Saturday, November 30, 2013

Jen’s Five Kids’ Books Demonstrating That Vehicles Are Not Just for Boys

One of Micah’s favorite bedtime books has beautiful illustrations, wonderful, flowing text, and five tough trucks getting ready for bed. All of the trucks are male. Switching the pronouns around when we read it is effective but complicated, and I am grateful when we find books that provide some gender diversity without our intervention.

By the way, I would like to emphasize that this list of books is Not Just for Girls. Just as unjust, in my opinion, as raising a girl who thought trucks were only for boys would be raising a boy who would tell her so.

Phoebe and Digger by Tricia Springstubb (Candlewick, $16.99)
Girl with truck (and new sibling).

Maisy Drives the Bus by Lucy Cousins (Candlewick, $3.99)
Female mouse (who is not gender-marked) with bus.

Machines at Work (also Trucks, and Planes) by Byron Barton (HarperFestival, $7.99)
Construction trucks (and other vehicles) with male and female drivers.

The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom (Boyds Mills Press, $6.95)
Various vehicles with male and female drivers.

Digger, Dozer, Dumper by Hope Vestergaard (Candlewick, $15.99)
And finally, construction trucks personified, with both male and female (and neutral) pronouns, plus male and female kids/drivers!

Jennifer Sheffield, November 2013

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Five Books That Mariga Loved This Fall

Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell (Ballantine Books, $28.00)

Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd (Chronicle Books, $15.99)

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield (Emily Bestler Books, $26.99)

Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner (Clarion Books, $17.99)
[Check out the recent interview with David Wiesner elsewhere on our blog!]

Going Clear by Lawrence Wright (Vintage Books, $15.95)

Mariga Temple-West, November 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Author Interview: Cori McCarthy

by Cordelia Jensen

Hi Cori!

Thanks for being with us here today to talk about your book The Color of Rain.

Something that is hard for me as a writer is putting my characters in danger. Um, this is NOT your problem. You are great at this. Your characters are in terrible, horrible situations all the time! Does this come naturally to you? Do you struggle with this as a writer? Help the rest of us who suffer from character protection disease, with some pointers. ;)

I admit that sometimes my problem is hurting my characters too much! I’m not quite sure where/how I came up with this…I only know that my favorite stories are the ones with the most earned loss. And my favorite characters—like Jane Eyre, Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins—are the ones who are devastated and yet keep going, keep trying to make a difference. I’ve always attached to resilience in stories, and I guess that can only happen if you march your characters up to the edge of a cliff, and then, push them off.

What came to you first when writing this story? Did you know she was always going to be a space prostitute?

Yes. From day one, this story was always about a space prostitute, but I didn’t write this character to be shocking or to bring up the (very real) cultural issue of teen prostitution. This story was always going to be about a girl who believed that she could use her body to get what she wanted…and that she would learn how wrong that assumption was. Though I’ve never (to my knowledge) met a teen prostitute, I knew far too many girls with Rain’s outlook in high school and college. I wrote this book for them.

Has your book been embraced at all by organizations working to fight against the sex slave trade? I know it takes place in a fictional world, but I think it does get at some real world issues.

I have been reached out to by bloggers who also talk about real world issues, i.e. human trafficking. I would love to be helpful, but I fear that the best I can do is hope that this book helps bring real social issues to light.

It also really gets right to the heart of the issues involved in an abusive relationship and you do an amazing job of showing one of the characters as both really horrible and, at times, attractive—or, at least, we can understand why he might be attractive. Was this hard to pull off or not so much?

The abusive relationship was an area where my amazing editor, Lisa Cheng, really engaged and helped me flesh out the nuances. I had to get to a place where I understood Johnny’s motivation. I had to let Rain understand him as well, which was a challenge. Ultimately, Johnny does whatever he can to get what he wants. And so does Rain. With that core in common, Johnny’s falls for Rain, and Rain, well, she begins to believe that she doesn’t deserve anyone better than Johnny. It’s not the recipe for a typical romance, but then, it is something that happens in the real world.

