The Book Standard has an interesting article: Jessa Crispin Pops A Question To Borders. In it Crispin, author of the great Bookslut blog talks about Borders’ choice to not carry Pop, a teen novel by Aury Wallington. They will special order it by request but will not have it on their store shelves. Why? Sex, sex, sex. I guess in this case, sex does not sell?
In the article, the Borders spokesperson pulls out the old no room on the shelves comment. Sigh. Don’t they know that librarians have long perfected excuses about why they don’t carry certain materials. Shelf space is so old hat. Instead try, “The binding is not high enough quality” (used by many libraries when talking about Madonna’s Sex book) or “It would just get stolen anyway.” (used when talking about any book with “sex” in the title and in conjunction with the previous example when talking about Madonna’s book.)
Lame excuse, Borders, especially when your competition has found room on their shelves for it. One would think that a national bookseller would have more courage than this.
The Gingerbread Girl by Lisa Campbell Ernst.
A new take on the Gingerbread Boy, this picturebook features his younger sister. A year has passed since the elderly couple created the Gingerbread Boy and they decide to try once again, filling this little Gingerbread Girl with candy. While she is baking in the oven, the couple talk about the many mistakes the Gingerbread Boy made, especially by running away. But once they peek in the door at the girl, she is up and running too, setting off to prove that she is much smarter than her older brother. The story follows the same path as the traditional one as the Gingerbread Girl runs past animals, people, and more until reaching the river and the fox. But this one ends very differently much to the pure joy of children listening.
I enjoyed Ernst’s ability to mirror the traditional but bring in modern touches and a new run-away rhyme. I also enjoyed her unmistakable art with the sweet-covered gingerbread, the surprised humans, and the many animals. Read this book to a class after reading the traditional version. Preschoolers and kindergarteners alike will enjoy the revenge the Gingerbread Girl takes as well as the happy ending.
Incantation by Alice Hoffman.
This is the remarkable book that tells the story of Estrella, a teenage girl growing up in Spain around 1500. She slowly realizes as the book progresses that she is somehow different than the others in her village, despite the fact that her family has lived there for 500 years. As the details are slowly exposed, Estrella learns that her family are actually Marranos, Jews who live in secrecy because of all of the hatred and exclusion of Jews in the society. Estrella also learns through the course of the book that she is more powerful and intelligent than she had ever realized. When her best friend grows jealous because her cousin is courting Estrella, she does the unthinkable and turns in Estrella’s grandfather as a magician and heretic. Estrella realizes at that point that there is a monster of hatred that all people must battle within themselves and that sometimes the monster is strong enough to overtake an entire society.
Hoffman’s language is pure poetry. This slim volume is easily consumed, but you will find yourself stopping time and again simply to reread her words that breathe a detailed life into Estrella and her surroundings. There is a beauty here that adds to the pain and the horror. It is masterfully done, a book of poetry without verses. The characterization is wonderful with the adults around Estrella become more and more human as their secrets are revealed.
But I must comment more on the writing itself. Here is a paragraph from the first page which made me know immediately that this was a book I was going to love.
“I have crossed over to a place where I never thought I’d be. I am someone I would have never imagined. A secret. A dream. I am this, body and soul. Burn me. Drown me. Tell me lies. I will still be who I am.”
It is writing like this, characters like these, that make writing for teens so expansive and amazing. Occasionally I think about reading more books for adults and leaving behind books for teens, but then I find a gem like this one, a book that will stay with me for years, that I will recommend to others whether they read books for teens or not. It is pure, graceful poetry.