Cecil Castellucci Books

 Posted by on October 30, 2012  Reading
Oct 302012

I’ve been in the Big City for a couple of weeks and one of the first things I did was visit the library. I exceeded my as-many-as-you-can-get-in-ONE-bag limit and checked out twenty-two books: wire, clay, and embroidery craft books, wild cat books, and a handful of YA novels.

Okay, I didn’t actually read twenty-two books, not cover-to-cover, but I did look at them all and read bits from them all. I read five cover-to-cover.

I really enjoyed the two Cecil Castellucci novels, Boy Proof and The Queen of Cool.I read Cecil’s graphic novel, The Plain Janes,several years ago and have looked forward to more of her work ever since.

I like the themes and characters of all three of these books. The themes are things like finding yourself, being yourself, and expressing yourself—some of my personal favorites. The characters are strong, sometimes quirky (believable, not outrageous), wonderfully creative (yay!) girls. The issues and struggles they face are everyday, real things that I think most girls experience and have to deal with. There’s no extreme problem or uber-drama that steals or carries the show.

I especially like how Libby in The Queen of Cool acknowledges her dissatisfaction with life and comes to realize that she’s bored. She’s following the script of “cool girl,” and finds it dull and empty. I think that’s a great and important message to convey to teens; I think a lot of kids feel it but don’t know what to do about it.

Something else I especially like is Cecil’s storytelling style. In both novels, the sentences and paragraphs are short and lean. We hop from sentence to sentence and scene to scene at a snappy pace. There are no long descriptive passages or lengthy internal reflections. It felt like reading an expanded movie storyboard, not that I have a lot of experience (or any) doing that.

But don’t think the books were short on description, reflection, or story. They weren’t. Those things were just thoughtfully crafted and concise. The style and pace make for quick reads.

Very enjoyable books. I look forward to reading more of Cecil Castellucci’s stuff.

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Plunked, by Michael Northrop

 Posted by on October 7, 2012  Reading
Oct 072012

This started out as “Jen’s Summer Reading,” a would-be companion to Harriet’s Summer Reading post. But I didn’t get past my first book.

I’m not sure I can be as succinct as Harriet, but I’ll have another go next time. Meanwhile, here’s one of the first books I read and loved this summer.

Plunked, by Michael Northrop

I actually read this middle-grade, baseball book. You know, hard cover, paper, letters on the pages. (As opposed to listening to an audio version, which would make way-yonder more sense if this were the post it was originally meant to be.) I need to add it to the list of baseball books here on the Stitch N’ Pitch page. I highly recommend it as a companion gift with a hand-stitched baseball bookmark.

One of the things I love about this book is that Michael understands colons and isn’t afraid to use them. With so many punctuation rules and tools being demoted to style choices these days and the trend toward minimal punctuation, I reveled in the ease of reading and clarity that good, confident punctuation provides. Best of all, this smartly-punctuated story is targeted to middle-grade boys, traditionally a reluctant reading group, where well-meaning story providers may be tempted to back off complex punctuation so as not to scare the readership. Way to trust and respect those readers: They’re smart enough to handle colons.

Having said that, another thing I love is the consistent use of spot-on middle-grade-boy-isms. “Jerk-butt” comes to mind—though I don’t have the book in front of me to confirm that—as in “The guy is a total jerk-butt for calling me names.” If you follow Michael on Facebook or read blog posts he writes, you might suspect he doesn’t have to reach far for such things. I think he’s in close touch with his middle-grade self.

And Michael knows sports, perhaps baseball in particular, as well as he knows middle-grade boys. The descriptions of practices, games, pitches, and standing in the batter’s box put you there, right beside Jack, the main character. You can smell the leather of a glove and feel the stinging vibration of a poorly-hit ball. I played softball, and I coached T-ball. He nails that experience. (You’re disappointed I didn’t say “knocked it out of the park, aren’t you? Aren’t you?! Uh-huh. I thought so. Just keeping you on your toes.)

Of course Michael knows baseball: For many years, he was a writer and editor at Sports Illustrated for Kids. In fact, while he was planning, creating, and editing high-profile, exciting and important, front-page news, he was also editing my always-entertaining and challenging back-page puzzles. I had a lot of editors there, and Michael was definitely one of my faves. He was funny (he even laughed at one of my jokes!), sharp, and clever. And if the answers ever got separated from the puzzles in the office, he didn’t e-mail me asking for the answer to a puzzle. No, I’m pretty sure that if he lost the answer page, he’d just, you know, solve the puzzle.

