Friday, October 31, 2008

Fiction Friday: ALA 2008 Teens' Top 10 & Australia's Inkys.

Found this here.  The longlist is here.  We have all of them but the last in the library, and they've been borrowed regularly.

The 2008 (USA) Teens' Top Ten

The vote is in! More than 8,000 teens voted on this year's winners. The 2008 USA Teens' Top Ten is: 

  1. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
  3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
  4. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
  5. Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Patterson
  6. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
  7. The Sweet Far Thing  by Libba Bray
  8. Extras by Scott Westerfeld
  9. Before I Die  by Jenny Downham
  10. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Australia's version of this is the Inkys , results not yet in for 2008.  Inkys longlist is here ; Inkys shortlist (3 Australian, 3 international) is here and shown below.

  • Town, James Roy: My brother Kimlan works all night fixing the road. He wears a shirt that reflects the light from the cars. The boss man says that if he does not wear that shirt, no one will be able to see him unless he smiles.
  • Tales from Outer Suburbia, Shaun Tan: It's funny how these days, when every household has its own intercontinental ballistic missile, you hardly even think about them.
  • A Brief History of Montmaray, Michelle Cooper: Officially, the head of our household is Uncle John, who is Aunt Charlotte's brother and Veronica's father (and the King of Montmaray), but he's rather distracted on his good days, and downright alarming on his bad ones.
  • Genesis, Bernard Beckett: …the only thing the population had to fear, was fear itself. The true danger humanity faced during this period was the shrinking of its own spirit.
  • Boy Toy, Barry Lyga: It was like watching the mating rituals of retarded birds, clumsily stepping the wrong patterns around each other over and over again.
  • Before I Die, Jenny Downham: I sit up and switch on the bedside light. There's a pen, but no paper, so on the wall behind me I write, I want to feel the weight of a boy on top of me.

Off the top of my head, and without checking, I'd say Tales, Montmaray and Before I Die would be the ones of those which have been borrowed regularly from our library.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween in the library

We did a bit of decorating of the library foyer for Halloween, to promote reading - according to the students, it's 'cool', so that's a nice accolade.   It wasn't hard to fill the bookcase with fantasy/magic/spooky/wizardly books, although I must admit to a soft spot for Anticraft: Knitting, beading and stitching for the slightly sinister...
We made the bookmarks you can see in one of the pictures (I use Publisher, and have a preset blank I've made and saved on which I put the current theme) and the pennants and tags.  One of my co-workers had the pumpkin light, and that was where it all started... No lollies, and we stayed away from the icky end of it.  Lights, corndolly decorations and beads from Ikea, fabric and little skeletons/spiders from Spotlight, large skeleton from a two dollar shop, cardboard is standard colours, fonts sourced from the site I mentioned here, Twilight poster from Dolly, a couple of book promo pieces gifted by the lovely local independent bookshop.  The Ikea stuff and fabric were the most expensive ingredients (and also reusable), while the rest is largely ingenuity and time.  We'll box it up next week and have some more fun next year. 
My favourite of our slogans:
The TRICK with reading:
TREAT yourself to a book (from your school library).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What's a girl to read?

Justine Henning, in an article in the NY Times, lists 12 notable books for girls, asks, What's a Girl to Read?

To quote:

Parents and other adults in these novels usually fail to prevent young people from acting out — with variously comic or tragic consequences. Yet their authors recognize the developing moral intelligence of both their characters and their audience, producing stimulating books for young readers (that parents might even enjoy).

  • Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, by Louise Rennison. Be More Chill, by Ned Vizzini.
  • Breakout, by Paul Fleischman.
  • The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler.
  • Feeling Sorry for Celia, by Jaclyn Moriarty.
  • Flipped, by Wendelin Van Draanen.
  • The Friends, by Rosa Guy.
  • If You Come Softly, by Jacqueline Woodson.
  • Life Is Funny, by E. R. Frank.
    Looking for Alaska, by John Green.
  • Luna, by Julie Anne Peters.
  • Make Lemonade, by Virginia Euwer Wolff.
  • Rules of the Road, by Joan Bauer.
  • Sandpiper, by Ellen Wittlinger.
  • The Skin I'm In, by Sharon G. Flake.
  • Someone Like You, by Sarah Dessen.
  • Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson.
  • Tears of a Tiger, by Sharon Draper.
  • Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume.
  • Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld.
But go and read her article - she provides a summary of each book with age-range recommendations, plus additional useful web links. It's from 2006, but I hadn't come across it till recently. So maybe you hadn't come across it either. Till now.

