BIG & LITTLE QUESTIONS
(ACCORDING TO WREN JO BYRD)
Written by Julie Bowe
(Kathy Dawson Books; $16.99, Ages 7-9)
Find out about this fab new middle grade novel, Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd) in Christine Van Zandt’s glowing review. Good Reads With Ronna also wishes author Julie Bowe a very Happy Book Birthday today!
Over the summer, Wren Jo Byrd, a shy nine-year-old, was abruptly sent to stay with her grandparents while her Mom and Dad split up. Rather than confess what was going on to BFF Amber, Wren ignored her.
At the start of the new school year, Wren finds that Amber is best buddies with Marianna Van Den Heuval, the new girl in town; Wren pretends nothing has changed. However, Wren’s lies about her family become hard to maintain because she must split her time between two households. Wren doesn’t understand how this could be good for them.
Marianna, from the big city of Portland, blows into Wisconsin like a diva with an agenda. She peppers her dialogue with wonderfully realistic preteen talk, such as “We’re going to have So. Much. Fun!” Yet, Marianna’s bravado isn’t all it seems. Wren discovers some of Marianna’s secrets and begins a list of questions for Marianna—the only girl she knows whose parents are divorced. As Amber is swept away in Marianna’s coolness, Wren wrestles with what it means to be a friend and dreads what will happen when everyone discovers the truth.
Julie Bowe’s first-person voice captures Wren’s fears and the complexities in her life. The text is punctuated by definitions Wren looks up on her phone, such as to the word “happy” (meaning “content”) and then “content” (meaning “not needing more”). These lead her to wonder, “When did Mom and Dad stop being happy? . . . How come no one told me we needed more?”
Everyone has secrets; Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd), gives us a glimpse into why we hide our truths and the consequences we must endure when we choose to lie. This heartfelt story is about accepting change as friendships and families evolve beyond our control.
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com
Written by Kate DiCamillo
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)
Reviewer Hilary Taber calls Raymie Nightingale, “A rare and hopeful song.” But after reading her review, you’ll discover, as with all DiCamillo’s books, it’s that and so much more
Raymie Clarke is preparing herself to enter the Little Miss Florida Central Tire competition. Her father has recently run off with a dental hygienist, and Raymie is determined to win so that he will see Raymie’s picture in a newspaper and will, of course, come back to his family. This is the initial plan, but like most plans it doesn’t turn out the way that Raymie originally intended. First of all she needs to learn how to twirl a baton in order to win the competition. It is during those baton twirling classes that she meets her “rancheros”, her new friends who become like family. Gritty, but sweet Beverly, and storyteller extraordinaire Louisiana, help her through this hard time. Maybe, just maybe, Raymie is more than just a little girl with a big dream to get her father to come home. Maybe, just maybe, Raymie is destined for adventures with her new friends that show Raymie that she is the hero of her own difficult time. Raymie finds that somewhere in her is a person who is stronger than the storms of life. She also learns that, with help from her friends, she can manage to make her way to a new life full of goodness and grace. It is a life that she could have never imagined when she began making her plans to turn things around. Kate DiCamillo delivers yet another wonderful novel that makes you believe again in the strong, incredible power of friendship and hope.
It is that rare quality of combining sorrow with sweetness that makes every book she writes life affirming. Every book is like watching a sweet spring creep over a winter world. Often as a children’s bookseller, I see an absolute faith placed in her books by the children who read them. Even though the story might be hard to read, the children show a willingness to take the journey with Kate. Time and time again I wonder what it is that they are feeling when they look at her books in their little hands. I think it’s something akin to knowing that she is telling them the truth. There is a certain peace in that. Kate tells us that life is hard, but you should always hope. Hope is real, hope is something to hold on to, hope is the stuff of life.
On a personal note I feel that Kate DiCamillo is the E.B. White of our generation. Like White she is adept in the art of condensing profound thoughts into short, but amazing sentences. I was honored to meet her recently and to have my copy of Raymie Nightingale signed. I think it’s worth noting that beyond the wonderful writing is a very brave writer. Kate has personally been through the very hard experience of having an absent father, and she has courageously taken up the task of writing about this time in her life. That had to be difficult. Ultimately I think her bravery in writing about this time in her life will help to heal others who have gone though something similar. So, here is to one amazing writer who is also incredibly resilient, just like Raymie.
Come back tomorrow to read Hilary’s interview with Kate DiCamillo to get the inside scoop.
