When I started working at The Blue Marble, I thought it was great that publishers sent advanced reading copies (ARCs) for us to preview. Imagine seeing the works of your favorite authors BEFORE anyone else does. This was great! But as the years have progressed, I sometimes find this practice daunting -- this time of year especially.
While I'm trying to "catch up" on the award winning books I somehow missed reading, more and more ARCs are arriving. Already we have shelves of them dated through August of 2011. Some of my favorite authors' ARCs beckon me each time I walk past them. And there are new voices joining in the chorus too.
I have managed to get a few ARCs read recently. Some, I'm already hoping the rest of the children's book world will find as wonderful as I have.
Fantasy Baseball by Alan Gratz [Dial] (March release).
By the time I was halfway through this book, I had a bit of reader's remorse. I'd wished I'd highlighted or taken notes on the storybook references and characters Alan includes in this book. There were so many I lost count. Honestly, I felt like I was on a treasure hunt, discovering new surprises with each page.
This is the ultimate fantasy baseball book, with the main character waking up to find he's playing for Dorothy's (of The Wizard of Oz) baseball team -- a team made up of storybook characters. And even more interesting, all the teams are made up of fantasy players. The team who wins the league gets a wish from The Wizard himself.
While the story is loads of fun, there is a serious and moving subplot woven through the book. Don't miss this one.
Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt. [Clarion] (April release)
This is a companion novel to Schmidt's Newbery Honor book, Wednesday Wars, and it's stunning. It follows Doug Swieteck as he moves to a new community. For some, this may be seen as an opportunity for a fresh start, but Doug's demons follow him. Fortunately, there are those in this new community who see Doug as a blank slate, not a reflection of his past or of the actions of certain members of his family.
This time Schmidt uses the painting of Audubon, not Shakespeare, to shine a light on the dark places in Doug's life. And while this novel doesn't have as much humor as its predecessor, it does have the same emotional strength and poignancy.
True (Sort of) by Katherine Hannigan
By the end of the first chapter of this book, readers know they are in for a special treat. Hannigan's talent for creating quirky and likable characters is at its best. True (Sort of) weaves the stories of a girl who is new to town and has selective mutism, a boy who is suddenly discovering he's no longer tall or talented enough to keep up in basketball, and a main character who is fighting the reputation she's gained through her own behavior. Each must face the truth in order to overcome their obstacles.
Like Ida B., Hannigan tackles some very serious issues in this book. But she does it with such finesse that readers will not be pulled out of the store when faced with the jarring truth.
Well, that's about it for now.