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Posts from August 2012

The Ghost of Graylock: Dan Poblocki

Book: The Ghost of Graylock
Author: Dan Poblocki
Pages: 272
Age Range: 10 and up 

The Ghost of Graylock is a new middle grade / middle school novel by Dan Poblocki. As one might expect, it's a ghost story, reminiscent of the stories of Mary Downing Hahn. The Ghost of Graylock is creepy, suspenseful, and kid-friendly. 

When 12-year-old Neil and his 16-year-old sister Bree are sent to live with their aunts in the country for the summer, they waste no time in exploring (with two new friends) the mysterious Graylock Hall. Graylock is a former mental hospital, now abandoned. Rumors swirl about three teens who died there, possibly at the hands of an evil nurse. People say that Nurse Janet still haunts the boarded-up building. Inside Graylock, Neil and Bree do see creepy, hard-to-explain phenomena. Even worse, the odd manifestations follow them home. They are forced to investigate, to understand who exactly is haunting them, and why. 

I have to give Dan Poblocki credit. He pulls out all the stops in terms of eeriness. Graylock is full of dark corridors and sad artifacts of a bleak past. There's a hidden staircase, and a long-abandoned birthday cake. There are records of the suffering of children. The setting is carefully depicted. Like this:

"They walked in silence. The road led to a circular turnaround in front of the building. On the other side of the circle was the hospital's main entrance -- a wide stone staircase that rose toward a recessed entry. Within the shadows of the portal, impenetrable black iron doors were chained shut.

The building was not wide, but each of its three stories seemed to rise taller than the last, so that the place loomed as if ti were actually leaning toward them, trying to hypnotize them forward." (Page 20)

By page 33, Neil and Bree are experiencing supernatural phenomena. These manifestations continue unabated. There are hints of Neil and Bree's mother's mental illness in the fact that no one else sees the ghost, but it's pretty clear to the reader that something outside of the ordinary is going on. Like this:

"Wide-eyed, he and his sister stared at each other, their faces lit by the camera from below. Slowly, they turned. At the other side of the room, near the window, a dark shape stood completely still. It looked like one of their own shadows. Neil knew this was impossible. The camera's light was between them and the shape. Their shadows should been cast on the door behind them. Shaking, unable to speak, Neil held up the camera, trying to see who was there. (Page 36)

I liked the strength of the sibling relationship in The Ghost of Graylock, and the matter-of-fact treatment of the fact that "the aunts" are apparently a lesbian couple. I also liked the way the kids solve the mystery, using a combination of modern-day tools (web searches) and traditional methods (interviewing an old woman in a nursing home, reviewing high school yearbooks). The presence of the two older siblings (the friends are a pair of brothers about the same age as Bree and Neil) gives the younger kids a bit more freedom than might otherwise be plausible. 

Poblocki's prose did grate on me a bit. He tends to overuse and overdramatize metaphors (in my opinion). Like this:

"The trio sprinted toward the bend in the corridor, where daylight greeted them like a parent waiting with open arms... Memories of the Nurse Janet story flickered through his head like old film from a loud projector". (Page 37)

"A wide, stone mantel was set deep into the far wall. A fireplace blackened with soot opened like a howl beneath it." (Page 43)

Seriously? "Opened like a howl"? I suppose if he's going for how a melodramatic 12-year-old might write ... But this only really bothered me for the first part of the book. Once I got swept up into the plot, I didn't notice the writing so much, and read the remainder of the book quickly. 

The Ghost of Graylock is a spooky summer read, perfect for reading in bed with a flashlight. The setting, particularly the decaying Graylock Hall, is vivid and memorable, and the depiction of supernatural events is both dramatic and creative. Recommended for middle grade and middle school readers, boys and girls.

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: August 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Links I Shared on Twitter This Week: August 3

Here are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week:

Some very nice 2012 #kidlit and #yalit booklists from Bankstreet College of Education via @bkshelvesofdoom

Week 8 of Free SYNC YA MP3s includes DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by @LainiTaylor w/ Tale of 2 Cities 

RT @playbythebook: What is the most popular aspect of chaos theory in children’s literature? Find out here

RT @imaginationsoup: It's not too late to host a fun summer book club for kids! Or a fall book club What do you think?

Just in time for the Olympics: Good Game! Children's Sports Books via ESSL Children's Literature Blog

Check out the @toonbooks Messy Eater Giveaway. Share your child's messy photo/video, winner gets a free book

Dedication: an ode to #picturebook friends by Annette Simon on @NerdyBookClub #kidlit

Reading, Teaching, Learning: Happy Birthday, Harry Potter! Also references @anitasilvey

Sad! Maeve Binchy, bestselling Irish writer, dies aged 72 | Books | The Guardian via @bkshelvesofdoom

Looking forward to this! Dystopian August Kick-Off + 5 Marked-Up Novels Giveaway! @lenoreva #yalit

J.K. Rowling to Give Webcast to Launch New Harry Potter Reading Club  #hpREADS @Scholastic #kidlit

Friday Confession: I’ve Forgotten How to Read Adult Novels |@NoVALibraryMom via @ShiftTheDigital

Can Kids Be Taught Persistence? | MindShift via @ShiftTheDigital @sljournal

RT @CowsCantJump: Several Super Summer Reading Tips via @GailTerp including "Show your kids you value reading by reading yourself."  #ece

