West Virginia Book Festival

Carmen Deedy’s latest: “The Cheshire Cheese Cat”

Carmen Deedy, one of the best parts of last year’s West Virginia Book Festival, has a new book coming out — and it’s a departure from her past few, which have been children’s picture books.

“The Cheshire Cheese Cat” is a chapter book set in Victorian England, at a famous pub. It’s the tale of an unlikely cat-and-mouse friendship (literally), and features a great author as a supporting character. Let’s just say that the subtitle is “A Dickens of a Tale,” and the first line is, “He was the best of toms, he was the worse of toms” — which I admit made me laugh out loud.

Deedy’s book (with co-author Randall Wright and illustrator Barry Moser) has been getting some great advance press. Publishers Weekly calls it “a delight,” and Kirkus Reviews says “readers with great expectations will find them fully satisfied by this tongue-in-cheek romp.”

According to Amazon, the book gets released Oct. 1. Deedy (whose “14 Cows for America” was mentioned a bunch recently during the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks) will be at the National Book Festival in Washington this weekend.

Alex Flinn, author of nine books for teenagers, is the latest addition to this fall’s West Virginia Book Festival. Her best-known book is “Beastly,” a modern-day retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fable from the Beast’s point of view.

So as this week’s Video of the Week, here’s Flinn talking about how she approached the story (I like the part where she described the protagonists as two kids with really bad parents).

Flinn added to festival lineup

Alex Flinn, author of nine books for teens, will speak at the West Virginia Book Festival on Saturday, Oct. 22, at 4 p.m.

Flinn’s novel, “Beastly,” is a No.1 New York Times bestseller which was made into a motion picture that came out in March. She has two other fairy-tale-based novels, “A Kiss in Time,” a modern Sleeping Beauty story, and “Cloaked,” a mélange of several fairy tales.

Her first book, “Breathing Underwater,” was named an American Library Association Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults and is the only novel included in Liz Claiborne’s “Love is Not Abuse” dating violence prevention curriculum for schools. Her books have received honors including Best Books for Young Adults, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, International Reading Association Young Adult Choices and Junior Library Guild selection. Her upcoming novel, “Bewitching: The Kendra Chronicles,” is a companion to “Beastly” and will be released in February 2012.

Flinn is a non-practicing lawyer who lives with her husband, daughters and way too many pets in Miami.

Best-selling thriller writer Lee Child, former Secret Service agents Gerald Blaine and Clint Hill and self-help author Dave Pelzer have already been announced as part of the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 22 and 23 at the Charleston Civic Center. The annual, two-day event celebrates books and reading and offers something for all age groups. A variety of authors will attend, participating in book signings, readings, workshops and lectures. Activities for children include special programs and a section of the Marketplace filled with children’s activities. Admission to the festival is free.

The event is presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation, Segal-Davis Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, Wal-Mart and Borders Express. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

As we told you a couple of months ago, the Read WV program was asking West Virginia students to send in a video explaining what they were reading and why. The contest is over, and the winners can be seen here, along with the second- and third-place winners in each category: elementary school, middle school and high school.

“The idea of the video contest was to reach as many West Virginia children as possible to help them understand the importance of reading every day,” said state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple. “It’s not enough to just be able to recognize words. I want all West Virginia children to develop a love for reading that will last a lifetime. These kids have done that.”

And each winner got a Kindle, so there’s that.

Each video, chosen from dozens of entries, features one sharp student. The elementary school winner, Marea Jaydn Pennell of Village of Barboursville Elementary, is extremely cute. I liked the part where she says she likes stories about princesses — “when they’re attacking pirates.”

The high school winner, Marissa Miluk of Greenbrier East High, talks about several books, but says her favorite book is “Unraveling,” by Michelle Baldini.

But I think my favorite is the middle school winner, Selena Franklin of Beverly Hills Middle School in Huntington. A lot of these videos have pretty good production values, and people obviously put a lot of thought into them. But Selena’s video is just her, in a classroom, talking about why she loves to read. It’s so simple and sounds so honest; the stuff about Edgar Allan Poe scaring her so bad she wouldn’t read him for a couple of years is great.

So do yourself a favor with this week’s Video(s) of the Week, and take a look at some of West Virginia’s best young readers.

Harry Potter: Back to the beginning

We here at WVBF:TB are certainly not above talking about a film as a way to begin talking about a book. So it seems like we ought to make mention of the final installment in the Harry Potter film series, seeing as how the Harry Potter books are the biggest publishing phenomenon in decades.

And there’s been some pretty cool retrospective stuff out there in the past couple of weeks, and some suggestions for post-Potter reading, and if you didn’t see Kyle Slagle’s Daily Prophet-style front to the Gazz entertainment section on Thursday, you ought to, because it’s fantastic (it’s on this page).

But for the most part, what’s left to say? If there’s something about Harry Potter that hasn’t been written, I have no idea what it is.

So maybe the thing to do is go back to the beginning.

The following review by blog contributor Dawn Miller appeared in The Charleston Gazette on Feb. 28, 1999 — four months after “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was published in the United States, and before most Americans had ever heard of Harry, Ron and Hermione.

