Review: Kiki Strike Inside the Shadow City

Back in 2006, I reviewed Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller (Bloomsbury USA 2006). The sequel, Kiki Strike: The Empress’s Tomb, was published in 2007. The third book, Kiki Strike: The Darkness Dwellers is coming out January 2013. Bloomsbury is reissuing the first two books, with new covers (first image is the original, the second is the new one). In anticipation of this, I’m posting my original review of of Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, with a few tweaks. While I’m tweaking, I didn’t reread so apologize for any errors.

The Plot: Ananka relates how she first met the legendary Kiki Strike six years before, when they were both twelve. Back then, she followed the mysterious vigilante Kiki and helped recruit the four other Irregulars, all uniquely talented Girl Scouts: DeeDee, scientific genius; Oona, expert forger; Betty, master of disguises; and Luz, inventor.

Kiki is the leader and Ananka is research girl.

The mission: to explore and map the mysterious New York City “Shadow City,” an underground labyrinth of rooms and tunnels and escape hatches. The girls realize that Kiki isn’t being honest with them, and when the exploration goes tragically wrong, Kiki disappears, the FBI shows up, and the Irregulars drift apart.

Two years later, strange robberies take place that only could be done with unique knowledge of the Shadow City. It has to be Kiki Strike; the girls band together one more time, to solve the crimes and find Kiki. But maybe Kiki will find them first . . .

The Good: This is a fabulous book; the writing and voice are amazing, the plot is fast moving,

Have you ever watched a movie with spies or a crime caper, where the team has been working together for years and they are skilled, capable, with chemistry and one liners? And have you ever wondered how the team got together? If so, Inside the Shadow City is for you. It has adventure, history, mystery, and humor. It’s a girl power book, but I also think your Alex Rider and Artemis Fowle fans will love it.

Inside the Shadow City celebrates brainy, nerdy, loner girls; and while I love Nick & Norah as much as the next girl, I know that I would never, ever be cool enough for them; I wouldn’t be hanging out with them at any NYC clubs. The Irregulars, tho? They’re my people. We’d have cafe au lait together.

Inside the Shadow City is intricate, and clever, and the girls are inspiring and likable and unique. It’s Harriet the Spy meets James Bond; you think Alex Rider is something? Well, imagine if Alex put together his own super spy organization.

Ananka is relating her past, so it’s a bit of tough reporter with a hint of fondness , as an 18 year old looks back on her youth. She’s worldly wise now, but not so much then, and it works perfectly. So while the book is about girls aged 12 to 14, it also has the sophistication of an older teen voice. Some examples: “Until the age of twelve, I led what most people would consider an unexceptional life. My activities on an average day could be boiled down to a flavorless mush; I went to school, I came home, I took a bath, and I went to bed. Though I’m certain I didn’t realize it at the time, I must have been terribly bored.”

And Kiki. Let’s just say, I want a Kiki Strike T-shirt and I want it now. One of the many joys of this book is that it is absolutely believable that a 12 year old 7th grader could assemble a crackerjack team of other 12 year olds. Kiki is intelligent, mysterious, driven, talented, and sometimes cranky and demanding.

I love the time frame in this book; in addition to the whole book being a flash back told by 18 year old Ananka, it’s also a story that takes four years to unfold. Four years! Why? Because teams don’t just happen. Good plans aren’t made in twenty four hours. It takes weeks and months, and this book allows that to happen.

Between the Irregulars and the bad guys, Miller juggles a big cast of characters and does it well. The girls are a mix of ethnicities and income levels and families, which sometimes causes tensions.

Almost every chapter ends with helpful spy / detective tips from Ananka. “Until now, [my] diaries have sat undisturbed on my bedroom shelves, cleverly disguised as Harlequin romances.” Tips include How to Take Advantage of Being a Girl; How to Catch A Lie; How to Prepare for Adventure.

I mentioned history; Inside the Shadow City takes place in New York City, and many of the places mentioned are real. I so want to take a Kiki Strike City Tour now! It’s one of hidden houses, cemeteries, castles, inns and cafes and streets were murders took place not so long ago.

While this book stands alone, there is room for sequels. I cannot wait to jump on the Vespa and join Kiki and the Irregulars in a new round of adventures. This book is for teens; but I would recommend it to younger readers and also to adults. It went on my Favorite Books Read in 2006 list.

