Spanking Shakespeare (by Jake Wizner)

7 06 2014

20140607_140412Spanking Shakespeare is everything a certain R.G. over at Slate says an adult who’s reading it should be embarrassed about:

a)      It is to be situated in that genre “realistic fiction” about “real teens doing real things”, like say high school for a 17-year-old guy.

b)      It is escapist and offers “instant gratification”, there’s a whole lot of sex talk going on, see my a).

c)       It aims to be “pleasurable”, see my b).

d)      It sort of asks its readers to “immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life” but it is obvious we should “abandon the mature insights” that we “(supposedly) have acquired as adults.” Because adults clearly don’t know what it is to have hormones raging through their bodies, or to have sarcasm as a life-saving mechanism, or even what it is like to navigate between different relationships (friends, parents, potential girlfriends) or how to be embarrassed about something… anything.

e)      Its ending is “uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering” (here it is cheering). Spoiler alert: Shakespeare gets a girlfriend!

f)       Also, it does not have any “Weird facts, astonishing sentences, deeply unfamiliar (to me) characters, and big ideas about time and space and science and love.” No it does not, but it has some great potty jokes, though… Oh and it has Shakespeare on the cover.

Spanking Shakespeare is a perfectly entertaining, funny escapist YA novel. I read it. I am not embarrassed about that.

And you know what, the next book I took up after Spanking Shakespeare was Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. It’s also YA. It’s incredibly touching. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. And the next book I’m taking up? James Dashner’s The Scorch Trials. I do not feel embarrassed about that either.

I am 36. I read YA.

Teaching Young Adult Literature Today: Insights, Considerations, and Perspectives for the Classroom Teacher

27 08 2012

This is a compilation of essays and papers compiled by Judith A. Hayn and Jeffrey S. Kaplan .

Some chapters are really good (especially the ones dealing with “Where is YAL going” and blurring boundaries) , but the ‘insights’ in the others are very obvious (esp. in the first part). I would definitely recommend this to teachers who don’t know anything about YA and don’t really know where to start if they want to use some of it in the classroom, yes also for ESL teachers, because the world of the teen is you know, the world of the teen… and that is what they will connect to.

However, preaching to the converted here that if you want a kid to enjoy reading and make them into lifelong readers, you need to find reading material that they will connect with, and YA is definitely the way to go then… so from that perspective, I could have used even more practical tips on how to weave everything into the curriculum of teachers who’re already asked to be supermen/women all in the limited amount of time and space they’re getting.

But overall a good collection of papers regarding the topic and I loved the little lists of all the available books per topic.

Interview with Cecil Castellucci

12 04 2012

The cat had the chance to interview the wonderful Cecil Castellucci, who has a new book coming out in May, The Year of the Beasts, which she wrote together with Nate Powell. Enjoy reading the interview!

The cat: The Year of the Beasts is coming out in May. What should readers know before reading it?

C.C.: I think that some people might have a little bit of a learning curve with regards to the alternating chapters of prose and graphic novel.  I would say, to hang in there!  It will all come together.  And if you are not used to reading comic books, think of this as a way in!

The cat: What is it that you find fascinating about the mythological Medusa story?

C.C.: I always thought that it was fascinating that she turned people to stone when they gazed on her.  But it captured my imagination that in some stories she was born beautiful and then turned ugly after suffering a trauma by Athena.  This duality of her intrigues me.  And I think that image of it served this story well.  I think that when we are in crisis, or grief or trauma we are hard to look upon.

The cat: Can you tell us something about the collaboration with Nate Powell? How did the two of you decide to work together?

C.C.: Working with Nate Powell was a dream.  I was such a big fan of his book Swallow Me Whole and his new books, Any Empire and Silence of Our Friends are amazing as well.  Nancy Mercado thought that maybe his art style would go well with my story.  I agreed!  I’d had the great pleasure of meeting Nate before at the Toronto Comics Art Festival, so we already knew that we liked each other and got along well.  The collaborative process was pretty easy.  I had written the novel including a script for the comic book elements.  For this script I wrote a loose idea of the setting and the mood I was going for along with the dialogue.  Nate then broke this down into panels by drawing thumbnails – or loose sketches- of what he thought a good pacing of action would be.  We both, along with Nancy Mercado, our editor, talked about what worked and then he drew and inked and lettered the whole thing.

The cat: At a certain point Jasper says to Tessa there’s a monster inside all of us. So what monster is inside of you?

C.C.: I don’t know!  Or maybe I do but a lady shouldn’t tell! But I can tell you that I would be afraid that I’d be one of the Graeae.  I would really hate to share a tooth and an eye with two other ladies.

The cat: What is your favorite part of the book?

C.C.: I love all of it because it was such a different kind of book for me to write.  But I really love chapter nine and chapter ten.  I think they flow into each other so nicely.

The cat: Where do you get your inspiration from in general?