Finally, there’s one more thing I’d like to mention about Michael Northrop. He also wrote Gentlemen which I was initially (needlessly) scared to read. In this, he brings an under-represented population of boys into the spotlight. I really like the kinds of kids he’s writing about and for. I think he strengthens a weak spot in kidlit.

Well done, Michael. Well done.

S4L Book Club – November Book

 Posted by on October 6, 2012  Reading
Oct 062012

Read With Me, Please

This may be a smidge premature, but I almost have my eager mitts on The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, so I’m calling it the November book for the S4L Book Club. Remember that—the book club? Ahem.

Harriet piqued my curiosity in her description of it, and unlike most of the other books she read over the summer, I find our library has this one available for download, so I can get it quickly. It’s the audio version, which suits me fine. I will plan to post my thoughts and questions about it in November. I hope you will see if you can get a copy, too, and chat with me about it next month.

Any thoughts on a December book? I’m open for suggestions and volunteer discussion leaders.

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Book Club Question Posted

 Posted by on June 14, 2012  Reading
Jun 142012

The S4L Book Club discussion this month is on The Hunger Games.There’s a new question in the Book Club Forum and the start of a discussion, to boot! (Thanks, Harriet.)

You have to register, and I have to approve you. I’m already getting lots of SPAM registrations, which I’m not approving, so use a name that will look familiar to me, or let me know if you use something totally random.

It will take some getting used to, but it is a nice way to organize the related posts and keep them accessible.

Go on. Go register in the Forum and join the discussion!

Jun 072012

The S4L Book Club discussion this month is on The Hunger Games. We’re going to try out the new Book Club forum. I just posted the first question.

So far, only Harriet and Becca are registered in the forum. I have a dozen other requests for registration, but I’m not giving them access: I think they’re spammers. When you register, use a name that I recognize or give me a heads up on the name you choose. You can email me at mail AT funkandweber DOT com. I can’t tell you how much spam I deal with in blog comments, email, and now forum registration. I’m pretty quick with the delete button when it comes to anything that looks remotely like spam. I’m sure I make mistakes, so if you register and don’t get approved, give me a holler.

I’m still getting used to forum administration, but…well…some sort of progress is being made. I mean, we have a forum, right? And I just posted the first question for The Hunger Games. If we don’t like it, we can always come back here. I now know how to enable you to get select blog comments via email, so you can know when someone posts a comment on a Book Club thread, but the posts will still get buried, as blog posts do. The forum keeps books and topics indexed, which will make it easier to post on previous books and to know when someone does just that.

See what you think and let me know your preference.

No, I’m not going to repeat the question here. Go to the Book Club forum and read it! Click the Book Club link in the navigation bar above. Be brave. You’ll figure it out. Or shout here if you’re stumped. Surely, between us we can figure it out, right? And let me know if you want to be a forum moderator. Not that I know what that means.

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Welcome to Our New Home!

 Posted by on May 1, 2012  Reading
May 012012

For more than two years, I’ve been talking about a redesign for the Stitching for Literacy site and blog. I even signed a contract with a web designer to have it professionally redesigned. The project was delayed and delayed and delayed. Sometimes it was my fault. I gave it a final nudge in December, and since that hasn’t produced results, I have taken matters into my own hands. Ta-da!

It is a work-in-progress, but I’ve decided all websites are—especially blogs—so no apologies or worries on that front.

Come on in and make yourself at home. I hope you’ll be comfortable here.

Perhaps the biggest change is the addition of a Book Club tab in the navigation bar above. It’s a forum (bulletin board, whatever you want to call it), and I think it might be easier to discuss our books there than in the comments here. I’d like to give it a shot. If we don’t like it, we’ll switch back to discussing here.

With a forum, if you get behind and want to comment on a question from some time ago, doing so will bump that discussion back to the top for everyone to see. Plus, you can see more easily when new comments have been made.

Now, I know very little about running a forum, and it’s not styled at all to match this blog. I can’t even figure out how to get back here from there without opening a new browser window and starting over! But I’ll do my best to figure things out as we go along. If you want to help by being a moderator, let me know.

You will have to create a username and password to access the forum, and I think I have to approve you, but then you’re good to go. This is necessary to keep spammers out.

I copied last Thursday’s question into the thread for The Help, and I posted a new question today. Go check it out!

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