Book of the Week - Gone

Gone by Michael Grant

How do you update a classic like Lord of the Flies for a 21st century reader? How do you achieve the sudden enforced isolation of a group in an alien environment? In an area of GPS and satellite communication, it's hard to disappear, impossible to isolate. Not that people can't get lost on islands, but how do you do it convincingly today? The Truman Show suggested a way that might work and Gone borrows some ideas from this world-in-a-bubble.

Unlike Lord of the Flies which readers young and old have read, horrified and thrilled, Grant's book is solely for the Young Adult audience. In keeping with the zeigeist, the isolation of the young protagonists is achieved through a science fiction device: a rapture of sorts. And then things really get interesting.

I enjoyed Gone, mostly. One day, out of the blue, every single person in the town of Perdido Beach over the the age of fifteen--disappears. Grant at least thought all of this through. Cars crash, stoves are left on, babies are trapped in homes, kids at school freak out, children in day school have no one to take care of them. The main character Sam, is the epitomy of the reluctant hero. And we love him for it. In fact, I loved all the characters. The sub plots and various character view points really added depth and life to the story.

However, the book was long. Not uninteresting, but there were a number of points where I got tired of the survival storyline and wanted to know why this happened. There was also a "supernatural" plot element that I didn't hate, but it vague and forced most of the time. It's Okay for an author to leave the reader in a state of uncertainty, but this feels like the author is uncertain. As if they know there will be a sequel, but doesn't have it all sorted out in his brain yet. The countdown at the beginning of every chapter was pointless as I was getting excited for the climax and understood the timing issues, without an added reminder. I'm guessing Grant watches too much 24. Either that or his editor does.

I'm glad I read the book and I really enjoyed bits of it. There's a lot of good writing and plot potential for the sequel. I wish Grant had been more confident and open in expressing his core ideas, instead of tossing in tons of distractions. Gone has everything...suspense, action , mystery, romance, supernatural, and sci-fi. It would have been nice if some of those elements had been fleshed out more though.

Forgotten Author of the Week - Douglas Hill

I would like to tip my hat to the late sci-fi writer Douglas Hill, whose books I well enjoyed during my teens. Douglas Hill was a science fiction author, editor, and reviewer. He was born in Brandon, Manitoba and was an avid science fiction reader from an early age. He earned a degree in English and married a fellow writer, Gail Robinson. They moved to Britain in 1959, where he worked as a freelance writer and as an editor for Aldus Books. Before starting to write fiction in 1978, he wrote many books on history, science, and folklore, and served as an editor for several anthologies under the pseudonym Martin Hillman, among them Window on the Future (1966), The Shape of Sex to Come (1978), Out of Time (1984), and Hidden Turnings(1988). He is best known for his Galactic Warlord quartet of novels, supposedly produced as the result of a challenge by a publisher to Hill's complaints about the lack of good science fiction for young readers. Sadly, after writer over sixty books, Hill was struck by a bus at a zebra crossing in 2007. He died one day after completing his last trilogy, the Demon Stalkers. Among his other books are also The Exploits of Hercules (1980), World of Stiks (1994), Star Dragon (2002).

Illustrator of the Week - Ethen Beavers

Ethen Beavers is a comic book artist and now children's book artist from Modesto, CA. Ethen's comic industry work includes sequentials on such titles as Justice League Unlimited, SIX, Noble Causes: Distant Realtives, as well as pin ups in Savage Dragon and Hellhounds. He has also done logo design work as well as freelance illustration for various advertising agencies. Ethen also keeps himself busy as storyboard artist for Warner Brothers Justice League Unlimited animated show on Cartoon Network.

Recently Ethen hooked up with Michael Buckley to illustrate the book NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society, featuring a group of unpopular students who run a spy network from inside their school, hits the mark. With the help of cutting-edge science, their nerdy qualities are enhanced and transformed into incredible abilities! They battle the Hyena, a former junior beauty pageant contestant turned assassin, and an array of James Bond–style villains, each with an evil plan more diabolical and more ridiculous than the last.

Book of the Week - Robot Zot

I decided to read this delightful little book to the children at story time, expecting the same excitement that I get every time I read a book by Jon Scieszka. Sadly, the looks on the kids' faces was one of confusion rather than hilarity. Now, don't get me wrong, the book is delightful. Robot Zot is a robot from another planet who comes to earth for conquering and conquest. He discovers all kinds of monsters to kill such as various kitchen appliances. Robot Zot is sadly a very small bot. He falls in love with a toy phone and saves her, taking her back to her planet.

The language of the book is great and fun to read. Even better if you read it like a robot. I think the problem with the story is that the kids just didn't get it. They were confused as to whether Robot Zot was an alien or a toy. They weren't sure what the phone toy was. As an adult I loved this book, but it is definitely for the smart older child. Or at least requires some explanation.

Forgotten Author of the Week - George Selden

So he isn't exactly forgotten, after all, The Cricket In Times Square is a Newbury winner and bestseller. However, many people are not familiar with the other books he has written.