C.C.: Every book springs from a different well. I think inspiration comes from paying attention and looking for random threads on how to stitch a story together.  I also think you have to be out and about and interested in lots of things.  This one came from a time when I was in deep crisis.  I felt that I was terrible to look upon and that as I tried to sort through what I was going through, people were frightened away by my violent emotions.  I didn’t want to write a book and I didn’t want to write a graphic novel and I just thought well, why not do half and half.  I knew I wanted it to be about two very different kind of girls who were somehow twinned.  But like I said, every book comes from a different place.

The cat: Can you tell us something about your own creative process? Where do you work? Do you have a certain routine?

C.C.: I like to think of the page as always being open.  So I don’t have a specific routine per se.  But I will say that I love sunny days.  I often sit on my porch.  I live in Los Angeles, so that’s pretty much possible to do year round. It depends what part of the process I’m in, I like to revise in cafes or even in bed.   I am a big fan of deadlines, in that way I give myself a chunk of time to dream about the book knowing that I have to get things down.  For example, right now I am giving myself three weeks to get down a skeleton for my new novel.  I’m hoping to get the bones down so I’ll have something to flesh out.

The cat: To say that you are a multi-talent is really an understatement. Have you always been this creative? Were you a creative child?

C.C.: You are too nice!  I think the answer to that is yes.  I mean, I have always known that I wanted to be a creative person.  To live my life as an artist.  I never wanted to do anything else.  When I was little other kids wanted to play kick ball and I tried to get them to put on an opera.  And for me, it’s always been stories.  I just love stories.  All of the different things that I do seem as though they are all the same to me.  A book, a play, a novel, a movie, a performance piece, an opera, a song, they are all ways of telling a story.

The cat: Did you read a lot as a child? Are there any books that you fondly remember?

C.C.: I did read a lot as a child!  Favorites were A Wrinkle in Time, The Tripod Trilogy, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, A Secret Garden,  Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz.  Oh!  So many!

The cat: What is the best book (YA or other) that you have read in a long time? What are you reading at the moment?

C.C.: The best book I read most recently was The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt.  The way that he wrote about the West and the two brothers was great!

I am currently reading Grave Mercy by RL LeFevers for the panel I’m moderating at the LA Festival of Books and I’m enjoying it very much.

The cat: You’ve made music, you’ve written (YA) novels, you’ve written graphic novels, contributed to film projects… Is there a certain form of art that you prefer? Where does your heart really lie?

C.C.: My heart lies in storytelling.  For me all of these things are the same thing.  They are  all ways to tell a story.

The cat: What is your attitude towards storytelling? Why do you like to tell stories?

C.C.: I guess what I like about stories is how much exploring you can do.  You really become an adventurer of the human condition either by writing a story or by reading them.  You can go under the ocean, back in time, to outer space.  You can be a mother, a wife, a crone, a witch, a queen, a man.  It’s a way spelunking.

The cat: Have you ever experienced writer’s block or just ‘creative block’? How do/did you deal with it?

C.C.: I don’t believe in writer’s block.  I think that sometimes you are just not ready to write what you are meant to write.  It’s just not coming organically.  But if you just breathe, take a walk, read a book, do the dishes, eat some bon bons… you’ll get there.  And sometimes you have to just write through it.  You just have to sit there and get words down on the page knowing that once they are down you can revise them.

The cat: Do you think you are influenced by other authors? If so, which ones?

C.C.: It’s more that I’m influenced by all kinds of art.  I take my influence from all kinds of literature, films, television, paintings, opera, ballet…whatever!  All art is trying to understand the human condition and to express a tiny point of it.  There is something to be found that is totally right in that expression and is the very color you need to paint with for your own work.  When I was writing The Year of the Beasts I was at an artist colony and I had all the artists there draw me a portrait of Medusa and the other beasts.  All of them were different,  but all captured a different piece of her angst that I needed.  So, what I’m saying is that every single artist inspires me.

 The cat: What book do you wish you had written?

C.C.: I wish I had written Persuasion by Jane Austen.  I love that book so much.

The cat: Is there anyone you’d like to work with for one of your next projects? Who and why?

C.C.: Oh!  I feel as though I’ve already worked with such dream people and it’s been such delightful surprises about how those collaborations came together that I don’t dare disturb the machinations of the universe by wishes!  Instead I will say who I would have loved to work with. Luis Buñuel.  I think we would have cooked up some cool stuff.

The cat: What’s the best and the most frustrating aspect of being a writer?

C.C.: Writing stories.  Writing stories.

The cat: Is there anything you regret in your creative career?

C.C.: I regret the moments where I lose a little bit of hope and begin to despair.  I wish I would remember to just push that feeling aside and remember that I just need to keep writing.

The cat: I just finished Dear Bully and I noticed that you and Mo Willems contributed the only graphic stories. Why did you decide to add a graphic story and not a ‘regular’ short story or essay?

C.C.: I believe that a story tells you how it wants to be written.  When they asked me to write an essay, I couldn’t think of anything.  But I did think of writing a little comic book about the silent treatment.  I recruited Mo to draw the pictures.  I kind of love that the images are naïve and innocent.

