Book of the Week - Crunch

Crunch by Leslie Connor

When Mom and Dad leave for their annual anniversary vacation via tractor trailer, 18-year-old Lil and 14-year-old Dewey are left to take care of their three younger siblings. But then the gas runs out. The children have to fend for themselves. And the family bike repair business is booming with only Dewey and his younger brother Victor to fix the bikes that just keep piling up. To make matters worse, Dewey suspects a thief may be stealing from The Bike Barn and it may or may not be their egg-stealing neighbor. With Lil getting more and more desperate the children wonder, Can they really handle things on their own? and Will their parents ever get home?

Crunch is a smart and engaging story. Connor jumps right into the story from the beginning. No explanation about why they are out of gas or how long it has been going on. It doesn't matter. What matters is that there is no gas now. And the story isn't preachy. No 'Wheel of Morality'. Just a good story. Connor paints a haunting image of what life would be like without gas. The silent and empty highways, the lawlessness, the desperation for food. How many people would be stranded if one day there was no more gas? How many people would need bikes?

More than that though, this story is really abut Dewey and Lil. Dewey know things are difficult without their parents. Taking the five-year-old twins to summer classes on bikes, grocery shopping, running a business. But he is sure he can handle it. He has to handle it. No matter what happens he will show everyone that he can do it. Things get a little hairy though when things begin to go missing in The Bike Barn. Afraid that others will think he isn't capable, Dewey keeps it a secret. Lil has enough to deal with. Does she really need to know about the missing parts? Besides, he can handle it. Right?

This middle grade slightly sci-fi novel was a fun read that rocketed back and forth between independence and fear, but as I learned recently, all good books (especially kids books) need a little fear. Connor was careful though, the children are not afraid of the loss of gas for that is such a large subject, but rather the fear is in the lack of control. The want and desire to feel like everything is handles mixed with the fear that maybe it isn't. What kid can't relate to that.

More importantly, this book made me wonder...What would I do if we ran out of gas?

Author of the Week - Leslie Connor

Leslie Connor was born in Cleveland, Ohio in the family room of their old farmhouse. At 9 her family moved to New York where her dad got a job selling printing papers. Her father is the one who gave her a love of reading, bringing home book after book that Leslie devoured . As a child Leslie loved dancing, gymnastics, painting, and sewing. She received a degree from the University of Connecticut in Fine Arts. Leslie was not immediately drawn to children's books and once she was, it was the writing aspect rather than the illustrating that drew her. Her newest book Crunch, was inspired by the 1970's from the gas shortages. She saw people riding their bikes on the highway as the lines at the pumps got longer and longer and she wondered, what would happen if all the gas ran out? For hr book Waiting for Normal, Leslie began the story with the setting (a trailer in Leslie's hometown) and the story evolved from there. No matter the season, Leslie's favorite place to write is on her screened in porch with her dogs. In cold weather she brings a sleeping bag and a thermos of tea. There must always be tea.

Illustrator of the Week - Tricia Tusa

Tricia Tusa is an author/illustrator with over 50 books that she has written and/or illustrated. Her preferred method of illustration is pen and ink, sometimes pencil. Of course, watercolor, colored pencil, and crayons are other options. Her paintings are usually acrylic and masonite. She grew up in New Mexico. Tricia has a Master's in Art Therapy and loves to use her illustrations with therapy. For instance, did you know brown is meant to symbolize humor? Her books includeThe Sandwich Shop, Mrs. Spitzer's Garden, The Magic Hat, Wing Nuts: Screwy Haiku, The Problem with the Puddles, and many more.

Book of the Week - How to Train Your Dragon

Having watched the movie (twice) I thought it was high time to read the book. Usually my mantra is, the book is better. However, I think this case is more of a both are equally awesome for completely different reasons.

For those unfamiliar with the story, How to Train Your Dragon follows young Hiccup who isn't the best Viking in the world. So he has to learn how to train his dragon--the hard way. To become members of the Hairy Hooligan tribe, Hiccup must pass a three-part initiation....that he fails miserable. As is the case with any book, our hero has one thing that no one else does. He can speak dragonese, which definitely comes in handy when it is up to Hiccup the Useless to become Hiccup the Useful.

With its short, easy-to-read chapters, funny illustrations and humor, How To Train You Dragon was a fun read. It is also a perfect bridger book. Meaning that the reading level is good for kids who are just emerging out of chapter books. The best part is that there are three other books, which I am totally going to go read now. Be warned, the book and the movie are different. In the film, Hiccup doesn't speak dragonese and the Dragon Toothless has a much different personality, but kids will love it all the same.

