Book Review - Incarceron

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Claudia is the only child of the Warden of Incarceron, one of the highest positions of honor in this future world. After the unfortunate death of Giles, the eldest Prince, Claudia is then betrothed to his younger brother Lord Evian, a marriage that she would do anything to get out of. Even if it means confronting her father. Meanwhile, Finn is a prisoner inside Incarceron. When Finn obtains a crystal key, he finds it is a two way radio to the outside world, and who is on the receiving end? None other than Claudia. With the help of Claudia, Finn sets out with three friends to escape, while Claudia plots the downfall of an entire kingdom.

This book can be added to the list of 'dystopian future genre'. The pacing was quick. Claudia and Finn were both well rounded, with clear wants and desires, and the obvious drive to get the things that they most crave. Claudia is a majestic character, cool and calculating. One can see her as the Queen of this empire, even if she is forced to marry Lord Evian. Even with limited power, Claudia is a force to be reckoned with. Finn on the other hand is strong and yet pitiful. We desperately want him to remember who he is. Why is he a prisoner? Can he escape?

Characterization and pacing aside, this book was terribly confusing at times. Most of the things that happened were an "I think this is what was going on" rather than an "I know." Let me lay it down for you. This is a future society, where I think some King at some kind decided that technology was bad and wanted to go back to a simpler time. So he ordered "Protocal", which I think means that everyone dresses and acts like they are in the Renaissance. Problem: Everyone, as far as I can tell, still has technology. They have holo-projectors, washing machines, ovens. In fact, I was never quite sure what happened to people, besides a few fines, if they were caught using say...electricity. How do people who aren't rich live? Do they follow these protocals?

And then there is Incarceron. To the people outside it was supposed to be an experiment to create an Utopian society. But if that is the case then why in the world would you call it Incarceron, which obviously is a play on words for incarcerated, which means prisoner. Why not give it a nicer name? The people living on the inside definitely believe it is a prison. It isn't until well into the book that we are given any hints that it is anything but a prison. The thing is, when you are setting up a fantasy or science fiction world, we have to know the rules of the game. If not, then we become confused, and the number one thing you should not have is a confused reader.

My last bit of judgement would be that too much was given away far too early. The reader quickly figures things out long before the other characters do and this is frustrating because then all the anticipation of the story is just waiting for everyone else to get it. It may seem like this is good, because then the reader feels smarter for figuring it out, but in this case no. I almost felt a little talked down to. Like, "Hey, you reader, you probably won't get this so I am going to spell it out for you. Did you get it? Good. Moving on."

The positives are again, great characters, good pacing, and a very interesting premise even if it is a bit sketchy at times. It wasn't a bad read, I did enjoy reading it and definitely love that it is on my bookshelf because frankly I love anything Dystopian, but if this isn't your kind of book then you may want to skip this one and go read Hunger Games instead. Oh, and huge brownie points for cover of this book. I do love it.

Author of the Week - Holly Robinson Peete & Ryan Elizabeth Peete

Illustrator of the Week - Shane W. Evans

I stumbled across a new picture book at the bookstore that immediately caught my attention. Why? Well, first of all it had two African-American children on the cover. That alone peeked my interest. Then, once I started reading, I discovered it was a story concerning autism. Wow, a picture book with African-American children about autism. One more thing. It was actually good. Better yet, the illustrations were incredible. My Brother Charlie may deserve a whole book review on another day, but for now, I will give you its illustrator, Shane W. Evans.

Book Review - The Thief

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Gen, the thief, can steal anything. Except for himself out of the King's prison as he promised when he was arrested. Luckily, the King's Magus is in need of a thief, a thief who can steal anything, even if the object is mythological. Of course, Gen agrees, and sets off on an adventure with people he despises in order to cement his name in history.