Conversely, Naomi Wolf expresses concern, in another NYT article, about Gossip Girl books and similar series. To quote:

The "Gossip Girl," "A-List" and "Clique" series — the most successful in a crowded field of Au Pairs, It Girls and other copycat series — represent a new kind of young adult fiction, and feature a different kind of heroine. In these novels, which have dominated the field of popular girls' fiction in recent years, Carol Gilligan's question about whether girls can have "a different voice" has been answered — in a scary way.

and she concludes:

The great reads of adolescence have classically been critiques of the corrupt or banal adult world. It's sad if the point of reading for many girls now is no longer to take the adult world apart but to squeeze into it all the more compliantly. Sex and shopping take their places on a barren stage, as though, even for teenagers, these are the only dramas left.

And if you click here, you'll find ten questions readers of Wolf's essay posed, and how they were answered.

What is a girl to read?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Australia film: Set to Screen Podcasts

As part of the publicity and buzz around Baz Luhrmann's new film, Australia, there's an educational component involving podcasts and creative challenges for students.  To quote from that website:

Learn moviemaking from a master.

Great movies are full of adventure, and Australia, the next film from Oscar-nominated director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, William Shakespeare’s Romeo+Juliet), is no exception. But making a movie is an even bigger adventure—an adventure in creativity—and with the Apple Set to Screen Series, you can be a part of it.

Every few weeks through October, a new podcast episode from Baz and his production team will introduce you to another aspect of moviemaking, starting with on-set still photography, then moving on to costume design, cinematography, scoring, and more. You’ll get insights from the artists at work on Australia, watch them in action, view footage the rest of the world hasn’t seen yet, and follow along as the movie comes together.

Start your journey now.

Subscribe to the Set to Screen Series, and iTunes will automatically download each new episode that’s posted. Once you’ve watched an episode, come back here to check out the notes about the featured member of the production team, and—if there’s a challenge for that episode—get all the details you’ll need to participate.

Image source.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Things a teacher librarian can't do: No. 1

Supply four (new) YA vampire romances a week to Twilight enthusiasts looking for another hit....

Although we do our best to point them in the direction of other books they may enjoy - they narrowcast and I'm trying to expand their range (eg. Maximum Ride series).  But I've got a couple of particularly voracious readers who are reading faster than I can buy, and I suspect faster than authors are writing.   Of course in the adult vampire romance stakes, there are a number of quite voluminous series by several authors.  Local library time...

It's lovely that they know there's a hit they can only get from reading a book.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fiction Friday: Dairy Queen

Read this one in the holidays, and it was great fun.  DJ Schwenk is like Josephine Alibrandi, a voice leaping off the page, a first person narrator who keeps you reading.  Like Josie, she's not always reliable - reflecting how her understanding changes over the course of the summer.  Her family owns a dairy farm in Wisconsin, and with her two elder brothers having decamped to football camps (they're both star players), her father being injured, her mother working two other jobs and her younger brother collecting skulls and playing sport, much of the farm work falls on DJ's shoulders.  Then the coach of a rival town's football team, and a family friend, suggests that DJ should coach one of his players who can also help on the farm.
There's a sequel: The Off Season.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hexadecimal Colour Codes

When I switched the background colour of this blog to pink, in the coding what changed was its six digit hexadecimal colour code. If you'd like to see more colours than you'd imagined, and their codes, take a squizz here.

To quote from the page:

This page demonstrates the six-digit hexadecimal representation of color of the form #RRGGBB, where RR, GG, and BB are the hexadecimal values for the red, green, and blue values of the color. Using a hexadecimal code is the most reliable of the several ways you can define colors in HTML or style sheets.

