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IMG_0564I read the first Percy Jackson book years ago, and don’t remember much beyond the monster fights, but when I had an opportunity to see the musical based on Rick Riordan’s series, I couldn’t resist. How on earth were they going to pull off all the special effects?

As it turns out, the musical’s low-budget vibe may be its greatest selling point. Staged at the Lucille Lortel Theater—a tiny, no-frills space—the cast and crew reveled in their underdog status. The minimalist set consisted of scaffolding that could have been stolen from any NYC sidewalk. And the costumes—especially the papier-mâché monster heads—looked like something assembled from the contents of a Michaels store. A centaur costume is achieved with nothing more than a stringy tail and strategic prancing. A simple cart doubles as a bus and a motorcycle. And the swords were definitely covered in aluminum foil. There’s even a throwaway line about the tackiness of off-Broadway plays. Since the book itself is so ridiculous, with new monsters and mythical creatures appearing every page, the musical embraces that feel, and the reality of its budget, by not taking itself too seriously. No money for a fight choreographer? Stage every fight scene in semi-darkness, with flashing lights, lots of yelling and clanking sword sounds. Our imaginations will fill in the rest.

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wind and firedarkestpartofforest

The first time Sarah Rees Brennan read A Tale of Two Cities, she dropped it in the bathtub because it made her so upset. Too bad it was a first edition copy that belonged to her grandmother.

Family trauma aside, Brennan liked the book so much she ended up writing a retelling, she explained on Thursday during a talk at Brookline Booksmith. Holly Black (author of the wonderful Doll Bones) was also there, but most of the conversation revolved around Brennan’s Tell the Wind and Fire.

As Brennan sees it, the beauty of a retelling is the opportunity to both praise and insult the original author. She kept what she liked from Dickens’ novel (the basic plot, a sad ending, the key characters) and threw out the bad stuff. Most importantly, while Dickens’ Lucie Manette rarely talks and has no agency (she’s too busy fainting in carriages, Brennan noted, but “I’m pretty sure ladies could talk back then.”), Brennan makes Lucie the protagonist. And she definitely talks (she also fights, and does powerful magic). Brennan then took Dickens’ weakest plot point–the coincidental resemblance between Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay–and makes it integral to the plot, by giving Lucie’s boyfriend a doppelganger created by magic. (more…)

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AllBattlingBooksPairs-400px

Credit: SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Books

It’s almost time for my favorite kidlit event of the year: SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. This year’s a bit tough, because I know nothing about most of the judges. I’ve only read the books of four of the judges: Frances Hardinge, Cece Bell, Mariko Tamaki and Ann M. Martin. So my predictions are even more random than usual. Here goes…

ROUND ONE

3/7 Judge Michael Buckley
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler vs Challenger Deep 

3/8 Judge Maris Wicks
Drowned City vs Echo 

3/9 Judge Melanie Crowder
Gone Crazy in Alabama vs Goodbye Stranger 

3/10 Judge Erin Kelly Entrada
The Hired Girl vs I Crawl Through It 

3/14 Judge Tim Federle
The Marvels vs Most Dangerous 

3/15 Judge Frances Hardinge
My Seneca Village vs Nest

–I’m counting on Hardinge to choose the book that least resembles the types of books she writes. It’s worth a shot, especially since I found Nest a bit lacking in character development.

3/16 Judge Cece Bell
Nimona vs Rhythm Ride 

–I’m using the opposite reasoning here with Cece Bell. Besides, Nimona is fantastic.

3/17 Judge Pamela S. Turner
Symphony for the City of the Dead vs X: A Novel (more…)

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20150911_191359I’ve been terribly delinquent about writing up the Jack Gantos talk I attended a few weeks ago, when he came to Porter Square Books to promote his latest novel/memoir, The Trouble In Me.