What was the hardest part about writing this book? What are you most proud of?

This whole book was hard. Writing it was like having heartburn for a solid year. I think, in the end, I’m most proud of Rain. She’s so strong, and yet she’s almost destroyed by her choices. Almost.

I noticed your recent book sale is not science fiction but, rather, dystopian. Correct? Did the process of world building in the two books feel similar? What can you tell us about your new book?

BREAKING SKY, my new YA, is not really dystopian, although it might get lumped in that category out of convenience. It’s near-futuristic, around 2049, and is an extension of current political tensions—a miserable future wherein America is locked in cold war with Asia. In that way, the world building wasn’t terribly difficult as I imagined things getting worse and worse from how they are right now.

I like to refer to BREAKING SKY as “Top Gun for teen girls,” although it’s different than the old cult classic. The main character, Chase Harcourt, call sign “Nyx,” is a fighter pilot at the junior Air Force academy tasked with flying a new kind of jet that could make an important difference to the world climate. That all sounds pretty serious, but unlike RAIN, this book has some playful fun in it. Promise.

And now for our regular “3 for 3” book-related questions:

1.     What were your 3 favorite books from childhood/teen years?
The Catcher in the Rye, The Lord of the Rings, and Leaves of Grass. I kept the last title in my leather bible case and snuck it in to church every Sunday.
2.     What are 3 books that you have read recently that surprised you?
Blaze by Laura Boyle Crompton, Ask the Passengers by A.S. King, and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
3.     What are 3 books influence/d your writing?
Jane Eyre, The Catcher in the Rye, Jellicoe Road

Cori McCarthy studied poetry and screenwriting before falling in love with writing for children at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut novel, The Color of Rain, is a space thriller out now from Running Press Teens. Her second novel, Breaking Sky, will be out at the end of 2014 from Sourcebooks Fire. Cori is a cohost on the YA vlog discussion series, The NerdBait Guide. Follow her adventures @CoriMcCarthy or @NerdBaitGuide, or check out her website
Cori lives in Michigan with her family and beloved jade trees.

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for The Color of Rain.  You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Look for Cordelia's upcoming December interview with Shawn K. Stout, author of the Penelope Crumb series! 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cordelia's Five Books That Feature Creative Talent as a Major Theme

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin's Griffin, $18.99)

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (Penguin, $27.95)

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr (Little Brown, $18)

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Lee & Low, $17.95)

Exposed by Kimberly Marcus (Ember, $8.99)

Cordelia Jensen, November 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Jen’s Six Books with Unexpected Doctor Who References

Doctor Who (in the US, in the '80s) used to be a kind of cult thing. If I introduced someone to the show and they loved it, or if someone I met was (amazingly) already a fan, it was like welcoming people into a little club. Few, weird, fascinating Whovians. And now here we are, with the show’s 50th anniversary coming up tomorrow(!), and lo, the club has grown and changed. I suddenly find that lots of my friends are Doctor Who fans – some, oddly, always have been. References are everywhere. And look: modern-day authors are Mentioning It in Books!

Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie (Random House, $15.00)

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (Scholastic, $9.99)

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr (Usborne, $8.99)

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell
(Overlook Press, $15.00)

Fantastic Mistakes: Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” Speech
(William Morrow, $12.99)

Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, edited by Sigrid Ellis and Michael Demian Thomas
(Mad Norwegian Press, $17.95)

This is not an unexpected reference but an unexpected book. Where did they all come from? And…why didn’t they consult me?