PS. I could have gone into the blog template and changed the colour in the html forest there, but instead I used an option from the WSYWG layout mode in Blogger - (What You See is What You Get) because it's easier. If you know about these codes, though, you have an idea of what to look for if you do go into the forest...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Online presence: who finds you and why

One of the fascinations of compiling this blog is toddling over to see how people find it.  I'd like, of course, to think that it's morning-coffee-reading for charming teacher librarians.  Yup.  Except there's that problem of if you do get morning coffee, amid the busy life of  a school library.

The site gets on average about three dozen visits a day, and around fifty page views.  When I look at the referrals, the vast majority are people who've googled their way here.  Not TLs, but folks with questions.  And if they're coming here from Google, it means that this site is usually on the first page of Google's hits for the query being entered (eg. twilight fonts).  In case you didn't know, Google ranks pages by what you could call a usefulness logarithm - if people link to it or click to it, the more links/clicks the more useful the site is presumed to be, and the higher it travels up the Google rankings.

I've done nothing to advance or hinder this.  I write what I write, blog an entry for pretty much every weekday of school terms, and let it stand on the net as a source.  I've blogged about a variety of things, under the general umbrella of teacher librarianship, and I find them all over, in online and print sources I read, things I hear: the flypaper mind and scavenging soul of a teacher librarian/hunter-gatherer, collating rather than originating (pause while I ponder the amusement of this entry actually being original, rather than collation!).  But this entry isn't about my genius, or presumed genius, or possible genius, or anything like that.

I'm fascinated by the fact that a modest, unpublicised blog can create the presence it has in search engines.  A proportion has been fortuitous - I happened to be blogging about Twilight in various ways just as its popularity went stratospheric.  But the hits are far from being all Twilight-related.  For Melina Marchetta's new book, Finnikin of the Rock, the entry on this blog is on the first page if you google.  And that's just one example.  Day by day, entry by entry, this blog becomes a resource, a reference, and not necessarily in ways one has thought of, planned for or intended.  Brick by brick, you don't always see the potential castle.

The take-home point of this musing is to consider how this applies to our kids, and the presence/s they build online.  How easy or not their work may be to find.  How it presents them - good light?  bad light?  How quickly something can be so findable worldwide.  Although I haven't tried it, the question of how eradicable (or not) such a presence may be.  And points like that.  So if you've come here for the Twilight fonts, here's the link.  If you're a teacher librarian, there's a take-home point I hope you find useful/thought-provoking too.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Social networking and privacy online

In a useful article from Nick Galvin of the Sydney Morning Herald, entitled, The kiss and tell of social networks, possibly the most apt and thought-provoking observation is the one at the end of this quote:

Among many younger net users there is now an assumption that everything should be shared and a casualness about what was once thought of as personal information that makes many older people shudder.

"I don't know what it is like to live your entire life publicly online," says social media expert Jeffrey Veen. "But there are kids today who are figuring it out."

Veen has been at the heart of the internet revolution all his working life. Among other things, he has been a key designer behind hugely successful social media applications such as Flickr and the blogging service TypePad.

He says attitudes to privacy and information sharing are easily defined by the generation you belong to.

"There is a generational divide that is as strong today as the divide that existed between kids and their parents over music in the 1950s," says Veen, visiting Sydney last week for an industry conference, Web Directions South.

"People older than 25 years think of everything they do on their computer as being private unless they share it, where people younger than that think of everything they do on a computer as public unless they choose to make it private. This is a fundamental difference."

(my highlighting)

The article points out some of the traps of this thinking - eg. the use of social networking/googling by employers to assess prospective employees, which can be a plus or minus, depending on what they discover.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The secrets of storytelling

Our love for telling tales reveals the workings of the mind, according to Jeremy Hsu in his article, The secrets of storytelling, from Scientific American.  The article covers the following key concepts:

Storytelling is a human universal, and common themes appear in tales throughout history and all over the the world.

These characteristics of stories, and our natural affinity toward them, reveal clues about our evolutionary history and the roots of emotion and empathy in the mind.

By studying narrative’s power to influence beliefs, researchers are discovering how we analyze information and accept new ideas.
Which means to me as a TL that stories/fiction (and I've heard people say it could be done by local libraries, and the fiction section isn't necessarily an essential part of a school library...) are most important to education and learning.  Who'd'a thunk?!
We tell stories about other people and for other people. Stories help us to keep tabs on what is happening in our communities. The safe, imaginary world of a story may be a kind of training ground, where we can practice interacting with others and learn the customs and rules of society. And stories have a unique power to persuade and motivate, because they appeal to our emotions and capacity for empathy.

