Friday, August 28, 2009

Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat

Edited by Nikki Giovanni

I wish Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2008) had been around when I was in elementary school. For most of my life I had a blind spot when it came to poetry, because nobody, not even a teacher or a librarian, introduced me to good poetry. If I had been introduced to poetry through Hip Hop Speaks to Children as a child, I know I would have been made a poetry lover much earlier in life.

Hip Hop Speaks to Children is an amazing collection of more than 50 poems and songs by poets and artists like Jacqueline Woodson, Gwendolyn Brooks, A Tribe Called Quest, Gary Soto, Kanye West, Langston Hughes, Queen Latifah, Mos Def, Charles R. Smith Jr., Maya Angelou, Walter Dean Myers, Lauryn Hill, James Berry, and W.E.B. Du Bois. These poems and songs with great rhythm come with an introduction by the book's editor, Nikki Giovanni - an introduction that really opened my eyes to the history and significance of hip hop.

And it's not just the literature in the book that has a beat. The book design, from the different fonts to the different layouts, and the illustrations by Kristen Balouch, Michele Noiset, Jeremy Tugeau, Alicia Vergel de Dios, Damian Ward, and Caroline Wolf are all fresh, colorful, and alive. The book also comes with an audio CD of more than 30 performances of the poems and songs.

I highly recommend this book, especially for children who are reluctant poetry readers. (I should know, I used to be one of them!) Hip Hop Speaks to Children makes poetry fun, incredibly accessible, and meaningful for children.

[My copy of Hip Hop Speaks to Children was provided by the publisher.]

Check Book Aunt for this week's roundup of blog posts on poetry from around the kidlitosphere.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Goblins!: An UnderEarth Adventure by Royce Buckingham

Twelve-year-old Sam Hill is in the Sumas, Washington police station's only jail cell for stealing fireworks, but officer-in-residence John H. Myrmidon isn't there. He's on a search and rescue mission for missing climbers and it is his seventeen-year-old, wisecracking son PJ Myrmidon who is watching Sam when the alarm of a police motion detector goes off. PJ and Sam take the police car to the U.S.-Canadian border expecting to find illegal contraband smugglers have left in the U.S. so that they can drive through the U.S.-Canadian checkpoint without being bothered by customs. Instead of finding tax-free cigarettes and bundles of cash in small denominations, PJ and Sam find a human-like figure with black fur, yellow claws, yellow eyes, and long tusks. It is a goblin. A goblin that they run over, tase, and take back to the police station.

Once PJ and Sam have the goblin locked up, two people in leather armor and gray cloaks show up and kill it with their rapier swords. They turn out to be part of the Guardians of UnderEarth, a group of humans who have sworn to protect the upper world from goblins, who live underground. And this is all just the start of PJ and Sam's adventures!

Sam is very curious about the brave and mysterious Guardians, so he seeks out their secret tunnel, but is captured by goblins and taken to their city called Argh. In Argh, Sam is sent to the goblin arena and made to fight to entertain the goblins.

The crowd went quiet. Sam clutched his sword white-knuckled. The gate was much bigger than the one through which Sam had entered. Up, up, up it went, and out of the shadows stepped . . . a bug.

The bug looked like a beetle and was the size of a mouse. Sam looked past the insect into the shadows for his real opponent, but nothing was there. The small bug reared up on it hind legs to it full height of five or six inches, indignant and ready for battle.

Sam walked directly to it, dagger limp in his hand. The bug squared off, its forelegs raised to fight. The crowd held its breath. Sam frowned, then he shrugged, lifted his foot, and squished the insect into oblivion.


The crowd erupted in rumbly goblin cheers.

That is one of my favorite parts in Goblins!: An UnderEarth Adventure by Royce Buckingham (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2008). Don't be fooled by how funny the scene is though. Sam's buggy opponents inside and outside the arena get bigger and more dangerous. After some time in the arena, Sam is whisked off to the meat room - so that the goblins can eat him.

PJ and the Guardians also have to fight goblins and really gross, giant insects. They are on a mission to save Sam and to retake a Guardian fortress that was overrun by goblins. In the end, Sam, PJ, and the Guardians all face General Eww-Yuk and his younger brother Captain Slurp, who are fighting over the goblin leadership. (I kid you not about all the goblin names. There's even one named Guh-wat. LOL.)

