Saturday, December 27, 2008

Couldn't sleep so Sophie and I have been up since a bit after 6:00. No matter how quietly I come out to get my first Diet Coke of the day, she hears me. Thank goodness she normally wants out so her morning conversation, more with herself than me, doesn't wake Steve.

This is one of the Mayan buildings in Chichen Itza. It was once an observatory but I think it looks like the ruins from a lighthouse. I forgot to get Steve his annual lighthouse calendar for Christmas so when we were in the mall yesterday he picked out one. There are very cool lighthouses from all over the world but my favorite is from back home - it is way out at the end of a pier in McClain State Park outside of Hancock, MI in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The pier both fascinated and frightened me as a child. A fun summer road trip would to visit all the places I remember as a kid in the UP. I have always been fascinated with the idea of living in a lighthouse. Don't remember what the book was I read as a child, but I think it was The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde H. Swift and illustrated by Lynn Ward. This was published in 1942, but a new edition was reissued by Harcourt in 2002. This little lighthouse in near the Washington Bridge on the Hudson River. You might recognize Lynn Ward's name as he won the Caldecott in the mid 50s for The Biggest Bear which might not be very PC today, but a boy raising a bear rather than shooting one is not such a bad story to share, even today.

Books in which animals talk and interact much like humans are very popular with children and Kathi Appelt's first novel for children (she normally does NF and others types of picture books) The Underneath will be loved by children and adults alike. It was one of the books nominated for the Young People's Literature category of 2008 National Book Award. It did not win the award, but what an honor to be a nominee. Take a look at the the list of winner in the past:

Appelt describes what it feels like to be loved and than abandoned by your human family as she begins her story with a pregnant cat being left beside the road near a bayou in NE Texas. She brought me to tears - and that was only the first couple of pages! Appelt's writing is sparse but lyrical as she tells the story of an abused Houston boy who makes his way into the swamps and become Gar-Face (due to his deformed jaw after being hit in the face by his father) - a mean and hateful man who enjoys killing as much as he does drinking the rotgut liquor he barters for with animal pelts. He's after the enormous alligator who has eluded him in the bayou for decades. Underneath the porch of his rundown house lives the hound he wounded in the leg during a hunting trip and considers worthless. And beside him, loving him are the abandoned mother cat and her two kittens. No family could be more bonded than this one hidden away in the Underneath. Tragedy strikes when one of the kittens ventures from the Underneath and is seen by Gar-Face. Cats make good bait for alligators. There are multiple stories flowing together in this book, merging as smoothly and languidly as the murky waters of the bayou, one being of Mother Moccasin who has been imprisoned in a earthen jar for centuries. Her story will weave itself into the tale of a lost kitten and his need to find his way back home to the Underneath. David Small's drawings supplement what is one of the most beautifully written children's novels I have read in quite some time. I believe it will become a classic, sitting beside my beloved Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls as a favorite and often reread "big box of Kleenex" books. Check out Kathi's web site at She also writes for teens, along with great picture books. My favorite is Bats Around the Clock How can you not love a picture book that teaches time at the American Batstand with Click Dark as the host and the young bats bogeying around the clock?

Another award winning author, the well known John Green, also has a cool web site which one can spend way too much time on if you click through the links and wander far and wide. Who knew that Britney Spears is an anagram for Presbyterians? Talk about a guy who just radiates energy. I have heard him speak a couple of times (he's good), but when he sat next to me at the table during the YALSA Coffee Klatch I could see that he was jittering with nervous energy. He made me feel twitchy! But, a very likable dude! I was reading all the hype about Paper Towns so I on the YA lit listservs finally read it and felt like I was reading another version of his debut YA novel that won the Printz Award - Looking for Alaska We have another immature HS age boy obsessed with a girl who is both selfish and smart and has the boy wrapped around her little finger. Quentin doesn't have to go off to private school to find his obsession, as Miles does in Looking for Alaska. Margo Roth Spiegelman lives right next door. He's secretly been in love with her since they were kids but it has been years since they played together. They certainly don't run in the same crowd at school and that isn't likely to ever change as graduation is fast approaching. However, when Margo is out to seek revenge for a broken heart (more like wounded pride), she shows up at Q's window dressed like a ninja and demands he be her companion for a night of breaking and entering the homes of the teens who wronged her. The antics are as mean as Margo - she isn't a nice girl, but Quentin doesn't care - he's obsessed. When she disappears, leaving behind angry and distraught parents (she's run away before), it is Quentin who finds her clues and sets off on his own adventure, visiting paper towns (plotted subdivisions where houses never "grew") in search of Margo. His best friends tag along for the final road trip in which he finds what he seeks, but was is it worth it? Felt too much like Green telling the same story with different characters and settings, but basically the same coming of age tale of the geeky boy obsessed with the wild girl. Will it be popular with teens? I think so, especially those who like his other books.

My picture book choice for today is Oscar and the Mooncats by Lynda Gene Rymond, illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli. This is a 2007 Houghton Mifflin book but it is one that I go back to again and again because of the beautiful illustrations. Using shades of gray, Ceccoli makes the craters of the moon and the Mooncats so inviting that even I want to visit, but just for a bit. No wonder Oscar jumps all the way to the moon to play with them. They beg him to stay and play and drink the milk the cow who jumps over the moon leaves behind in a crater. But it will eventually make Oscar forget about the boy who waits for him back home. Needing to get back to his boy, Oscar jumps onto the cow, but she warns him she does not go to Earth so he lets go and luckly lands right back home where his last jump is onto his boy's bed. But Oscar is already dreaming of his next adventure. I love this book!! A wonderful bedtime story for young and old cat lovers like myself. However, my Sophie is not so adventurous. She is even afraid of bunnies, real and stuffed. She comes flying into the house if a real one is in her yard. Steve gave her a little stuffed bunny with a squeaker in it for Christmas and she is not a happy camper if you squeak it or put it near her. Actually, the squeaker sounds more like NCIS Abbey's Bert the farting hippo! You can see and hear Bert at:

That's it for me today. The sun has come out!