Author of the Week - Hans Christian Andersen

Disney has immortalized Hans Christian Andersen forever with their version of The Little Mermaid. Most people do not realize that Hans did not write such "cute" stories. His stories were often dark and not the stuff of Disney. Perhaps his past plays some part in that though.

When he was a child Hans lived away from home, having part of his education paid for by King Frederick VI. No one knows why, although rumors of Han's parentage was up for some debate. Hans' father seemed to believe that they were related to royalty, although historians believe that the only link to the royal family was through service not blood. Hans was left to his own devices before he became a teenager though when his father died, forcing him to work as an apprentice for a weaver and later a tailor. At fourteen Hans moved to Copenhagen where he sought employment as an actor. He had an beautiful soprano voice, but the minute his voice changed he was told that perhaps he could consider being a poet or a writer instead. Hans felt ostracized as a child, with his unusual height and effeminate interests. He also had hysterical fits of cramps that the doctors misdiagnosed as epileptic fits. His mother was an alcoholic and his half-sister, who he had little contact with, was believed to be a prostitute.

A man named Jonas Collin, a director at the Royal Theatre where Hans worked, took great interest in Hans and sent him to grammar school, paying for all expenses. At this point Hans had published his first story, The Ghost at Palnatoke's Grave. Hans looked back on this period of his life bitterly. Not because he didn't appreciate the gift but because he lived with the headmaster who took to beating Hans in order to "improve his character". Hans felt like he had no friends since he was older than a lot of them and he felt he was unattractive, causing him to enter into depression.

Hans continued to write though, taking his new job seriously. He continued to write poetry and stories, getting a few published here and there, but his progress was slow. He receive

d a traveling grant from the King and took off around Europe. He traveled to Switzerland and Rome where he wrote two stories that were both being published. In 1935, at the age of thirty, Hans published the first installment of his immortal Fairy Tales, followed by two more volumes in the next two years. They did not sell well. His two novels that came out at the same time O.T. and Only a Fiddler fared much better.

After traveling around Europe, Hans became a huge nationalist, purposefully writing stories and poems about his native Denmark. His most well known was called Jeg er en Skandinav (I am a Scandinavian) A composer set the poem to music. It was popular for a few years but soon lost its appeal.

After traveling for over fifteen years, Hans published travelogues, twisting the travel narrative to fit his writing style. Some of his travelogues even contained fairy tales. Hans did try to return to the stage at 35, but it was a failure. However, the fame of his Fairy Tales had begun to grow. By 1845 Hans was being celebrated throughout Europe. although Denmark was still failing to see his genius.

Perhaps my favorite story is that of the not-so-awesome meeting with Charles Dickens. In June 1847, Hans visited England, where he was invited to parties to meet intellectuals. It was at one of these parties that he met Charles Dickens for the first time. A few years later Hans came to stay with Dickens, however he overextended his welcome, staying for almost six weeks rather than a few (polite) days.Dicken's daughter said of Hans, "He was a bony bore and stayed on and on. Dickens published David Copperfield, with Uriah Heep, who he said was modeled after Hans.

Hans dealt with more heartbreak in his later years for he had a bad habit of falling in love with unobtainable women. He fell for Jenny Lind, a Swedish Opera singer. Sadly, she did not return his affections. He had a number of love interests, but none shared his affections. Hans was also attracted to men, often speaking of the mystery of their friendships that were like those of a woman. He had a fascination with duke and a Danish dancer, but none of his romantic entreaties were ever fruitful.

IN 1872, Hans fell out of his bed and was severely hurt. He never fully recovered, but did live for three more years. At the time of his death, Hans was an internationally renowned and treasured writer. The Danish government referred to him as a "national treasure". His most famous works were Thumbelina, The Snow Queen, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Princess and the Pea, and The Tin Soldier. In Copenhagen there is a statue of The Little Mermaid in the harbor.

Illustrator of the Week - Justin Sweet

After scouring the internet for a bio of this wonderful fantasy artist I can safely say I know very little about him. What I do know is this: Justin Sweet did not graduate college, having studied at CSU Fullerton under Marshal Vandruff for a short time. He has worked on book covers for Kull:Excile of Atlantis by Robert Howard, The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Creatures of Narnia by Scott Driggs, and Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin. His art always reminds me of a brush caught by the wind, capturing movement and majesty in each painting.

Blogging Sabatical

For anyone who pays any attention to this blog, you may have noticed a small blip in your regularly scheduled program. For anyone 411, I am away at Hamline University getting myself graduated. Will return as soon as I am the proud owner of an MFA.