Jennifer Sheffield, November 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Five Books That Were Even Better Than Elliott Thought They'd Be

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (Penguin, $16.00)

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch (Abrams, $9.95)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (Quirk Press, $12.95)

Collected Poems, 1965-2010 by Lucille Clifton (BOA Editions, $35.00)

What It Is by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95)

Elliott batTzedek, November 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Author Interview: David Wiesner

by Jennifer Sheffield

Welcome to three-time Caldecott winner and local author David Wiesner, who joins us to talk about his newest book, Mr. Wuffles!

“I’ve been calling it a nearly wordless picture book that’s full of dialogue that nobody can read.” - Dinah Stevenson, Clarion Books

This is a story of a cat with ennui, the aliens who enliven his day, and the help they receive from the locals.

Hi, David! I have to start by saying that Mr. Wuffles! is a fabulous book. How did you come up with the idea?

Mr. Wuffles! was a long time coming together. It began with a cover I did for Cricket magazine in 1993. On the front was an image of a flying saucer that had landed in the desert. The crew has emerged and is posing for a picture. When you opened the back to see the full image, it is revealed that they have in fact landed in a sandbox and are tiny.

In 2001 I began to try and turn this idea into a book. The opening was visually terrific. We follow the ship as it lands and the visitors begin to explore. Fingertips then enter one frame to set up the turn of the page that reveals the true nature of the situation.

The trouble was, I couldn’t come up with anything else that good for the rest of the story. I tried on and off for several years, but it never gelled.

One thing that did come out of these attempts was the idea that each species would speak in a different language. This was a very appealing visual concept.

And then one day as I was drawing random things in my sketchbook, a solution appeared. I drew a flying saucer –a common occurrence – but this time I covered the ship with little pointy things. I really liked the texture of it. And I thought, “You know, my cat would love to scratch its neck on this. What a cool cat toy.”

And there was my story. I immediately saw a funny and antagonistic relationship between the cat and the little aliens. The story just flowed out.

Does your cat Cricket, as the model for Mr. Wuffles, also disdain store-bought cat toys? If so, what alternate toy did you find that was engaging enough to produce such a brilliant series of play poses?

Cricket’s indifference to store bought toys led me to the storyline. Getting a cat to pose is an impossible task. So, I wasn’t hopeful about her being cooperative.

I had a very small video camera that I put on the bottom of pole so that I could film her down at floor level, since that is where the action takes place. To my surprise, she was very playful. A piece of string was enough to get her rolling around.

As it turned out, she was hyperthyroid, so her metabolism was really revved up! She’s on meds now and back to her old aloof self.

I understand you consulted with a linguist to help derive the aliens’ language. As a linguist myself, I’ve been fascinated with the system of symbols and keep trying to work out what different parts mean. Aside from the group photo, where I’m fairly certain I know exactly what the camera alien is saying and what the response is, I haven’t been able to pull any of the rest of it apart. (Well, except that the square might mean “Ow,” and Δ! is clearly a widely used, strong interjection of some kind.) Do you have a specific translation in mind for each element and utterance, or are they just meant to convey the general sense of what’s going on?

Creating a fully translatable language is a tall order and not something I was aiming for. But, I did want repetition of forms/symbols, which is a significant part of any language. I created a group of about 30 symbols based on geometric forms.

You’re right about the photo scene and the triangle. Also, I figured that the engineer – the one in the green robe (Think Scotty from Star Trek) – would speak a lot of technical jargon. His word balloons have the most symbols. I doubled them up as in fractions. This method of increasing the number of characters was a nice visual solution that I got from Nathan Sanders, a linguist at Swarthmore.

The languages are visual signifiers. While they aren’t literally readable, the gist of their meaning can be inferred from the context of the pictures. Body language, gesture, and facial expressions convey what’s happening. It’s this kind of visual storytelling that picture books excel at.

What was involved in designing the spaceship?

I am a big fan of the classic flying saucer shape. They are clean and simple shapes that look great in flight. Very satisfying to draw. Basically, there are three parts – the top half sphere, the lower half sphere, and the middle circular plane. It’s just a matter of adjusting the top and bottom shapes to create different feels for the ship. I found the texture to be a welcome addition.

