Dragon Hoops: Gene Luen Yang and Basketball

Cindy:  March Madness may be canceled, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have basketball in your life! Regular readers know they can count on a basketball book from Bookends each March. Have we got a champion for you this year! Dragon Hoops (First Second, 2020) by Gene Luen Yang puts a new finger roll, er…spin, on graphic novel memoirs. Yang needs a story idea and wonders if a comic nerd can get his head in the game by following his high school basketball team’s run for the state championship. Yang teaches math and computer science at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, CA. He steps out of his comfort zone and talks to Coach Lou Richie about his idea, even though he’s unsure that it’s a good one. In superhero stories, you know who the good guys and bad guys are and who will win in the end. That’s not the case in sports.

Dragon Hoops is an interesting blend of an O’Dowd basketball season, player backstories (including their ethnic, racial, or religious identities and the challenges they’ve overcome related to those), basketball history, and Yang’s pull between teaching, comics, and his family life. The recurring theme of taking a “step”—across a threshold, onto a court, or into a life-changing decision—is beautifully played. Once again, Yang takes not just a step, but a giant leap in his graphic novel mastery…I can’t wait to see the finished book with its shiny gold foil cover accents. (It published yesterday so we no longer have to wait!)

Lynn: I’ve loved all of Gene Yang’s previous books but this one takes the game into overtime! It is highly entertaining and completely engaging while at the same time doing so much. Yes, it is about a championship basketball season but it is also about family, commitment, the craft of writing, courage, fidelity to the truth in story, friendship, work ethic, love and more. It is important to remember that while Yang is a superb storyteller, he is also a superb artist. He is masterful at conveying emotions through his deceptively simple drawings and in this book he also manages to create the intense action of a championship basketball season. Dragon Hoops leaves a reader feeling both satisfied and deeply thoughtful. This book is a winner!

Cindy and Lynn: Follow Gene Luen Yang on Facebook or Instagram to see some of the great promos accompanying this social-distanced book launch. He’s working hard to make up for the canceled book tour.

Two New Picture Books Stroll NYC’s Central Park

Cindy: A Green Place to Be: the Creation of Central Park (Candlewick, 2019), a debut picture book by Ashley Benham Yazdani, is not just for New Yorkers. Many readers will enjoy the stroll through the pages of watercolor scenes highlighting the history and the building and the enjoyment of New York City’s famous park. As the city grew, green space was quickly disappearing. A design contest was held and the winners, architect Calvert Vaux and landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted submitted a design built to scale on a scroll two feet three inches wide and ten feet two inches long! Then the hard work of clearing and shaping the land began. Ice skating on the lake began in the winter of 1858 and slowly other sections were completed and open to the public after careful attention to details, future vision, and the philosophy that the park should be for everyone, no matter their social class or status. One double-page spread shows and names the thirty-four unique bridges and archways in the park that will have park visitors looking at the structures in a new way. More details and some interactive elements are included in the backmatter. Can you find all twenty-two gray squirrels in the pages of this book?

Lynn: Frederick Olmstead and Calvert Vaux’s extensive planning, hard work, and attention to every detail resulted in a spectacular garden. But Madelyn Rosenberg imagines a denizen of the park that never showed up in those original plans in a delightful picture book titled, Cyclops of Central Park (Penguin/Putnam, 2020). Did any of you New Yorkers realize there is a Cyclops nestled into a cave in the midst of Central Park and of course he takes care of a flock of sheep? Cyclops is content to stay safely in his cave in Central Park, protecting his sheep and he worries about the dangers of venturing out of the park. But Eugene (it would be Eugene!) goes missing out in the dangerous world and Cyclops has to be brave and go looking. But no luck! Cyclops has to call in the troops—I mean flock—to join the search.

