childhood

Review: George by Alex Gino

[Editor’s Note: Please welcome Hannah to BiblioSmiles! I’m really glad that Hannah struck up a conversation with Gabriele at BookCon and decided to contribute to the blog! I hope you enjoy her review of George, which is set to release on August 25th from Scholastic Press.]

george This summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend both Book Expo America (BEA) and BookCon, two wonderfully nerdy book events that really just make me happy to be a reader. While there, I attended a panel discussing upcoming middle grade novels. Now I know I’m slightly above a middle grade reading level, but I truly love the stuff, so I couldn’t resist going to the panel.

Every book sounded amazing! One of them, presented by an almost tearful, gushing David Levithan, really got my attention. That book was Alex Gino’s George. Like so many books before it, and hopefully so many after, George sounded like one of those books Hermione Granger might even neglect her charms homework to read. I knew I absolutely had to get my hands on a copy, so I ran to grab myself an uncorrected proof before they ran out. And, I’m so happy I did.

George is about a little girl who just wants to be the person she knows she is. She was born into a boy’s body, but she doesn’t feel like a boy. However, because of her age and the negativity surrounding the LGBTQI+ community, she doesn’t know what she is supposed to do with this heavy knowledge. Transgender stories have become incredibly relevant stories in the news lately, but before George, I had yet to see it in many literary sources, and that wasn’t really fair.

George does everything she can to keep her secret, until one day she realizes that she really doesn’t want to anymore. She decides she’ll have to play Charlotte, the cunning and elegant spider from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and then everyone will know who she really is. But, she can’t do it alone. George enlists her best friend, Kelly, to help her on her quest to play Charlotte, and to be herself, and, as a reader, we get to join in and root for our girl as well.

George examines identity and acceptance in a way many children’s books do not. I wouldn’t say George is the best book I’ve ever read, but it certainly ranks high on my list. It’s perfect for anyone, whether they’re eight or seventy-eight, because it shows a perspective we rarely have the fortune, let alone the opportunity, to read. Alex Gino clearly spent a lot of care writing their characters, and it felt very special to share that with them. I’m looking forward to their future books, and I have high expectations to see more books like Gino’s in the near future.

Hannah Levine is a senior at The University of Michigan majoring in Creative Writing and Literature and minoring in Digital Studies. She grew up in Oakland County, Michigan and loved every second of it, although she would never pass up a trip to travel and see the world. Hannah is most proud of the moment she met J.K. Rowling and didn’t break into tears until after getting Rowling’s autograph. She is least proud of the time she walked past Mitch Albom at Campus Martius and was too nervous to say hi. You can check out more of Hannah’s random thoughts on Twitter at @hannah_levine or on her blog, Just Hannah dot Rose.

Costume Ideas from Childhood Reads

Bookworms: Halloween is a week away! If you’re like some friends of mine, you’ve had your Halloween costume(s) picked out for months. You’ve slaved away on getting the accessories just right, with all those awesome little details just-so. You’ve done spooky makeup trial runs and you’ve posted the selfies on Instagram with hashtags like #sneakpeek.

You’ve got your Halloween costume down, and that’s awesome. This post is not really for you.

Maybe you’re more like me. You loved Halloween when you were younger, and you still mourn the fact that you’re too old to trick-or-treat. You will absolutely be hitting up the CVS discount bins the day after Halloween to snatch up all of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. You’re not quite sure what your plans for the holiday will include, but there will probably be drinks and lots of ironic, last-minute costumes. Time is running out, and you don’t have a costume of your own. Don’t panic. Embrace your love of books instead!

Is there a better way to show your love for a favorite book than to pay homage to its main character through the act of playing dress-up? No, there isn’t. Today I wanted to give you some costume ideas based on beloved childhood books. You won’t find a need for professional makeup or elaborate costumes here; you may even be able to pull these looks off just by sifting through your own closet. You’ll have a costume, you’ll be promoting a favorite book, and you’ll still have money in your wallet to buy discount candy. And isn’t that what the season’s all about?

ameliasnotebookAmelia from Amelia’s Notebook by Marissa Moss

The Amelia’s Notebook series was one of my absolute favorites in elementary school. As a little girl who loved to write, I envied the polished, colorful design of Amelia’s composition books. I remember buying my own and trying to incorporate drawings into my own entries, which was sort of disastrous but also fun.