Every now and then, along comes an author capable of creating a whole other world, usually off-limits to unimaginative adults, where smart young people discover they have talents other than being too gawky, nearsighted, underfoot or just bored.

These authors have their devoted following – Tolkien, Juster, L’Engle, to name a few.

First-time novelist J.K. Rowling could be another.

Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” zips – often on broomstick – back and forth between our humdrum, recognizable “Muggle” world, to another, filled with invisibility cloaks, tailored wands and frog candy. Scoff not. Each package comes with a collectible card featuring a famous wizard.

Rowling, a single mom living in Edinburgh, Scotland, began the novel on scraps of paper in a cafe, according to the publisher. It was published in Great Britain in 1997, and in this country in October. It has reached the best-sellers list in Publishers Weekly and won the British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year.

Little wonder.

Rowling’s hero – skinny, underfed Harry Potter – has known his share of trouble in just 11 years of life. His parents died when he was just a babe. Harry was left with his aunt and uncle, who force him to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. They never give him any birthday presents, while lavishing all their attention on their own child, Dudley, a porcine, spoiled bully.

Harry combs his hair over his forehead to hide a scar shaped like a lightning bolt. He is not allowed to ask questions. He has no idea of his own gifts, or that his name is spoken with respect among the oldest wizards in the world, a world he does not see.

“Harry Potter” is a handful of hardback for any young reader, who will feel quite accomplished at finishing it. The dialogue and action are quick, though. Rowling understands suspense. She does not pull out any magic wands or flying brooms too soon, or too often.

Adults will also see much of their world in this author’s first novel, which makes it an ideal chapter book to read to children. When Harry goes off to Hogwarts, only the best school of witchcraft and wizardry in the world, he has all the excitement and worries, and shopping list, of a freshman on his way to college. The first-year reading list is a parody of any good first-year reading list, full of anthologies, beginning histories and survey classes. Of course, few college freshmen must pack a standard-size pewter cauldron.

Lest we and Harry yearn too much for the fanciful world, Harry learns that it has bullies and power-hungry tyrants, just like our own. The sparks are a little more interesting, however.

The end of the tale is thoughtful and fulfilling, with plenty of room for a sequel, welcomed no doubt by Rowling’s, and Potter’s, growing number of fans.

Room for a sequel? Yes, I think that might have been the case.

Catching up with ‘The Lightning Thief’

It seems I cannot walk into Piedmont Elementary School (where I’m a Read Aloud volunteer) without someone shoving a book into my hands and saying, “You just have to read this!” whether it’s the principal, a student or some other visitor coming through the door from the other direction.

So numerous have been the appeals this year to read “Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan, that I broke down. OK. I’ll give it a try.

Of course, “Percy Jackson” came out in 2005. I meant to read it then but never did. The fifth (and final) book in the series was published in 2009.

Readers may recognize some familiar ideas in kid lit — Percy is middle-school age, living with his mom and revolting stepdad. His real dad is gone. Percy changes schools a lot. When the story begins, he is getting a fresh start at a boarding school, where it is hoped they will be able to help him. All sounds like pretty typical troubled kid stuff, right? Then one of his teachers morphs into some kind of monster and attacks him. His friends and protectors had been undercover around him. They spring into action. There are chases and fights and a group of half-god, half-mortal teenagers trying to find their way in life.

I liked this book. It didn’t keep me up at night or send me out in the dark after the sequel, but I enjoyed it.

Since I wasn’t jumping-up-and-down bursting to recommend it, as were the 10-somethings recommending it to me, I asked a couple of students in the class where I read at Piedmont to write a few lines on why they praise these books so enthusiastically.

Here’s what I got from Clare Higgins, fifth grade:

“A story of adventure and awesomeness. If you read it, then put it down for a few months and then reread it, you will notice little things that you didn’t notice before, and it will become more amazing.”

And here is the response from James Kinslow, fourth grade:

“Well, when I first saw the title I thought it would be cool to read, so I asked my sister if I could borrow her book, and I liked it from the first page about the warning and all that. So what I really liked about it was the action and mystery about who stole the master bolt. I still can’t believe how [spoiler deleted]. That really caught me by surprise. You should read the rest of the series. It is awesome.”

When the film version of the first volume appeared last year, plenty of fans complained that there was too much substantive change of characters and plot details.  The film is scheduled for DVD/Blu-Ray release this summer. Work on the second film has commenced.

Here’s the excerpt that James mentioned, from page 1 of “The Lightning Thief”:


Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.

If you’re reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.

Being a half-blood is dangerous. It’s scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways.

If you’re a normal kid, reading this because you think it’s fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for being able to believe that none of this ever happened.

But if you recognize yourself in these pages — if you feel something stirring inside — stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it’s only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they’ll come for you.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

My name is Percy Jackson.

I’m twelve years old. Until a few months ago, I was a boarding student at Yancy Academy, a private school for troubled kids in upstate New York.

Am I a troubled kid?

Yeah. You could say that.

There’s some other book festival going on this weekend — the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. — and a book set in West Virginia will play a featured role.