Perhaps the strongest part of the book is that Gen is hilarious. As they are about to depart on their secret missions Gen says, "I hate horses. I know people who think that they are noble, graceful animals, but regardless of what a horse looks like from a distance, never forget that it is as likely to step on your foot as look at you." After riding for only half a day, Gen slides off his horse exhausted. "Oh, thank gods, I thought. They're going to leave me. All I wanted to do was lie in a dry prickly grass with my feet in a ditch forever. I could be a convenient sort of mile marker, I thought. Get to the thief and you know you are halfway to Methana. Wherever Methana might be." Gen makes fun of others, is uncouth, loud, chews with his mouth open, is a coward, and most importantly a very good thief.

The story is definitely a character piece, the first half focusing largely on building the five main characters. Without giving anything away, I can tell you that my favorite part...the best part of this book is the twist. It is amazing. Fun. It will make you want to flip back to the beginning and read it all over again with fresh eyes. I promise, you won't see it coming. You'll have no idea. Even with all my bragging, you still won't see it. But don't read the book searching for a twist. Read the book and enjoy it. Enjoy it for this wonderful character voice, strong plot, slightly fantasy, with an awesome twist ending. Believe me, you will read the book again and then rush out to grab the second book, The Queen of Attolia. Oh, did I mention it was a Newbury Honor Book?

Author of the Week - Lynne Reid Banks

Lynne Reid Banks was born in London in 1929. Author of over 30 books, Lynne best-selling novel is The Indian in the Cupboard, which has sold over 10 million copies. She was the only child of James and Muriel Reid Banks. During World War II she was part of the child evaciations and was sent to live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. She returned home as soon as the war was over. Prior to writing, Lynne was a television actress in the 1950's, and then one of the first women TV news reporters in Britain. In 1962 Lynne emigrated to Israel where she taught. The influence of Israel can be seen in some of Lynne's books such as One More River and its sequel, Broken Bridge, And End to Running, and Children at the Gate. In 1965 she married Chaim Stephenson, a sculptor, and together they had three children. Lynne now lives in Dorsey, England with her husband. Lynne wrote for both children and her adults, among her other children's books are Tiger Tiger, Alice-By-Accident, The Dungeon, The Fairy Rebel, I, Houdini, and Melusine.

Illustrator of the Week - Suzy Lee

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Suzy Lee is an accomplished around around the world. She earned her BFA in painting at Seoul National University and then went on to MA in Book Arts from Camberwell College of Arts in London. Her book The Wave won the NY Times 'Best Illustrated Book of 2008'. Her books are available in over a dozen languages and her work has been featured in art exhibitions from Germany to France to the US to Korea. Her other books include The Zoo, Deaf Raccoon, and The Blackbird. Suzy currently lives in Singapore.

Author of the Week - Frances Hodgson Burnett

Born Frances Eliza Hodgson in 1849 Manchester, England. Just 5 years old when her father died, Frances was left with her mother and four siblings. They had to endure deep poverty and squalor until Frances emigrated to Knoxville, Tennessee. They made the move at the request of an Uncle, who was hoping to help alleviate their poverty (which he did not), but they did live in a better environment where Frances received a decent education. Frances did leave home for a short while until her mother died. Then an 18-year-old Frances was the head of the family with two younger siblings to look after. This is when she turned to writing to support them all. Her first story was published in Godey's Lady's Book in 1868. Soon she was a regular writer for Godey's, Scribner's Monthly, Person's Ladies' Magazine, and Harper's Bazaar. In 1873 Frances married Dr. Swan Burnett and moved to Washington, D.C. Her first novel, That Lass o' Lowrie's, was published in 1877. These

were quickly followed by five more novels within five years. In 1886, Frances published her first children's book, Little Lord Fauntleroy. Although it wasn't a hit with children, mother's loved the small novel. It even had a social impact as the fashion of long curls and velvet suits with lace collars became stereotypical images for 'rich kids' for year. (I'm sure little boys everywhere hated Frances for this) The book sold more than half a million copies. In 1888 she won a lawsuit in England over the dramatic rights to Little Lord Fauntleroy, establishing a precedent that was incorporated into British copyright law in 1911

