I have a bad habit with book festivals and book fairs. I know that when I’m participating in one, I should spend the weeks leading up to it preparing my presentation and choosing my readings and things like that. What I tend to do instead is get sidetracked by all the other authors participating and go on a reading binge. My book festival conversations tend to go like this:
Husband: What are you doing for the Rochester Children’s Book Festival?
Me: Did you see who’s going to be there??! James Howe and Tedd Arnold and Michelle Knudsen! Can you believe that? E and I loved LIBRARY LION….
Husband: Yes, but…
Me: I hope I get to sit near Tedd Arnold. He has this new young adult book out…
Husband: Is your presentation ready?
Me: …and Vivian Van Velde is going to be there…and Coleen Paratore…
You get the idea.
This Saturday, November 3 is the Rochester Children’s Book Festival, with an AMAZING lineup of children’s authors and illustrators. I’m participating in the festival’s “Tween Time” showcase of historical fiction, and my kids have convinced me that I need to dress up as my main character again since it was such a hit in Burlington on Halloween. I’m portraying Abigail Smith, an 18th century girl who disguises herself as a boy to fight in a Revolutionary War battle on Lake Champlain. If you’re near Rochester, please drop by ‘Tween Time at 10:45. I’ll be there with my hardtack and my haversack, ready to share!
In a rare moment of planning ahead, I finished my presentation last week, so I’ve felt entitled to go on a reading binge of other festival authors’ books. Here are a couple reviews….
I loved James Howe’s novel THE MISFITS, where a group of middle school outsiders challenges the school’s name-calling habit as a student council campaign platform. Until last week, though, I hadn’t gotten around to reading the sequel, TOTALLY JOE. This is a lighter look at what it’s like to be a gay kid in middle school. Howe introduces readers to Joe Bunch through his main character’s “alphabiography,” a series of essays he has to write about his life, with each topic starting with a different letter of the alphabet (26 chapters, including one on the ubiquitous alphabet-book xylophone, for those keeping track). Through the assignment, Joe tells the story of his first sort-of boyfriend, middle school bullies, his creative, supportive Aunt Pam, and his quest to be Totally Joe. It’s honest and tough sometimes without losing its fun voice. Howe has provided a particular gift in this novel – a book about being gay that’s age-appropriate for someone who’s still in middle school and not ready for some of the edgier titles that seem to abound in YA literature.
I also want to talk about RAT LIFE, Tedd Arnold’s first foray into young adult literature, which was so great that when I finished it, I trotted right over to nominate it for a Cybil Award in the YA Category. (Nominations are open until November 21st, in case you haven’t nominated your favorites yet!)
RAT LIFE is one of those books that made me laugh one minute and gasp in shock the next. Its narrator, Todd, is a would-be writer growing up in Upstate NY in 1972. In the first pages of the book, he hears about a body found in a river and meets a mysterious character who calls himself Rat. Todd wonders if Rat, an underaged recruit who’s just back from a tour of Vietnam, has something to do with that body in the river, and those suspicions mount throughout the novel, all the way to its dizzying climax. I could go on and on about the humor, the interesting writing strategies Arnold employed, the gut-wrenching scene that almost made me stop reading but is so important to the book… but I’ll let you discover this one for yourself. Don’t start reading until you have some time; you won’t want to take breaks.