October 13, 2014 @ 6:08 pm | Filed under: Books
If you, like me, missed Kidlitcon this past weekend, Leila has a delicious recap & link roundup for you at Bookshelves of Doom. I haven’t been since 2010, the Minneapolis gathering, and I had many a pang of longing as the tweets and FB updates came rolling in. But it was delightful to see so many of my blog-pals having what was clearly a Very Good Time.
One reason I couldn’t be there is because I was engaged to speak at SCBWI-San Diego on Saturday. (The other reason is because I have a hundred children and am therefore Always Broke. You know how it is.) I’m happy to say my SCBWI talk seemed to go over very well. The topic was Middle-Grade and Chapter Books, two categories of children’s publishing I can speak about with considerable enthusiasm. What’s more fun than speaking to a full house about your very favorite books? The crowd was wonderful, with really smart questions afterward. The only thing that could have made it more fun would have been having the Kidlitcon crowd there. 🙂
Sunday felt amazingly luxurious: nothing was required of me but to read. This was convenient, as the nominee tally in my CYBILs category is currently 100 novels, with more contenders coming in every day. Only two more days, guys, until the public nomination period closes. People are starting to compile lists of worthy books that haven’t yet been nominated; you can find links to those posts here.
Speaking of piles of books, the younger set and I finished The Boxcar Children over the weekend (it’s a mighty quick read) and today it fell upon to me choose the next readaloud. Sometimes I know EXACTLY what book I want to reach for next, and other times I have option paralysis. Today was the latter sort of occasion. I got Rose to go around the house with me, pulling likely candidates off shelves, and when we had a comfortable stack, I decided on a Jane-Rose-Beanie favorite, Rowan of Rin. Chapter one was well received. I’ve never read this one aloud before, and there’s always a risk—some great books just don’t make great readalouds. But so far, so good. So gripping!
September 15, 2014 @ 8:08 pm | Filed under: Books
The other day I mentioned I’ve been meaning to write a post about the 1972 middle-grade novel Sarah and Katie by Dori White. THIS IS NOT THAT POST. This is purely a curiosity itch I can’t wait to scratch. I took my query to Twitter, too, and…crickets. Now, ordinarily the merest mention of any book on Twitter, let alone a childhood favorite, garners zillions of immediate and enthusiastic responses. People love to talk about their childhood books.
Which leads me to believe that no one I know either on Twitter or here has heard of this book!
Can this be? Am I alone in my Sarah and Katie mini-obsession?
Illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman, you guys. It was a Scholastic Book Clubs book; I’m sure that’s where I came across it.
This book haunted me. I don’t remember what age I was, maybe eleven? Story of two best friends, sixth graders, in Depression-era Oregon. Thick as thieves, a regular Betsy-Tacy pair, but the arrival of a new girl in their midst doesn’t work out quite as well as when Tib shows up. (Then again, B-T and Tib were around six in that book. Big difference between six and twelve. Trios are much trickier, at twelve.) The new girl is dazzlingly beautiful, a cloud of red curls, glamorous, dazzling, a wee bit manic; and everyone including Sarah is smitten—except Katie, who sees through Melanie’s stories. Ring a bell? No? There’s a play, and of course Melanie gets THE PART, and she’s amazing in it, she’s this incredible actress, but that too sticks in Katie’s craw…
And the whole scene when they go to Melanie’s crummy apartment, and she’s playing it up, lady of the manor, lavish, starletty…until her mother comes home and suddenly she’s TOTALLY CHANGED—clothes, hair, voice, manner. All meek and humble. And Katie’s like I KNEW IT!
What haunted me about it was the disturbed and disturbing tone, the undercurrents caused by Melanie’s deception. And the idea, which must have been new to me then, that a girl could so thoroughly fool people, could fool even her own mother. And the gradual realization, handled so deftly by Dori White (as I noticed when rereading it last year for the first time in maybe two decades), that there was a deep longing and desperation behind Melanie’s actions, that she wasn’t just someone you could slap a Bad Guy label on. Katie awakens to this slowly, painfully, and she brought me right along with her. The only other children’s book I remember experiencing that same awful poignancy in—almost a sense of guilt—was The Hundred Dresses.
Okay, so now I sort of have written the post I was thinking about, I guess. But really what I want to know is, have none of you heard of it?
Hurrah! I love it when a book comes out in paperback. Such a thrill to know it will reach a new audience. 🙂
Handy-dandy purchasing links for you, because I’m helpful like that:
Amazon • B&N • Indiebound
Do you know what I would love? If you happen to buy a copy (or if you have already purchased the hardcover) from your local indie, would you leave a comment to let me know the name of the bookstore? There are few things lovelier for a writer than knowing someone wandered into a bookshop and met your book on the shelf, and adopted it for keeps.
Here are some reviews:
“Wiley has created a charming, inventive tale that reads like a delightful mash-up of Little House on the Prairie and Tony DiTerlizzi’s ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’ (S & S). Short chapters and the air of mystery and suspense keep the pages turning, and readers will be taken with Louisa, who is sweet and mild-mannered, yet has the strength to fight for what is right. The writing is breezy and lyrical…[a] top-notch story.” —School Library Journal
“Fans of the Little House books will recognize the setting and enjoy the fantastic twist. Stylized black-and-white illustrations capture key moments and add to the warm tone. The comedic, unexpected, satisfying conclusion hits just the right note. A pleasing folkloric/historical blend.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Wiley’s cleverly constructed story, which switches over to the circuit judge’s amusing perspective for a few chapters, is not only a fine tall tale but also gives some sense of nineteenth-century frontier life.” —Booklist
“Frontier fiction and folkloric fantasy are an unusual combination, but they actually blend remarkably well here, and Wiley does a fine job of staying true to the pioneer inflections of Louisa’s story while effectively integrating the magical brownie…The effective mashup of popular genres will make this a hit with a variety of readers, so try handing it to Little House fans and folktale-lovers alike.” —Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“…a delight from start to finish.” —Jen Robinson’s Book Page
“Every now and then a book makes me miss having a class to read to. Some books absolutely beg to be read aloud. The Prairie Thief by Melissa Wiley is that kind of book….And then, the must of all musts for reading a story aloud… the language. The Prairie Thief is rich with gorgeous, evocative language that begs to be heard as well as read. We feel as though we’ve been transported back in time when we listen to expressions like, ‘He was wailing loud enough to curdle milk,’ or ‘Ye look like last year’s scarecrow.’ Even the simple ‘Balderdash!’ sounds better out loud. Wiley uses big words too—words that some kids will latch on to and roll around in their minds and mouths—like audacious, gesticulations, rapscallion, scrutinizing—they add to the mood and help us sink into this world.” —Writing on the Sidewalk
“Wholly delightful. I found it impossible to put down and read it in one great gulp. I don’t think I could have loved it more, had I read it as a child. The characters are lovely, each and all. The story, while never veering from the path to a happy ending, had plenty of dips and bobbles and surprises. I grinned my way through much of it, and am not ashamed to tell you my eyes filled with tears at the end. It’s wholesome without being smarmy, and fun without being arch.” —Salamander House
“…a mystical mystery not to be missed.” —the kids at Bookie Woogie
The Prairie Thief is a Junior Library Guild selection, an SCBWI Crystal Kite Member’s Choice Award nominee, and a Bravewriter Arrow selection. It is currently a nominee for New Hampshire’s Great Stone Face Children’s Choice Award. (Check out the rest of the books on that list, you guys—looks like some fun reading there.)