Goblins! has great fast-paced, almost non-stop action, very interesting creatures like flesh-eating grass and an acid slug the size of a bus, several likable human and goblin characters who are also easy to sympathize/empathize with (especially Sam, who always gets into trouble but is really a good kid), goblin politics, and much, much more. There is plenty here to entertain young readers. However, many times PJ's teenspeak seems contrived. And I thought the story was going to bludgeon me over the head with its message about responsibility. (Like a goblin attacking a human with its spiked club made of woodrock.) It didn't. But there were times it came close enough to literally make me wince. Still, this is a fun and funny story I would recommend, most especially to middle graders - in fact, I already have!

[My copy of Goblins! was provided by Planned Television Arts.]

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

One Shot Southeast Asia

Hey! :o) Head on over to Chasing Ray for One Shot Southeast Asia. It's a great roundup of blog posts on books set in Southeast Asia and/or by authors from Southeast Asia. My own contribution to this celebration of multicultural literature is here.

Playing It Safe by G.T. Los Baños

A Filipino YA novel in English

"It all began that day we went up against the Mountaineers for the interclub university softball championship. I guess knocking a girl unconscious with a softball is just about as weird as it gets when it comes to starting any sort of relationship, but anyway, here's how things happened on that crazy, glorious afternoon:

The game was sort of a grudge match: the two toughest organizations on campus, the Mountaineers and my team, the Outsiders, squaring off for the school's interclub softball championship."

Playing It Safe by G.T. Los Baños (Cacho Publishing House, 2007) is about sports, university life, and relationships. It's about Jon Garcia, a sophomore college student on the varsity wrestling team, and Sheila Prado, a member of the same university's varsity swim team, and how Jon falls for and pursues Sheila... Or is about how Jon falls for and fails to pursue Sheila? After all, he does plays it safe. But everything goes Jon's way - until Sheila implies that she wants a bit of traditional Filipino courtship (flowers and the whole works), which Jon doesn't believe in.

For a love story, Playing It Safe is heavy on Jon's exposition, light on action and dialogue between him and Sheila or any other character. And on that note, Jon and Sheila's story has its cheesy moments. But I could not stop smiling while reading. I even had to stop every few pages because I would hunch over laughing. I was so amused and so entertained by Jon's story, and I found Jon and Sheila, their lives, and their relationship so interesting and so refreshing. (There aren't many Filipino YA novels in English about sports, university life, and relationships!) Plus, the writing is incredibly engaging. There's also the fact that Playing It Safe is a fun and accurate portrayal of life on a Philippine university campus. My only disappointment with this novella is all the typos. Apart from the bad proofreading, it is very good!

The ending of Playing It Safe is a real cliffhanger. I can imagine some readers will be dissatisfied with this and burn with curiosity about what happens with Jon and Sheila. I was satisfied with the ending because it raised great questions about, yes, playing it safe in relationships and about whether or not a little bit of traditional Filipino courtship is still desired and/or relevant.

[I bought my own copy of Playing It Safe. G.T. Los Baños was one of my college English teachers. He was so cool and such a good teacher that when my younger brother got to college, I recommended he take Mr. Los Baños' class. My brother really enjoyed his class too!]

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Planet of the Dogs by Robert J. McCarty

Illustrated by Stella Mustanoja McCarty

"And there came a time when the abundance and happiness found on Planet Earth were threatened by people like the warrior tribes of Stone City. They had forgotten how to love. They took food, coins and beautiful objects from people and often hurt them. Their numbers began to grow and soon they were taking the homes, land, and farms where peaceful people lived.

Where once there had been harmony and friendship, there was now fear, anger, and unhappiness. Something had to be done -- but what could anybody do? No one knew it at that time, but help would come from far, far away, from Planet of the Dogs."