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BEST VALENTINE’S DAY BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
Happy Valentine’s Day!! We all know that love comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s the love of a child, a parent, a sibling or a spouse. There’s also the love of a pet, and the love of a best friend. Then of course there’s the love of one’s country or birthplace, and a love of Mother Nature’s gifts on Earth. There’s even the love of a film, a TV show or a book, although I’ve never sent a Valentine’s Day card to a book. In this Valentine’s Day Books Roundup we’re celebrating the myriad things we love and the ways we express our love on Valentine’s Day and every day.
I LOVE YOU ALREADY!
Written by Jory Jon and illustrated by Benji Davies
(Harper; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Sure to be a hit with youngsters, this follow up to Goodnight Already! has everything you’d want in a good read aloud or bedtime story. There’s a duck and his next door neighbor, a bear. There’s humor and great artwork. But best of all, there’s an undeniably adorable premise – duck won’t let Bear have a day of rest because he just does not feel confident he is loved, or even liked by Bear. Duck, in true duck form, insists that two go out together. “You don’t look busy! Besides, we’re going for a walk, friend. No arguments., Chop-chop!” Hard as he tries, Duck eventually learns that he doesn’t really have to do much because by the end of this entertaining tale, it’s obvious that Duck is loved very much by Bear. I got such a kick out of these two totally opposite characters who share the bond of friendship in such a special way.
LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING
Written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)
Fans of Emma Chichester Clark and dog lovers everywhere will not be disappointed with her latest picture book, Love is My Favorite Thing, based on her own dog and celebrating “unconditional love.” We’re treated to plucky Plum’s (aka Plummie) point of view right from the get go and what we learn endears her to us instantly. Brimming with genuine affection, Plummie professes love for everyone and everything, from the sun to sticks, from little Sam and Gracie, the next door neighbors’ kids to owners Emma and Rupert. Very British sounding names, right, but that just adds to the charm. In fact, when we first moved to London, my daughter had a classmate whose parents called her Plummie and she wasn’t even a pooch!!
Here’s my favorite sentence: “I love it when Emma says, ‘Good girl, Plummie!’ when I do a poo, as if it’s so, so clever.” The repetition of Plum saying “LOVE is my favorite thing” is really one of the clever thing going on in this story. As are Chichester Clark’s illustrations which give readers a real sense of what Plum’s all about. Even if she sometimes gets up to no good, her intentions are never bad. That is until she ran off with a child’s bag that had an ice cream cone dropped in it. Then Plummie just could not resist. Poor Plummie! Would her owners still love her after her big mistake? Plum ponders this question that children also often wonder, “Does being naughty make people stop loving you?” And the answer is a resounding no, they absolutely still love you as long as you’ve taken some time to think about what you’ve done. That’s why, Plum reminds us, and I am certain, too, that “LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING!”
WORM LOVES WORM
Written by J.J. Austrian
Illustrated by Mike Curato
(Balzer & Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Here’s a super new story that turns the idea of what invertebrate marriage is right on its head, if worms had heads! And so begins this gender bending tale of two worms who want to tie the knot, only their friends expect them to go the traditional route. With same-sex marriage now the law of the land, it’s an ideal time to gently and thoughtfully introduce this subject and Worm Loves Worm does it beautifully with humor and tenderness.
When the pair of worms express their love for each other, the next step feels right. “Let’s be married,” says Worm to Worm. With Cricket performing the ceremony, Beetle on hand to be best beetle and the Bees eager to be the bride’s bees, the worms wonder, “Now can we be married?” Of course the answer isn’t so simple as they’re told they need to have rings, ( despite having NO fingers), a band and all the other accoutrements of a wedding. When ultimately asked who is the bride and who is the groom, the worms explain that they are both, clearly a break from the norm in the eyes of the worms’ friends. “Wait,” says Cricket. “That isn’t how it’s been done.” The reply is powerful and appropriate. “Then we’ll just change how it’s done,” says Worm because, in the end, what does tradition have to do with it? It’s love that matters.
CHICK ‘N’ PUG: THE LOVE PUG
Written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler
(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages 0-5)
Chick ‘n’ Pug are certain to garner new fans from this latest installment, the fourth in Sattler’s popular series. BFFs Chick ‘n’ Pug are introduced to Daisy who falls hard and fast for Pug and attempts to win his love. The catch is Pug would prefer to continue napping. Much like in the friendship of Duck and Bear, Chick’s the energetic one, eager to help show Daisy that her wooing of his pal is worthwhile. Daisy tries and tries to use her feminine wiles to get Pug’s attention by hinting how she adores flowers, can’t find her favorite bow or is being chased by a bully. It’s not until a bee, first observed when Daisy wished for flowers, begins buzzing around sleepy Pug that the pooch is stirred annoyingly awake. Daisy and Chick get into the act as the three ward off the intolerable insect. Soon, it’s not just Chick ‘n’ Pug who are exhausted and in need of nap. Love can sure tire you out in the best possible way.