More quotes I adored:

The good news is, with the right attitude and attention to detail, you can become whatever you want.”

If by now you’re a little confused, don’t be too hard on yourself. Life is confusing, and anyone who claims that she has all the answers has probably uncovered the wrong ones.”

I decide that the real lesson to be learned from fairy tales is that things are rarely what they seem.



Books That May Or May Not Be New Adult

I say “may or may not be” New Adult because as we’ve seen, there isn’t a general consensus on definition.  Also, the books that have already been published that may meet the reading interests of those wanting New Adult are to be found in many different aisles of the library or bookstore. See my previous posts, What is New Adult and New Adult, Where Does It Go.

Where does one start?

First, go back to the posts from What is New Adult. Many have titles, especially for recent books. The New York Times article, for instance, mentions some recent books; and the post at Stacked Books contains a long list of books.

I believe that there are books that meet this reading need, and have been. Now, finding them — that is the thing, but that is always the thing. So this is a mix of “where to look” as well as specific titles. Whether they fit someone’s specific reading interests, well, that could vary. For example, I believe that some of the adult books recommended for teen readers fall under “New Adult.” So, here you go!

Alex Awards. Administered by YALSA, a division of ALA. As explained at the Wikipedia entry, it is “designed to commend and honor the ten books published for adults during the previous year, which have been also judged to have “special appeal” for young readers, primarily those in the 12 to 18 age range.” The full list of winners, going back to 1998, are at both Wikipedia and the YALSA site.

Reading Rants has some lists that may help out: Slacker Fiction: Twenty-Something Reads for Older Teens and Why Should Your Parents Have All The Fun? Adult Reads for Teens.

Here at School Library Journal, there is the blog Adult Books 4 Teens.

There are blogs like NA Alley that focus on New Adult titles. There are also bloggers who feature New Adult, such as Mostly YA Book Obsessed’s Top 2012 New Adult Books. One problem I had finding specific blogs and posts and lists had to do with the term “New Adult” because I kept finding people talking about new adult books rather than “New Adult” books.

Booklists of titles set in college, with comments about some of the books in those lists that I’ve read.

The Fictionistas, College Daze. I LOVE that it includes Patterson’s Kiss the Girls.

Flashlight Worthy, Back to School: Campus Novels. Tam Lin by Pamela Dean is such a terrific college book AND fantasy. Class Reunion by Jaffe is typical of the types of college-setting books I found when in high school. The Secret History by Tartt…. I adore that book so, so much.

Flavorwire, Fifteen Great Novels Set at Real-Life Colleges. If you’re hungering for college setting books and you haven’t read The Rules of Attraction by Ellis, stop reading this post and go track down a copy now. And Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited! I didn’t even think about that one, until looking at that list.

Back in 2003, I put together a list of YA books set in college. As I read through them, it’s mainly first year at college experiences. Here they are: Battle Dress by Amy Efaw, a young woman’s freshman year at West Point; Better Than Running at Night by Hillary Frank, a freshman art student at college; Beyond the Limbo Silence, a young woman from Trinidad attends college in Wisconsin; Body Bags by Christopher Golden, a mystery series featuring a college freshman; Jesse by Gary Soto, about two brothers at junior college; My Father’s Scar by Michael Cart, about a young man in his freshman year at college; My Life as a Girl By Elizabeth Mosier, another college freshman story (and wow I wish this author had written more books); Number 6 Fumbles by Rachel Solar-Tuttle, about the impact of uncertainty on one’s actions as a college student tries to find herself; An Ocean Apart, A World Away by Lensey Namioka, in the 1920s, a teenager travels from China to Cornell University to study to be a doctor; On My Own, by Caitlin O’ Connor by Melody Carlson, again a freshman look at college but this time from a Christian author; The Squared Circle by James Bennett, a college freshman but this time a young man who is a basketball player; Sweetest Gift by Stephanie Perry Moore, African-American teenager Payton, freshman year at college, and also Christian fiction; Worst Case Scenario by Catherine Clark, yet another freshman year at college.

A book I remember fondly from my own “new adult” years is Tell Me If the Lovers Are Losers by Cynthia Voigt, about three different girls thrown together as roommates.

From shortly after I wrote that list, above, Lara M. Zeises’ Bringing Up The Bones, with the main character taking off a year before college.

Some non-college-setting books:

Melina Marchetta’s the Chronicles of Lumatere have main characters who are in their late teens, early twenties.

