Author of the Week - Robert Cormier

I was never a big fan of Robert Cormier, perhaps this was because I was forced to read The Chocolate War as a teenager, a book that I did not like and therefore will never review. However, after getting off my distrust of Cormier I then read a small lesser known book called The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. Cormier won me over.

Robert Cormier was born in 1925 in Leominster, MA. He was the second eldest of eight children and because they had so many kids, their family was forced to move often since rent was so expensive with so many children. Robert never left or moved away from his hometown, until the day he died. Even his summer home was only 19 miles outside of town. Robert attended a private catholic school and starting writing from a young age, deciding to become a poet in middle school. As a freshman in college, Robert had his first short story published, The Sign. Robert went on to work as a journalist and wrote scripts for radio commercials, and continued to write for his local newspaper. The Chocolate War was Cormier's first novel, followed quickly by I Am the Cheese and After the First Death. Despite this bloggers dislike for his premier novel, Robert was good at finding the core issues that teens deal with and his books have withstood the test of time. Some of his other books have included Heroes, Fade, In the Middle of the Night, Tenderness, and We All Fall Down.

Illustrator of the Week - Brian Selznick

Brian Selznick has been working as an author and illustrator for a number of years. His fanciful, cartoon-like drawings can be seen on many books, some of which I'm sure you are familiar. Having attended The Rhode Island School of Design and then working at Eeyore's Books for Children in NYC, Selznick developed of love for children's books. His first book, The Houdini Box was publishing in 1991, quickly followed by titles such as Frindle, The Doll People, Mary's Ghost, When Marian Sang, and the Newbery Award Winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Author of the Week - Jon Scieszka

Jon Scieszka was born in 1954 in Flint, Michigan. In his family there were six children, all boys. His father worked as an elementary school principal. Jon's grandparents were from Poland, hence the last name which means "path" in Polish. In high school Jon went to a military academy, then thought about studying to be a doctor, but instead he got a degree in Science and English, and then an MFA in Fiction. Jon then went to teach elementary school, a career that obviously plays a large part in his writing. In Jon's words, elementary school helped him re-discover how smart kids are and that the best audience for his weird and funny stories were these children. He took a year off from teaching and began to write children's stories. As he was writing, Jon met an illustrator named Lane Smith through his wife. Lane immediatly fell in love with Jon's stories. Despite numerous rejections of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Lane and Jon kept trying to find a publishers, until an editor at Viking Press with the same sense of humor picked it up. In 1989, Jon and Lane publishers their first book. Over the last two decades Jon and Lane have worked together on 8 pictures books and 8 Time Warp Trio's, which have been adapted into a television show. Jon had published over two dozen books including The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Math Curse, The Frog Prince Continued, Welcome to Trucktown!, Robot Zot, and his newest book Spaceheadz. Jon has won numerous awards and was named by the American Library Association as the National Ambassador for young People's Literature.

Illustrator of the Week - Lydia Monks

Lydia Monks is a collage artist born in Surrey. She studied illustration at Kingston University and is an Irish dancer. Lydia's interesting collage style and bright colors seems to have found its niche in young children's picture books, but she has also illustrated poetry books, middle grade book covers, and picture books-some of which she has written herself. She currently lives in Sheffield with her partner and their baby daughter.

In Honor of my Father

When I was a kid my dad used to tell us stories. We thought he was amazing. Surely, he should write down these wonderful ideas about dragons, jewels, and magic. Every night he told us a little more, sitting at the foot of my brothers' beds while I curled up on the floor with my pillow and my favorite blanket. The story went on forever, but I could never figure out why my mom would stand in the doorway laughing quietly to herself. I mean, the story was not that funny.

Then, one day, when I was fifteen I pulled a book off my dad's bookshelf that he claimed was the best book ever written. Lord of the Rings was a giant tome and at the time I thought it extremely cool to read the thickest books I could find. Just off of Jules Verne's Mysterious Island, Lord of the Rings seemed like the perfect story to tackle.

