Monday, June 30, 2008

Law camp + Goody for Girls camp = Nancy Drew!

Nancy Drew, to me, is the perfect bridge from Law Camp to Goody for Girls camp. Law camp explored principles of law and order, and Goody for Girls camp is all about girl power. There is no other character that better exemplifies these ideals than Nancy Drew herself.

In a recent article on NPR, Renee Montagne explored the character of Nancy Drew for their "In Character" series. Check it out!

Update: this was originally supposed to post on Monday, but I messed up the "scheduled postings" function on blogger. Apologies for the mistake.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Where have you gone, Atticus Finch?

Yesterday, I wrote this about the courtroom scenes in Harry Potter:

Which brings me to the most interesting use of law in fiction: Rowling uses the courtroom to demonstrate moral principles, and how the society at large embraces or rejects core values like human rights and due process.

No book that I can think of demonstrates this better than To Kill a Mockingbird, and this is, in part, what has made this book such an enduring classic.

Many people love it because of the character of Atticus Finch, but if you think about it, his bravery is in stark contrast between the way the society handles the law: first, the fact that the system is broken enough that an innocent man can be brought up on false charges and railroaded into a trial, and second, that a community is so broken they can ignore completely the tenets of its own law.

Note: Sorry, this post was scheduled for last Friday, but it looks like I have to fool with the peculiarities of blogger's post-scheduling functions a bit more to get it right.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Albus Dumbledore, Esquire

Law Camp week continues, and there cannot be a discussion of thrilling legal moments in kids lit without talking about Harry Potter. From the trial of Barty Crouch Jr. in Goblet of Fire, to Harry's trial in the early chapters of Order of the Phoenix, J. K. Rowling used the legal setting of the wizarding world to multiple effects in the Harry Potter series.

First, of course, the courtroom has inherent drama. The trial of Barty Crouch Jr. has some of the most intense moments in Goblet of Fire, final chapters excluded of course.

But the courtroom and the wizarding legal system creates another window into the larger culture of the wizarding world. Rowling created such an incredibly rich environment in the Harry Potter books, and one of the ways she does this is by taking the reader beyond the original school environs of Hogwarts. The trial of Harry in Order of the Phoenix lets us see what's going on in the larger wizarding world, and how the implications of Voldemort's return have a larger impact beyond just the evil of his select followers.

Which brings me to the most interesting use of law in fiction: Rowling uses the courtroom to demonstrate moral principles, and how the society at large embraces or rejects core values like human rights and due process. Think of that harrowing scene in Deathly Hallows, where unfortunate wizards have to prove in court before Dolores Umbridge whether or not their bloodline is pure. One of the reasons that situation is so dire is that it threatens our basic sense of the value of presumed innocence.

Which takes us to tomorrow, the definitive courtroom drama, and it's main character, a man who has come to define the lawyer in fiction.

Monday, June 23, 2008

How do you tie a book into Law Camp?

What's out there--picture books, chapter books, middle readers, YA--that ties into the legal system? You'd be surprised. For instance, did you know there's a legal thriller in a series we've talked about here?

While legal thrillers are an incredibly popular genre (see John Grisham, for instance), there's not exactly a prepoderance* of the stuff on the kidslit shelves. However, the latest book in the Sisters Grimm series is just such a book. Michael Buckley visited the store last month for IRA, and he's a great guy, but I didn't get to ask him about the latest in this really fun series about two girls solving problems amongst fairy-tale folk (called "Everafters" in the books).

Here's what the publisher has to say about Tales from the Hood, Volume 6 in the Sisters Grimm series:

The Grimms defend Mr. Canis in Ferryport Landing’s trial of the century!

This book sees Mr. Canis, dear friend and protector of the Grimm family, put on trial for past crimes. Considering that he’s really the Big Bad Wolf, he has a lot to answer for. Is there any truth to the story told by Little Red Riding Hood? What’s the deal with all that huffing and puffing? Will Mr. Canis be forced to answer for his crimes?

A kangaroo court of Everafters, led by the cruel Queen of Hearts, is determined to find Canis guilty and force the Grimms out of Ferryport Landing.

But that's not the only lawyer-y book, not by far. No, there's more to come...

*Like that? That's a legal-esque term! Don't ask me what it means, go look it up in a dictionary.

Friday, June 20, 2008

So Cool Science Camp Week!

This was Science Camp week here at Little Shop of Stories, and it brought to mind some of the great science titles we've got. I've written before about Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park-- it's in the middle of the post. The lowdown is this: I was turned on to the book by a comment by a mother and son. They listened to it on Audio CD and loved it.

We've also written about Michael Reisman's Simon Bloom, Gravity Keeper, a great book reviewed by one of our customers. It's about a kid who discovers a secret book that lets him control the physics of gravity, and the evil people who want to steal the book from him.

But there's lots of other great books that delve into science. Here's a quicky list from our shelves:
Frances O'Roark Dowell (author of the great book Dovey Coe), has written a series of books starring fourth-grade scientist Phineas L MacGuire. There's a couple of them: Phineas L. MacGuire...Erupts!, Phineas L. MacGuire...Blasts Off!, and Phineas L. MacGuire...Gets Slimed!

