Review: Irises by Francisco X. Stork


Irises by Francisco X. Stork

Stork explores the complicated relationship of sisters and family in his latest book for teens. Teenage sisters Mary and Kate are very different, though they have been raised in the same sheltered way.  Kate is planning to be a doctor and attend Stanford.  Mary is an artist, a painter, who has already received acclaim for her work.  But their plans are thrown into disarray when their father dies, leaving them only their mother who has been in a vegetative state for years.  While their father was loving, he was also very strict.  The girls are now free of his repressive ways, and they each respond to the new freedom in differently.  The freedom though comes with a cost of new worries, new relationships, and new pressures.  There are many decisions that have to be made, including one that is particularly heart wrenching. 

This is a complicated novel that does not summarize easily.  The characters are well developed and complex themselves, though I summarized each in a sentence, they are much more than that.  These girls are different from one another but far from opposites.  They are linked, closely and forever, together in sisterhood, a tie that strangles, binds and frees. 

Stork also looks closely at family in this book.  The cost of letting a family member go, the ways people deal with loss, and the process of recovery and reinvention are exposed here.  He weaves the lives of the girls with unexpected characters, including a gang-member who is also an artist and a young minister who has no shortage of ambition.  These characters too are complex and intriguing.

The minister is one of the pivotal characters in the book.  His ambition mirrors Kate’s and the two find themselves drawn to one another.  His logic about ambition and watching out for yourself rings true for a long time, until it changes and becomes hollow and crass.  The writing to take a character’s message and transform the way it sounds over the course of a novel without changing the tone or message itself is beautifully done, masterful.

This compelling novel is quiet, desperate, and riveting.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

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Simms Taback Dies


Simms Taback died on December 25, 2011 at the age of 79 from pancreatic cancer.  He won a 1998 Caldecott Honor for his vibrant version of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.  I also adore his 2000 Caldecott Medal winning Joseph Had a Little Overcoat.

The LA Times has the story of his passing that includes this bit about his Caldecott winning book:

"When the art came in, everybody was so dazzled," recalled Regina Hayes, publisher of Viking Children’s Books, which published his two best-known books and other titles.

"Die cuts had been used many times in novelty books but never had been done with such artistry," said Hayes. "Instead of treating it like a novelty book, we gave it the highest production values because we were so impressed by the quality of the art."

The 2011 Cybils Finalists


The 2011 Cybils Finalists were announced yesterday.  These awards for the best books for children and young adults take into consideration both quality and child appeal.  Click on category below to see the finalists:

I was proud to be part of the first-ever Cybils Books Apps Round One panel.  I got to see some amazing book apps and best of all got to discuss them with others passionate about books and technology.  Look for some app reviews coming soon!