What a fresh, imaginative, funny, gorgeous, and downright adorable book this is! As Cyclops searches New York and its attractions, he and sheep discover a whole city full of fun. He visits an art museum, the Statue of Liberty, and best of all, Coney Island! Victoria Tentler-Krylov’s brightly detailed illustrations are packed with funny details that made me laugh out loud. Bright splashes of color make each page a joy. I’d love some of these originals for my house! With the lost Eugene safely in tow, they all retire back home. “There’s no place like cave,” Cyclops says but it is clear he is now ready to have more adventures.

The List of Things that Will Not Change – Rebecca Stead Can Craft a Fine Story

Cindy: I could make a list of things I admire about Rebecca Stead’s writing, but instead, let me tell you about her latest book, The List of Things that Will Not Change (Random/Wendy Lamb, April 2020). Things are changing in Bea’s family. Divorce, two houses from which she can see the same moon, and the news that her father is gay. Along with the news comes a notebook started by her parents with a list of things that will not change:

  1. Mom loves you more than anything, always.
  2. Dad loves you more than anything, always.
  3. Mom and Dad love each other, but in a different way
  4. You will always have a home with each of us.
  5. Your homes will never be far apart.
  6. We are still a family, but in a different way.

Throughout the story, as Bea looks back at those early days while her father now prepares to marry Jesse, the man he loves, she adds to her list. The heart of this book is a look at Bea’s anxiety and how she learns to cope with it, her longing for a sister that she is sure Jesse’s daughter will fulfill, and a secret from the previous summer that is haunting her conscious. The everyday interactions in this blended family are full of wonderful details. For instance, Bea’s father owns a restaurant and is a chef but her mother can’t cook anything. Bea and her mom yell “Box” when they come home and find a dinner treat left in their fridge by the dad. Stead understands children and gets them right on the page. Bea’s insecurities, delights, interactions, etc. are all authentic and readers will each recognize at least a piece of themselves in her. The characters all grow throughout the story, and while there are some hurtful events, they add a realistic note to family dynamics. The list of things that will not change includes my admiration for Rebecca Stead’s novels.

Lynn: Cindy and I are both list-makers and there are so many items on my list of what I admire about Rebecca Stead’s writing. One of them is the way she puts readers into the minds of middle grade kids. Bea’s voice is wonderfully crafted in this story and for the space of 224 pages I was this anxious 12-year-old, dealing with a deeply felt guilt, trying not to scratch at my eczema, balancing my life between two households, and yearning for a sister. Stead writes characters with such authenticity and clarity, beautifully conveying the cares and worries of a youngster. There is a theme too in the story that doing something wrong doesn’t make you a bad person—a message that will resonate with so many kids.

Another thing I admire in Stead’s books is the way all the plot elements come together seamlessly without a single dropped stitch and that is the case here as well. Stead keeps the plot always under control and that stands out here. It was a real pleasure also to have a story that included so many caring adults, especially her divorced parents who had worked so hard at maintaining a caring relationship and arrangement for their child. Included also was a therapist who helped Bea with her anxiety. It was lovely to have this reassuring picture. Be sure to put this thoughtful, sensitive book on your list!

Cover Trends: Candy Conversation Hearts

Cindy: The controversy surrounding the Sweethearts Conversation Candy Hearts continues. Last year, Spangler couldn’t get them to market after buying bankrupt Necco. This year, they have a limited supply released, but you will probably find many lacking in “conversation.” Maybe next year, eh? Fortunately, there are plenty of children and teen book covers to fill in the blanks. These sweet books will make a nice display for Valentine’s Day and will leave patrons saying, “BE MINE.”