RT @rileycarney: Why Are We Wired for Story? by Lisa Cron  @WriterUnboxed #amwriting #writers

Stacked: So You Want to Read YA?: A Series Wrap-Up + Survey #yalit #kidlit

Duz Txting Hurt Yr Kidz Gramr? Absolutely, a New Study Says @EducationWeek #literacy

Lucky, lucky kids! JK Rowling is building Hogwarts-style treehouses in her back yard via @bkshelvesofdoom #kidlit

The July Carnival of Children’s Literature is up at Anastasia Suen's new blog @asuen1 #kidlit

Boy Books or Girl Books. Thought-provoking comments from @LizB on issue raised by @haleshannon #kidlit

Fascinating RT @tashrow: Want to help books survive? Promote authors yourself | Books |

That's all for this week. Follow me @JensBookPage for more children's literature and literacy-related links. 

This post © 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

The Book of Blood and Shadow: Robin Wasserman

Book: The Book of Blood and Shadow
Author: Robin Wasserman (@robinwasserman)
Pages: 448
Age Range: 12 and up

Robin Wasserman's The Book of Blood and Shadow was already on my short stack when I read this at Chasing Ray:

"If you're looking for a great escape this summer, you absolutely have to pick up Robin Wasserman's recent thriller The Book of Blood and Shadow. Comparisons have abounded to Dan Brown's juggernaut The Da Vinci Code (I would also make the case for The Eight by Katherine Neville) ..."

There was more, of course, but those two comparisons from Colleen Mondor were enough for me to decide to read it next. And I'm glad that I did. The Book of Blood and Shadow is an intelligent, suspenseful thriller that happens to feature a teen protagonist. Honestly, it didn't feel much like a young adult novel to me - I think that it could easily have been published for adults, and that it holds plenty of adult crossover appeal. It certainly kept me reading late into the night (no small feat these days!). 

The Book of Blood and Shadow begins with the grief of high school senior Nora over the murder of her best friend, Chris. Nora's tale then moves backward, to the events leading up to Chris' death, and then forward, as Nora embarks on a quest for understanding. The plot hinges on a 700 year old coded book, a series of four hundred year old letters (written in Latin), two secret societies, and multiple alchemists. The first part of the book is set in New England, the later part in Prague. There's a compelling mix of careful research and desperate action. 

Nora is a well-developed character. Her parents were broken by the death or her reckless brother six years earlier. Chris and his girlfriend Adriane form a substitute family of sorts for her (to which Chris' roommate Max is eventually added). She bears the scars of her family trauma, but still wants to see the best in the people she loves. She is wryly witty, with realistically low self-esteem. Like this:

"I'd never understood girls like her--as in literally couldn't comprehend how they achieved perfection by seven a.m., hair sleek and dry, lip gloss and mascara and foundation and the variety of cosmetics of whose existence I remained unaware masterfully applied, accessories matched to sartorial selection matched to freshly polished nails. Whereas I inevitably showed up to school late, with tangled, wet, and, several months of the year, frozen hair tucked into a lopsided bun, my socks mismatched, and, on truly special occasions, some hastily applied drugstore foundation that couldn't disguise the fact that my nose was slightly too big for my face." (Page 15-16)

"It's not often you get the opportunity to casually destroy something of value. When you're a kid, there's always a new tower of blocks to knock over, another Barbie to microwave. When you grow up, they take away your toys." (Page 18)

"This is how it happens, I thought as the doctor slid the clipboard into its holster and escaped. You don't even realize you're living in a before until you wake up one day and find yourself in an after." (Page 86)

As you can see from the passages above, The Book of Blood and Stone does have a certain maturity of grammar and vocabulary. It is not a quick, light read. The plot moves back and forth in time (not literally, but via letters), requiring readers to pay close attention to multiple strands of story. The tone is generally dark. But for those willing to invest some time and mental effort, it's a rewarding book (and a fascinating window into modern day and historic Prague). I recommend The Book of Blood and Shadow for teens and adults who are looking for a well-written thriller that will make them think, and take them away to new places.  

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: April 10, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Registration for the 6th Annual KidLitCon is Now Open!

Yes, my Kidlitosphere friends, it's that time again. Time to register for KidLitCon. As previously announced, this year's conference will be in New York City, at the main branch of New York Public Library, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, on September 28th and 29th. This year's host, the fabulous Betsy Bird, has all of the details here. Or you can go straight to the KidLitCon registration form.

Betsy and her equally fabulous co-hosts, Monica Edinger (Educating Alice) and Liz Burns (A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy), are sure to put together a can't miss event. Not only that. The main conference, on Saturday, is free for registered guests. Free! Can't beat that. 

It's also not to late to submit session proposals for the conference. The deadline for that is August 15th. 

KidLitCon is an annual gathering of people who love and promote children's literature. Conference sessions are designed to edify bloggers, including both reviewers and blogging authors. It's a relatively small conference (attendance this year is expected to be between 100 and 175 people), which makes it a great place to meet people. It's not the place to go if you are looking to collect hundreds of free ARCs. But it is definitely the place to go if you would like to:

  • Get ideas for stepping up and/or revitalizing your blog;
  • Meet people who you only know through their blogs; and
  • Be surrounded by other people who love children's and young adult literature as much as you do.

KidLitCon. It's the place to be! Register now!