Friday, February 11, 2011

Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys by Bob Raczka, Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

"If this puddle could
talk, I think it would tell me
to splash my sister."

The haiku is one of my favourite forms of poetry--I like how it captures and illuminates small moments.  And Peter H. Reynolds is one of my favourite picture book creators--he hooked me with The Dot and I've loved him ever since.  So you can imagine how quickly I grabbed Guyku off the new book shelf.  I was not disappointed. 

In his afterword, poet Bob Raczka explains why he thinks haiku is a great choice for budding young guy poets.  Firstly, "a haiku is an observation of nature, and nature is a place where guys love to be."   And secondly, haiku is always in the present tense, so "whatever happens in a haiku, it's happening right now.  From my experience, guys are always interested in what's happening right now."   I think Raczka has hit the mark with these lively and funny poems.

The Guyku website is also well worth a visit, and Raczka and Reynolds assure us that a Galku (or maybe Herku?) book will be along shortly.  Can't wait!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Few Chicklit Treats: Mostly Good Girls and Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters

My two favourite girl books this month have a lot in common.  They're both smart, fun, and captivating.  They feature girls born to wealth and privilege, girls who are savvy, well-educated and have high aspirations.  But just because they're well-dressed and ace their SATs doesn't mean we're not rooting for them--they're all strong, involving protagonists.  There isn't a whiff of the typical rich girl/mean girl caricature lots of teen chick-lit indulges in here. If you're in the mood to read about girls who like and support each other despite their growing pains, you're in the right place.  

Mostly Good Girls is narrated by Violet Tunis, a junior at Westfield School (an exclusive, private girl's academy) and longtime best friends with Katie Cabot. Violet is very goal-oriented and works hard to maintain her never- -quite-perfect grades.  She edits the school literary magazine to boost her chances of getting into a good university.  She's a straight-and-narrow kind of girl, and one of the things that draws her to Katie is Katie's slightly wild streak--Katie's into doing "projects" that seem like a good idea at the time, but end up getting them into hot water (like her plan for Violet and Katie to get rich by becoming pool sharks rather than babysitting, or her plan to offer new students a spooked-out "Harry Potter Tour" of their uptight private school).  Over the course of the book, Katie starts to rebel against her over-privileged life, and Violet becomes more and more bewildered as her best friend starts to seem like a stranger.

Although the theme isn't particularly uproarious, what I found made Mostly Good Girls stand out for me was the humour. Sales fashions her book out of  short, anecdotal chapters and gives Violet a wry, funny voice that kept me turning pages ("Awesome speeches, guys," I said in my last official lie as editor in chief.").    One of my favourite chapters takes place at an editorial meeting for The Wisdom, the school literary magazine, where a truly awful poem about anorexia is being considered for publication.  (I want to be thin/Because that means I win/...Hunger is a sin/As bad for you as a shark's fin/I would laugh and grin/If only I were thin") Violet attempts to hint that the poem, let's be honest, *totally sucks* while trying to maintain an air of impartiality.  Meanwhile her staff offer kindly but obtuse critiques such as "I like the way she rhymed every line."  Sales had me snorting with laughter as Violet becomes increasingly pointed about the obvious badness of the poem, which of course ends up being unanimously selected for publication.  The whole scene is wickedly, deliciously funny. Mostly Good Girls is full of little scenes like this which add so much richness and personality to this story of a struggling but ultimately strong friendship. 

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters I liked for so many reasons.  The plot is intricate and ingenious, and involves the matriarch of the Sullivan family (known as Almighty to her children and grandchildren) announcing that she will cut the family out of her will unless the family member who has mysteriously displeased her delivers a confession and apology in writing by New Year's Day.  Norrie, Jane and Sassy each suspect that they may have aroused Almighty's displeasure (Norrie by standing up the handsome date Almighty has selected for her Cotillion and running off for a rebellious  weekend in New York with her true love instead,  Jane by publishing a tell-all blog called,  and Sassy by killing Almighty's husband).  Each writes a detailed confession in which it becomes clear that  their sins are as complex as they are themselves.  I'd love to have any one of these sisters as my real-life friends, which is, I think, a sign of a successful chick-lit story.

Here's a fun trailer for Mostly Good Girls:

Buddha Boy by Kathe Koja

"Do you know the concept of karma?  It's kind of like a circle, or cause-and-effect, like a slow-tolling bell you rang maybe a year ago, five years ago, maybe in another lifetime if you in believe that.  Karma means that what you do today, and why you do it, makes you who you are forever:  as if you were clay, and every thought and action left a mark in that clay, bent it, shaped it, even ruined it...but with karma there are no excuses, no explanations, no I-didn't-really-mean-it-so-can-I-have-some-more-clay. Karma takes everything you do very, very seriously."

Buddha Boy reminds me so much of Jerry Spinelli's YA classic Stargirl.   It has a similar type of narrator, a regular kid who is drawn to an eccentric new student that none of his fellow students really understand.  The narrator faces the same problem, whether to follow his heart and stand up for the friendship or follow the mean-spirited crowd.  In both cases the title characters stand out due to their unusual creativity and willingness to act out non-mainstream ideas.  Neither book ends exactly the way we want it to, and the maturation the narrators experience is the kind that comes from loss.  

"So explain this, now:  You wish, want, work for one thing, but instead something else happens, the thing you most dreaded, the thing you tried your best to stop.  And then it turns out that what you wanted, all you wanted and more, stood hidden behind exactly what you didn't, and to get to one you had to take the other first. 
Is that how life goes?  Is that how life is supposed to go--like walking blindfolded and backwards to get to where you need to be?  Or is it just karma, gods and lions and hungry ghosts, doing what it has to do?"

Buddha Boy is a short, thoughtful story about friendship and seeing under the surface of people.  Justin is a kid who is content to be ordinary, in the middle, where "it's comfortable, it's easy, and it's safe".  Buddha Boy, or Jinsen (his spiritual name, given to him by a Buddhist teacher, meaning "the fountain of God, the place where God springs up in the world")  arrives in Justin's high school with his head shaved bald and a begging bowl instead of a lunch bag.  Emulating a Buddhist monk, he baffles the student body and enrages the hotshot "kings of the school" with his odd appearance and pacifistic mindset.  Justin and Jinsen are partnered for a class project, and Justin soon finds himself fascinated by Jinsen, his artistry and his zen view of life.  The two boys form a bond which is tested as the school bullies home in on Jinsen with ever-increasing ferocity.  

What I liked most about Buddha Boy, aside from the gorgeous, layered writing, was the complexity and fullness of characterization that Koja achieved while keeping her story simple. The reflective, ever-so-slightly poignant tone does nothing to diminish what Justin in the end takes from his friendship with Jinsen; the insight that inside, we're all gods, even those of us who are unaware.