In 1898, Frances divorced her husband and quickly remarries Stephen Townsend, her business manager. This marriage only lasted two years though. Her later works Sara Crewe (1888), A Little Princess (1905), The Lady of Quality (1896), The Secret Garden (1911), and The Lost Prince (1915). She published a memoir as well as a travel journal. After her eldest son died of consumption in 1890, Burnett delved into Spiritualism and some of those concepts were worked into The Secret Garden. During World War I, Burnett put her beliefs about what happens after death into writing her novella The White People. Frances lived to be 75

Illustrator of the Week - Wendy Anderson Halperin

Wendy Anderson Halperin is a published author and illustrator of children's books and young adult books. Wendy has studied painting and anatomy at Syracuse University, Pratt Institute, and under the tutelage of David Hardy. In the 70's Wendy worked as an Art director before moving into her present work as a teacher. She trains educators, librarians, as well as attends conferences and workshops. Among her books are Bonaparte, The Peterkin's Christmas, The Full Belly Bowl, Thank You God for Everything, and The Visit. Her books have won numerous awards and have been translated into many languages including Japanese, Dutch, and Tswana.

Precursor to a book review

For the first time on this blog, I am going to review a book that has not been published yet. I received an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) a week ago and was so excited I nearly cried. Bear with me because this will be a little longer review than usual because of the particular content of the book.

My graduate thesis was written on the portrayal of disabilities in modern children's literature. During my study I read dozens of middle grade and young adult books featuring one major character with some form of disability ranging from ADHD to Asperger's Syndrome to Cerebral Palsy. During my research I found that there was little information on disabilities in literature, and even less about what makes a good/great book with disability. Therefore, I made my own guidelines about what a book needs to have in order that the disabled are portrayed in a positive, unstereotypical, and accurate light. As basically as possible:

1. Stereotypes and Labels must be removed. Disabled characters are not stock characters like cheerleaders or the geek. They should not be used as such. Using labels such as developmentally delayed, handicapped, special needs, etc. are rarely necessary and if used, should be used as minimally as possible.
2. The character needs to speak for themselves. Even if the character is unable to speak, or the story is told from a non-disabled characters viewpoint, we should hear the disabled characters voice somehow.
3. The interactions between non-disabled and disabled characters should be realistic. Some people are nice, some people are mean, some will make fun of a child in a wheelchair, and some will be friends with them. Be accurate.
4. The story should be about more than a disability. If you removed the disability from the story, you will be missing an important part, but the plot of the story would not disappear completely.
5. All characters should be well-rounded with interests, thoughts, ideas, and fascinating perspectives. The disabled character is no different. They should have motivation, desires, wants, needs, and vision.

I think it is important to have these guidelines out there so you (the reader) understands where I am coming from when I review this book.

Book of the Week - Out of My Mind

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. She is the smartest kid in her whole school-and no one knows it. Most people think she is stupid, barely able to understand more than the alphabet and the only reason they believe this is because Melody can't tell them. Stuck in her own head, Melody can neither write, walk, or talk. She hates school because her teachers are idiots who insist she learn her ABC's when she wants to learn long division. Then, one day in class when a student was showing off her new computer, Melody gets an idea. Why couldn't she have a computer too? Soon Melody has a voice, but are the other kids and teachers ready to hear what Melody has to say?

One thing is sure, this is a book full of character voice. Being in Melody's head, we know every one of her dreams and desires. Some of her desires are expected, but not stereotypical in any way. Melody is funny and modern and I felt her frustration at not being able to tell people when she thought they looked nice, or they were bugging her, or when she was upset. Melody is embarrassed by the way she looks: her twisted body that slides out of her wheelchair if she isn't strapped in, the way people look at her when they eat out at restaurants, how much she dislikes her easy to put on but unfashionable clothes, and worst of all how she squeals and squeaks when she is happy. A drawback would be that there was a lot of Melody. The first half of the book is mostly backstory, information, introduction to Melody's world. For me, the story didn't really begin until Melody got her computer, and although I liked all the information about her life, I'm not sure that I needed all of it.

