Saturday, January 30, 2010

Drawn to Read: The Klise Connection

The wait is over, this week's edition of "Drawn to Read" is here. As you hopefully know by now I am highlighting illustrators of picture and chapter books, that are creating exemplary work — adding style and life to current children's literature. I welcome your suggestions for future illustrators and comments on the ones I post. I have featured Elise Primavera, Jon J. Muth, Adam Rex and Mo Willems. Then last week we put the spotlight on some charity work illustrators, crafters and artists were doing for Haiti. Now we are back to children's book illustrations, in a big way, with the wonderful stylings of M. Sarah Klise.

Teamed with her sister Kate (above left) as the author, M. Sarah Klise(above right) has illustrated and published 13 books (two more on the way) for children 3 – 12 years old. She first came to my attention when I read the first of a series of middle reader books — "Regarding the Fountain." You may have children familiar with them: "Regarding the Fountain," Regarding the Sink," "Regarding the Trees," "Regarding the Bathroom," and "Regarding the Bees."

The "Regarding the..." series follows Mr. sam N.'s middle school class through several wacky adventures with famed fountain designer, Florence Waters, criminals, principals, weddings, and much more. The stories unfold in scrapbook 
style presentations of news articles, memos, e-mails, photos, postcards and notes. The execution of the tale means the illustrations are as much a part of the narrative as the words themselves. Sometimes, for that matter, the illustrations are the words. Aside from the cover art, everything is black and white line art. The somewhat primitive style ads movement and humor to the situational comedy. This style of storytelling is not always easy. It can create choppy flow and plot development can be lost. Such is not the case with this series. The Klise sisters create a seamless marriage of illustration and text. Visual and verbal puns abound.

M. Sarah and Kate Klise have penned and illustrated four other books using the scrapbook/journal style, they have seemingly perfected, to tell the story. "Letters from Camp," is a spoof on the classic summer camp story. It follows pairs of brothers and sisters who have been sent to Camp Harmony to learn how to get along. "Trial By Journal," is a comedic mystery that follows a 12-year-old girl as she serves on the jury for a murder trial. The "43 Old Cemetery Road" series is an extremely quirky tale of a ghost and her friends. All of these books are filled with visual and verbal puns and wordplay. Sarah's line art adds character to the storytelling and encourages children to follow along.

Next I came across a series of picture books, by the Klise sisters, that focus on Little Rabbit and his mother. These engaging tales of childhood are brought to life with richly colored acrylic illustrations that are layered with texture and detail. The Little Rabbit books include, "Shall I Knit You a Hat?: A Christmas Yarn," "Why Do You Cry: Not a Sob Story," "Little Rabbit and the Night Mare," and the soon to be released "Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth." Klise easily enters a young child's world with whimsy and wonder. She attacks childhood fears and challenges head on and softens the threats with warm illustrations that invite children to linger in each scene.

M. Sarah and Kate Klise have won just about every award and honor imaginable and deservedly so. Unfortunately the ALA has not deemed to honor them with a Caldecott or Newberry Award. It's only a matter of time though. 

Also, keep your eyes out for a new picture book by the Klise sisters due out in May — "Stand Straight, Ella Kate: the True Story of a Real Giant." If you are interested in learning more about this dynamic duo or their books visit and tell them Chapter One Book Reviews sent you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So the Drama! New book takes a look at teen relationships

I recently highlighted two teen/young adult novels about vampires, pixies and werewolves. It seems about two-thirds of the books for teens these days are about the supernatural. The other third are teen dramas about love, relationships, school cliques, sex and drugs. The latter two seem to be glamorized far too often in today's teen novels. So when I received a review copy of "The Lonely Hearts Club" I cringed. The fact that Stephenie Meyer, author of the "Twilight" series, has an endorsement of the book prominently displayed on the front cover didn't sway me. I believe the "Twilight" series sets teen girls up for poor relationships with potentially abusive guys. That, however, is another review. After much consternation I brought myself to read, "The Lonely Hearts Club."

"The Lonely Hearts Club"
By Elizabeth Eulberg
For Ages 14 and up
In her debut novel Elizabeth Eulberg explores the lives of 16-year-old Penny Lane Bloom and her best friends. At the beginning of her junior year Penny decides she has had one too many bad relationships. Guys aren't worth the heartache, since they all seem to be after one thing and care about nobody but themselves. Penny decides to give up guys altogether — no dating until she is off at college. She looks to the only four guys in her life that have never steered her wrong, John Paul George and Ringo, for inspiration and forms The Lonely Hearts Club. Of course, there is only one member, herself. That doesn't last long though. As word of her club spreads the number of members quickly increases. This is also where the plot and character interaction really takes off.

Let's be clear, "The Lonely Hearts Club" is neither a man-hating club or book. The club is less about no dating than all the other aspects of life as a teenage girl. Besides, as the girls find out, it is very difficult to cut boys out of their lives altogether. The club is a support group of friends who help each other be themselves. It offers encouragement to respect yourself and have your own identity. If you remember high school you remember seeing far too many people lose themselves in their relationships and lose their friends in the process. Penny's club sets out to show teen girls that they do not need a boyfriend to validate who they are and if you do have a boyfriend make sure they respect who you are.

So the plot is somewhat cliched, but so are most of the teen novels on the market right now. We can't judge this book on the merits of its originality. What we can judge it on is character development, believability, message and entertainment value. "The Lonely Hearts Club" is driven by characters and conversation. Both of which Eulberg does a very nice job of developing. The characters are well developed, well rounded and believable. Readers will have no trouble making a connections and getting sucked into the drama. The conversations are quick, witty, and often poignant without being preachy or fake. Penny Lane and her friends Tracy and Diane are strong female characters with strong voices. They, and the rest of "The Lonely Hearts Club" are good heroes for today's teen girls.

Sexuality, drugs and drinking are too often glorified in teen novels. This is not to say authors should ignore the existence of such variables in their plots. Like "The Lonely Hearts Club," however, they should take an honest look and include such devices as sex to the extent that it progresses the plot. Eulberg does a very nice job of dealing with sexuality without glorifying it. Everyone is not "doing it." Alcohol comes up a couple times in the book and once again Eulberg does a nice job with context. She does not dismiss teen drinking nor does she glorify it.

Overall I was impressed and entertained with "The Lonely Hearts Club." Teens need good role models in their literature and Penny Lane is just that. "The Lonely Hearts Club" offers a message of self-respect, strength and the belief in oneself wrapped in an often humorous romp through high school.

Girls, or young women, who enjoyed "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," in middle school will enjoy "The Lonely Hearts Club" now.