After the Kiss, by Terra Elan McVoy (Simon Pulse, 2010)

Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan (Knopf, 2003)

Candy Smash, by Jacqueline Davies (HMH, 2013)

Heartbreak Messenger, by Alexander Vance (Feiwel & Friends, 2013)

Love? Maybe, by Heather Hepler (Dial, 2012)

Thwonk, by Joan Bauer, (Speak, 2005)

Studio Tour with Children’s Author/Illustrator Greg Pizzoli

Cindy: While we were in Philadelphia for the 2020 American Library Association Midwinter Meetings last weekend we were fortunate to get to tour author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli’s new studio. After several stand-alone children’s books, he is launching a new beginner reader graphic novel series called Baloney and Friends (Disney, April 2020). Baloney, a pig, is joined by three friends: Peanut, a blue horse, bumblebee Bizz, and Krabbit, a crabby rabbit. The four friends are featured in four graphic stories and three mini-comics. There’s even a graphic table of contents to help young readers. While in Greg’s studio he showed us a framed piece of art that Ed Emberley drew for him. Greg said Emberley was an inspiration and he showed us his collection of Ed’s books near where he works. He practiced his drawing with those books as a child and decided to include similar step-by-step lessons in the back of this book so that his readers can draw Baloney and his friends and create their own stories. He has a beautiful space to work and his wife has her studio up a circular staircase so they can share the dog while they work. There’s a lot of talent under this one roof.

Lynn: What a treat to meet Greg and his wife, Kay Healy, at ALA! Greg’s new book about Baloney and friends is perfectly designed for newly independent readers. There are plenty of visual assists, color-coded speech bubbles, and simple decode-able vocabulary. The short stories included are wonderfully silly and guaranteed to gather giggles. It is hard to choose a favorite among them.  The Magic Trick took me right back to the many “Magic Shows” put on at my house by little boys. A sweet and thoughtful story, Feeling Blue, is a real standout and addresses emotions of sadness in a wonderfully accessible way for young readers. I am so happy this is a series and that there will be more stories to come.

Greg and Kay were incredibly kind to open their studios to a bunch of librarians and to give us a peek at their creative processes. Check out Kay’s drawn, screen printed, and stuffed fabric installations which are brilliantly created. I loved her work too and was trying to figure out if any of them would fit in my suitcase. Fortunately, I regained control! Thank you to the wonderful people at Disney/Hyperion and to Greg and Kay for a memorable event.

Cindy: While you wait for Baloney and Friends you’ll want to reread Book Hog, winner of a 2020 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor. Congratulations, Greg! You may have to get that other Geisel medal out of its box and on the wall now that you have a pair to hang!

Cindy & Lynn’s 2019 Book Awards

Cindy and Lynn: Here we are announcing our special brand of awards for 2019’s youth publications! We’re not talking about Newbery, Caldecott, or Printz Awards; we’ll leave those to the official committees. We’re off to Philadelphia this week for the 2020 ALA Midwinter Meeting and we can’t wait to learn who the big winners are, but in the meantime, here are the 2019 Bookends Awards. Envelopes, please! Previous editions of our awards and best of the year lists are archived here.

Cindy’s Awards:

The Kindred Spirit Award:

Sweety by Andrea Zuill (Schwartz & Wade, 2019)

This retainer-wearing naked mole-rat and her unique personality won my heart. This is my favorite picture book of 2019, a year of fabulous picture books.

There’s More Room for Award Stickers Award:

Image result for patron saints of nothing

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay (Kokila, 2019)

A powerful and eye-opening story set mostly in the Philippines that I want everyone to read.

The Book That Reminded Me That Listening and Practical Experience Can Be a Better Teacher Than Book Learnin’:

Panthera Tigris by Sylvain Alzial, illustrated by Hélène Rajcak (Eerdmans, 2019)

A scholar has researched everything about Bengal Tigers, but when he doesn’t listen to his guide he gets some “informative” personal experience in the Indian jungle.

The Book That Proves That Not Every Music-Related Picture Book Has to Feature JAZZ:

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The Roots of Rap by Carol Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison (Little Bee, 2019)

Yes. YES. This book is informative, gorgeous, and pulsing with beat.

The Book That Reminded Me of My Own Limited Basketball Ability:

Nikki on the Line

Nikki on the Line by Barbara Carroll Roberts (Little, Brown, 2019)

Female sports novels are hard to come by and even harder to find with such good basketball action from the grueling practices to the drama on and off the court. I’m eager for more from this author.