Storytelling is one of the few human traits that are truly universal across culture and through all of known history.

Worth reading.  I found the reference to this article here.  Hmmm.  Might save this article to use to promote the next round of holiday borrowing.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Twilight movie: third and final trailer/release date/soundtrack/new poster

The third and final trailer for the Twilight film.  Sourced from this page at TrailerSpy, so fingers crossed not blocked by DET filters.

Also viewable on the Twilightthemovie home page.

The imdb page for the film still lists the release date for Australia as 11 December 2008.

There's a new poster:
and the official Stephenie Meyer website, has a track listing for the soundtrack.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fiction Friday: graphic novels

We're about to put our graphic novels in a separate section - some manga, bought this year, but also Raymond Briggs' When the Wind Blows, and Shaun Tan's The Arrival, and The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  Be interesting to see how it goes.  My plan for next year is to have students who like manga form some sort of advisory committee to make suggestions for additions.  The Children's Bookshop in Beecroft is one specialist bookseller making a particular effort to learn about manga so it can advise teacher librarians.  Their suggestion is not to go deep in one series, but thin and broad, a few from many, to meet the widest range of user interests.  Realistically, I'm not sure that a school library can fully support every manga reader's every wish, given the volume/frequency of issue; unlike what one tries to do with popular fiction series such as Ranger's Apprentice, Redwall and Twilight, to name just three, where you do try to stock all titles.

It was therefore thought provoking to find this article from the Guardian in the UK, about a US graphic novel venture aimed at teenage girls that hasn't worked: and that one of the main issues may have been quality.

A quote from the article (which is by Ned Beauman):

 Although it does have some big hits, the manga industry is mostly a triumph of market segmentation: among the thousands of titles published every year in Japan, there is something for every conceivable taste. Coming out of this giant, delirious laboratory, a popular title may keep up such an intimate dialogue with its specific teenage audience that it is almost unintelligible to anyone else.

Discovered via Read Alert.  Image source: the Guardian article .


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Social networking - how many of these do you know?

Upon finding a very interesting article about storytelling - about which I'll post shortly - I was also fascinated by the list it supplied of ways in which to share this via social networking.  Myself, being neither whizz nor Luddite, but somewhere on the continuum in between, I expected to recognise some - but there were certainly a number new to me.  I posted about the list on Barack Obama's website a couple of weeks ago: well, here's another list to test you (from the choices provided by Scientific American):

  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Yahoo Bookmarks
  • MySpace
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Newsvine
  • Mixx
  • Yahoo! My Web
  • Propeller
  • FriendFeed
  • Windows Live
  • Reddit
  • Digg (32)
  • StumbleUpon
  • Xanga
  • Blinklist
  • Furl
  • ma.gnolia
  • Mister Wong
  • N4G
  • Blogmarks
  • Faves
  • Current
  • Simpy
  • Slashdot
  • Meneame
  • Yigg
  • Fresqui
  • Diigo
  • Care2
  • Funp
  • Kirtsy
  • Hugg
  • Sphinn

So, how many did you recognise?  And how many would our students recognise?

The fact that these are options offered by an established publication such as Scientific American also gives this list some authority as another snapshot of significant social networking sites.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Search Google 2001

As part of its 10th birthday celebrations, Google is, for a limited time, offering you the chance to search the net with the 2001 version of the Google search engine, complete with that snazzy logo and results from the Internet Archive.  Gee, is it really ten years since I remember reading something in, was it Time magazine? about a search engine that would have us abandoning Yahoo and AltaVista and Dogpile?

Play here.  But it is only there for a limited time, it will be gone sometime in October 2008.  Could be an interesting voyage for kids - YouTube, for example, didn't exist.

To quote from the FAQ:

So what exactly happens when I do a 2001 search using this cool interface?

We've set up this search page to return many of the webpages from our 2001 index as results. When you click on a webpage result, you get taken to today's live version of the website. When you click on the link to "View old version on the Internet Archive," you are taken to the earliest 2001 copy of that webpage on the Internet Archive so you can see what the full webpage used to look like.