Megan Whalen Turner is a bit vague about how old Gen is in The Thief books, but given the time span of the books, I think late teens is true for at least some of the books.

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones features college aged main characters, and is a haunting mystery/suspense tale.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride is funny horror/supernatural staring a slacker who isn’t going to college.

Pure by Julianna Baggott is an adult post-nuclear dystopia featuring main characters who are in their mid-to-late teens.

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce has main characters who are teens, not in high school or college. They are a bit adrift as they look for a place to belong, as well as fighting off werewolves.

I wonder if the first Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear would work? Maisie’s backstory, as told here, is fascinating: a young servant whose intelligence is recognized by the family she works for. She works full time and is tutored after work, eventually going off to University as well as becoming a nurse during World War I. But, as with the characters in Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Maisie knows what she wants from life. There is no “figuring it out” but rather “getting it done.” Does that matter?

I have to admit, having read mostly young adult books these past years, I am not as strong with what adult books fit the reading needs. What suggestions do you have, from science fiction, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction, etc.? In both adult and young adult?


New Adult, Where Does It Go?

Now that we’ve figured out a definition for New Adult, what does it mean, really?

OK, maybe a definition is still up in the air and being worked out. (And right now, I’m
I’ll give my short answer up front, and then talk a bit more to explain it.going to assume you read yesterday’s posts and remember who was saying what about New Adult.)

More books? Great. Bring them on: more books about late teens/twenty-somethings, more books set in college or grad school, more books set in the first job(s). More books is good.

Its own category or genre? So, a section in the library or bookstore? No.

I wish we had one we could all agree on, because without it, it’s tough to discuss the whys of my own reaction.

Part of it is the failure to really have a definition. The New York Times article focusing strictly on books with “significantly more sex,” and while personally I think that’s too narrow, if that were accurate then the question could be along the lines of then does it qualify as a romance? Or adult fiction? That article also only mentioned contemporary titles — does that mean New Adult is only contemporary?

The definition in Bookshelvers Anonymous is broader, and while at first blush seems rooted in contemporary/realistic fiction, the author says “My hope is to one day find NA filled with as much diversity and adventure as YA. I want a twenty-year-old knight fighting dragons and a twenty-six-year-old explorer discovering a new planet and a nineteen-year-old graduate moving away from home for the first time.”

Great! But, I’m pretty sure that there is fantasy and science fiction featuring twenty-somethings already. There are also mysteries, and horror, and other genres. (More on specific titles tomorrow!)

Now — and I think we can agree on this — not enough.

But does it not count, just because it’s in the fantasy, romance, or general fiction section? Does it have to be on one shelf? And I admit part of my “nope” reaction is having so many parents come in looking for books for “four year old boys” or “eleven year old girls” and books and readers just don’t work that way. As librarians and booksellers and teachers and book bloggers and book lovers and readers, we can help people find books, but there really isn’t as simple a solution as “here’s the shelf for your age.”

And quite honestly, I don’t think there should be shelves based on age. One reason is, the serendipity from browsing gets lost and discoveries don’t get made. Another is, books are broader in appeal than that. I, for one, don’t think that books featuring twenty-somethings would appeal just to that age group — the best books are both windows and mirrors, and shouldn’t be labeled and shelved to just be mirrors of experience. Another reason is, why not shelves for other groups or cohorts going through life experiences they view as unique to them?

If the argument is sound for the twenty-something struggling with their place in the world from a twenty-something point of view, why isn’t it sound for the sixty-something coming to terms with retirement, the deaths of friends and families, unique struggles in a bad economy at the end of your working life, etc.?

And my response for the sixty-something is the same: yes to the books; no to it being its own publishing category.

Part of that “yes” is being aware of New Adult type books, even before our patrons ask for it. Let me put it this way: despite the months of discussion about this at book blogs, recently I saw librarians seeing this for the first time. Other than it meaning they haven’t been reading the book blogs, it means that the patrons they work with haven’t been asking for it.

Patrons not asking for something means — and I’m going to be a bit radical here — NOTHING. Nada. Zip. People don’t always have the “name” of what they’re looking for; and people like to look and find things on their own and if they can’t, trust enough in their own skills to believe it may not exist. So as librarians, we have the often thankless task of creating oxygen: those things that are there that people need and want, without ever seeing it.