About fifty pages in I realized that the story sounded familiar. The little people, the magic ring, but I read on. With each turn of the page I realized that my father was not a great storyteller, he was a great story-re-teller. All those nights sitting in thrall, he had been telling us a slightly altered version of Lord of the Rings. And I didn't care. See, it wasn't the story or even that he tried to pass it off as his own, it was the fact that my father loved us enough that he took an hour out of his day every night to tell us stories. So even though my dad is a very typical engineer and cannot spell half of the words he tries to write, perhaps a little of my love for storytelling comes from him. I'm thinking he will carry on the tradition. After all, doesn't my nephew look like he is going to be a reader?

Author of the Week - William Kamkwamba

I know some authors worry about their last names being too strange or hard to spell, but in the case of Mr. Kamkwamba, it was the reason I picked up his book. I mean, really, how often do run across a book by an author with such a great last name? And what an interesting fellow he is too.

William Kamkwamba was born in 1987 in Masitala Village, Wimbe, Malawi. William grew up in a family of seven kids, six of which are girls. Educated at Wimbe Primary School, William received the opportunity to attend secondary school, but was forced to drop out when a severe famine hit Malawi and his family could no longer pay the $80 in annual fees to support his education. Rather than accept his fate, he began borrowing books from a local library, borrowing everything from fiction to textbooks. Using one book about Energy, William built a windmill in 2002 (at the age of 15)to power a few electrical appliances in his family's home eliminating his family's need for kerosene. He used bicycle parts, blue gum trees, light bulbs, radio parts, and tractor blade fans among other things. With this prototype he then took it a step further creating a larger version and adding a car battery for storage as well as making his own light switches and circuit breakers. Since then, he has built a solar-powered water pump that supplies fresh drinking water into his village for the first time, a radio transmitter to broadcast popular music and spread HIV prevention messages, drip irrigation systems, and malaria prevention. William's work has drawn the attention of many people, including doctors, inventors, journalists, and legislators. He was even invited as a guest speager to TEDGlobal, a prestigious gathering of thinkers and innovators.

In 2005, William wrote and performed an HIV prevention comedy with some friends entitled You Can't Judge a Book by its Cover. Thanks to his hard work and media attention, William was able to re-enroll in secondary school before transferring to the African Bible College
Christian Academy, a private prep school before going to Cambridge, UK to study. He hopes to be a teacher one day, to educate the next generation in academics, ethics, entrepreneurship, and ingenuity.

In 2009, William wrote an autobiography called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Current of Electricity and Hope, published by HarperCollins. The book is incredible, but more so because of William's extreme drive and determination and complete understanding of how important reading and education are. It thrilled me to see someone, despite all the odds, become someone so affluent in his community and the world.

Illustrator of the Week - Leo & Diane Dillon

It is a rarity to find artists who work in tandem, considering the nature of art, there must be a lot of compromises that one would have to make in order to work collaboratively with someone else. Leo and Diane Dillon were married in 1957 and have worked together for over fifty years on everything from book covers to picture books to woodwork to tapestries. One thing is sure, they love to experiment with all different kinds of art styles, never allowing themselves to be pigeon holed as one kind of artist. Their children's books include Sabriel by Garth Nix (as well as the entire Abhorsen trilogy), Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears by Verna Aardema, Two Little Trains by Margaret Weiss Brown and dozens of others.

Book of the Week - Uglies

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.

I love Science Fiction. Let's just put that out there from the beginning. As a kid I was hooked after reading Away is a Strange Place to Be by H.M. Hoover, a wonderful book about two kids kidnapped and forced into slave labor on a space station. I devoured sci-fi book after sci-fi, leaving young adult books far behind when I ran out of them. I turned to Herbert, Heinlein, Ben Bova, Timothy Zahn, and C.J. Cherryh. I say this to tell you that there is a considerable difference between young adult and adult sci-fi, even the ones with children characters likeEnder's Game, which was originally meant for adults is completely different.

How you ask? Simply this. Adults books don't preach.