Gantos being Gantos, he took a long, meandering path toward explaining his book. It took him 15 minutes to mention Trouble. First, he summarized his writing process (fountain pen and paper), and how every book crystallizes through the messy process of jotting down random ideas and observations in a journal, which he carries everywhere. Somehow he transitioned from this to reminiscing about his childhood, and the day he stood on the U.S.S. Intrepid watching a military plane explode in the sky after a mechanical failure (no one was hurt–the pilot parachuted safely down). His father’s naval career features quite prominently in Trouble, not to mention Dead End in Norvelt.

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Once again, it’s time to test my non-existent powers of divination. I know so little about most of this year’s judges that it’s truly a tossup for most of the matches. So here goes:

Round One

Brown Girl Dreaming vs Children of the King, Judge: Holly Black

–the Newbery curse strikes again!

The Crossover vs Egg & SpoonJudge: Isabel Quintero

El Deafo vs The Family Romanov, Judge: Elizabeth Rusch

–the hardest one yet. I basically flipped a coin.

Grasshopper Jungle vs The Key that Swallowed Joey PigzaJudge: Jo Knowles

The Madman of Piney Woods vs Poisoned Apples, Judge: G. Neri

The Port Chicago 50 vs The Story of Owen, Judge: Rachel Hartman

This One Summer vs A Volcano Beneath the Snow, Judge: Nathan Hale

–I wasn’t a big fan of either book, but Volcano was too long and read at times like a textbook, so I’m counting on This One Summer’s artwork to give it the win

We Were Liars vs West of the Moon, Judge: Kelly Barnhill

Round Two

Children of the King vs Egg & Spoon, Judge: Jason Reynolds

El Deafo vs The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza, Judge: Cat Winters

The Madman of Piney Woods vs Port Chicago 50, Judge: Elizabeth Wein

This One Summer vs West of the Moon, Judge: Alaya Dawn Johnson

Round Three

Children of the King vs El Deafo, Judge: Kekla Magoon

The Madman of Piney Woods vs West of the Moon, Judge: Marcus Sedgewick

The Undead Revealed

I think Brown Girl Dreaming and El Deafo have high hopes of getting the most votes, with The Family Romanov as a possible runner-up. So that means the final round will be:

The Closing Battle

El Deafo vs The Madman of Piney Woods vs Brown Girl Dreaming, Judge Clare Vanderpool

And I’m giving the win to Madman of Piney Woods, for no other reason than a steadfast belief in the Newbery Curse. May it finally be broken this year…

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thecontenders_rev-300x285I’m a bit behind this year on BoB contenders, but of the 13 I’ve read so far (everything except A Volcano Beneath the Snow, This One Summer, Egg & Spoon), here are the ones I’d love to see as the winner–or at least a top 3/Undead winner.

Brown Girl Dreaming, Children of the King, El Deafo: I’m always keen to see middle grade books triumph, and these three are incredible. Besides, we haven’t had a MG winner since Okay for Now in 2012.

The Family Romanov, Port Chicago 50: we need more nonfiction winners (the last one was Marching for Freedom in 2010), and both are highly worthy.

Story of Owen: my favorite, by far, of the YA contenders. Why? Because it’s a TRAP!

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Tomie dePaola

my rendition of Tomie dePaola, give or take a couple pen strokes

This year, the Leslie Riedel Memorial Lecture brought beloved author and illustrator Tomie dePaola, whose career in children’s book spans fifty years, to the Concord Free Public Library on Saturday. In attendance were a handful of children and rows of adults. The adults may have had more fun.

DePaola is the kind of guest you hope for at dinner parties. With an impish grin, a ready laugh, and impeccable delivery, he had us in stitches the entire evening. From his perch on a plump leather swivel chair, dePaola regaled us with sassy unfiltered anecdotes from his life. Topics of conversation ranged from what theater and picture books have in common, to how he got his start as an author, to his most infuriating picture book pet peeves.

Below are some memorable moments from the event: (more…)

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