Cress (and the Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer

I’ve been reading work by Marissa Meyer for over a decade now, I used to read her Sailor Moon fanfiction. So when I learned she was writing a YA SFF book with lunar references and had fairy tale themes (I love fairy tale adaptations), I knew I had to read her books. I read the first book, Cinder, and loved it. Now we’re up to the third book in the four book series, Cress, and it’s holding up just as well as the first.

Each of the books focuses on a different female protagonist taken from famous fairy tales: Cinder is quite obviously Cinderella (with a cyborg foot instead of a glass slipper), Scarlet is Red Riding Hood (where the wolf isn’t necessarily the bad guy), and Cress is Rapunzel (locked in a satellite instead of a tower). Next up will be Winter, who is a black Snow White.

I love the fairy tale twists of the series, but also the clear Sailor Moon references (which itself is very fairy tale-esque) like the missing moon princess, the evil queen who wants to take over earth, the handsome prince who dreams of finding the lost princess, and each of the girls has traits of different Sailor Scouts: Cinder is very Moon, but also very Jupiter with her ponytail and tomboyish nature, Scarlet reminds me of Mars a little bit but she also likes food, which is very Jupiter, and Cress is kinda flighty and dramatic like Venus (with long blonde hair), but also tech genius like Mercury. I can’t wait to figure out which scouts Winter is like.

Cress is a great continuation of the story as it’s already unfolded. The usurper Lunar Queen, Levana, wants to take over earth, so she’s blackmailing the Emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth into marrying her so she has power. Cinder, the proper ruler of Luna, is on the run from Lenava’s army, while trying to figure out how to save the Emperor, who she has a thing for.

Meanwhile, Cress just wants to be free of her satellite and her “mistress.” Cinder and the gang (Scarlet and Wolf, Iko the awesome, friendly android, and Carswell Thorne–dashing, rogue thief) try to save Cress. Everyone gets separated. Cress and Thorne get knocked off her satellite down to the desert, Cinder and Wolf head to Africa, and Scarlet is kidnapped by the Lunar mistress. By the end, only Scarlet remains separated from the group, but she’s making “friends” with the poor “crazy” Winter, Levana’s step-daughter. The others decide to kidnap Emperor Kai, so that Levana can’t marry him and cement her power on Earth. The group then heads to Luna to begin a revolution, with Cinder as it’s leader and future queen, perhaps.

The books are clever, fun, lighthearted while yet maintaining heart and a heaviness whenever a character has died (once per book at least!). The characters are clear and fun and there are no pesky love triangles distracting us from wanting everyone to be friends (though each of the girls does have a prince and I definitely love that).

(Now that we know that Winter is black, I can’t wait to see what they do with her fairy tale themed cover!)

I fell in love with the first book and had to wait the excruciating year before each next installment. The Lunar Chronicles are one of the few books where I ignore everything–work, tv, the constant distractions of the internet, to plow through the book. It’s rare that books make me read them outside of forced train rides, and I really miss that feeling. I tried to wait as long as I could without reading it, but I haven’t made it longer than two months post-release before grabbing the next installment. While we seem stuck in this endless cold weather, the only two things that can make me ache for “winter” are Game of Thrones and The Lunar Chronicles.

Is it Winter 2015 yet?

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The Golden Hour by Maiya Williams

The Golden Hour was a great page-turner. I started it one night and was halfway through by about 2/3am. I really like time travel and, while the French Revolution isn’t an era of history that I love exploring, Maiya Williams made me able to enjoy it. There was something a bit old school in the style of adventure, very Edward Eager, whose Magic series books I read as a child, involving magic and time.

In the book, Rowan Popplewell and his sister visit their great aunts in a small (fictional) town in Maine. Their mother died a year ago and it’s been rough going. Nina, the sister, doesn’t speak and no longer plays the piano. While there, they meet up with twins, Xavier and Xanthe, who are black (!!!) and the four of them adventure to the local creepy hotel, where Xavier swears he saw ghosts. The aunts, the mysterious characters they are—with their shining new “antiques”—slyly encourage Rowan to visit the hotel, despite his reservations. The hotel turns out to be a portal. Otto, the concierge, doesn’t book stays, he books trips to anywhere in the past, as long as it’s the same day you’re traveling. But you can only travel twice a day, at Golden Hour, the time when the sun is setting and everything is cloaked in golden light, or the sunrise equivalent, Silver Hour. What fun! Rowan is hesitant to go, but Nina, missing her mother and finally breaking out of her shell of depression a little bit, skips off to the hotel in the middle of the night. Rowan thinks he knows where she went, the Enlightenment. Except he got the years wrong and he and Xanthe and Xavier head off to The French Revolution!

