When I looked at my calendar this morning, I realized that today is the Winter Solstice. For many people, the 21st of December signifies the start of winter, the shortest day of the year, or a day for religious or cultural celebration. For me, thoughts of the date immediately brought to mind a scene from one of my very favorite children’s novels: Jerry Spinelli’s Love, Stargirl.
Much of the book anticipates a Winter Solstice party. As she plans this event, Stargirl is distracted from other sad or confusing occurrences in her life. For one, she’s recently moved to a new city and lost her first love.
But at sunrise on the Solstice, Stargirl is blown away:
When I think back on it, I'm not sure which was the highlight for me—the sunrise itself or the moments before. I stood to one side, next to Archie, Betty Lou's sled in front of me. I would never have guessed that so many people could be so silent. It was more than the absence of sound. It was a presence. An expectation. A reverence. All of us staring at the blank tent wall, the black curtain that would not uncover the show but would become the show itself, staring, waiting, as pure a waiting as I've ever known. I never had the sense that it arrived—it was simply not there, and then it was there: a long thin stem of light the width of Dootsie's little wrist, a thin golden gift from the sun come 93 million miles to mark a perfect golden circle on the Blackbone panel. Gasps erupted behind me. The circle blurred as tears filled my eyes. Someone sobbed, “Oh my.” Someone cried softly, “Beautiful!” Many of us could have reached out and touched the golden stem. No one did.
And according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, there will be a Stargirl movie out in December 2010, although I’ve got no confirmation on that.
Any Stargirl fans have a plug they’d like to share in the comments?
Related in Bookpage: In 2000, reviewer Miriam Drennan wrote that Stargirl “is an anti-teenager, if ever there was one: She's not cool, she shuns the attentions and opinions of others, and offers her heart in completely constructive ways.”
I went out to see Fantastic Mr. Fox last night, and I am happy to report that it is, in fact, fantastic. The animation is lively and unusual, and the script is full of grace notes and genuinely funny moments, but what really makes the movie work is the characters, who are voiced with such intelligence, compassion, and deadpan humor that I found myself truly caring about them and whether or not they would survive their adventures.
I loved Roald Dahl as a child, and I couldn't count how many times I read and re-read The Witches, The BFG, and Dahl's autobiography, Boy, among others—but somehow I never read Fantastic Mr. Fox. So I can't comment on how faithfully the movie sticks to the story, but I can say with some certainty that it possesses one of the central qualities of Dahl's work: imagination.
And imagination goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge that the world is essentially a wild place. There's real danger here, as in many of Dahl's books, and the audience senses that, partly because the world of the movie is deceptively big. Though it all takes place in (and under) a very small town and the surrounding countryside, it feels expansive—there are tree homes, sewers, helicopters, broad fields, and a train going by in the distance—and the characters move through it with the ease and exploratory fervor of wild animals. Which, of course, they are, and the movie gets some mileage out of the tension between their wild natures (tearing out the throats of chickens) and their genteel demeanors (Mr. Fox's fondness for making toasts).
If that tension seems more like director Wes Anderson's preoccupation than Dahl's, it's certainly possible; Anderson has built his career on characters (particularly men) who are trying to understand their own natures and find their way in the world, and Fantastic Mr. Fox has plenty of these. But these personal quests never detract from Dahl's story; in many ways, they drive the action and keep us invested in the outcome. (In that way, Fantastic Mr. Fox is similar to my favorite of Anderson's films, Bottle Rocket, which also tells the story of a gang of inexperienced and essentially good-hearted people who band together under a charismatic leader to pull off a series of mild heists, more mischievous than malicious.)
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a thoroughly delightful movie, and one of my favorites from this year. Fans of Roald Dahl or Wes Anderson are in for a treat; fans of both are very, very lucky.
Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown. Whether your family celebrates the Festival of Lights or they’d like to learn more about the holiday, these books will be perfect to share with any child.
