48 Hour Book Challenge: Diverse mg and ya books

Who's taking the 48 Hour Book Challenge? Now in its ninth year, this time 48HBC is dedicated to reading and reviewing diverse books (thanks, Pam! 48BHC is MotherReader's baby). I've never been up for the challenge before--we always seem to be hosting a party that weekend, or out-of-town guests; maybe it's one of us out of town, or teaching. This year we are, in fact, hosting a party--but I'm reading anyway. 12 hours at least (that's the minimum; see MotherReader for more details).

What I'm reading exactly has yet to be determined (I'm heading to the library as soon as I hit publish on this post). I haven't been saving up my diverse books, and as we all know by now, they tend to be thin on the ground. I have, however, read a number of good ones already this year. Here's the list, 5 middle grade and 5 YA books published in the first half of 2014 (links are to Goodreads. A division of Amazon. Sigh): 


I haven't attempted to balance my list in any way, and it's interesting to note that there are three verse novels (not usually my favorite); four historical fiction, three of them middle grade; lots of international issues; and no fantasy or science fiction at all. Now I know where to look for this weekend's reading (not to mention what I should review). I hope this list helps you find something to read, too.

[Edited to add: There is so much historical content in Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier that I momentarily forgot that a lot of it comes from one of the terra-cotta soldiers itself. Fantasy. Thanks, Charlotte!]

Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design

According to Chip Kidd, the use of images such as this one--me at age 5, in my first grade school picture--is "a shameless way to gain immediate sympathy from readers. It's also very effective." And that's just the first thing I learned from Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd (Workman, 2013)--you'll have to tell me if it worked. The second is that Go is an eye-opening introduction to graphic design for anyone, not just kids. It makes you aware that (almost) everything needs to be designed. Kidd himself illustrates and designs book covers, and uses his own and others as examples of various design elements throughout this guide (you'd recognize a lot of them, or at least one--the T-rex skeleton on the cover of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park is Kidd's handiwork, and authors such as Oliver Sacks have it in their contracts that Kidd design their book covers, too). After reading Go, I have lots (more) to say about book covers--watch this space. I might even try to redesign a cover or two myself. It's that kind of book, both informative and inspiring. Check it out:

[Informative.] Following a short introduction ("Okay, So Just What Is Graphic Design?"), Go covers the fundamentals: Form (the longest chapter, including everything from scale and symmetry to contrast and color theory), Typography, Content, and Concept. Kidd defines concept as your idea of what to do (metaphorically, it's "a bridge between content and form"). Which begs the familiar question, Where do ideas come from? (Don't worry, Kidd has answers.)

[And inspiring.] The last chapter offers 10 Design Projects such as Redesign Something That You Love and Create Your Own Visual Identity or logo (I'm still working on that one).  I had to stop myself from inviting all of my ten-year-old's friends over for Graphic Design Camp, but someone else might want to try it with their kids.

My one complaint about Go is that it doesn't focus on many children's book covers (only two, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Wonder). For more on those, see "What Makes a Good Book Cover?" by Thom Bartholomess in the March/April 2014 issue of the Horn Book (including one of my favorite books and covers from last year, The Golden Day), which also provides a useful framework for evaluating covers. I might try using it to talk about some of this year's middle grade and YA covers here. What are some recent covers you love--or hate?

Armchair BEA: The Seraphina prequel

I adored Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (Random House, 2012) and bought it in hardcover before I had even returned the library's copy. The sequel, Shadow Scale, doesn't come out til March 2015; that's a long time, but then Megan Whalen Turner takes a long time between books, too, and they tend to be worth the wait. Hartman has written a short prequel, "The Audition," that was first made available online and is included in later hardcover editions of Seraphina (you can read it for free on Scribd, too). I'm not sure whether I would read recommend reading it first, though, and I wonder if Hartman meant for it to be part of the finished book (which already has a prologue) or, more likely, came up with it later.

In any case, it seems to me that more and more authors, particularly of fantasy novels, are expanding on the worlds they've created by publishing short stories or novellas in e-book form--I've seen prequels, companions, alternate perspectives, folktales--many of which are free. Sequels usually have to wait for a print edition, though.

Back to the kingdom of Goredd. I love the cover of the first edition of Seraphina--it's a wood engraving by Andrew Davidson, with a narrow maroon border; the title is embossed in gold. Later editions keep Davidson's engraving but add color to it: purple, green, and gold; and there's a new, sort of serpentine font for the title, which is displayed at an angle, in white. My focus group of one (me) likes it. 

Aside: Any interest in a round-up of companion fantasy novellas?

Armchair BEA: Dear Marilyn Sachs

truth about mary rose (3).jpg

I'm writing to thank you for The Truth About Mary Rose (Doubleday, 1973). That's my childhood copy, the 1977 Dell Yearling edition, illustrated by Louis Glanzman. It was one of the few books (maybe even the only one) I read as a child that had a Hispanic or Latina main character--like me, or close enough (I'm Cuban-American). I loved that Mary Rose's dad, an artist, made her rice pudding when he was worried about her being sick, and that she was surrounded by her extended family in New York City, even if they were mostly on her American mother's side. Speaking of Mary Rose's mother (Veronica Ganz, but I hadn't read that book), I also loved that she was a dentist and kept her maiden name at work. But Mary Rose's grandmother, on the other hand, just made me mad (to be fair, she made Mary Rose's mother mad, too). How could she say such mean things about Mary Rose's dad? And why would everyone let her get away with it? Even, especially, Mary Rose herself.

Rereading The Truth About Mary Rose as an adult, which I did last night, I'm more interested in the representation of the Ramirez (Ganz) and Petronski families than I am in the mystery of the first Mary Rose--after all, I already know how it ends. And I want to congratulate Luis Ramirez on his one-man show at MoMA. Very impressive! It almost makes up for having such an awful mother-in-law.