Planet of the Dogs by Robert J. McCarty and illustrated by Stella Mustanoja McCarty (Barking Planet Productions, 2007) is about how dogs first came to Earth, specifically to a place called Green Valley, from their own planet on the other side of the sun. It is about how dogs won the hearts of children before winning over the hearts of adults. It is about how dogs started helping people protect their families, houses, farms, and animals. It is about how dogs started helping people with loneliness and sickness. And it all started when one day, a very long time ago, the dogs saw all the problems of people and decided to help them.

This is a simple and interesting story (most especially for dog lovers like me) and it has great illustrations. However, its life lessons are too overt. For example, the messages about how people have forgotten about love and how dogs teach people about love are explicit and repeated too many times in the narration and dialogue. This distracts from the story and makes the important message of love trite. Also, the dogs in the story are adorable, but the sweetness of their parts in the story is often saccharine.

Still, I think very young children will be tickled by this story. There is adventure and excitement when the Stone City warriors try to invade Green Valley and the dogs save the day. I can see very young children being entertained if Planet of the Dogs is read aloud to them.

[My copy of Planet of the Dogs was provided by the author.]

Saturday, August 08, 2009

New Cover for the US Edition of Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Remember this?

That was the original cover for the US edition of Liar by Justine Larbalestier, a young adult novel with a biracial (Black and White) main character. Yeah, I know. That cover model doesn't look biracial. In fact, in my opinion, that cover is downright RACIST. I won't rehash my opinions about it here - you can just read my letter to the book's publisher, Bloomsbury Children's USA.

Now, the good news is that Bloomsbury Children's USA has changed the cover! Check out the new cover below.

I know it's not perfect. I know they could have chosen a new cover model with darker skin. I know that she is very pretty while the main character of Liar is supposed to be someone who is sometimes mistaken for a man. And the publisher is still clinging to its lame excuses for the original cover. But I believe this new cover is much better than the original! I am very relieved and so happy about this change. :o)

Click here to read a Publisher's Weekly article about the cover change, and here to read Justine Larbalestier's take on it.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

"I Hate My Mother!": Magnetic levitation, a grain of rice & 3 women

A Filipino YA novel in English

"I Hate My Mother!": Magnetic levitation, a grain of rice & 3 women (Cacho Publishing House, 2007) introduces readers to finding a mother's wisdom in a grain of rice, the parallel between human relationships and magnets, and Bell, her mother, and her sister Cory.

This book made me happy. Not because it's a bright and cheery novel - in fact it has its funny moments but is mostly a serious novel. But because good books make me happy, and this is definitely a solidly good book.

I have heard once that children love their parents and then love them again as adults. "I Hate My Mother!" is about that time in between, when teenagers "hate" their parents. Written in that unique way Filipino teenagers use English, and generously peppered with Filipino words and phrases, "I Hate My Mother!" traces the transformation of Bell's awe of her mother's wisdom as a little girl to her bewilderment, annoyance, and frustration with her mother as a teenager.

But as the years went by, it only became harder for me to understand anything Mommy would say. Even in my most patient moments, no beam of light would shine on me or on Mommy's words. Parang* I was losing all capacity for understanding.

But then again, more and more, I would come to believe it was my Mom who was losing all her wisdom.


Kasi** while I was getting wiser, Mommy was getting dumber. Like she was losing the wisdom Dad always talked about when I was a little girl. And she was losing it fast.

In this novel, Perpilili Vivienne Tiongson gives readers an almost pitch perfect portrayal of the INEXPLICABLE rage many teenage girls feel towards their mother.

I just wanted to feel nothing. For once, to feel like nothing's the matter with my Mom. To just watch her walk across the hall, or even into our room, without having to avoid her, without having to pretend that I was too busy to talk to her or pretend I had not noticed her at all. To not cringe at the way she chewed her food when we sat at the dining table. To not shudder at the slightest touch of her hand on my back. To not ice over at the words "I love you."

There is no clear, neat, happy ending for this novel. No resolution between mother and daughter. But the ending does satisfy in that there is hope. And as one cannot help but get emotionally involved with the story, the ending is also satisfying because it gives readers plenty of room to work out their own thoughts and feelings.

Needless to say, I recommend this book!

Loose English translations of the words in Filipino:
*It was as if...

[I bought my own copy of "I Hate My Mother!".]