"Four Sides, Eight Nights: A New Spin on Hanukkah, by Rebecca Tova Ben-Zvi, lives up to its subtitle. This new spin on Hanukkah is child-friendly, fun and educational: a rare mix. It is a dense little book that reads as light as my latkes should be. Facts galore—about history, religion, trivia, science, food and customs—are organized in manageable bites, including marginalia with fascinating tidbits. Charming, detailed pencil drawings invite young readers to actually read the thing, and young listeners to ask what it says."
"One Candle by Eve Bunting is the touching story of a young girl whose extended family gathers together each year to celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. And every year her grandmother and Great Aunt Rose perform a ritual to recall their childhood, part of which was spent in a German concentration camp during the Holocaust. In those bleak days, despite unrelenting hardship and fear, they sought to maintain their religious faith by smuggling a potato and some margarine into camp—elements which they used to construct a makeshift candle so they could surreptitiously celebrate Hanukkah."
" 'Old man Scroogemacher was as sour as a pickle and had a tongue like horse-radish.' The first sentence of Hanukkah, Shmanukkah! gives a forshpice (appetizer) of the Yiddish flavors that follow—a hint that Dickens' A Christmas Carol has undergone a religious and cultural conversion. Yes, the most unloved character in the most beloved Christmas story has been appropriated for the other big holiday in December. As odd as it may seem, author Esmé Raji Codell pulls off the switcheroo with humor, history and heart.”
What does your family like to read during Hanukkah? Tell us in the comments.
Looking for gifts for the little ones on your list? Our top 10 picture books are full of engaging illustrations and text that will get young readers hooked.
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All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane/Atheneum)
Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated Tom Lichtenheld (Chronicle)
John Brown by John Hendrix (Abrams)
One Giant Leap by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Mike Wimmer (Philomel)
Pouch by David Ezra Stein (Putnam)
Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas (Beach Lane/Atheneum)
Skippyjon Jones: Lost in Spice by Judith Byron Schachner (Dutton)
The Lion & The Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown)
Trouble Gum by Matthew Cordell (Feiwel & Friends)
Willoughby & The Lion by Greg Foley (HarperCollins)
Wombat Walkabout by Carol Diggory Shields, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Dutton)
Finding worthy books for middle-grade readers can be a difficult task. But 2009 brought dozens of good reads for the 8-12 set—here are our 10 favorites.
The Doll Shop Downstairs by Yona Zeldis McDonough (Viking)
Everything for a Dog by Ann M. Martin (Feiwel & Friends)
The Evolution of Capurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (Holt)
Fortune's Folly by Deva Fagan (Holt)
Lincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells (Candlewick)
Lincoln Shot by Barry Denenberg (Feiwel & Friends)
The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice (HarperCollins)
A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck (Dial/Penguin)
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb/Random House)
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Little, Brown)
As the year draws to a close, we at BookPage are compiling our own "best of 2009" lists. First up, our top 10 picks for teen reading—in alphabetical order. This list of favorites ranges from the realistic to the futuristic, but only includes one vampire. What do you think of our selections? Tell us in the comments, or show us your own teen top 10.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman (Holt)
Gateway by Sharon Shinn (Viking)
Fire by Kristin Cashore (Dial/Penguin)
Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Random House)
If I Stay by Gayle Forman (Dutton)
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (Simon & Schuster)
The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks (Houghton Mifflin)
This Full House by Virginia Euwer Wolff (HarperTeen)
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking)
One of my favorite parts about working at BookPage is getting the opportunity to correspond with authors (once I had a multi-email exchange with Janet Skeslien Charles about online dating!). Today, I got an e-mail from Stephen Johnson, creator of My Little Red Fire Truck, with a photo that I thought would bring a smile to your face on this Friday afternoon:
From Alice Cary’s review in BookPage: “Where was My Little Red Fire Truck when my son was a preschooler? Oh, how he would have adored this book!” View a book trailer below the jump.
Have any of you had memorable exchanges with authors? Tell us about them in the comments.