In this instance, for New Adult, it means realizing that readers thirst for books about a certain age group so what as librarians do you do to meet that need? Look for them, order them, make sure they are properly cataloged and labelled (not with New Adult, because people may not known it, but with the other elements mentioned in defining New Adult), create booklists and online resources and displays . . . the usual.

What books should be on that list? And where do you find them? That’s for tomorrow!

But, I do want to say this: some of these books will be in Young Adult. Some will be in adult fiction and genres. For years — at least, with myself, my friends, and the teens I’ve worked with in libraries — teens, on their own pace and speed, have gone to the adult shelves and genres and found books. It’s not all or nothing; read a bit YA, read a bit romance, some mystery, back to YA. All rather fluid.

Part of our job — and again, I’m looking at librarians — is, perhaps, to help teens include adult books in their reading, as appropriate to their interests. So, yes, teen librarians need to be aware of adult books (more on that tomorrow) just as adult librarians should know about YA crossover titles. Adult books are not all dreary tales of sad marriages,  ungrateful spouses, annoying children, boring jobs and lost dreams. Adult books include twenty-somethings — perhaps more are needed, but ones exist, so it’s our job to not just buy them but assist teens in finding them.

For right now — what are your thoughts on what this means, for publishing and bookstores and libraries?




What is New Adult?

A pretty active topic on blogs, twitters, and even newspapers is something called “New Adult” books.

What is “New Adult,” exactly?

As I’ve thought about this — and don’t worry, I’m getting to it — I’ve decided to split this into multiple posts.

This first post is about the definition of “New Adult,” with links to several posts and articles about the topic.

Next, I’ll blog about what it means, exactly, to have such a definition, with a side of “is there a better name out there.”

Finally, will be a list of books that fit the definition of “New Adult”. And for that, I’ll be relying on you all to suggest titles.

So, what IS “New Adult?” Excellent question. What follows are the answers — but first, I strongly urge you to read all the posts I link to. This is a very hot, current topic; it’s been talked about for several months; there are nuanced discussions going on. Read the full posts to get the full context of what people did or didn’t say.

From Beyond Wizards and Vampires, To Sex at The New York Times: “books that fit into the young-adult genre in their length and emotional intensity, but feature slightly older characters and significantly more sex, explicitly detailed.” So, almost a sub-genre of Young Adult, with “slightly older” characters and sexytimes.

From The Guardian (UK), Would You Read Novels Aimed at “New Adults”?: “That’s the label that has been created for books in which the main characters transform from teenagers into adults and try to navigate the difficulties of post-adolescent life: first love, starting university, getting a job, and so on. The new genre is meant to be for readers aged 14-35.” Well, that’s a bit different! Readers from aged 14 to 35. Instead of “sex,” it’s about “post-adolescent life.” Of 14 and 35 year olds.

From Bookshelvers Anonymous, The New Adult Category Revisited, a persuasive argument that included this: “I’ve talked with friends from college, and very few of us feel like “true” adults. Some of us still live at home. Few of us are completely financially independent. All of us are still going through that weird transition time with our parents. None of us have begun careers in our chosen fields. College, grad school, part-time jobs, and full-time jobs elsewhere for the sake of a paycheck are still very much in the picture. We’re not kids. We’re not happy-go-lucky teens. But we’re not adults either. The law might call us grown up, but we don’t feel grown up, and that’s what New Adult addresses.” Note that this doesn’t include the “sexytimes” from The New York Times. When you read this post in full, do not skip the comments. Persuasive, yes, but I’m not full persuaded as it seems this is a narrow life description for those in the age group mentioned.

The author Diana Peterfreund, at New Adult The 2012 Edition, observes “there’s a name for that kind of fiction [described in The New York Times article and elsewhere.] It’s called a contemporary romance novel.” Peterfreund says quite a bit more, but placing these books within not just the adult fiction realm, but a specific genre, interested me. So I looked to see what the romance bloggers had to say about “New Adult.”

Over at Dear Author, Jane wrote New Adult: It’s not about the sex (but don’t be afraid of the sex either) “New Adult, however, is not just sexed up YA, but an exploration of a time period in a character’s life. The post high school / pre responsible time period” and “New Adult is a time period and a feel — a newly emancipated person on the cusp of discovering themselves, where they fit into life, what allowances they will make, and how they relate to others. Their whole world is their oyster. The future is a bit more nebulous. The space for experimentation exists and the cast of characters varies widely, not just limited to the over the top billionaire but has room for the pierced, tattooed, low income, and all those in between.” In a way, Jane does what Bookshelvers does, going beyond the s.e.x. and focusing on the content of the books. Both are still tied to ages, though not as expansive as the Guardian.

