Saturday, May 14, 2011

Riding Invisible (fiction)

There's no "fun" in this dysfunctional family, as a violent teen's mental illness rules over the household. When Will threatens to kill his horse, what else could Yancy do but saddle up Shy, grab his journal, and head for the California hills?

It's hard to say why their parents can't see how dangerous Will truly is, but Yancy's spent his whole life waiting for them to understand, and he just can't wait any longer. The pictures in Yancy's journal help tell the story in this strong debut novel about a tough subject.

Book info: Riding Invisible / by Sandra Alonzo, illustrated by Nathan Huang. Hyperion, 2010. [Author's website] [author interview] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: When his psychotic big brother threatened to kill Yancy’s horse, he wasn’t kidding. So Shy and Yancy head up into the foothills, away from the stable where Will cut off Shy’s tail, away from high school where everyone knows his brother is crazy, away from the house that’s no safe place at all.

Yancy, the good son, has wound up with the bad life in this household, where their parents follow the “expert” advice to react calmly to Will’s “conduct disorder” while Will viciously beats Yancy and sneaks beer and pot into the garage under their noses.

With Yancy gone, their parents will have enough time to deal with Will, right? And Yancy can find a job somewhere in the ranch country over near Palmdale that can keep him and Shy fed and sheltered, right?

But until Tavo the ranch hand rescues them after days on the trail and the last of their food, Yancy isn’t really sure that they will be okay at all. Tavo’s stories of his family and village in Mexico, his willingness to help Yancy keep Shy safe and well – these images and stories begin to fill the pages of Yancy’s journal instead of his fury at his brother’s dominance over the whole family.

Do Yancy’s parents even miss him, since Will’s outbursts fill up the whole house, all the time? Can he stay on the ranch with Tavo, or will the ranch owner change his mind again? (one of 5,000 books recommended on

Friday, May 13, 2011

Smile, by Raina Telgemeier (nonfiction) - braces, school, yikes!

Junior high!
More braces!
High school!

I'll bet that Raina felt like lots of her days as a teen were Friday the thirteenths, as this autobiographical graphic novel shows. I've met her at conferences, and she's funny and cool and excited about new projects.

And her husband, Dave Roman, is a cartoonist/author, too! He proposed to her using a webcomic!

Book info: Smile / by Raina Telgemeier. Graphix (Scholastic), 2010. [author's website] [publisher site]

Recommendation: A graphic novel about friends, family, boys, girls, and major dental drama! Autobiography in comic style – with braces! When Raina knocks out her 2 front teeth in sixth grade, getting braces doesn’t seem so bad. But her teeth won’t reset right, so it’s on to root canal surgery and a retainer with false front teeth and headgear to wear at night! Getting her ears pierced for her birthday makes things a little better; having a bratty little sister who teases her… well, Amara’s always like that.

Seventh grade gets interesting, with cute boys and the big San Francisco earthquake of 1989 and more dental surgery (braces and headgear – again!). Raina wonders why some friends don’t stay friendly and why some boys aren’t friendly enough. She decides to try out for the basketball team in eighth grade (teeth-moving still in progress), enjoys being a Girl Scout camp counselor in the summer, and worries about going to high school.

So what will life in high school be like, with new friends and old friends, new classes and old heartaches, and her still in braces? Raina illustrates her own story with humor and style, as we walk with her through junior high and high school, with the next orthodontist’s appointment always on her mom’s calendar. (one of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy  and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sequins, Secrets, and Silver Linings (fiction)

It's tempting to be lighthearted about this British tween book and call it a cross between Project Runway and the Lost Boys, but that would diminish the passion for helping that these best friends discover as they try make a significant difference to children of war, using the best skills that they have.

Just imagine what Crow's parents went through, sending her away from Uganda to safety in London, their son missing from the refugee camp and perhaps a child soldier now...

First in the series; hope the others cross the Pond from the UK soon!

