Monthly Archives: August 2008

Three Cheers for ‘My Mother the Cheerleader’

Alison Morris - August 29, 2008

So, my teenage sidekick, Katrina Van Amsterdam, is an exceedingly busy young woman — hence the reason you haven’t seen a review from her in a while. She is now charging forward into her senior year of high school and recently promised me that when she isn’t filling out college applications, she’ll be writing more reviews of the books she’s reading (and she is always reading!) and sending them my way. Here now is her review of a book that (as you’ll see) she felt she just had to cheer about.

My Mother the Cheerleader
by Robert Sharenow
(Harper Teen, hardcover April 2007, coming in paperback February 2009)

Haunting. Brutal. Evocative. After reading this debut novel by Robert Sharenow, I’m still reeling from the impact of its power. My Mother The Cheerleader occurs in 1960 in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, where integration has just begun to be enforced. For 13-year-old Louise, desegregation has deeply affected her life. Her mother is a Cheerleader, one of the women who taunt and verbally abuse Ruby Bridges, the only black girl attending Louise’s elementary school. But when Morgan Miller, a northerner with ties to New Orleans, stays as a guest in Louise’s mother’s boarding house, Louise’s view of the world is turned upside down.

With Louise’s narration, Sharenow breathes life into the tumultuous world of 1960. The simplicity and sincerity of his writing is unlike that of any other author I’ve read recently. And after finishing this book, it is impossible not to believe in the lingering power of words. Not only is the writing phenomenal, but the story itself is a masterpiece. Sharenow takes stereotypes that other authors use — the white-trash mother; the grumpy, senile old man; the racist Southern bigot; the old black woman — and molds them into characters that could be real people. But the message of the story is what will stay with me long after I’ve put this book back on my shelf: being courageous means different things for different individuals.

I don’t think that I could do this novel justice simply by writing a review. So I implore you, readers of all ages, to take the time to read My Mother The Cheerleader. I promise you that it will be an unforgettable experience.

Some Font-themed Fun

Alison Morris - August 27, 2008

My friend, colleague, and fellow font junkie Elizabeth Wolfson introduced me to this rather entertaining video today, in which a conference of  the world’s best known fonts is rather rudely interrupted. Unfortunately, even its beneficial role in this story’s outcome does nothing to improve my feelings about Comic Sans. I CAN’T STAND THAT FONT!! I do, however, feel a new fondness for Wingdings.

A Gold Star for Flux Covers

Alison Morris - August 26, 2008

Today I received a catalog from Flux whose website describes them as "an imprint dedicated to fiction for teens, where young adult is a point of view, not a reading level." What first jumped out at me was the cover of their catalog, which is pictured at right. (Click on it to see a larger image.) The iconic image of a girl reading a book while perched in a skull’s eye socket is… suprisingly un-creepy. And very bold. And quite hip. The color scheme of the image also calls to mind the Twilight series, which is certainly not a bad connection to make with YA readers right now.

THIS DOES NOT MEAN, THOUGH, THAT I WANT TO SEE A SPATE OF RED, BLACK AND WHITE COVERS!! All you marketing folks who just picked up your pens to write "Design all YA covers in red, black and white!" should put those pens down RIGHT now, because that is a TERRIBLE idea! Don’t do it! Okay? Okay. Thank you. Now back to the subject of my post…

The cover of the Flux catalog is a slight variation on the cover design for a forthcoming Flux novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King (February 2009). On the book’s cover, the socket-sitter is resting her right index finger on the top of a model ship (a reference to the novel’s pirating theme) rather than a piece of literature. I have to say, I’ve seen a lot of pirate book covers (including ones featuring girl pirates), but this might be only one I could truly refer to as "pirate chic." The title doesn’t quite stand out enough from the black background for my taste and I find that "G" rather hard to read, but that could just be because I’m seeing it reproduced so much smaller, or because the color of my monitor is slightly off, or because I’m nitpicking. Which is what I do when it comes to design. On the whole, I think this cover is a good one, and I dig it.

I was also impressed by some of the other cover designs I saw in Flux’s catalog and on their website. Ironically, one of the ones that caught my eye features a silhouette, which (as you loyal readers already know) can be a real turn-off for me, especially when the silhouettes are running and when they’re already featured on so many spy/action/adventure novels that no one truly stands out from the others. Unlike those I highlighted in a previous post, the silhouette on the cover of Girl, Hero by Carrie Jones (August 2008) is one that really works for me. First, the shape of the silhouette says, "girl with style," which to me says "YA appeal." Second, the pose of the silhouette says "girl with attitude" which to me says, "YA appeal." And third, the silhouette’s shadow is the shape of a gunslinger with drawn pistols, which to me says, "kickin’ ass and takin’ names" which (again) says "YA appeal." The mixed color, two-font title typography is working for me too. In short, I REALLY dig this cover.

Not all of the covers Flux has produced are as iconic as these first two, which is a good thing, as I don’t think iconic images work for all books, and I’d certainly be bored with with any house who used such designs on everything. Flux’s designers certainly seem inclined to "mix it up a bit," which I appreciate. I love the odd, painterly qualities of the cover of The Shape of Water by Anne Spollen (April 2008), for example. And The Way He Lived by Emily Wing Smith (November 2008) looks artsy-smartsy, but in a very appealing way. Then there’s the cover of Antony John’s Busted (October 2008), which is more narrative than any of the others and sets you up perfectly for the book’s content. You know exactly what type of character and/or behavior you’re going to find on this book’s pages, which is like the perfect little handselling shortcut. We booksellers love it when the cover of a book does half the work of its jacket copy.


I haven’t actually read any of these books, so I can’t give Flux a gold star for quality of content and writing. (And I don’t know a single person who works there or publishes with them, scout’s honor!) And it’s true that not ALL of their book covers knocked my socks off. But on the whole I was really impressed with the number of covers they’ve created that DON’T look like the hundreds of others currently crowding our store’s shelves. I like that they’re producing some designs that are a little bit different and a lot teen-friendly. For these reasons, I’m giving them a gold star!

Punctuation Problems and Cake Wrecks

Alison Morris - August 25, 2008

Imagine ordering a cake for your daughter’s baby shower only to pick it up and find that not one but TWO of the three words you asked to have written on the cake had been misspelled. Such was the case for one of the many people (see photo at right) whose cake disasters are represented on the painfully funny blog my friend Joyce Farnsworth introduced me to last week. Cake Wrecks, as it’s called, features professional cakes gone "horribly, hilariously wrong." And a surprising number of them "went wrong" because someone in the bakeshop spelled something incorrectly or used bizarre punctuation.

I’d forgotten that misused (or rather, unnecessary) quotation marks could be so entertaining until I saw the cake pictured below, which is featured in a post appropriately titled "Gee, thanks, ‘kids’."

Lots of people, though, apparently find errors in spelling and punctuation entertaining enough to have started blogs for the sole sake of calling attention to those that appear in public. Take a look at the "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks, for example, on which appears the photo that’s pasted below.

Fellow Bostonians may recognize some of the sights and signs that appear on Apostrophe Castastrophes, a blog created by the daughter of local children’s book author Jane Sutton. Becky is not above calling out even the most sacred of children’s books for its missing apostrophes. Take a peek at her post about Goodnight Moon.

Blogs similar to Becky’s (which has the best name of the apostrophe lot!) include Aspostrophe Abuse and Apostrophism. Widening the scope a bit, there are errors of every shape and size over at the English Fail Blog. And then, of course, there’s If you haven’t visited this site before, I recommend setting aside some time before you do so. And be sure you’re in a place where people won’t object to your guffawing loudly.

Of course, if you’re a punctuation eagle-eye who’s in the habit of actually altering the typos you see in public, let me warn you that not everyone takes kindly to unsolicited copy editing. The National Park Service recently took issue with the actions of a pair calling themselves the Typo Eradication Advancement League and the duo found themselves in some rather hot water.

But at least they weren’t in "hot" water. Or hot "water."

Penguin Classics Adorn Useful Objects

Alison Morris - August 22, 2008

The last time I was in London, two and a half years ago, my nerdy heart was won over by a MUG, of all things, which I felt the need to bring back as a stupidly expensive souvenir for me + another pair to give as gifts. What was printed on the mug? The old classic Penguin Books cover of Pride and Prejudice, as you might have guessed from the photo at right. The store where I bought these mugs had a few other designs in stock at the time, but I went the Austen route, thinking it’d make the perfect accompaniment to many cups of tea. As it has.

Now that there are MANY other designs in this Penguin mug line, though, I can’t help wondering if my P&P cup isn’t a little lonely in its cabinet? Were the exchange rate not so ghastly I might try to arrange for it to become part of a set. Or perhaps part of a SEAT. (Read on….)

Recently I learned that the design group Art Meets Matter, which created my beloved mug, has come up with another something to woo readers: deck chairs, featuring Penguin Books covers printed on cotton canvas stretched across a wooden frame. There are a handful in the original striped classics design, and a few sporting covers from Agatha Christie and James Bond covers too.

HAD I a beach house, a yard, or a deck, I’d be coveting one of these, but what Gareth and I have is a windy balcony, destined to turn any of these chairs into a VERY expensive kite! I will therefore have to miss the pleasure of dozing off on an oversized cover of The Big Sleep, turning the pages atop The Common Reader, or sitting on a good mystery. Perhaps one of you can let me know how that goes?

I’m going to picture myself in this scene, below, the next time I start going stir-crazy within the windowless walls of my office… sigh.

Publishing People: Tell Us What You’re Reading!

Alison Morris - August 20, 2008

This week, I’m asking ShelfTalker readers to tell the world what it is they’re reading "for pleasure" these days. In Monday’s post I asked booksellers, librarians, and teachers chime in. Yesterday’s post solicited responses from authors and illustrators. Today’s post is reserved for people in publishing! Whether you’re in editorial, marketing, human resources, or work in the warehouse, you’re invited to tell us what you’re reading right here.

BUT THERE IS ONE CATCH! This is the space where you’re supposed to tell us what you’re reading for PLEASURE, not for work. In other words, this is NOT an open invitation for you to promote a book you’re publishing — give a nod to another house for a change. Please take off your marketing hats, and talk to us as fellow readers!

To get you started I’ve asked Jeannette Larson (editorial director of picture books at Harcourt Children’s Books) to talk about what she’s been reading. Jeannette says:

"I just started reading Haven Kimmel’s The Solace of Leaving Early, which I picked up because I’d liked her memoir A Girl Named Zippy some years back. Zippy was full of funny charm; the novel is a more haunting small-town story that starts off with a death; both are full of wonderful language."

Now it’s time for the rest of you! Have at it!

Authors and Illustrators: Tell Us What You’re Reading!

Alison Morris - August 19, 2008

This week, I’m asking ShelfTalker readers to tell the world what it is they’re reading "for pleasure" these days. In yesterday’s post I asked booksellers, librarians, and teachers to chime in. Tomorrow I’ll be asking the same of folks in publishing. Today, though, is reserved for responses from authors and illustrators. What are you folks currently reading?

To get the ball rolling with your group, I asked the author/illustrator at my house (how convenient!) to tell us what he’s reading. Gareth Hinds says:

"I’m in the middle of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves (an advance reader’s copy). Like the first volume I find it exceedingly well-written, well-researched, full of serious ideas, and intellectually stimulating. I don’t really find it to be a page-turner, though there is more action than in the first book. The last graphic novel I read was the exquisite rumination on mortality, The Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa."

Okay, fellow authors and illustrators, now it’s your turn!

Booksellers, Librarians, Teachers: Tell Us What You’re Reading!

Alison Morris - August 18, 2008

Just as I assume that most, if not all, of you reading this blog already subscribe to PW’s "Children’s Bookshelf," I assume that most of you reading this blog already subscribe to "Notes from the Horn Book," the Horn Book‘s monthly electronic newsletter. If not, I recommend subscribing (for free!) right now. I’m a big fan of material presented in a clean, well-organized, easy-to-parse way, and like the oatmeal in Baby Bear’s bowl, this one’s "just right."

For the August issue, Roger Sutton asked several writer friends (and one editor — the amazing Virginia Duncan) what they’re currently reading "for their off-the-clock summer reading." I really enjoyed their responses, and that got me wondering what books OTHER folks currently have on their bedside tables (or in their totebags, on their beach chairs, etc.), now that it’s summer when (theoretically) people are finding more time to read. (Would that that were so for me!)

Today I’m inviting booksellers, librarians, and teachers  to chime in with their answers to this question. Tomorrow, it’ll be the authors’ and illustrators’ turn. Wednesday, all you folks in the publishing world get to give your answers.

I’ll go first, to get the ball rolling: As I’ve already confessed to being a serial monogamist when it comes to reading, I’ve got just one book to share. I’m about halfway through A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg (Random House, June 2008), which I am very much enjoying! I had the great pleasure of meeting Shana at a Random House dinner in Boston last week, and she’s just as personable (and likeable) as the characters in this, her first novel. I’ll say more about the book once I’ve finished it. (Perhaps when I finally write reviews on ALL the books I’ve been reading lately and failing to write about here! Oy!)

Now, fellow booksellers, librarians, and teachers? It’s your turn.

(A quick reminder to everyone that the commenting feature on this site is completely aggravating, but it DOES work — usually on the second try! Type your comment in the box then highlight it and copy it to your clipboard [CTRL-C] before you take the little "type the letters you see" test. That way if the page comes up again and your comment has NOT been posted, you can just paste your text back into the box again [CTRL-V] without having to recreate the wording you came up with the first time. Take the letters test again, and…? Hopefully the second time’s the charm!)

Wall Scrawl: What Book Would Be Your Worst Nightmare?

Alison Morris - August 15, 2008

In my July 2nd "Wall Scrawl" post, I asked what book you’d like to call home. Let’s flip that question on its head now and ask this question from the "graffiti stall": 

In what book would you be most horrified to take up residence? In other words, life in what book depicts your worst nightmare?

My answer? Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews.

And you know what else horrifies me? THE COVER PICTURED BELOW, which makes it look like a romance novel!! THIS. IS. NOT. OKAY!

Oh you poor unsuspecting teens picking up this sunny-looking story… STAY AWAY!!


Why Are Olympic Sports Absent from Fiction?

Alison Morris - August 14, 2008

I’m shamefacedly hooked on watching the Olympics this year, staying up much too late to get my fix of swimming, gymnastics, or whatever events happened to be featured on a given evening. I’ve been particularly keen to catch a few of the U.S. women’s field hockey games, because a close high school friend, Kate Reisinger, is one of the team’s managers, and I think it’d be so completely cool to just catch even a glimpse of her on the sidelines! During our senior year of high school Kate and I co-captained the varsity field hockey team, along with our friend Colleen. Field hockey was a HUGE part of our lives every fall. We had a coach, Anna Baldini, for whom we’d have done almost ANYTHING. She was amazing! Fantastic! And about as entertaining as any human being has a right to be.

I was recalling all of my best field hockey memories the other day and realizing, though, that I haven’t seen any of them represented in any of the middle grade or young adult fiction that I’ve read. At least, not that I can recall… And that got me thinking about all the other sports that are popular with kids in various parts of the country or even throughout the country that just don’t make many appearances in novels nowadays (not counting those included in the Matt Christopher books or Jake Maddox books or other sports-specific series). This surprised me. And it disappointed me too. With all the books coming out these days, shouldn’t we see a bigger range/better mix of sports being represented in children’s and young adult fiction?

I can name countless novels about kids playing baseball, many about kids playing football or basketball, some about kids playing soccer or kids riding horses (though the books really about equestrians almost all feature girls), and a few about kids playing softball (again, girls). When it comes to swimming, things get harder. Tennis? Diving? Trickier still. Lacrosse? Gymnastics? Almost nill. Archery? Forget it, unless it’s historical. Ice skating? Ice hockey? I could go on.

Or where are the books about kids who play three or four sports a year—a different one each season? Most really athletic kids tend to play one sport in the fall, one in the winter, and one in the spring. Where are the books about kids like them?

What I’d like to see most are books that are not about kids playing one of these oft-played, less-often-featured-in-fiction sports but books in which a kid happens to play one of them. In other words, I’d love to read a novel about a girl’s struggles with the social scene in which she blows off some of her frustration at field hockey practice. Or a book about a boy adjusting to a new school who starts fencing while he’s there. It’s always a bonus when a book will appeal to kids interested in a particular sport, but where other kids unfamiliar with it won’t get lost in all the sports chatter. You don’t have to know or love soccer, for example, to love Tangerine by Edward Bloor, in which soccer is a big part of the main character’s life. Even if you hate basketball, you’ll still love Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, in which there are some great basketball-playing scenes. I’m no equestrian, but my friend Kim Ablon Whitney’s book The Perfect Distance held my attention from start to finish, as did Carolyn Coman’s Many Stones, in which the main character is a swimmer.

Listed below are all the sports in the current Summer Olympic games and the upcoming (September) Summer Paralympic Games, plus those in the 2010 Winter Olympic games and 2010 Winter Paralympic Games, to get you authors and publishers thinking, scheming, writing, acquiring. A novel about judo, anyone? Or how about wheelchair curling? You might laugh, but if someone could write a book about wheelchair curling that’s even a fraction as compelling as Murderball, the award-winning documentary about quadripelegic rugby players, we’d have a real winner on our hands/shelves. That’s the kind of book to which I’d like to give a gold medal.


Beach Volleyball
Field Hockey
Modern Pentathalon
Rhythmic Gymnastics
Synchronized Swimming
Table Tennis
Track & Field
Water Polo

Alpine Skiing
Cross-Country Skiing
Figure Skating
Freestyle Skiing
Ice Hockey
Ice Sledge Hockey
Nordic Combined
Short Track Speed Skating
Ski Jumping
Speed Skating 


Football 5-a-side
Football 7-a-side
Table tennis
Wheelchair basketball
Wheelchair Fencing
Wheelchair Rugby
Wheelchair Tennis


Alpine skiing
Ice sledge hockey
Nordic skiing
Cross-country skiing
Wheelchair curling