So, does that clear it up for you? In one sentence, can you tell your friends, students, patrons, coworkers, family, anyone and everyone just what “New Adult” is and isn’t?

I’ve got more for you.

Kelly at Stacked Books, in Some Thoughts On “New Adult” and Also “Cross-Unders“,  goes back to when St. Martin’s Press used this term in 2009 to seek books “featuring stories about characters between 18 and their mid-20s. Note that the goal of seeking books like this was to have books that felt YA but were for the adult market. More information, including the discussion of new adult not being a necessary genre but rather a means of generating more marketable and varied literary fiction for the adult market featuring 20-somethings, can be found here.” This brings this back to YA while noting it’s part of the adult market, adds ages but steps back from listing specific life experiences.

Next I looked at the always smart Clear Eyes, Full Shelves and The New Adult Category: Thoughts and Questions. It gives follow-up to the St. Martin’s Press contest in 2009 that used the “New Adult” first, which I found fascinating. Cause, that’s how I roll. The questions raised are the questions I have, which I’ll talk about more tomorrow (read the blog post in full), but in Clear Eyes answering those questions they said this: “So, we see here that there’s a significant gap in the experiences represented in both YA and adult fiction, the 18-30 range. And this is a pretty interesting time in people’s lives. Personally, I’d love to see more work set in college, because that environment is ripe with great stories. But, I’m not convinced that that age range cannot be served by the existing categories. YA has reached up to encompass stories about older characters’ experiences and adult fiction has explored younger-than-normal characters’ lives.” So, while it doesn’t technically say “this is a definition of “New Adult”,” it does address what would be found in “New Adult” books. The age range pushes out to 30 (but not quite 35).

Word for Teen took this up in Sex, Explicit Sex, and Young Adult Novels. Word for Teen doesn’t talk about “New Adult,” but I felt it was important to have this post included because it’s a reminder that YA does not fade to black when it comes to sex; and often takes a nuanced look at sex. I’m a bit amused I include that book banners and censors are appalled at what they believe is too much sex in teen books; and here is (according to The New York Times) a genre saying there isn’t enough sex. Moral of the story is one can never win.

I’ll end my roundup of posts with an interview the ever brilliant Andrew Karre gave over at Mitali Perkin’s Mitali’s Fire Escape blog this past September: “My (admittedly meager) understanding of what’s meant by “new adult” is that it’s an audience description (I’ve seen 14-35, and that is preposterous)—something akin to a TV demographic. This is a great way to sell advertising (I guess), but I think it’s a s***** way to make art. For me, genres are campfires around which artists gather, not ways of understanding an audience for art or entertainment. I think there easily could be a bonfire to be built around the shifting definition of adulthood. I think that’s a real cultural phenomenon, but it needs to come from the writers not the marketers.”


What is the definition of “New Adult”? If possible, I’d like to keep this as narrow as possible in defining what “New Adult” is, or isn’t. As to whether it’s a genre, a category, a niche area of romance or young adult, something from marketeers or from readers — I’d like to focus on that in my next blog post, with comments there.

So, it seems to me that “New Adult” has characters from 18 to 29. It’s people in a time period that is after the perceived safety and narrowness and  intimacy of high school — and by intimacy I mean, having a physical place where everyone goes and shares lunch times and has common experiences of classrooms and lunch times. I say perceived, because that’s not always true.

I’ll confess, one of my pet peeves about some YA books is just how “together” certain characters are at the end, just how much they have “figured out” because, well, real life doesn’t work like that. Your high school boyfriend is not the forever love; high school seniors don’t know what they’re going to do with their lives. I get being frustrated with that in YA , and understand wanting books that show people at 23 don’t have it all figured out.

Here, now, is my problem with defining “New Adult”. People are figuring out their lives well past the age of 29. Ask anyone, like me, who has made a change of careers. Or someone who has gone to college later in life. Or who has been in a relationship for a decade or more who suddenly finds themselves without that partner and no idea how to set up utilities because their partner did that.