Book info: Sequins, Secrets, and Silver Linings / by Sophia Bennett. Chicken House (Scholastic), 2011. [author's website] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Three junior high BFFs with different dreams – fashion designer, diplomat, actress – move through life and London with only minor panic. But their classmate Crow, a refugee from Uganda, struggles in school, doodling fashion designs and praying that the teacher doesn’t call on her.

Crow does more than just doodle – she sews and knits her dreams into incredible creations in the tiny apartment she shares with her aunt. Her brother went missing in the refugee camp, so Crow’s family is terribly worried, afraid that he’s been captured to become a child soldier.

Edie puts information on her website about the Invisible Children like Crow’s brother, Nonie helps Crow improve her reading through fashion photo books, and Jenny gets hauled to press conferences and premieres for the movie she had a small part in (wishing she could stay in London and out of sight of her manipulative, pushy father).

A student fashion competition brings them all together, as Nonie’s grandmother lets Crow study her designer gowns, the three friends turn a spare room into a sewing studio for the budding designer, and Crow creates fabulous clothes that can’t be ignored.

But can little Crow keep up with school and the demands of the contest organizers? Can the three friends help her make dreams into reality, without sacrificing their own? Will Crow ever see her parents and siblings again?

First in a series, this book brings friends, fashion, and real life into true focus, without forgetting the fun! (one of 5,000 books recommended on

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Little Green Dresses (nonfiction)

Notes: Transform a thrift store find into haute couture with this well-designed book of clothing transformation techniques and pattern-starters.

Austin sewing wiz Tina Sparkles has turned her popular Stitch Lab classes into a book filled with easy-to-follow lessons about selecting garments and fabrics for repurposing, how to measure and create patterns, basic sewing techniques, and clever finishing touches for your one-of-a-kind outfit. (Cashmere hoodie! Suit-jacket skirt!)

Little Green Dresses gives you 50 potential ways to reuse and recycle as you practice your sewing skills to "go green" with your own unique style.

Book info
: Little Green Dresses / by Tina Sparkles. Taunton Press, 2010.
[author's website] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Create your own one-of-a-kind fashions from old garments and vintage fabrics using the techniques and patterns shared by Tina Sparkles and her fashion-designer friends. Tina notes that over 17 million pounds of clothing are thrown in the trash in the United States each year, so she challenges creative gals to rescue the fabric from discards to make new-again tops, skirts, dresses, shorts, rompers, and even coats.

Learn how to make patterns, using your own personal measurements, so that each design can be custom-fitted to you. All sewing techniques are clearly explained, from making a casing for elastic to clipping seam allowances to installing a zipper.

Each design includes what pattern-making experience you need (1= straight lines only, 4= major adjustments) and the sewing skills necessary (1= sew a straight seam, 2= facings and buttonholes, 3= zippers, invisible hems). The easiest designs are first in each chapter so you can gain more skills as you make cute clothes.

If you can sew a straight seam using a sewing machine, then you can turn a silky long robe into a slinky Rectangle Tie Shrug or an Ultra Mini-Skirt (easy designs). With more experience, two large men’s sweaters become a Cashmere Hoodie and a suit coat is transformed into a Suit Skirt (complete with the suit coat buttons on the front) in skill level 2 designs.

More advanced projects see sheer curtains made into a stunning tunic, t-shirt sheets fashioned into no-side-seam leggings, and an old corduroy blanket revived as a coat.

Use the ideas and techniques in this book to change up the look of clothes in your closet, the too-large items from the vintage store, or fabric finds from swap meets and garage sales as you go green and get creative. Fashionistas – start your sewing machines!! (one of 5,000 books recommended on

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Haiku - editing your thoughts

It's the ultimate editor's blue-pencil job: paring down your dreams, thoughts, inspirations, message, and intentions into that oh-so-regimented haiku format (and today's Wordcount Blogathon theme). Yep, 5-7-5 pattern, no deviations (but no rhyme-requirements either).

'T ain't easy, but as an antidote to our these-days tendency toward logorrhea (and blogorrhea), the disciplines of haiku can make us slow down, refocus, edit our writing, pare it down to the essentials.

