National Book Festival

Who's going to the National Book Festival this weekend? We've gone almost every year since we moved back to the Washington, DC area in 2002. This year is extra-special, though: my friend Madelyn Rosenberg's middle grade novel Canary in the Coal Mine (Holiday House, 2013) was chosen to represent the state of West Virginia as one the Library of Congress's 52 Great Reads. I think that could be Bitty (the canary in question) at the upper right of Suzy Lee's gorgeous festival poster, actually! Madelyn (not Bitty) will be at the Pavilion of the States on Saturday and would love it if you stopped by to say hello. Oh, there will be lots of other authors (and illustrators) at the Festival, too. We're hoping to hear Kevin Henkes on Saturday, or else Grace Lin on Sunday. Maybe both!

The Spotted Dog Last Seen

This will be a review (and giveaway!) of The Spotted Dog Last Seen by Jessica Scott Kerrin (Groundwood, 2013), but first, an anecdote: When we moved to Ann Arbor as newlywed graduate students, my husband and I lived in a tiny apartment at Observatory Lodge. The Lodge was a lovely old Tudor-style building, herringbone brick and half-timbered, with slate roofs and faulty wiring. It was also adjacent to the old Forest Hill Cemetery, and I sometimes walked through it on the way home. I never lingered long, though, and knowing more about cemeteries now I wish I could.

Derek is somewhat less excited about reporting for cemetery duty (his Grade 6 community service project) at Twillingate, or at the old stone library (a converted church) across the street where the cemetery brigade gives lessons in reading weathered marble, the meaning of gravestone carvings, how to take rubbings, etc. I find this sort of thing fascinating (eventually Derek and his friends Pascal and Merrilee do, too); and I wouldn't be surprised if young readers of The Spotted Dog Last Seen will want to explore the local cemetery themselves. If not, there is also a secret code, contained in mystery novels borrowed from the old library, and a time capsule in a school locker. This last holds clues that connect various people to the accidental death of Derek's friend seven years before--and may help Derek put his memories of that day to rest.

Warning: sad things happen. Someone dies (in addition to Derek's friend). But there is a satisfying resolution, for Derek and for the reader, who can piece together the clues along with him. There is also a supporting (and supportive) cast of characters to lighten the mood a bit, although The Spotted Dog Last Seen is still a somewhat serious and thought-provoking book, perfect for fall reading.

And just in time, I have a copy of The Spotted Dog Last Seen to give away! Please leave a comment and let me know if you think you (or a young reader you know) might like it, and I'll be happy to send it to you--with my recommendation, and thanks to Groundwood Books!

Thank you, David Levithan

every day.jpg

Last night I read Every Day by David Levithan (Knopf, 2012). It's the sort of book I want everyone I know to read, so I can talk about it without giving anything away. Starting with the premise: Every day A wakes up in a different body. Til then, here's Day 6009:

Today I'm a boy named AJ. He has diabetes, so I have a whole other layer of concerns on top of my usual ones. I've been diabetic a couple of times, and the first time was harrowing. Not because diabetes isn't controllable, but because I had to rely on the body's memories to tell me what to look out for, and how to manage it.... Now I feel I can handle it, but I am very attentive to what the body is telling me, much more so than I usually am. (166)

I've read many (many) books, but this is the first time I've spontaneously encountered a person with Type 1 diabetes in one: the prevalence appears to be lower than in the general population. Which is surprising, given that Type 1 is most often diagnosed in children and young adults. Case in point: my son Leo, who was diagnosed at age 11, a year ago this month.

Thankfully, I think Levithan gets it right. Diabetes adds another layer of concern to whatever else--a math test, a crush, a soccer game, lunch--might be happening on any given day. It demands a certain, constant level of attention to the body that most of us rarely require. It's the first thing A thinks about that morning.

But the rest of the day, as written, is not about diabetes. AJ is also a regular kid: "It's a relief, in many ways, to be a guy who doesn't mind riding the bus, who has friends waiting for him when he gets on, who doesn't have to deal with anything more troubling than the fact that he ate breakfast and is still hungry." He even eats french fries for lunch. Leo would love that. I did.