“When the Whistle Blows” by Fran Cannon Slayton is set in Rowlesburg, where her parents grew up. The story takes a look at teenager Jimmy Cannon as he grows up in the mid- and late 1940s — more specifically, it chronicles several Halloweens in Jimmy’s life.

Slayton’s book has been selected to represent both Virginia (where she lives) and West Virginia at the National Book Festival on Saturday, according to a news release from the West Virginia Center for the Book. She’ll visit both states’ booths in the Pavilion of the States, signing books and greeting readers.

“When the Whistle Blows” was published in June 2009, and Slayton was part of last year’s West Virginia Book Festival.

Author/illustrator Jim Benton and local children’s author Sarah Sullivan are two of the featured authors at the West Virginia Book Festival this fall at the Charleston Civic Center.

Benton is the New York Times bestselling author/illustrator of more than 20 books, including “It’s Happy Bunny,” “Franny K. Stein” and “Dear Dumb Diary.” His presentation, “The Compulsive Creator,” begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17. He’ll talk about his career and how the creative process works.

Benton has received many awards, including the Gryphon’s honor award, the Eleanor Cameron award, the Addy award and the Lima award. He is the creator of many licensed properties, some for big kids, some for little kids and some for adults. New projects include “Kissy Doodles” and “jOkObO,” which highlight his sketchbook drawings and paintings. Benton lives in Michigan with his wife and two children.

Sullivan is the author of four picture books. Her latest, “Once Upon a Baby Brother,” was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in June. “Passing the Music Down,” a story inspired by two old-time fiddler players, is forthcoming from Candlewick in 2011. Sullivan will speak at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16. Her talk, “From Old-Time Fiddle Players to the Marvinosaurus: Writing for Children and Young Adults,” will feature a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating books for children and young adults.

Sullivan holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College where she won the Harcourt Post-Graduate Scholarship. A former lawyer, she now writes and teaches full-time. She and her husband Rick have three grown children and one grandson.

Civil War history: A blend of old and new

Plenty of images from the time, such as this print of a Civil War balloon, help to make “Mr. Lincoln’s High-Tech War” a book that enables young people to discover knowledge of history on their own.

From my earliest discoveries about American Civil War history, I have been fascinated by the overlap of old and new technologies — new rifled gun barrels that spun bullets straighter and farther than the old West Point generals anticipated, armored ships, submarines, “high-speed” telegraph communications and mass troop and supply transport by rail, for example.

At the same time, Civil War soldiers were still facing each other in the kind of formations Napoleon used, and dying in the face of these more deadly weapons. Medical care had not advanced as far as gun technology, so soldiers died of disease or infection, if not directly from their wounds.

In “Mr. Lincoln’s High-Tech War,” Thomas B. Allen and his son Roger MacBride Allen expertly explain these contrasts for young readers, although grown readers will find plenty here to expand their own understanding.

The book tracks technological developments throughout the war and their effects on the fighting armies and navies. It starts with the years of scientific discovery leading up to Civil War and follows innovations as the war drags on to involve the total population.

As you might expect from a National Geographic book, it not only reads well, it looks great. Designers set aside from the main text relevant chronologies and brief backgrounds on specific topics, such as photography and habeas corpus. This makes the book easier to browse, particularly for young readers. Almost every page contains an image from the time that allows readers to “discover” historical knowledge on their own. For example, you can see cannon dents in the sides of the U.S.S. Monitor, bent railroad ties that had been wrapped around trees and the columns of the White House wrapped in black after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Thomas B. Allen has won a number of commendations for his earlier young adult non-fiction, including “George Washington, Spymaster,” and “Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent.” His son has written science fiction in the past. This is their first book together.

I found this book on the new shelf at the Kanawha County Public Library. It deserves a place in every elementary and middle school collection. It is exactly the type of book young, curious readers can browse again and again, picking up new details and understanding each time.  Though it is easy to follow, it is not dumbed down. It has a complete bibliography and list of works cited, a good index and a substantial page of online resources.

20060928_ej_authorE. Lockhart, an award-winning author of books for teens, is the fifth author announced for the West Virginia Book Festival, to be held Oct. 16 and 17 at the Charleston Civic Center. Lockhart will speak at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16.

Lockhart is the author of the Ruby Oliver novels, as well as “Fly on the Wall,” “Dramarama” and “How to Be Bad.” Her 2009 novel, “The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks,” won a Printz honor, was a National Book Award Finalist, and received the Cybils Award for best young adult novel. Lockhart’s most recent title is “The Treasure Map of Boys: Noel, Jackson, Finn, Hutch, Gideon – and Me, Ruby Oliver,” the third book in the Ruby Oliver series.

flyonthewallboyfriendfrankie“I’m thrilled that Lockhart has agreed to present a program at our festival,” said Amy Arey, chairwoman of the festival’s Teen Author Committee. “She’s a popular teen author and her books circulate well throughout the Kanawha County Public Library system. I hope to see a roomful of teens attend her session.”

Lockhart joins Nicholas Sparks, New York Times best selling author; Civil War historian James Robertson; children’s author Carmen Deedy; and West Virginia native Jayne Anne Phillips in the event’s lineup.

The West Virginia Book Festival is an annual, two-day event celebrating books and reading presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail.