Friday, August 9, 2013

Two Great Books That Eat Well Together

What do picture book The Day the Crayons Quit and middle grade novel Counting by 7s have in common? Absolutely nothing.

Except that they’re both published by Penguin, and that I got to hobnob with illustrator Oliver Jeffers (of Crayons fame) and author Holly Goldberg Sloan (7s) at a promotional dinner at ALA in Chicago. They were witty; they sparkled; between courses, they had the audience in stitches.

Look at Oliver. This should surprise no one. 

Doesn't Holly look like your best friend since forever? That's what meeting her feels like. 

Here, then, for your dining pleasure, are their books.

In The Day the Crayons Quit (a New York Times #1 bestseller! Give a cheer!), Duncan’s crayons have had enough. They’ve been overused and underappreciated, they’ve colored outside the lines, and they dream of different things to draw. Each crayon complains to Duncan through a series of letters accompanied by Jeffers’s illustrations (in crayon, of course). Twelve hilarious crayons create a colorful (ahem) cast of personalities and grievances. Woebegone Black, for instance, pines for a black beach ball to color, while overworked Red and Blue are at their wits’ end. The entire 49-cent box has a swelling sense of empowerment kids will appreciate and parents will giggle at – it’s collective bargaining, Crayola style. Filmmaker/author Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers skewer clich├ęd coloring with tongue-in-cheek encouragement to think outside the box. Recommended for readers – and artists – of all ages. A fabulous gift for preschoolers through second graders who are sampling the delights – and the power – of drawing and writing. Find it at your local bookstore.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan was a story I couldn’t leave behind when it ended. I moped around for days, wishing I could go back into Willow Chase’s life for a while. I woke up insanely early on a Saturday morning to finish it before the other inmates of the Berry home could devour my attention, and if you know me, you’ll know how reluctantly I relinquish my Saturday sleep-in. This is a book well worth any sleep it costs you.

In this contemporary middle grade novel, girl genius and middle school outsider Willow Chase’s comforting, orderly world of gardens, diagnosing medical maladies, and counting by sevens vanishes in a moment when her parents’ death by car crash leaves her utterly alone. Grief overwhelms her, but like a stubborn seedling determined to break through tough soil, Willow grows, gradually, almost imperceptibly, as she constructs for herself the unlikeliest of new families.

Willow’s resolve knits together a motley crew, at times most unwillingly. There’s Willow’s fiery older friend Mai Nguyen; Mai’s surly brother Quang-ha, and their force-of-nature mother Pattie; Jairo, the taxi driver trying to pull himself up by his bootstraps; and Dell Duke, a professional underachiever, slob bachelor, and delinquent school counselor. Holly weaves these masterfully specific and memorable characters into a compassionate, warm, at times hilarious narrative. The writing is lovely; the people will never leave you. An engrossing and tender novel for middle schoolers on up through teens and adults; a book that absolutely should top your gift-giving list for young readers. Counting By 7s releases August 29th, 2013; pre-order it now through your local bookstore.

To quote, as I so often do, "Guy" from Galaxy Quest, "I'm just jazzed to be on the show," rubbing elbows on the same list with books like these. Enjoy. And get used to me talking about these books, because that's what I'll be doing everywhere I go this fall.

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