They meet a whole host of fictional and historical characters, including Marie Antoinette and Louse XVI. They search all over Paris looking for Nina, getting involved in the Revolution along the way. They realize she’s not even there, but not before making lots of very important people very angry. They skip a few years in the future (too many people trying to visit the French Revolution causes a ripple in time) to their execution. The aunts come to save the day, allowing Rowan, Xanthe and Xavier to escape and land back in the present, only for Rowan to realize where in the past Nina went. NYC 1990. Right before Rowan was born and her parents were happy and alive. She intended to stay with them, to get an extra 14 years with her mother, but Rowan convinces her that it’s not good to live in the past. Together, they can overcome their grief and live in the future.

It’s a sweet story with fun time travel antics. I am, of course, glad that there are two black sidekicks (though I must admit, when I first started the story, I knew there were black characters, but didn’t know they were sidekicks and so I thought Rowan and Nina were black. But slowly the description told me otherwise. And then we met the twins and I realized what was happening). They’re super smart, charismatic and funny, and Rowan has a crush on Xanthe.

Cover of

Cover of The Hour of the Cobra

In the preview for the next book, The Hour of the Cobra, it seems to follow Xanthe’s POV. This makes me happy, as it doesn’t just assume that Rowan is the hero and the twins are his sidekicks. They each get a chance at being the hero. The next book looks like it’s going to ancient Egypt, which is a period I enjoy learning about.

I immediately looked up Maiya Williams and saw that she not only writes children’s books, but also wrote for television! So basically she has my career. I emailed her and she sent me a brief response back that same night, which is really nice of her. One day, maybe I’ll email her again with more specific questions. But I mean, seriously? How crazy is it that she’s a black woman who writes TV and MG SFF books, when that’s what I’m thinking I want to do? Very serendipitous and cool.

This book was great and I am looking forward to borrowing the sequel. I do have a few questions or comments about the book.

  • How do the aunts get stuff back from the past? I thought Otto said that things weren’t allowed to be brought forward, or did he just mean people? The next book seems like it will cover more about the aunts Curio business.
  • I wish Nina had more of slow turn around. She went from not having spoken in a year, to speaking and playing the piano all in one night. I wish we’d gotten more steps before that. It seems like she’s not quite herself still in Rowan’s eyes, but it’s still a bit fast for me.
  • Are the aunts coming to save the day a bit deus ex machina? There are pieces of their involvement mentioned throughout the story, but they suddenly come in to pull the cart leading the kids to their execution away at the very last moment. But I suppose Rowan does do some of the work in saving himself.
Welcome to my first book post! I hope to do more!

The Definitive Ranking Of All Roald Dahl’s Books | Buzzfeed

Cover of "MATILDA"

Cover of MATILDA

I love Roald Dahl. He’s one of my favorite authors, he’s got some really great quotes that I love. I read his autobiography (Boy, I didn’t finish Going Solo), which is written and illustrated in the same style as his other books, which I thought was cool.

Here are some Dahl quotes to brighten your day.

“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” 

“If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” 

“I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.” 

“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.” 

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.” 

“A little magic can take you a long way.” 

And here’s Buzzfeed’s ranking of the top 15 Dahl stories. (Though I’m not sure why “believability” is a factor in a children’s fantasy novelist’s work…)

The Definitive Ranking Of All Roald Dahl’s Books.

My favorites are: Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I remembered reading Danny Champion of the World, without having read the BFG, and I was confused? Because it’s sort of a companion/sequel?

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Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers Discuss Diversity in Children’s Lit in the New York Times

http://ncvfoundation.org/book

via The Storylines Project

Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers are two black children’s book authors who have written a plethora of books, both together and separate, that cater to the often ignored community of young black children. Walter Dean Myers, Christopher’s father, has written over fifty books including picture books and nonfiction. He has won the Coretta Scott King Award for African-American authors five times (thanks Wikipedia!). Christopher Myers is a writer also, who also illustrates his work and others’. They each wrote a piece for the NY Times regarding diversity (and the lack thereof) in children’s literature, each having decades in the business.

The Myers each have their own article stemming from the same abysmal percentage:

Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people, according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin.”

That’s only 4%. And that’s in one recent year. I’m sure the numbers aren’t much better when you include figures from the last decade or the last century.

Walter begins by talking about his upbringing with books.

As I discovered who I was, a black teenager in a white-dominated world, I saw that these characters, these lives, were not mine. I didn’t want to become the “black” representative, or some shining example of diversity. What I wanted, needed really, was to become an integral and valued part of the mosaic that I saw around me. […]

Then I read a story by James Baldwin: “Sonny’s Blues.” I didn’t love the story, but I was lifted by it, for it took place in Harlem, and it was a story concerned with black people like those I knew. […]

The story gave me a permission that I didn’t know I needed, the permission to write about my own landscape, my own map.

