young people.  This one was called Noggin by John Corey Whaley.  It's about a 16 year old boy who had been dying of leukemia, had his head cryogenically frozen, then five years later his head was reattached to a new body (of a boy of a similar age who had died of a brain tumor) and he wakes up.  The author's voice on this was amazing... a strong clear voice of this young man who is 16 and trying to cope with not only being gone for 5 years but living with a body that's different from the one he left behind.  Parts of it are funny and parts are heart rending.  It was a great mix of social issues and humor.  Here's a book trailer about it.

I also read on called The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey.  It's the continuation of a book that came out last year called The Fifth Wave about an alien invasion of the earth.  I really loved the first one and this one was good too.  They are super fast paced.  This one was a little hard to start because although I felt like I remembered all the characters from the last book, I felt a little fuzzy at first.  Sometimes it's hard to tell who's telling the story (it changes) and because the characters mostly have two names (One of the main characters is Ben but they also call him Zombie) it can be a bit confusing (at least to me).  But it's a great story and I can't wait for the next one to come out (which I know is coming because I heard him speak last month at the Library Media Conference in Orlando and, if you like that sort thing, a movie of the Fifth Wave is also coming out in 2015).   Here's a book trailer about that one.

Today I read one on Netgalley called Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins.  It's about a boy growing up in modern day India.  His village is near a tiger preserve and it talks at length about some of the challenges of living in rural India... poor job prospects, expensive and inadequate health care, the poor quality of schooling, the lack of respect for the rural people, the poor opportunities for learning for girls and people who try to exploit all of those things.  It also talks about how awesome it is to be part of a loving family in a place where you feel like you belong and appreciating the place.  It would be a great story to use to compare and contrast American (or some other country) and Indian culture or if you wanted to talk about tiger preservation.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Reading award winners

This week I've been reading award winning books.  My local library JUST got in the books that are on the short list for the National Book award for young people so I totally SCORED.  I'd read three of them already, so I had two left.  This week I read one of them called "Threatened" by Eliot Schrefer.  He also wrote Endangered which was also on the short list for the National Book award last year and I can totally see why.  "Threatened" was such an interesting story with very compelling characters and very topical situations.  It's about a boy named Luc who lives in Gabon.  He is so ignorant that as he starts to tell his story, I was bit confused about how he had come to live in a boarding house (essentially a share cropper kind of situation where he owed a lot of money from his mother's and sister's extended hospital stay so he was working off the debt, which sounded like it would probably take forever).  Luc is serving drinks at a local bar when an unusual man comes in.  The man is Arab and apparently a scientist who wants to study chimpanzees.  He hires Luc to carry his bag and then to go on his expedition into the bush.  Luc has been taught from an early age that chimpanzees are dangerous and so he goes with a LOT of trepidation.  There are TONS of great things to connect to in this story... AIDS orphans, chimpanzee and endangered animal protection versus the needs of the indigenous people, the politics of Gabon, scientific research by big American companies, Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey...  AND it's well written and really hard to put down.  I loved this one but I think it's probably too big for my elementary age students, I would think middle school and up could read it.

I also read the Man Booker Prize winner this week.  The Man Booker Prize is for great literature in the United Kingdom and they made a big deal this year that the winner was Australian and not English (apparently they even considered some American literature, even though we aren't part of the UK, but it didn't make the cut).  The book that won is called "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" by Richard Flanagan.  This is DEFINITELY an adult book and it was really good.  It's the story of a man named Dorrigo Evans who grew up in Australia, became a doctor, went to war during World War 2, was sent to a prison camp in Burma and forced to help build a railroad there, fell in love, got married and had a family.  The story is not told consecutively so it's a little confusing about where exactly you are in his life sometimes but the story telling is amazing.  The imagery is rich and vivid (sometimes you wish he'd back off a bit!) and it was hard to put down.  

The last one I read this week was not an award winner but it should have been.  I also maybe shouldn't have read this one right after I finished the "Narrow Road" because it was sort of surprising how similar they were.  This one is called "Between Shades of Gray" by Ruta Septys.  (NOT 50 Shades of Gray, please).  I got to hear Ruta Septys speak at the International Reading Association conference in New Orleans in May.  I'd never heard of her book until then, but it sounded compelling.  It's based on her dad's experiences as a young man who escaped from Lithuania and ended up in America.  So I finally found the book at my library this week and wow, was it great.  It's about a 16 year old girl named Lina who lives with her parents and younger brother in Lithuania in the 1940s.  They have up until this point lived a fairly privileged life... Lina dreams of becoming an artist when the Russians come and take her and the rest of her family to a work camp in Russia.  The train ride there is arduous.  Her dad is separated from the rest of the family but they have hope that he is still ok.  Life in the camp is very hard and they are expected to do farm work and other manual labor to earn their keep.  Starvation and malnutrition are rampant in the camp because the Russians believe that the Lithuanians are inferior to them and they don't have to treat them like people, they are animals, which was exactly the sentiment expressed in "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" by the Japanese.  I really liked this story because it gave a different point of view to World War 2.  "Between Shades of Gray" would make a great mentor text because in addition to the historical part, it also talks about using art to show things rather than telling them.  Using the art pieces mentioned in the story as well as other art work about war experiences would be a great connection.  Here's a video where she tells about how she got the idea for the book.