This is sort of a bare-minimum costume for the girl who wants to go to the party and not freeze in the blustery October weather: Basic, plain long-sleeve shirt, jeans, sneakers. Obviously the most important part of the costume: a composition notebook! Bonus points for scrawly a sassy phrase like “Mind Your Beeswax” on the cover.

Sporting a jelly roll nose is optional.

holesStanley Yelnats from Holes by Louis Sachar

You may think you’re cursed when it comes to thinking up Halloween costumes – but this one will work like a charm! It’ll also probably send fellow bookworms into a nostalgia-induced frenzy. Who doesn’t love the story of  Stanley who, thanks to some bad luck, gets sent to Camp Green Lake Juvenile Detention Centre?

Suit up like Stanley and his friends in tshirts, orange jumpsuits (probably not in your closet, I’ll admit…), throw on a baseball cap, and grab a shovel out of the garage. Insist that you’re drinking “Sploosh” all night.

badbeginningThe Baudelaire Orphans from A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Perfect for a group of friends or – even better – a couple with a young baby in tow. Pay tribute to Snicket’s exciting, spooky reads by playing the part of Violet, Klaus, or Baby Sunny.

Aspiring Violets can try on a black or purple sweater dress, dark tights, and an exaggerated hair bow.

Anyone looking to portray Klaus Baudelaire would do well wearing a button-down under a sweater and some nice khakis, or a more classic bow-tie look. Don’t forget the glasses!

Sunny Baudelaire is a baby through most of the series. A frilly white dress is great for an innocent look. Some comical plastic teeth could be a nice touch, as Sunny is known for her incredibly strong bite. (Do not stick fake teeth in an actual baby’s mouth, obviously.)

Try to look like you’re having a miserable time all night.

bunniculaBunnicula from Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe

Beware the hare! This is the tagline I remember from Bunnicula, which my elementary school librarian read aloud to us around Halloween time. A dog and cat investigate the habits of a new family pet: a bunny that acts suspiciously like a vampire. If you find yourself in the middle of a costume store at the last minute, throw together a Bunnicula costume in no time at all:

1) Rabbit ears

2) Vampire fangs

It doesn’t get much easier than that, does it?

Do you have any ideas for literary Halloween costumes? Have you ever dressed up as a book character? Share in the comments below!

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Anatomy of a Bookshelf: Gabriele Boland

I suppose it’s more than time for me to do an Anatomy of a Bookshelf study of the bookshelf in my room. Be forewarned: this bookshelf contains mostly the leavings of a quirky, bumbling, teenage Gabriele.

Most of my serious literary favorites have relocated to our master library in the front of our house. Here you will find A Song of Ice and Fire, all of my favorite Neil Gaiman books, Anne Rice, historical fiction, classics, and other works.

Here you can see the 900 page biography of Henry VII I lugged around one summer. The collector’s edition of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy next to the complete works of Shakespeare. Some of my favorite children’s books are here: The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Out of the Dust, and Little House on the Prairie.

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Messy doesn’t matter… so many books!

Where are my beloved Harry Potter books? Those have been sequestered away to my brother’s bookshelves where he can read them over and over.

So. What’s been left on my bookshelf in my room? An explosion of color, to brighten those dreary cloudy days ahead of us in autumn.

On my top shelf, there are plenty of curios and knickknacks from the museum of Gabriele. An Icelandic crown from my trip abroad.

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The next shelf holds my favorite series from my preteen years, with some other odd books thrown in between. We have Ann Brashares, Meg Cabot, and Louise Rennison all making their appearances here. And I’ve organized them alphabetically by author because I am very concerned with the feng shui of my room at the moment, and trying to eschew chaos wherever I can.

The next two shelves are dominated by manga – a phase I went through in 9th and 10th grade, and a literary form that I still appreciate. I think graphic novels and manga are still woefully unappreciated. I started my foray into graphic novels at a young age – with Captain Underpants. Hmm, I wonder where those books have gotten off too.