Other Valentine’s Day Books We Recommend:
Here Comes Valentine Cat
Written by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)
Ollie’s Valentine (A Gossie & Friends Book)
Written and illustrated by Oliver Dunrea
(HMH; $6.99, Board Book)
Plant a Kiss
Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
(Harper; $7.99, Board Book)
HOLY BAGUMBA! It’s An Interview with Kate DiCamillo (As of 1/27/14 the 2014 Newbery Medal)
About FLORA & ULYSSES: THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES
Image credit: Photo courtesy of Candlewick Press
Good Reads With Ronna recently had the good fortune to meet multiple award-winning (including a Newbery medal) author Kate DiCamillo and illustrator K. G. Campbell at Vroman’s in Pasadena. It was standing room only for DiCamillo on her extensive publicity tour for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 8-12), now a New York Times Bestseller. Today’s interview features DiCamillo and next Friday’s interview will feature Campbell. Please click here for Hilary Taber’s review of Flora & Ulysses posted here last month.
GRWR: You mentioned at Vroman’s that finding an ill squirrel by your front doorstep and your late mom’s love of her Electrolux vacuum cleaner were a serendipitous comedic collision – is happenstance the genesis for many of your stories or do you usually begin with a plot outline or a character’s journey in mind?
KATE DICAMILLO: Oh, I never begin with a plot outline. I never know what’s going to happen. The origins of a story aren’t always as unusual as the collision of a vacuum cleaner and an unwell squirrel, but a story for me almost always begins with an image or two. Or a voice. Sometimes I hear a voice. And then I just follow the voice or the image.
GRWR: In Flora & Ulysses you give a powerful voice to underdogs, outsiders, lonely and grieving characters by giving them hope, love, joy and friendship. Do you feel your books set out to honor these types of people?
KATE DICAMILLO: I set out to tell a story. I set out to honor the world. All of it. All of us. That said, I guess I am preoccupied about the miracles that can happen when we see each other.
GRWR: William Spiver’s character has so many unique traits. A lot of kids and adults who read Flora & Ulysses may know someone similar to him from school or in their family. Is he simply a socially awkward genius or does he have Asperger’s?
KATE DICAMILLO: I never thought about William Spiver having Asperger’s. It is surely possible. But to me, he is just William Spiver—irritating, wonderful, complex, tender-hearted, and yes, very, very smart.
GRWR: You are to children’s book writing what Monet and Renoir are to Impressionism. Your words are like brush strokes of pigment. Do they flow effortlessly out onto the page or is each sentence finely and laboriously crafted?
KD: What a lovely thing to say. You are kind. And would that the words flowed effortlessly. Alas, they don’t. I work and work and work. I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.
GRWR: Can the two pages you write daily take two or ten hours or do you limit the amount of time you devote to a manuscript?
KD: The two pages usually take me an hour. Sometimes a little more. Sometimes less. And I limit the time in the first stages of telling, but when I am working on rewrites for my editor, I will spend all day working—short sessions of two pages at a time.
GRWR: Have you ever liked a character you’ve created so much that it’s hard to say good-bye at the end of the book or series?
Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses from Candlewick Press with illustrations by K. G. Campbell.
KD: I still miss Dr. Meescham.
And I miss Ulysses. And Flora.
And William Spiver.
It’s hard to say goodbye.
GRWR: Light and dark play an important role in Flora & Ulysses. There’s mention of illuminated adventures, the stars, William Spiver’s temporary blindness, the shepherdess lamp called Mary Ann, the neon Giant Do-nut sign, Incandesto and his arch-nemesis, the Darkness of 10,000 Hands. Were these intentionally woven into the book?
KD: They weren’t! I read through that list and I am kind of amazed because I didn’t know that I was doing that. It’s this wonderful thing where the story is smarter than I am.
GRWR: Can you please tell us what books you’re working on right now?
KD: I’m working on some stories about the secondary characters in the Mercy Watson stories. So: Leroy Ninker, Francine Poulet and Baby Lincoln are all getting their own stories, their own books.
I’m also working on another novel.
GRWR: It was wonderful to meet illustrator K.G. Campbell at your Pasadena signing. Although you did see illustrations in advance of publication, and made some alterations to the text to include both K. G. and the art director’s idea of comic strip-style artwork in the book, you never met or collaborated. Is it a scary feeling as an author to know that your imagination and vision are in someone else’s hands?