The cat: Did bullying change you as a person?

C.C.: I think it’s more that group dynamics and my struggle to understand that that has changed me as a person.  Sadly, I think that group think doesn’t go away just because we aren’t kids anymore.

The cat: In your opinion, what is the most important thing for a person to do when they witness bullying?

C.C.: Speak up.  Help out in whatever way you can. But stay safe.  Talk about it.  Silence is the real trouble.

The cat: What one advice would you give someone who is being bullied?

C.C.: You think that no one knows what you are going through.  But you are not alone.  And there is definitely an adult in your world who has been there and knows and that you can talk to.   So find them and talk about what’s going on.

The cat: Finally, can you tell us anything about new projects you are working on?

C.C.: Yes!  My next book comes out in Spring 2013.  It’s a comic book for younger readers called Odd Duck and it’s illustrated by Sara Varon.  It’s about two ducks named Theodora and Chad.  I’m very excited about it.   And I’m currently working on YA novel called The Tin Star.  It’s book one of a two book sci fi series I’ve got coming out.  It takes place on a space station far away from Earth and it’s full of aliens.  It’s due out in Fall 2013.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions!

13 Little Blue Envelopes (by Maureen Johnson)

20 12 2010

Cute flimsy holiday reading. That’s the most positive I can be about Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes. Johnson’s style is clear, concise… predictable. The story about a 17-year-old American girl alone on a trip through Europe in search of her dead Aunt Peg’s legacy (and in doing so, in search of herself, of course) is straightforward, though it’s hardly very realistic. This is the 2nd Maureen Johnson book I have read, and again I have the feeling that Johnson completely underestimates her readership. Teens really can handle a bit more than just light fluff. Read the rest of this entry »

Paper Towns (by John Green)

3 11 2010

Warning: 1) text contains spoilers and 2) is not just a regular review…

Who is Margo Roth Spiegelman? This is the question that’s been holding Quentin’s attention for as long as he’s known her. For a while there – before dead men in parks and middle school spoiled everything – they were best friends. Tonight, however, she once again needs Q’s help in an ultimate revenge plan against everyone who’s wronged her.  This is the lead-in to the mysterious quest into the disappearance of Margo Roth Spiegelman.

After Margo’s disappearance act (was it all an act?) Q is convinced she’s left clues for him and he sets out to discover who she really was/is. The search for Margo, however, leads to a search for himself as Margo’s last name, Spiegelman (‘Spiegel’ means mirror in German and Dutch), seems to suggest: Margo is Q’s mirror. When Q looks at her, what’s reflected to him is not only what he wants to see in Margo, but also everything he wants to be himself. Read the rest of this entry »

Lies (by Michael Grant)

25 10 2010

What Numbers lacked in excitement and suspense, Lies, the 3rd installment in Michael Grant’s Gone series, has in bucketloads. Undoubtedly, anyone reading this book will not be new to the series, and already knows what to expect. They will not be disappointed: action, fire, freaks and normals. Once again, it’s all there.

The initial idea of the Gone series is reminiscent of such classics as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Stephen King’s The Stand. In this case: what happens to kids when they are thrown together in a bubble of horrors and are forced to be completely self-sufficient? Will they show sympathy towards each other? Will they help each other? Will they fight amongst each other? Will everything turn to complete chaos or will certain rules be put in place and will we see a society based on certain norms and values? Add to that a supernatural component (‘Humans’ vs ‘Freaks’) and you have a potential explosive mix. And exploding it does… a lot. Read the rest of this entry »

Numbers (by Rachel Ward)

21 10 2010

I don’t get it. Adventure? Check! Crime they didn’t commit? Check! Runaway misunderstood teens? Check! Underage sex? Check! Excitement…. Zilch! This book is supposed to be an exciting and thrilling ride from beginning to end, but instead… it’s just plain dull.

Jem is a psychic. Well, at least, she ‘sees’ numbers. Experience has taught her the numbers she sees with her mind’s eye (you know, she can only see them when she looks you in the eye) are the dates when people die. Jem knew her mom would die even before she OD’d and left Jem pretty much on her own. Obviously a traumatic experience for any teenager, but for Jem knowing everyone’s death date is a curse she has to deal with on top of the usual social services misery.  Enter Spider, caught up in trouble wherever he goes and of course our protagonist’s love interest. Luckily, Spider also has a dear old Nan who recognizes Jem’s burden. That doesn’t stop the 2 of them to end up in a bundle of trouble and suspected of a terrorist attack on the London Eye, they run away…

Now, when a supposedly adventurous cat-and-mouse game is as boring as watching Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady; when a initial interesting idea (the numbers as a metaphor into everyman’s need to foresee and/or prevent their own death) just never takes off; when all the side characters in the book are flat, completely one-dimensional and unconvincing at best , then you can bet your catnip that this cat will not read Numbers 2.


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