My very favorite of your books (now joined by Mr. Wuffles!) has always been June 29, 1999. While they both feature (okay, spoiler for June 29) visits from various aliens, what I love most about both books is the resultant mismatches in scale: ordinary humans and familiar landscapes paired with enormous vegetables in June 29, and here the tiny humanoid aliens paired with pencils and screws and marbles...and, of course, Mr. Wuffles. Is this something you’ve always done? When did you first start juxtaposing people and objects of very different sizes?

Scale change is my favorite visual fantasy. Conceptually it is so simple – make something larger or smaller and its relationship to everything around it changes dramatically. For a human shrunk small, their living room and its furniture become like the Grand Canyon.

As a kid, I fell in love with scale change from watching all the 1950’s Atomically Mutated Giant Bug movies on TV. How can you not love huge ants coming down the street? Just as good were the Atomically Mutated Tiny Person movies - the ultimate example being The Incredible Shrinking Man. It even has a fantastic tiny person vs. cat sequence.

I can tell that landscape and surroundings are very important to your artistry. While clearly you haven’t been hanging around under the radiator, I’m wondering how much time you spend in locales similar to those you create, and how much just happens at the drawing table.

I always want to see what I am drawing. If I can’t find the real thing, I build it.

For example, in June 29, 1999, I had a giant broccoli land in the backyard of my main character. Hard to go out and find that situation. So, I made a group of small houses, fences, and driveways and then put a normal size bunch of broccoli into the scene. Now I could walk around it and view it from all angles, plus above and below, to decide how I wanted to compose the picture.

I’m trying to create a convincing fantasy world. These are things that I want to see, too.

[Note: I've just seen a recent blog post of David's with photos of the broccoli-in-the-back-yard model!]

Are there new projects in the works that you’d like to tell us about?

I am in the midst of a graphic novel that seems to be at the middle grade level – whatever that is. I am also working on a new picture book. That’s about all I’ll say for now.

And now for our "3 for 3" book questions:

1. What were your 3 favorite books from childhood/teen years?

I am the worst with “What’s your favorite …” type questions.

Early books I loved were The Provensen Animal Book, a giant Golden Book by Alice and Martin Provensen. The Fantastic Four, by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Later (8th grade), Welcome To The Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut.

2. What are 3 books that you've read recently that surprised you?

Joshua Ferris’ use of first person plural as a narrative voice in Then We Came To The End totally sucked me in. Adam Hines’ Duncan The Wonder Dog wove words and images together in a wonderfully dense and strange way. Everything Chris Ware does surprises and delights me.

3. What are 3 books that influence/d your work?

Jean Shepard’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash taught me how to write humor. Lynd Ward’s Mad Man’s Drum and Edward Gorey’s The West Wing showed me the possibilities of wordless storytelling.

Thank you so much for joining us, David!

As a child growing up in suburban New Jersey, David Wiesner re-created his world daily in his imagination. A swamp, a cemetery and a landfill bounded the outskirts of his neighborhood, exotic lands that became anything from a faraway planet to a prehistoric jungle. When the everyday play stopped, he would follow his imagination into the pages of books, wandering among the dinosaurs of Charles Knight, the surreal landscapes of Salvador Dali and the fantastic universes of Jack Kirby. The images before him generated a love of detail, an admiration for the creative process, and a desire to tell stories with the pictures he himself was drawing. As a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, he developed the narrative aspects of his work and realized that the picture book was the perfect form in which to present his stories and images.

David Wiesner has been awarded the Caldecott Medal three times – for Tuesday in 1992, The Three Pigs in 2002, and Flotsam in 2006. Two other books of his, Sector 7 and FreeFall, were named Caldecott Honor Books.

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for Mr. Wuffles! You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Next up: On November 26th, come check out Cordelia's interview with Cori McCarthy, author of The Color of Rain.