I Didn’t Read the Jacket Blurb So I Didn’t See It Coming Award:

The Line Tender

The Line Tender by Kate Allen (Dutton, 2019)

I’m still verklempt. Count this as a SOB! on my “Sniff, Weep, Sob!” Meter but this heartbreaker is in my top 3 books of the year and it has my favorite cover of the year.

You Can Read to Me Forever Award:

The Secret Commonwealth (Book of Dust, Book 2) by Philip Pullman (Knopf/Listening Library, 2019)

I listen to a lot of audiobooks on my driving commute, but this was my favorite of the year. With Pullman’s stellar storytelling and Michael Sheen’s narration, I never wanted to stop driving.

Favorite Bird Book From the Year I Became Obsessed with Birding:

Image result for Owling

Owling by Mark Wilson (Workman, 2019)

I read a lot of youth bird books this year and there were some great ones, like these, and this one, but I learned so much about owls from Mark Wilson giving this one a feather’s thickness lead over the others.

Lynn’s Awards:

The NOW I Finally Get It Historical Event Award:

Bringing Down a President: The Watergate Scandal by Andrea Balis and Elizabeth Levy (Roaring Brook, 2019)

Even though I lived through this, I was still somewhat confused about what happened when until I read this stellar nonfiction account of the Watergate Scandal. NOW I get it!

The Book That Most Made Me Feel Like a Broken-Hearted Teenager Once Again:

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki (First Second, 2019)

It has been a loooong time since I was a teen but Tamaki absolutely stabbed me in the heart with this book, bringing back the emotions as if they were brand new. Sob!

The Book That Made Me Hungry Every Time I Read it!:

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperCollins, 2019)

Acevedo’s writing about food and cooking was so mouth-watering that I was hungry the whole time I read it. Well, her writing was actually evocative about everything in this delicious story.

The Book I Had to Fight My Teen Grandsons For:

The Toll by Neal Shusterman (S&S, 2019)

Let me remind readers that there are TWO of them and they BOTH read it before I got to. Is that grandmotherly sacrifice or what?

The Book That Helped Me Understand Cricket — At Least for a Minute or Two:

Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion, 2019)

I really understood cricket while I was reading this  – maybe, sort of, I think so anyway. Well, even if I’ve forgotten it all, I still loved this book!

The Book that Drove Me to Check My House for Bugs:

The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer (S&S/Atheneum, 2019)

This fascinating story based on Romanian history had me checking for bugs—the listening variety—under every surface! Yikes! Young readers need to know this history!

The Book that Nailed the Joy of a First Seaside Vacation:

All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker (Penguin/Viking, 2019)

There is so much that is stellar in this debut book but Tucker’s descriptions of a first experience at the sea during a Long Island vacation made me feel as if I was walking barefoot in the surf for the first time too.

The Book That Surprised Me the Most:

Let ‘Er Buck: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (Carolrhoda, 2019)

I’d been on a waitlist for this book for so long that I had forgotten all about it. When it came, it knocked my socks off! WOW, just WOW! Brilliant in every way! Text, illustrations, back matter, and research are all superb!

The Book that Cracks Me Up Just Thinking About It:

Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris (Little, Brown, 2019)

‘Nuff said. This hilarious book just cracks me up every time!

 

Ho Ho Ho…liday Books

Cindy and Lynn: For our readers who celebrate Christmas, we have two picture books to add to your holiday shelves or stockings. For all of our readers, we want to say thank you, and wish you a Happy New Year. We are taking a short break from posting to enjoy the holidays and to begin making our special Bookends Award lists for the 2019 publishing year. In the meantime, enjoy these two fun stories!

Cover art for the book Ho Ho HomeworkThat new substitute teacher sure looks familiar in Mylisa Larsen’s Ho Ho Homework (Harper, 2019). Mr. Clausen has a white beard and black boots, his laugh sounds like ho, ho, ho, and he serves milk and reindeer shaped cookies at snack time. The class is sure he is Santa, but Jack isn’t convinced. This is a simple, but happy look at a classroom celebration of the holiday that includes lessons for making a snowflake and adding a wish to the back. Is Santa real? This story with a diverse mix of children (other than everyone celebrates Christmas) will be a good read-aloud for similar classes.