Adult books just tell a good story. And epic story but a story nonetheless. Yes, there are books like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, perhaps even I, Robot could be included in that preachy mode of storytelling, but one thing is for sure, I never felt like the author was trying to tell me how ridiculous something was. There is a disturbing likeness to the young adult sci-fi I have read recently. This is the trend I have noticed:

An author finds something that bothers them about our society. (usually American society) These social ills can be anything from not living green (enough), obsession with beauty, safety, science, violence, terrorism, etc. Then they take it to the extreme.

In Uglies, Westerfeld creates a society in which everyone at the age of sixteen turns Pretty. All your life you are told how ugly you are and how one day, just like everyone else, you will become beautiful and never have to worry about anything again. No one will be too fat or too skinny. Frizzy hair will be a thing of the past. Everyone equal. Tally Youngblood can't wait to turn sixteen, but then she meets Shay, another ugly, who disdains the falseness of their society and runs away. Tally doesn't go, but is soon blackmailed by the authorities into finding the Uglies camp, if she helps they will make her pretty. But reality makes Tally wonder if the truth she has been told all her life is really a lie.

On the whole, the book is written well. It is action packed with rich characters and an interesting plot. But I just can't seem to get over the preachiness of it. Believe me, it was clear what the author was getting at from the very beginning. It just screamed, "Hey, isn't it terrible how obsessed we are with beauty? Look what could happen if we don't stop." Sometimes adult books can have moments of preachiness, but personally I think the best stories are the ones that move away from the preachiness to focus on story.

But Uglies isn't the only one doing it. The Roar by Emma Clayton, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Feed by M.T. Anderson, Rash by Pete Hautman, Un Lun Dun by China Mieville, Shade's Children by Garth Nix, Unwind by Neal Shusterman. This is not to say these novels are badly written, it is just that the "message" was way to much for this blogger's tastes. Yes, adults books do it too, but I never felt like Isamov or Bova was trying to say, "Look what happens when we get obsessed with--well you fill in the blank."

Author of the Week - Kate Douglas Wiggin

Kate Douglas Wiggin was born in 1856 in Philadelphia. Her father died during the Civil War, leaving Kate and her sister Nora to be raised by their young widowed mother. They moved to Portland, Maine a few years after her father's death, where he mother remarried. A baby brother was born. Education in such a rural area was stilted, consisting of some public education, a finishing school, and home schooling. Even with this limited schooling, Kate still received more education than most girls of her time period. In 1873 Kate and her family moved to San Francisco as her step-father was ailing, sadly he died three years later of a lung disease.

Kate was devoted to education and the well-being of children, often fighting against child labor in an era when such things were rarely thought about. Kate loved the wild ways of the street children she taught, but had to resign from teaching as was the custom at the time when she married Bradley Wiggin. Still, Kate continued to devote herself to the children, raising money through her writing starting with her first story The Story of Patsy and The Birds' Christmas Carol. Kate never had children and when her husband died in 1989, Kate moved back to Maine. Kate was said to have grieved and wear widow's black for the rest of her life, but that did not stop her from traveling and writing. Her most popular and famous novel is Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Among her other stories were The Old Peabody Pew, Penelope's Experience in Scotland, Mother Carey's Chickens, along with several non-fiction pieces speaking out against child labor. All the proceeds from Kate's books went to her living costs and the children she loved so much.

Illustrator of the Week - LeUyen Pham

From very early in life, LeUyen Pham has been touched with luck. At the age of two, her family escaped on the very last transport ship out of Saigon right before the Vietnam War broke out. Her father worked for the CIA, and his connections helped them escape to California. Despite her parents dream to become a lawyer, and her degree in political science, Pham knew she would never be a lawyer. Pham won a scholarship thanks to a mentoring profesor and spent the next three years in an accelerated art program. Pham then had another stroke of luck when she landed a job just out of college working for Dreamworks. On the side Pham strted to illustrate picture books. Her first book The Sugarcane House was done in pencil illustrations. She has now illustrated over 30 books including Can You Do This, Old Badger?, Big Sister, Little Sister, A Father Like That, Freckleface Strawberry, Alvin Ho, Bedtime for Mommy, God's Dream, and Grace for President.