KD: Yes, but I have learned to trust Candlewick so implicitly in this respect. Art director Chris Paul’s vision of what the book should be is always something wonderful and astounding.
GRWR: Was the novel originally titled just Flora & Ulysses and, after the extra artwork, did The Illuminated Adventures get added or was it always intended to be The Illuminated Adventures?
KD: Originally, the book was entitled simply Ulysses, or the Squirrel.
I thought that this was very funny. Other people were not quite as amused. So, after many rewrites, the illuminated aspect came to the fore.
GRWR: I adore the bohemian look of Phyllis. Were you particularly fond of any character’s rendition more than others?
KD: I LOVE William Spiver.
Keith brings him to life so accurately and lovingly.
GRWR: On your website you advise aspiring authors to “Listen. Read. Write.” Do you have time to read as much as you used to and whose books are you reading now?
KD: I make time to read. It is so important to me. I can’t survive without a book. Right now I am reading Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue.
GRWR: Could the book’s premise have worked with a dog or cat as a superhero instead of Ulysses, the squirrel?
KD: Well, I love the notion of vacuuming a cat. I really do. But as impossible as it seems to vacuum up a squirrel, it seems even more impossible to vacuum up a cat. Or a dog.
But who knows? Anything is possible, right?
Unexpected Friends – A Review of Flora & Ulysses
Flora & Ulysses: the Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 8-12) by Newbery medal winning and New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo with Illustrations by K. G. Campbell, is reviewed today by Hilary Taber. Pre-order the book today or find it at your local independent bookseller on September 24th.
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by K. G. Campbell, Candlewick Press, 2013.
I’m a huge fan of unexpected things, and finding unexpected friends tops this list. It just takes the strain off everything if you just happen to find a friend. This is precisely what occurs in Kate DiCamillo’s new book, Flora and Ulysses, the Illuminated Adventures.
When Mrs. Tootie Tickham receives a new Ulysses, Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain vacuum cleaner for her birthday from her husband she has no idea that it contains enough power to drag her outside her home, into the front yard, to ultimately suck up an unsuspecting squirrel! Luckily, her next door neighbor, Flora Belle Buckman, is watching and is able to bring the squirrel back to life by remembering advice from a comic she is fond of reading called “Terrible Things Can Happen to You!” Flora remembers how to administer CPR and the squirrel is brought back to life. Not just to his normal life though, for now he can appreciate life on a higher plane entirely! He can heft the vacuum cleaner over his head, he can type, and he can write poetry! Flora dubs him “Ulysses” after the vacuum cleaner that almost took his life. She tells him that he is a superhero, much like the ones she reads about in the comic books she loves.
Every self-respecting superhero needs an arch-nemesis to overcome, and Flora has decided that this has to be her mother who is convinced that Ulysses is diseased. Flora’s mother has decided that Ulysses must go. What ensues is nothing short of high adventure. It will take Flora, both her parents, a boy named William Spiver (who seems a very unlikely, slightly paranoid friend), and a doctor of philosophy to help Flora on her quest to sort out her life. Of course, all along the way there is Ulysses, the very best friend a girl could have. After all, when I look back on this sweet story, I begin to see that it is when Ulysses arrives that the problems in Flora’s life are pulled to the forefront. It is only through their adventures he finally brings out the truth in her life. Here is the truth of Flora’s life. She has parents who love her, discovers three new friends, and comes to find that she is not a cynic as she thought she was. Someone who can see superhero potential in a squirrel is someone who has hope dwelling in her heart.
K.G. Campbell’s illustrations, in a comic book style that appear every few pages, add soft, detailed, but action packed visuals to DiCamillo’s story. What originally appeared to me to be a funny, original story turned out to be something more. As so often in DiCamillo’s books, there is a depth of emotion and potent symbolism throughout the story. What is presented here is a tale that can be fully appreciated by young readers, but which is full of a deeper meaning that it took me two readings to truly understand it. What is wonderful about this book is that the reader can enjoy the book with or without understanding that deeper layer of meaning because it is so very funny! From the get go, Ulysses and his resurrection as superhero set the stage for many comic events (including my favorite one involving a giant donut restaurant), that lighten the tone of the book. Well done again, Kate! Very well done indeed. Be sure to put this one on your “to read” list right away! How can any of us say no to a story of a superhero, poetry-writing squirrel who loves Rilke, and giant donuts? You have to admit that this tale is extraordinary, and it is the sort of story only Kate DiCamillo could pull off, adding yet another wonderful title for readers of all ages to enjoy. Holy bagumba!