At the same time, you hit 18, and like it or not, life figured out or not, you’re a legal adult. Contracts, voting, marriage, criminal justice — adult. Doesn’t matter whether or not someone is figuring out life or not, life goes on.

At this point, I have to say “New Adult” reminds me of a show I both like and don’t like at the same time: Girls on HBO. Where Hannah and her friends are, seems to be the place that these New Adult books would be set.

And then I come to Andrew’s point: is “New Adult” more a description of audience than of content? I think this is part of my difficulty in coming up with a definition. To cycle back to Girls, while it’s about twentysomethings, it’s a show that has appeal beyond twentysomethings. Otherwise I wouldn’t be watching it. Can an audience define a genre?

Still no answers. Many questions.

How do you define “New Adult”? And do you want to share any other blog posts or articles that talk about “New Adult”?

And We’re Back in the Game!

Welcome back!

As you can see, things are different yet the same. So you can be excited but not threatened!

Among the new stuff: that snazzy logo. I can’t wait to get some new cards printed up with this!

It’s also a cleaner, crisper look all around.

Look down below: a box highlighting my recent tweets!

Some of the things that are the same:

You can still see where the most recent comments were made, to see where a conversation is taking place.

Most recent posts are listed.

Archives are there, also.

I have a bunch of things scheduled starting January 1st; and a few posts I’m hoping to get up before then.

Based on my own Google Reader, all the tech stuff is seamless — if you subscribed to the old RSS feed, you’re still getting posts in your reader (and yes, it’s still full posts).

The new RSS feed:

Also, from what I’ve seen, not only are all my old posts here, all the links automatically redirect here to the new URL. That includes links to individual posts.

And that new URL is: 

I hope you’ve been enjoying your holidays and vacation!

Good News

I know, I know, change can be scary but change can also be good.

This is one of the “good” times.

As you may have noticed, sometimes the blog has been a bit slow. This blog (along with some of the other SLJ blogs) are on a server that is past its prime. The blogs need to be moved, and moved they shall be!

What does this mean?

In order to make this work, this blog will be temporarily frozen as of midnight tonight, with no new posts, while the migration takes place.

Once the migration takes place, here are some of the changes:

No more slow blogs!

A blog face lift! (Call me shallow, but this may be the part I’m most excited about, the new look).

Better integration with the SLJ website,

When will you see all this take place?

Well, to be on the safe side, don’t expect any new posts until the new year. Which is less than two weeks away. In terms of posts I have scheduled, I’m just changing some dates of when things will be posted. I’m still reading all the Morris and YALSA Nonfiction finalists, for example, and there will be plenty of time in January before ALA Midwinter to post those reviews.

Because of how this works, it also means that it may affect comments made to posts during this time period. So it’s best to hold off (or, be prepared to redo) comments between now and then.

During this blog vacation …. I’ll be honest. I may catch up on some TV, but I’ll be reading and writing and brainstorming posts, making drafts, figuring out my calendar, because I’m not sure I can really just sit back and relax!

I’ll be tweeting about what I’m reading, and doing, and my thoughts (so many thoughts!) and feelings (so many feelings!) about books and reading and bookish things; I’m at @LizB on Twitter.

So, have a great end of December, a wonderful New Year, and see you at once all this is complete!

Flashback December 2007

I’m flashing back to reviews from years past. Here is what I was reviewing in December 2007.

Overall, the end of 2007 as well as 2008 will be light on flashback titles. I had started reading for the Printz (so 2008 will be light), and had personally decided not to mention any 2008 titles. I explain this personal decision at this post, Printz Liz.

I invited a few friends to contribute guest posts, but I’m not going to be including them in the flashbacks.

Dragonology: Field Guide to Dragons by Dr. Ernest Drake, by Dugald A. Steer. Candlewick. From my review: “Dragons! The latest ology book revisits Dragons. The design of the book has a “serious” feel; open the cover, and you find a spiral bound book, the Field Guide, along with twelve envelopes. Open an envelope (they only look like they are closed with sealing wax), and there are the pieces to one of the featured dragons. I, of course, tried to put it together without looking at the instructions. Hint: the instructions help.”

Squiggles: A Really Giant Drawing and Painting Book by Taro Gomi. Chronicle Books, 2007. From my review: “”It’s a coloring book” really is not a good description. Because it’s so much more than the inexpensive coloring books one usually finds, where you can color in Barbie or Dora. Maybe I’m the only one who obsesses about how things feel? Because the pages of this book feel gorgeous; not the scratchy yellowy pages but smooth cream.”