Zen Ties is the second of John Muth's books [YouTube book trailer] about a Zen master panda living in a regular American neighborhood [publisher site] - this time Koo, his haiku-speaking nephew, comes to visit:

Tea was very good
My cup holds emptiness now
Where should I put it?

There can also be a humorous side to haiku's rigor, as shown by Guyku: a Year of Haiku for Boys, by Bob Raczka and Peter H. Reynolds [review] [publisher site], which features this summer-related guyku:

Lying on the lawn,
we study the blackboard sky,
connecting the dots.

The GiggleIT Project is a free international online writing project for students, and it includes haiku as one of its 2011 competitions. Once their teacher or librarian registers a class/group, then students' creative writing and artwork can be showcased to a world audience. I should know, since I'm the GiggleIT publicity chair!

Voices of children,
All colors and all ages,
Lift us with laughter.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Blindsided, by Patricia Cummings (fiction) - sight vanishing, can hope remain?

Going blind! How could you handle that diagnosis, that reality? Having to leave her school and her family to learn how to truly cope as a blind person in the modern world... I think Natalie is stronger than I ever could be in that situation.

I recently visited with an old college friend who never let blindness stand in his way as he went to law school, practiced law for years, and is now finding great satisfaction promoting the National Federation for the Blind's Newsline service, which offers over 300 newspapers and magazines read aloud by phone or online 24/7 for those with visual impairment. If your grandparents, neighbors, or friends can't see well enough to read print, help them get connected to Newsline for pop culture, science, health, news (gotta love modern technology!).

Book info: Blindsided / by Priscilla Cummings. Dutton Children's Books (Penguin), hardback 2010, paperback 2011. 240 pgs. [author's site] [publisher site]

Recommendation: The summer before 10th grade, Dr. Rose says that Natalie will go blind – completely and absolutely blind, maybe overnight, maybe before Christmas. So she transfers to the Baltimore Center for the Blind boarding school so she can learn Braille and learn how to cope.

With the little tunnel of sight she has left, Nat is sure that she’s not like the other kids there – the ones blind from birth or suddenly blind from an accident – and she just lives for the weekends at home with her parents and the goats, away from lessons about walking with a cane and making the bumps of Braille become letters in her mind. Dr. Rose could be wrong - miracles happen, right?

Bargaining for miracles doesn’t work in real life though. Nat has to decide if she’s going to get ready for her new life or hide forever on her parents’ farm. Are her old friends starting to forget her? Can her new friends and teachers help her prepare for a future she can’t envision?

The author’s academic year spent with blind teens and all their hopes, fears, and expectations makes this work of fiction read like real life. (one of 5,000 books recommended on

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Zen & Xander Undone (fiction)

Notes: "Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters" (Irving Berlin) - but this ain't no White Christmas happy tale, as the death of their mother sends teen sisters Zen and Xander careening through a summer of bad choices. Add the letters and packages that arrive from their mother (yes, still dead)... let's hope they can hold each other up as they tackle a mystery that they really shouldn't try to solve.

Book info: Zen & Xander Undone / by Amy Kathleen Ryan. Houghton Mifflin, hardback 2010, paperback 2011. [author site] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Mom’s death, Dad’s retreat into his office, big sister’s over-the-limit new behavior – the summer before Zen’s senior year is spiraling down, fast.

If Zen could just keep her brilliant big sister from getting too crazy, then Xander will keep her scholarships and head off to a prestigious university, away from the grief that their mother’s death from cancer has cloaked across their lives. If she could just get Dad to come out of his study and into the daylight, maybe he would go back to being a noteworthy professor, instead of an unshaven zombie-dad. And if she could just center herself, then Zen could concentrate on preparing for her next black belt karate level, rather than using her skills to kick out against the guys luring her sister down the wrong paths.

And these letters from their dead mom that arrive on special days and holidays… when Zen and Xander check her lawyer’s office for some answers, they open up questions from their mother’s past.

Can their family revive itself during the sisters’ last summer together? Will searching through their mother’s past ruin their future or rebuild it? Death ain’t easy, but does living have to be even harder? (one of 5,000 books recommended on