Once Melody did get her computer the story really got rolling. Melody is soon part of a team who will be competing for a Whiz Kid championship that could take them all the way to Washington, D.C. Melody is excited, making friends, and for the first time, seeing what normal feels like. Most interesting was that we see the pain and frustration she still feels. The children still talk about her, a teacher doesn't understand, she is still in a wheelchair, her computer isn't always fast enough to allow her to participate. And the ending. I won't ruin it for you, but it truly is wonderful, sad, frustrating, and empowering.

This book is a great example of a book that really portrayed disability in a positive, empowering, unstereotypical, creative, and fun way. You will never forget Melody. On a teaching level, this book is great for kids in order to help them understand disabilities like cerebral palsy, in all extremes. I do not like books that are "teaching" books and this novel never comes off as such, but I know that young readers will get a lot our of this story. Releasing March 8.

Author of the Week - Jack Prelutsky

This week will be one of firsts. I am now officially calling my Wednesday posts, Author of the Week as opposed to Forgotten Author of the Week. The main reason for this is that I feel terrible calling authors forgotten when I look them up and discover they just published a book within the past year. I also feel like this frees up the posts so that I can feature new and old authors.

Jack Prelutsky is the poem master of silly and fun. Often compared to Shel Silverstein and Edward Lear, Prelutsky is all nonsense. While attending school in the Bronx, Jack took regular piano and voice lessons, performing in various shows. Interesting enough, Jack developed a dislike for poetry due to a teacher who "left him with the impression that poetry was the literary equivalent of liver." When he was older, Jack spent a solid six months drawing animals in ink and watercolor. One night, he decided to write two short verse poems to go with each drawing. Next thing he knew, friends and even an editor encouraged him to write more. Today, Prelutsky has written hundreds of poems featured in his award-winning books The New Kid on the Block, The Dragons Are Singing Tonight, The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders, and If Not For the Cat. On a technical level, jack's poems often have great twists and turns, and shape. If the poem is about a Christmas tree then perhaps the poem will be shaped like a tree. A neverending poem that can go round and round may be a circle. These are especially appealing to children as they are not only fun to read, but also to look at.

No biography would be complete without sharing with you a few of his fun and fabulous poems and pictures:

Louder than a Clap of Thunder

Louder than a clap of thunder,

louder than an eagle screams,

louder than a dragon blunders,

or a dozen football teams,

louder than a four-alarmer,

or a rushing waterfall,

louder than a knight in armor

jumping from a ten-foot wall.

Louder than an earthquake rumbles,

louder than a tidal wave,

louder than an ogre grumbles

as he stumbles through his cave,

louder than stampeding cattle,

louder than a cannon roars

louder than a giant’s rattle,

that’s how loud my father SNORES!

My Mother Says I'm Sickening

My mother says I’m sickening,

my mother says I’m crude,

she says this when she sees me,

playing Ping-Pong with my food,

she doesn’t seem to like it

when I slurp my bowl of stew,

and now she’s got a list of things

she says I mustn’t do-















I wish my mother wouldn’t make

so many useless rules.

I am Running in a Circle
I am running in a circle
and my feet are getting sore,
and my head is
as it's never spun before,
I am
dizzy dizzy dizzy.
Oh! I cannot bear much more,
I am trapped in a revolving
. . . volving
. . . volving
. . . volving door!

Check out for more poems and fun

Illustrator of the Week - Kelly Murphy

Born and raised in southeastern Massachusetts, Kelly Murphy studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. Since earning her BFA, Kelly has been actively freelancing and has illustrated almost a dozen picture books, two middle grade books, and covers of both books and magazines. Those books include Brand-New Baby Blues, Over at the Castle, Hush Little Dragon, Loony Little, Fiona's Luck, and Masterpiece. Kelly's work has been featured in magazines, galleries, and shows across the country. She currently teaches illustration at Montserrat College of Art, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and Rhose Island School of Design.