My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, illustrated by H.B. Lewis. Candlewick. Gift set. From my review: “”Beware what you ask for.” The boy gets a real penguin, and after the initial fun, the responsibility sinks in; as does the fact that the penguin is its own being, with likes, dislikes, and needs (like cold creamed herring with seaweed jam instead of chocolate chip waffles.) So the boy learns not just about being responsible for another living thing; but, also, that a being isn’t a toy.”

A Little Pop

Yes, I confess to having a google alert set up for Pop Goes the Library: Using Pop Culture to Connect With Your Whole Community (InfoToday 2008, co-written with Sophie Brookover). As you can see from the InfoToday website , Pop has been available in ebook format since this past summer. Yay!

Fun fact: it’s the same publishing family that published Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson, the basis for the HBO series. I know!

I was thrilled to see Ruth Kneale include Pop Goes the Library in her list of resources in her recent post, Marketing in Libraries: Yes, It’s Up to You! As Ruth says, “There’s absolutely no reason not to use pop culture references in your own marketing efforts. You can make a connection to a large percentage of the population with a Hollywood reference, and once that connection is made, your value communications will go even better. Give it a try!”

Thanks, Ruth!

Review: Moonbird

Moonbird: A Year On the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2012. Review copy from publisher. Finalist for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award. Edited to add: Sibert Honor.

It’s About: B95 is a rufa red knot, first tagged in Argentina in 1995. Since then, B95 has been seen again and again, not just in Argentina, but along the varied places in the migratory cycle of a rufa red knot: Argentina, the Delaware Bay, Canada. Moonbird (a nickname for B95) uses the life and journey of one small bird to show the intricate life of this small shorebird, as well as bigger lessons about ecology, interdependence and extinction.

The Good: As you may remember from my review of Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, I am not an animal person. For readers who are animal people, Moonbird is an easy fit and recommendation. Nature lovers will love it. It also shows, from the many scientists and volunteers who appear in the book, the various career and vocational paths for those who love animals. I already know who I’ll be recommending this book to.

The good thing about being a non-animal lover reading a book like this is I don’t get swept away by the topic. See, in nonfiction, I have to be vigilant and aware to make sure that my liking a topic or subject matter doesn’t influence what I think about the actual book. What is it about Moonbird that made it a finalists for the YALSA Award of Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, an award to “recognize the best in the field of nonfiction books (at this time, only books will be considered for the award) materials for young adults,” and it must include “excellent writing, research, presentation and readability for young adults.”

Most of Moonbird is about the year-long migratory cycle that the rufa red knots make. Woven in is deeper information, from the process of banding birds (how the birds are captured, the color-coding different countries have used since 2003) to the relatively recent discovery that the Delaware Bay is one of the stops on that path. This is a part of New Jersey culture I didn’t know about, not at all! I love how Moonbird doesn’t just present facts and figures; it explains how that knowledge was gained. It’s not just the findings of scientists, it’s also the work of scientists, which is always ongoing.

The number of rufa red knots have dropped since B95 was first seen. Part of that has to do with their journey. The book starts with Argentina, where B95 was first tagged, and the food sources that the shorebirds pursue, moving on in a set pattern to best take advantage of the ideal food sources and temperature. If something happens to one part of that intricate chain, it affects all, which is why the threat of extinction now exists for a bird that was plentiful just a couple of decades ago. When I went looking for more information, I found A Red-Knot Celebrity Is Back in Town from The New York Times, dated this past May! B95 survives.

For how much longer, though? B95 is the perfect bird to use to illustrate the dangers of extinction, the intricacy of the earth’s resources and how different organisms and animals rely on each other and are interdependent.

I can easily see why Moonbird is a finalist. For “readability,” it combines narrative and information seamlessly. The research is explained in the Appendix and Source Notes, as well as the author’s own knowledge and experiences with rufa red knots. While this is about a shorebird, I also see it as inspiration — not just “what you can do” in terms of the rufa red knot as Moonbird spells out in the Appendix, but in what a teenager who loves science can do in terms of a career. Isn’t “best” about that type of inspiration? And while I personally am more a history nonfiction reader, I love that there are such terrific science nonfiction books for readers!

Other reviews: Bookends, a Booklist blog (this includes Common Core connections); SLJ Heavy Medal; LibrariYan.