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Sprinkled throughout are my occult books, from a middle school flirtation with Wicca, nature worship, and astrology. Some were gifts, some were me taking advantage of Borders’ closing sale, where I scored new books for mere cents.

On my final and bottom shelf, there are some random books. An illustrated copy of Canterbury Tales I got for five dollars at a used book shop. Oh, and hey, a TARDIS.

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Usually these days, I read most of my books on my Kindle, but if I am in love with a book or it’s by a beloved author, I’ll add it to the permanent collection. Or if I really want my brother or a friend to read it, who haven’t yet joined the electronic book revolution, I’ll pick up a paper copy. But there is something so special about holding your favorite book in your hand, slowly turning and savoring its familiar pages.

When I eventually move, I’m going to be woe-begotten, choosing between which of my babies to take with me to a new home. But I think I wouldn’t mind donating a lot of them to the library either. Because I can picture myself like a little kid again, discovering worlds in each book I pulled from the shelves. Out there, my books will be able to give love again and again. That won’t be so bad.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.

Life-changing Literature

There’s a magic in books that they allow us to live someone else’s life, a life that we could never even have dreamed of on our own. As a journalism major in college, I was pushed to that path primarily from reading about the plight of other people’s suffering and hardships. There are some books that have transformed my life. They’ve made me want to be philanthropic and help change someone else’s life for the better.

These are some of the books I’ve read and found to be both humbling and inspirational. It’s amazing to see what others have endured through the resilience of the human spirit.

escapeEscape by Carolyn Jessop
Escape tells the harrowing story of growing up in a cult where women were treated like chattel. But this cult wasn’t far-flung across the world, it existed right in the United States under the guise of religion. Carolyn Jessop was born into the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, a polygamist branch associated with the Mormon Church.

When Carolyn is eighteen, she is forced into marrying an older man of the community, a man thirty-two years her senior. She is his third wife, and not his last. Over the span of the book, she bears him eight children. And as a new prophet takes over the community with increasingly bizarre and abusive rules, Carolyn starts looking for a way to escape everything she’s ever known, and with the kids.

The Road to Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam
This novel takes us across the world to Cambodia, where human-trafficking runs rampant. Plucked from her village in the Cambodian forest, Somaly Mam is sold into sexual slavery by her grandfather when she is twelve years old. Held captive in endless seedy brothels, Somaly was tortured and raped, until she finally managed to escape herself. Her strength and courage from the horrors she underwent sparked a fire in her heart to rescue as many children and women in similar situations as she could. But the traffickers put a target on her back for even trying to upset the system.

persepolisPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi
This graphic novel beautifully illustrates one girl’s growing up in the middle of the Iranian Revolution. As an intelligent and outgoing child, she watched as the freedoms her family had enjoyed were snuffed out as quickly and abruptly as candles. Her daily life morphs to something entirely alien as women are once again draped in swaths of dark fabric and the new regime polices morality. She struggles as her voice is stifled by a new empire. Poignant and heart wrenching as her parents, progressive middle class intellectuals, let their daughter go to Europe, knowing their own country is no longer a safe place to be a girl.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Another book of women struggling to retain rights during the Iranian Revolution, this novel tells the tale of Azar Nafisi’s seven most dedicated students, whom she gathered in her apartment to read the now forbidden Western classics. Prohibited from teaching in a university, Azar let the women cling to literature, to dreams, to hope. While the fundamentalists terrorize the streets outside, the women huddle together to whisper aloud the words of Jane Austen, Vladimir Nabokov, and F Scott Fitzgerald.

childcalleditA Child Called “It” by David Pelzer
This book made me physically nauseous. This is the horrifying memoir of the victim of one of the United States’ most terrible child abuse cases. Growing up in California suburbia, David is inexplicably starved, beaten, and tortured by his mother. She treats her other sons like princes – but David is made to beg for scraps, pass out in an ammonia-filled bathroom, and lay on top of a hot stove. Bearing broken bones, David has to learn to play his mother’s games to survive this horror of a childhood.

Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah
When Adeline’s father remarries after her mother dies, Adeline and her older siblings become second-class citizens in a house ruled by her stepmother. Adeline, blamed for her mother’s death, bears the brunt of abuse by both her stepmother and older siblings. Made to feel unwanted, often going hungry and physically abused, Adeline still strives to conform to cultural norms and be a good daughter to both of her parents. She excelled in school and won national awards as a teenager, earning passing pats on the head from her father. This book is impossible to read with dry eyes, and you yearn for every heartbroken child in the world as you read Adeline’s story. The pain of a child is universal and bridges all cultures. More is written in her companion novel, Falling Leaves. 

What books have inspired you?

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.

Revisiting Reads: The Janie Johnson Series

I love finding old childhood favorites to reread and devour almost like I’m reading them for the first time. Recently, I stumbled upon the discovery that Caroline B. Cooney came out with a fifth book and conclusion to her Janie Johnson series, better known as the Face on the Milk Carton series, just last year in 2013. Intrigued, I read the entire series over so I could pick up this sequel that was released 23 years after the first novel.

Cooney thought up the concept for The Face on the Milk Carton while traveling in an airport. She came across a “have you seen me?” sign for a young child who went missing many years ago. Who could possibly recognize a child that went missing when they were a toddler? she wondered. Except perhaps, the kidnapped child. Out of this, Janie Johnson was born. As you can imagine from the title, she sees her picture as an infant on the back of a milk carton and instantly knows it’s her. She remembers the polka-dotted dress in the photo and has sudden dizzying flashbacks of another family and a crowded afternoon in a mall. But how could she have been kidnapped? Her parents are nice, wealthy, and live in suburban Connecticut. Only bad people are kidnappers, and Janie’s parents aren’t bad people.

The first book explores Janie’s unraveling of her past and kidnapping. The sequential books – Whatever Happened to Janie, The Voice on the Radio, and What Janie Found – follow her as she tries to fit back into her biological family and come to terms with her kidnapping. The swan song of the series, Janie Face to Face, returns to the ‘kidnapette’ as Cooney dubs her, to see her as an adult and finally give the readers’ insight into the kidnapper’s mind and life.

Cooney has a masterful way of getting into the minds and perceptions of her other characters and she flows from one point of view to another without pause, which can be jarring. Omniscient third person narration is not a style I come across often. But it is refreshing and realistic to see how each life around Janie was affected and fragmented in differing ways, from her parents to her biological siblings to her boyfriend and the friends and significant others of her own friends. It’s especially fun to see her poke fun at Janie through the other characters’ view points as a bit of a spoiled brat. Many authors fall into the trap of loving their characters and making them infallible. Cooney rounds out her characters, flaws and all.

The sudden inclusion of modern technology in the fifth book that didn’t exist in the first is also a little jolting because Cooney tries to retroactively fit technology into the earlier books, saying her characters had cell phones. Even for having published this last book in 2013, Cooney’s style and her characters’ ways of thinking are a bit anachronistic.

But the story itself is satisfying. Cooney tends to use cliffhangers and leave unanswered questions in her earlier books. Maybe she was throwing us fans a bone by publishing this book, but I’m thankful she did. Unlike some epilogues that are saccharine anticlimactic drivel, Janie Face to Face was an emotional roller coaster that I felt really reflected the heart-tugging conflicts we all go through with our own families. Though hopefully none of us were kidnapped.

If you were a fan of the series, I definitely recommend a reread. And if you never had a chance to pick it up – do it now! They’re fast, easy to read, and definitely page-turners. In the midst of all these teenage romance books about supernatural beings or cliques, the Janie Johnson series is a novel departure. Even decades later, it stands the test of time.

I think many kids have that curiosity growing up of what if my parents stole me or I’m secretly a princess or something ludicrous like that. This series indulges those fantasies – and you never know. Life is strange. I have friends who only found out they were adopted as teens or adults. But to have been kidnapped! 

What would I have done if it was my face on the milk carton? Just to pick up something inconspicuous one day and have my entire world yanked out from under me? Janie and her families’ story is one that is unforgettable, even many years later.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.