WELCOME! Once a month, usually on a Thursday evening, a group of writers, illustrators, teachers and librarians meets in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles to discuss children's books. Usually we talk about one picture book and one middle grade or YA novel. After the meeting, Sandy Schuckett, a retired LAUSD librarian, summarizes our discussion. Here are her reports of our thoughts about the books we have read. We'd love to have your comments too!
Thanks to Nancy Hayashi for our wonderful title art! Our group has been meeting since 2007. It was organized under the auspices of the Children's Literature Council of Southern California (CLCSC).

Thursday, January 9, 2014

THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT by Oliver Jeffers and DOLL BONES by Holly Black

In a lively discussion of The Day the Crayons Quit, our group found two areas of agreement. We all thought that the idea of crayons threatening to walk off the job – each for a different, quirky reason – was funny and original. We also agreed that the art was delightful throughout. In fact, we looked at several books by Oliver Jeffers and were universally charmed by his illustrations. According to a librarian source, kids find this book extremely funny, requesting it over and over again. We adult readers, while appreciating the humor, were more critical. Some of us felt that the book was all character and no story, and that the one bit of conflict the author introduced – the rivalry between the yellow and orange crayons – should have been resolved in the final image. Some found that the voices of the crayons were too similar, and that the protest letters they wrote were too long. There were times, too, when the author seemed to be stretching to find yet another reason for a crayon to be unhappy with its lot. On balance, though, the group’s response was positive, thanks to the cleverness of the concept and the appeal of the art.

Opinions on Doll Bones, a novel for children between 10 and 14, were similarly mixed. The story, about three kids who go on a quest to bury a doll they feel is haunted by a dead girl, appealed to many in the group. Although adventure and fantasy rule the plot, there’s a strong element of realism: a complex relationship between the three main characters, a fairly dark view of family life, and a subtle treatment of the protagonists’ awkward age – one foot still in childhood, the other dipping tentatively into adolescence. Some felt that the author trod this tricky line between realism and fantasy successfully; others weren’t so sure. One question involved the book’s level of scariness. These days, kids are actively looking for scary books, but this one is only intermittently spooky – maybe enough for younger readers, but too tame for 14-year-olds, or kids looking for a major thrill. Although the doll, the book’s scariest element, appears to move, and to create chaos, and to have the power to impose her will, some ambiguity always remains. We never really see her do anything. Also, although the main character is a boy and there’s much in the story that might appeal to younger boys, the doll at the center of the book makes it unlikely a boy would check it out of the library. Other criticisms involved flat writing, uneven prose (sometimes mundane, sometimes more elevated), and unrealistic plot points. Would kids that age actually leave home and take a bus alone at night? Could they get a stolen sailboat across a river, having never sailed before? Still, for those in our group who bought into the concept (the majority, by my count), Doll Bones was a compelling tale.

With thanks to Monique de Varennes for this month's post!

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