Books by ISBN

Just suppose you have an ISBN (although why you'd have it without the book, I'm not sure.  But the world is an amazing place, after all) and you want to know which book it belongs to.

The internet is an amazing place.  Try Books-by-ISBN, a site that mainly collects data from assorted Amazon sites.  And then lets you search by ISBN.  It appears to be a private venture (eg. it's not a bookselling site) run out of Germany (written in English - covers English speaking areas, German, French and Other).

Books-by-ISBN is here, and its FAQ page here.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October is Breast Cancer Month... the blog's gone pink.  Click on the links over there on the right to donate or learn more, or go shopping here {link} for pink products.

Thank you (x 27)

Not that I was ego-surfing, but since it's always interesting to know how people find this blog (a lot come through googling, looking for the answer to a particular question, rather than as regulars) I took a squizz at who's bookmarked Skerricks on  Twenty seven of you!

Thank you!  (x 27)

And the good news: I'm now writing/collating a blog for the staff at my school as well.  Which is partly what I wanted to do when I began Skerricks.  This public blog will continue, because one's community, as a teacher librarian, isn't just the inner circle of school colleagues, but the outer circle of other TL colleagues as well, from whom I aim to give as well as learn.

Sometime soon I'd like to expand the blogroll here, so if you have suggestions, please leave them in a comment.


Cloud computing

So what is cloud computing?

A recent Sydney Morning Herald article, Computing pushes into the ether, by Conrad Walters, explains the term.

We've all had our head in the clouds at some point but, increasingly, our data is taking up residence there as well. In a major trend known as "cloud computing", the internet is becoming the repository for files and even software.

Cloud computing may be an unfamiliar term but many people use it without even thinking about it. The most obvious examples are email services such as Hotmail or Gmail. Messages and the underlying software exist in the ether of "the cloud" rather than on your hard drive, as was usually the case a few years ago.

Of course we're only talking about a conceptual cloud here. All your data is in reality sitting on a storage server ... somewhere.

Read more of the pros and cons on the link above.

Monday, October 13, 2008

YA for Obama

A lot of notable YA writers are supporting Barack Obama at the YA for Obama site eg. these entries from Scott Westerfeld (do the math Democrat vs Republican) and the Cecily von Ziegesar, creator of Gossip Girl

As Scott Westerfeld points out in an entry on his own blog, Mess o' Politics, it's the young who get to pick up the tab into the future for mistakes made now:

I’ll let in on a little secret: YA authors are political.
After all, our books are all about what the future holds, who’s got power and who hasn’t, and how bullies can and should be taken down. They’re about figuring out your place in the world, and making a stand when things are just plain wrong.
What could be more political than all that?

here’s secret number two: teenagers are political too.
Teens understand that power matters. Their lives are controlled in some pretty astonishing ways, both by adults and by each other. (I’ve always said that the success of Uglies is partly thanks to high school being a dystopia: a bell rings and you march to your next station; what you say and wear is monitored; the newspapers are censored—for your own good!)

In response to the YA for Obama site, a book reviewer, Jessica, has set up YA for McCain.

Having perused the carefully sourced info here, I'm glad I wasn't the Wasilla librarian, back in the day.

Visual FX Converter

Welcome back!  Ah, holidays.  A marvellous invention, especially in spring.  But now, back to work...

My favourite online currency converter tool for those tricky decisions (eg. is that expensive but beautiful Tord Boontje design book cheaper from, which discounts but charges freight/postage, or from the, which often discounts but has free worldwide postage?*) is the OandaVisual FXConverter.  Oanda has other online converters, but this one's the quickest.  Useful for Maths, Business Studies etc.

Find it here: Visual FXConverter.

Actually, I usually buy school/library books from local suppliers - I'm blessed by a brilliant local independent bookshop.  For myself, it depends on the book and price (see the calculations below).