Scientist Stephen Hawkings wrote George's Secret Key to the Universe with his daughter. Several of our customers have read it and say it's great.

And, if you like space and especially the history of the US space program, check out One Small Step by PB Kerr. It's about a kid who is secretly entered into the space program in case the chimpanzees that are scheduled to undertake the first space flights don't work out.

Next camp? Law Camp--are there books for that? We'll see next week!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What our Kids & Companions book group is reading

Terra says: Fans of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, get ready for your new favorite read! Just like our beloved Greek mythology series, Gods of Manhattan takes on mythology and New York, but in a completely new, interesting, and different way. The gods here are the gods of history: Peter Styuvesant, Babe Ruth, Hiram Greenbaum and the native Americans who once populated what is now the Big Apple . . . only Rory can see their world running parallel to ours, and only he can help the forces of good outweigh the growing power of very bad that threatens not just New York City, but civilization as we know it!

I thought this was such an interesting combination of fantasy and history, that I made it this month's pick for Kids & Companions. Kids & Companions is the book group I run for chapter book readers ages 8-11, along with the adult of his or her choice. Some previous books we've read are The Lightning Thief, The Scarecrow and his Servant, Water Street, The Misadventures of Maude March, and The Game of Sunken Places. It's a lively group with lots of good discussion.

We're meeting July 10th at 7:45 in the store for our discussion of Gods of Manhattan, so please join us! And if my description of the book doesn't sway you to check it out, read what customer Walker thought about it:

Gods of Manhattan, by Scott Mebus, is a great book. I absolutely loved it and thought it was written very well. So well that I read it in just one day. I just could not put it down. I liked how there were lots of surprises. I think most any reader would like this book, not just fantasy book readers. It would be a good book for someone age 9 to 14.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Treasures from afar

My in-laws just got back from a week and a half whirlwind trip to Tanzania! (I know, we're all seething with jealousy at my house) When they got back, they had wonderful gifts for everyone, including books!

These books are part of a series of African Animal Tales, and they're great fun. The artist (who I think did the art for the entire series) has a great, appealing style, which she can adapt to the needs of the particular story she's telling.

Unfortunately, they're only available overseas (not just in Africa, though. The price was in pounds, so I'm assuming you could get it in England as well). But there's something wonderful about that as well. I like discovering books--not just about books through this wonderful internet thing--but the physical object itself. It's why, wherever we go, I force my family into bookstores new and used. I'm looking for that interesting find, that unusual book,lost and collecting dust in the corner until somebody discovers the wonders inside.

And now we have some books at home that we'll treasure, not just for the story and art, but because they are a part of another place, inacessible from our cozy chair except through the wonders of their pages. And isn't that part of the magic of books?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

When Greek heroes were young

This being Greek week here at Little Blog of Stories in anticipation of Camp Half-Blood, I've gone scouring the store for Greek mythology related titles. And there's lots of them, let me tell you--mythology is currently riding a wave of popularity with publishers and readers. But I've come across some books that pre-date the current mythology boom, and not by much, but by enough years that they've gone out of print.

The always excellent Jane Yolen--author of innumerable books, including the picture book series How Do Dinosaurs...?, Owl Moon, and The Devil's Arithmetic--also wrote a series of middle grade books called The Young Heroes. Each one took on a mythical Greek hero and told a story of when they were young.

Odysseus, from the Odyssey, Hippolyta, an Amazon, Jason, of Jason and the Argonauts, and one of my favorites, Atalanta, a true warrior princess. These are the characters she explores in the four books in the series. Which sounds exciting, with reviews that declare them exciting reads that delve deep into the history and myth of these heroes. I was real excited to check these books out and order them in for the store.

Only they're out of print.

Which is an excellent excuse for me to check them out! (Our local library system has all but the Jason book, but that's easy enough to get my hands on through inter-library loan)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Doesn't it always come back to the Trojan War?

What's been interesting about looking at all these books that tackle the Greek myths is the way they come at the familiar tales from so many different directions. Recently I found two books that both have Helen of Troy as either the main character or a major character, and, as you will see, you couldn't get two more different takes on the "face that launched a thousand ships."

Caroline B. Cooney is best known for her book The Face on the Milk Carton, so it may seem unusual that she would write about ancient myths, but she does it well with Goddess of Yesterday, about Anaxandra, a princess captured as companion, first to Callisto, then to Helen, heartless betrayer of husband Menelaus. Anaxandra's journey is like an upended Odyssey--Anaxandra has to be as clever and as strong as any Greek hero, taking on disguises and braving the will the of gods as she struggles to protect those she cares about while two nations go to war over the cruel half-goddess Helen of Troy.

On the other hand, in Esther Friesner's Nobody's Princess, Helen is a princess struggling to avoid her fate, and determined not to be judged just by her looks. Helen becomes a hero to stand beside other Greek heroes, and she does it by enlisting the help of the likes of Atalanta and the Oracle at Delphi. What's interesting here is that, in doing research, the author discovered that, other than being known as "the face that launched a thousand ships," Helen is somewhat of a blank slate. And Friesner does a great job of filling that slate, both in this book and the just released sequel, Nobody's Prize.