Cover art of the book There's an Elf in Your BookNaughty elves are showing up everywhere, and this time There’s an Elf in Your Book (Random House, 2019). The elf in this book puts forth challenges to see if children can make Santa’s Nice List. He asks them to do a series of things like touch their nose, or blow a Christmas kiss, but they have to be careful because the elf will try to trick them into doing silly naughty things sure to make them giggle. Children who make it through the elf’s participatory tests will be rewarded with an “Official Nice List Certificate.”

 

 

Too Good to Miss: Middle Grade Roundup

Cindy and Lynn: You’ve heard the saying, “So many books, so little time.” Well, we have a stack of books that we HAVE read this year but just haven’t gotten around to blogging. The year is wrapping up soon and we are eager to move on to 2020 titles, but first, some middle grade and middle school favorites.

The Absence of Sparrows, by Kurt Kirchmeier (Little, Brown, 2019)

Perhaps the oddest book you will read all year—part family story, part magical realism. Ben’s observations of birds quickly veer into watching the people in his town turn to glass statues as a strange cloud passes through. The phenomenon is happening worldwide, but there is a voice on the radio urging group action to turn things around. Debut novelist, Kirchmeier is an author to watch as closely as you might observe the sparrows.

All the Greys on Greene Street, by Laura Tucker (Viking, 2019)

A debut book that hits the mark in all categories. There is lyrical descriptive writing here that takes readers into a first-hand experience of being an artist and seeing the world through a young artist’s eyes. 1981 Soho is the setting for this story of 12-year-old Olympia who’s art restorer father has suddenly left. Ollie’s sculptor mother has gone to bed and can’t or won’t get up. Ollie tries to hide the situation from her friends, figure out the mystery of where and why her father has gone. And what about those mysterious threatening phone calls coming to the apartment? A poignant story dealing with issues of depression, family, friendship, and the importance of art and creativity.    

The Bridge Home, by Padma Venkatraman (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, 2019)

Patricia McCormick wrote the powerful book Sold, set on the streets of Calcutta. Padma Venkatraman has written the book about homeless children on the streets of India that I have wanted to share with my younger students who aren’t ready for McCormick’s. Adults are often not kind to children and family is often something you find, not what you are born into. This novel full of sadness and hope should be in all elementary and middle school library collections.

The Door at the End of the World, by Caroline Carlson (Harper, 2019)

Deputy Gatekeeper Lucy Ebersley enjoys her work, helping process the many travelers who go through the gate to the next worlds even though she has never once gone through the gate herself. But when the Gatekeeper disappears, a mysterious boy falls through the gate and the door refuses to open, Lucy has to put down her rubber stamp and begin a wild adventure that will change everything. This delightful fantasy is filled with clever humor, fantastic world-building, and a cheerfully chaotic plotting that reminds me strongly of the great Diana Wynne Jones.

Free Lunch, by Rex Ogle (Norton, 2019)

The only nonfiction on this list, Free Lunch is a memoir of Ogle’s middle school struggles as a poor and hungry young man living a tough life made harder by the humiliation heaped on him at school. We were grateful to see this on the 2020 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction shortlist as the experiences and Ogle’s moving storytelling span many age groups.

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker (Holt, 2019)

A group of young fox kits demands their mother tell them a story “so scary our eyes will fall out of our heads.” Her story offerings disappoint, deemed “kits’ stuff,” so they sneak out to Bog Cavern to hear the old storyteller share some truly scary stories. On this premise, a series of frightful tales are spun, featuring two young foxes who face many perils. One of the dangers is capture by the creepiest rendering of Beatrix Potter you are ever likely to see!

 

YA Cover Trend: Need a New Haircut?