What he says really resonates with me. I loved the books I read growing up and it wasn’t really until recently that I realized how few black children were in them. I actually can’t think of any at the moment–not too many black children in science-fiction/fantasy/mystery. Realizing that there are indeed books out there featuring children who look like me, even now, has seemed to–as Myers said–give me “permission” to write characters who were also black. The few stories that I wrote for school or for creative writing class or back when I was a kid had protagonists that weren’t really described, but were most often visualized as white. It’s so strange to think that the books you read have an influence on who you visualize when you write, but that’s another post I have in mind.

Myers then discusses an incident where two equally qualified people were reluctantly given an equal chance at a job–one was black, the other white–because the hiring manager couldn’t imagine a black chemist. Walter says that allowing for diverse children’s literature gives both black and white (and any other) children, a sense of black people as real and equal people in society.

Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? Where are the future white personnel managers going to get their ideas of people of color? Where are the future white loan officers and future white politicians going to get their knowledge of people of color? Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?

We look to books, especially children’s books, to teach us about the world, teach us about things we haven’t yet experienced. So why is there a lack of books about non-slave, non-Civil Rights era black people? How can we get the books that are out there more visibility? So that future writers who are reading now don’t suffer the way I did, the way Walter Dean Myers did, and put reading to the side because they don’t feel represented. Or their writing suffers because they feel they’re not writing protagonists they can relate to. (Of course I’m not saying you can’t write protagonists that aren’t your race, but knowing you can and it doesn’t matter what genre you want to write in, is freeing.)

Christopher talks more about the separation of books about white kids from books featuring black kids.

“This apartheid of literature — in which characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery but are never given a pass card to traverse the lands of adventure, curiosity, imagination or personal growth — has two effects. One is a gap in the much-written-about sense of self-love that comes from recognizing oneself in a text, from the understanding that your life and lives of people like you are worthy of being told, thought about, discussed and even celebrated.”

 Christopher talks to children about the 4% figure and they’re confused as to why there are more books about talking animals than about black children, which reminds me of a similar issue on television, as tweeted by Wyatt Cenac: “No disrespect to monsters, but it’s weird that there are more TV shows starring vampires than starring minorities.” Seems the same goes for children’s literature.
Christopher goes on to talk about the publishing side of things. Publishers don’t publish books about black kids because they don’t see the demand for it.

The Market, I am told, just doesn’t demand this kind of book, doesn’t want book covers to look this or that way, and so the representative from (insert major bookselling company here) has asked that we have only text on the book cover because white kids won’t buy a book with a black kid on the cover — or so The Market says, despite millions of music albums that are sold in just that way.

He ends with this:

I will make a fantastic world, a cartography of all the places a girl like her can go, and put it in a book. The rest of the work lies in the imagination of everyone else along the way, the publishers, librarians, teachers, parents, and all of us, to put that book in her hands.

It’s a personal mission statement, but also a call to action. Young black kids have a plethora of things keeping them away from books with characters like them. We all need to do our parts to make it easier for them to access them. Discussion helps. Telling teachers you know helps, librarians, parents, all of us. We need to help create more of a demand, stronger, louder demand for these books, so publishers have no choice but to provide them. Maybe we can get one made into a million dollar motion picture and it will start a new trend? Wishful thinking, sure, but if you shoot for the stars, even if you fail, you just might land on the moon.

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#colormyshelf

There’s a twitter trend going around today called #colormyshelf and it’s totally overwhelming me with books I want to read! I have the tab open and will probably have it open for days until I get to full investigate some of the names mentioned. But here’s a link to check it out: #colormyshelf. Lots of titles with children form diverse backgrounds in different types of children’s literature. I love that this is going around! 

African American speculative fiction for kids | Fledgling

African American speculative fiction for kids | Fledgling.

I am currently reading The Golden Hour and have Zetta Elliot’s A Wish Before Midnight checked out from the library. I made it about halfway through Book of Wonders (it’s not bad, just something about it isn’t holding me the way The Golden Hour is). This is a great go to list when looking for new MG/YA SFF books to read.

Click through to check them out!

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10 Great Women of Color Whose Stories You Should Know

10 Great Women of Color Whose Stories You Should Know via Lee and Low book blog

All of these books are presented as children’s books and they look fun and fantastic. Two I’d love to check out are

10 Great Women of Color Whose Stories You Should Know

Pura Belpré, The Storyteller’s Candle / La velita de los cuentos – New York City’s first Latina librarian

and

10 Great Women of Color Whose Stories You Should Know

Zora Neale Hurston, Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree – renowned African American writer

You know, when I finally finish the 4 books I’m reading now and the 2 others I have from the libraries. #raremomentofoveracheiving

Also check out: 25 Empowering Books for Little Black Girls.

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