Some other books along these same lines:

Quiver, by Stephanie Spinner, plumbs the depths of the myth of Atalanta, evoking the adventure, romance and ultimate tragedy of one of mythologies most lasting and powerful women.

Lost in the Labyrinth, by Patrice Kindl upends the myth of Theseus by portraying him and Ariadne, his lover, as heartless conspirators, hoping to kill Ariadne's half-brother Asterius, the minotaur, and threaten the lives of Daedalus and Icarus. The narrator and hero of the book is Xenodice, the younger sister of Ariadne.
Tomorrow: we finish off with a question for the reading audience: who are the Young Heroes?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

While you're waiting for Camp Half Blood...

Last time I mentioned discussing a few books you might like that tackle the themes of mythology in similar ways as Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books. Well, there's a slew of them out there:

First, I'll mention The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu. This is the first in the Chronos Chronicles series, books about kids who discover that the Greek gods are alive, and that they have to act in order to save the world from evil plotters who are using the gods' powers to get what they want and destroy anything in their path...

Well, that's not new--that paragraph could describe any one of a number of series. So what makes this special? Well, the plot is more specific: Philonecron is a demigod who's set his sights on Hades's throne. Heroes Charlotte and Zee discover Philonocron's plot and descend to the underworld to stop him from stealing the shadows of children to create an evil army to overthrow Hades! Also, the witty writing keeps thing moving at a good clip, and Ursu delves into a part of Greek myth you don't see in some of these other series--she really focuses on Hades, his wife Persephone, and the Underworld.

Pantheon High is a series of graphic novels/OEL (that's "Original English Language") manga about the high school where the modern day sons and daughters of gods from several ancient pantheons go (thus the title). Again, kids tackle mythology to save the world, but there's two-fold delights here. First, it's in comics form. The art is a little overly "manga-ized" (why do characters descended from Greek, Norse, and Egyptian gods look just as asian as the sons and daughters of Japanese gods?), but it's got a great sense of action and there's some good visual gags that you can't get in prose.

Second, the four main characters are the son of Hades, the daughter of Tyr (Norse god of battle), daughter of Ra (Egyptian god of the sun), and the son of Benten, the Japanese goddess of Luck. This series goes a step further than the others by combining mythologies from all over the world. These heroes have to take on the sons and daughters of some of the most evil gods in all the pantheons to stop a plot to catapult the son of Loki, the daughter of Chronos, and others into full-fledged god status!

Not every book based on Greek mythology is a series--tomorrow, I'll highlight some stand-alone titles that both deal with the Trojan war and Helen of Troy

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Camp Half-Blood is coming...

Next week is Camp Half Blood, and we can't be more excited around here (or terrified!)

Camp Half Blood is a camp based around Rick Riordan's wildly fun series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which, if you don't know, is about a kid who finds out he's the son of one of the Greek gods, and that they're still around, mucking about in human affairs. On top of that, he's got to work hard to save western civilization from ancient forces who want to topple the gods and remake the world!

The cool thing about this series is the endless ways Rick Riordan reimagines the Greek myths and weaves them in to the modern day. But the cool thing for us next week is that the stories revolve around Percy Jackson's experiences over the summer, where he spends a good deal of time at Camp Half Blood, the camp for the sons and daughters of the Greek gods.

At our Camp Half Blood, kids get to learn battle techniques, design their own mythical monsters, learn Greek, write their own myths, and lots of other Greek-based fun! Whew!

But Rick Riordan isn't the only one playing with myths--there's some other fun books based on mythology to read while you wait for the next Percy Jackson book... and I'll talk about some of them tomorrow!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Gender Blender*

It's June, and a really cool project I'm involved in has just gone live online: Guys Lit Wire is a website created to attack the notion that teen boys don't read. It's a ridiculous idea on the part of the book industry (authors, publishers, and booksellers together) which makes it difficult to find good books for teen guys.

Enter Guys Lit Wire--suggestions, discussions, interviews, all to help guys find great things to read. I'll contribute to the blog every third Thursday, but check the site often, as there's new content every day.

Speaking of assumptions we make about guys and gals when it comes to their reading material, I had an interesting discussion with a family the other day. It seems they listened to the audio book of Linda Sue Park's Project Mulberry, and they loved it. It's about a girl and a boy who raise silkworms for the state fair. They were looking for a book as a gift for a boy and when they pulled it off the shelf--well, as you can see from the pic on the left, it features a girl on the cover, and the family thought that this would be a deal breaker.

"He won't read a book with a girl on the cover."

Which is unfortunate. In our discussions for the Guys Lit Wire website, one of the contributors shared a quote from a teen guy she had spoken to: "I won't read a book with a girl hero, unless she kicks some butt."

So, weak protagonists need not apply. I think that's true of any hero, no matter their gender. Thoughts?

*I stole the title of this post from a great book by Blake Nelson. Imagine Freaky Friday, only a boy and a girl switch bodies instead of a mom and a daughter. Gender hijinks ensue (mid-grade to YA).