Cindy and Lynn: If you’re looking for a new haircut style, look no further than these two recent YA novels that feature identical cuts and NO features! 😉 The similarities end there, though, as the stories couldn’t be more different. Death Prefers Blondes (Feiwel, 2019) by Caleb Roehrig is a thriller about a band of drag queen cat burglars. Booklist’s review includes this statement: “Balancing Oceans 11–level heists, corporate espionage, and gender and sexual identity politics isn’t easy, but Roehrig manages it with aplomb, skillfully threading in Hamlet references to boot. Clever, thrilling, and a wildly good time.”

Meanwhile, Scars Like Wings (Delacorte, 2019) by Erin Stewart is a story of resilience in the face of life-changing tragedy after a fire brings loss and scars to a teen girl. School Library Journal’s verdict is: “Ava’s journey toward healing, both physically and mentally, is thought-provoking. Not all scars are evident to the eye, and this narrative will push readers to think deeply about empathy, hope, and resilience in the face of heartbreak.”

We’re ready to take a turn in the stylist’s chair if it involves a chance to read one of these two new teen books.

 

 

 

 

Owling: Whoooo Needs This Book? You Do!

Cindy: “You might not realize it, but you need to see an owl.” That’s the opening line of Owling (Storey, 2019) and you not only need to see an owl, but you need to see this book. Starting with a glow-in-the-dark cover, this large square book holds a wealth of fascinating details and gorgeous photographs of the 19 owls species that breed and nest in the United States and Canada. Can owls really turn their heads 360 degrees? How do an owl’s uneven ears help him pinpoint prey? These and other questions are answered in engaging text. Most welcome is the author Mark Wilson’s challenge to common owl “facts” not documented by research studies and his admission when his long study of owls leaves him without sure answers. Research never ends and we rarely have all the answers. 2-4 page spreads feature a specific owl species with a selection of photos, range maps, feather detail, size, behavior, voice, nesting behavior, menu, or other interesting features. The section on Poop and Pellets is sure to be a hit with the target audience, particularly if they’ve ever dissected an owl pellet to learn about an owl’s diet. The section on how to spot an owl has helpful tips that may produce success for young (and old) birders. Lynn heard about this book and then I received a review copy and have been reluctant to hand it over, but we can’t wait any longer to hoot about its publication. Owling is a perfect identification guide for a young birder, but it is so much more, and it has a place in elementary and middle school libraries and elementary science classrooms. Whooooo needs this book? You do!

Lynn: I really appreciate how this outstanding book is organized, the wonderfully researched information presented, and how much is packed into the book. But I need to mention the sheer audience appeal of the production. Talk about a kid magnet! Put this gorgeous book on display and watch it instantly fly off the shelf. Mark Wilson’s photographs almost steal the show. Every single page has a gallery of jaw-dropping pictures that beg to be studied. The images range from small collections illustrating a particular point to full-page photographs that are works of art. The painted illustrations by Jada Fitch are amazing, too.

I learned so much! The small sections showing what each of the various owls eats, “On the Menu,” was interesting and surprising. As a life-long birder, I really valued the identification information, especially tips on what each variety might be mistaken for and how to avoid that. Also as a birder, I loved the section of how to FIND owls in nature with its additional caution of how to also respect and treat them if you do find them or their roosts. Finally, also in the concluding sections, there is information on some of the current and on-going research projects on owls. The back matter includes a glossary and an extensive list of where to find Owls in Captivity by state so that readers can follow Wilson’s advice and become familiar with the appearance of the various owls.

Finally, I am on a mission to find my slides that were taken in the back yard of our first Holland house that sat in an old deeply forested woods. We had nesting Great Horned Owls there and summer after summer, a pair of adults parked their fledged but still dependent owlets on our deck during the day, I’m guessing while they went to hunt. The owlets were almost as big as the adults and absolutely delightful to watch. The squirrels seemed to know how clumsy the owl babies were and teased them by running just out of their reach on the railing underneath them.

Here is my picture of an Eastern Screech Owl but since I am no Mark Wilson, I urge you to find this book and see some REALLY terrific pictures!