George Selden was the pseudonym for George Selden Thompson, born in 1929 in Hartford, Connecticut. He was educated at the Loomis School and then later attended Yale University, where he joined the Elizabethan Club and the literary magazine. After Yale he then studied in Rome on a Fulright Scholarship for a year.

Selden describes the way he thought of the idea for The Cricket in Times Square as follows:

"One night I was coming home on the subway, and I did hear a cricket chirp in the Times Square subway station. The story formed in my mind within minutes. An author is very thankful for minutes like those, although they happen all too infrequently.

He wrote several sequels and other books in the series including Tucker's Countryside, Harry Cat's Pet Puppy, Chester Cricket's Pigeon Ride, and The Old Meadow. His other books includeThe Genie of Sutton Place, Oscar Lobster's Fair Exchange, and Sparrow Socks. In 1974, under the pseudonym of Terry Andrews, Selden wrote the novel The Story of Harold, the story of bisexual children's book author's various affairs, friendships, and mentoring of a lonely child. (clearly not a children's book.) Selden died in 1989.

Illustrator of the Week - Garth Williams

Garth Williams was a prominent American children's illustrator. He grew up in New Jersey and Canada, but moved to the United Kingdom when he was 10, where he eventually studied architecture. He got a job and a scholarship to work as an architect at the Royal College of Art. He also served as an ambulance driver during World War II. In the latter part of his life, Williams moved to Marfil, a small town west of Guanajuato, Mexico. He was part of a colony of ex-pratriates who built or rebuilt homes in the ruins of the silver mills of colonial Mexico. He was also an excellent guitar and banjo player. He married and had five daughters and a son.

Garth Williams most famous illustrations can be seen in Stuart Little (1945) and Charlotte's Web (1952). In the 1950's he teamed up with Margaret Wise Brown and several Little Golden Books including Mister Dog and Sailor Dog. He also illustrated the original The Rescuers series that was later made into two Disney movies. In 1953, Williams illustrated new editions of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series and then in 1960, he illustrated Geroge Selden'sThe Cricket in Times Square. Perhaps his most beautiful and fanciful illustrations can be found in The Giant Golden Book of Elves and Fairies by Jane Werner (1951).

Wedding Fun/Stress

I'm afraid my posts for last week were rather forgotten in exchange for my best-friend getting married. I apologize to my readers and promise to be on the ball now that I have recovered.

Forgotten Author of the Week - Lucy M. Boston

Lucy Maria Boston was a British author, especially noted for the fact that she did not have her first book published until she was over 60. (for those unpublished authors, there is still hope) She is best known for her Green Knowe books, inspired by her home The Manor, one of the oldest permanently inhabited houses in Britain (her books were illustrated by her son Peter Boston (1918- 1999). Born Lucy Wood in Southport, Lancashire, and educated at a girls' boarding school on the Sussex coast, she married Harold Boston in 1917, and moved to The Manor in the late 1930s, shortly after separating from her husband. She also had a deep love of classical music, and she made a lot of patchwork, as well as being a keen gardener well into her nineties. Besides the Green Knowe series, she also wrote a dozen others including The House That Grew, The Guardians of the House, The Fossil Snake, and The Sea Egg. By recommendations from her publishers, Lucy published her books as L.M. Boston in order to keep her gender anonymous. Publishers assured her that a 1950's audience would not be interested in adventure books written by women. Lucy discussed this as well as her life in The Manor in her autobiography entitled Memory in a House. Lucy lived to be 98 years old and did get to enjoy her fame.

The Manor, home of Lucy M. Boston

Illustrator of the Week - Kady MacDonald Denton

This year, one of the Golden Kite Awards was given to Kady MacDonald Denton, an illustrator from Ontario, Canada, for her book A Visitor For Bear by Bonny Becker. Kady says she works in an old tall yellow brick house that overlooks the Otonabee River in Peterborough, Ontario. Her studio is in the attic. Her husband works on the middle floor and the cat goes back and forth between them. Kady has also worked on books such as Two Homes, A Children's Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, A Birthday For Bear, I Wished For a Unicorn, and over thirty more children's books.

Book of the Week - People of Sparks

People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau

The second in the Ember series, I am shocked that I hadn't read this sooner. The first book, City of Ember, set up the story of a futuristic city build underground after some kind of disaster. The city itself is slowly dying, food has run low and the lights flicker, sending the inhabitants into darkness. Lina and Doon discover a way out of Ember after finding a series of clues. The second book picks up where the first leaves off. The people of Ember, having received Lina and Doon's message, emerge into the outside world. But they know nothing. They don't know what the sun, a bird, winter, fire, or even a cow is. They happen upon a town called Sparks who is hard pressed to take care of the 400+ people of Ember who know nothing.

This book was a little heavy handed as far a morality tale is concerned. Once the book ended I found myself shaking my head and thinking, yes yes, I get it. We all have something to contribute. We should get along. The story itself was engaging, predictable at points but not to the point of redundancy. The mystery and adventure that were present in the first book are greatly diminished, replaced by a simple survival story. All in all the story was rather ho hum. A nice edition to the Ember series, but not as exciting as the last. Here's to hoping the next one has a bit more--spark.