* is $US47.25 + $US9.98 shipping for a total of $57.23 and 18-32 business days (or 3-6 weeks, which I think is a clearer way to say it). is £32.35, free postage and delivery of 7-10 days.  Wrangling this through the converter: for this item, Amazon is a dollar or so cheaper but a lot slower.  Last few I checked, Bookdepository won on price (it always wins on speed).  (Oh, and in case you're wondering, the Australian price for this book is around $130, not counting any postage, and it would be hard to find outside bookshops with depth in design books.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta - review (and some musings on fantasy writing)

In one sentence: I wanted to like it more than I did.

Collecting it from the bookshop at the end of term, this was an eagerly awaited bit of holiday reading.  As I mentioned back here , I'm a definite fan of Melina Marchetta's writing.  Josephine in Looking for Alibrandi, and Francesca in Saving Francesca come off the page and into your head with such immediacy, in their flawed authenticity, with such clear voices, and both are books I reread every few years for the pleasure of spending time with them.

One of the non-school* books I've been (re)reading this year has been Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.    As with many fantasy/historical books, she has a world and a canvas and a considerable cast of characters.  It can be a catch, that considerable cast of characters.  Because I don't want to be fumbling with who's who, and where they fitted in, and what they did, and how I should feel about them.  As a reader, I don't like feeling lost.  In Gabaldon's books (and to be fair, I'm up to my umpteenth rereading of them, so I do know them well - but this remains true when I read each new one the first time too) I don't get stuck on who's who.  Even if I do go back to remind myself of exactly what they did and how she tells it, I'm not floundering as to who they are and how they fit in to the story.

This morning, I galloped through Finnikin of the Rock.  I'm a fast reader, but that doesn't stop me following/enjoying a book's story (ie. I don't think it's because I read it at my usual pace that I got lost).  The story happens in a multi-kingdom world; the kingdom from which Finnikin and his companions have come, Lumatere, has had bad things happen, and the arc of the story is their journeying towards a restoration of good.  Along the way, they have, as you would expect, assorted setbacks, challenges and adventures, meeting various people and acquiring the information necessary to return to Lumatere and prevail over the bad guys.

There is a quote from Primo Levi's work, If This Is a Man, which from memory references the Nazi persecution of the Jews**, at the start of the book, and for me this lay like a heavy hand on the narrative.  Persecuted people seeking relief/redemption: but just like you gotta be careful if your school debating team thinks of mentioning Hitler (as some will do in relation to almost any topic), this is a big ghost to raise.  The bad guys occupying Lumatere are, by and large, very off-screen, and maybe it would have been good to see them in action on the page, rather than seeing refugee camps resulting from the persecution, and hearing of black fog concealing Lumatere.  I wanted to care more than I did.

So Finnikin and his companions give us a view of the assorted peoples and geographies of the Land of Skuldenore (and it's that sort of shape, in the maps at the front, and somehow the name doesn't work for me - are we inside a skull, a dream, what?) as they journey onwards clockwise through Skuldenore's various kingdoms, and a couple of fairly guessable mysteries are unravelled, (don't most readers know that if you ain't seen the whole body, maybe that person isn't dead?) and it seems to take rather longer than necessary for the hero and heroine to finally get together (there's a line between engaging obstacles and irritating ones to such things).

Meanwhile, I found myself losing track of who some characters were, and after the big battle towards the end, either couldn't remember who some of the people were who died, or why I should care, because I hardly knew them anyway.  There were other characters I was clearly meant to care about, but didn't, and plot points whose point eluded me, and I can't remember why there are two goddesses worshipped in Lumatere, somewhat competitively; and thinking it over, I wonder if part of the problem, for me, was that although I'm sure Melina Marchetta has this world in great and wonderful detail in her head, this somehow didn't transfer to the page.

And so I felt lost, more than engrossed, and while I finished the book, and will certainly put it in the way of our many students who love fantasy books (and for whom voracious barely describes their reading appetite) it's not one I'll buy for myself (as I did with Alibrandi and Francesca), and I won't be investing in multiple copies for the library (as I did of those two in particular) unless it generates that level of demand.

It's a challenge, writing fantasy, to create a believable world.  First it has to be real enough to you, and then it has to be real enough for your readers, who don't know it when they first come to it.   You only have to see the success of successful ones - Hogwarts, or Middle Earth, to name two among many - to see how it can be done, how engaged readers become in these worlds, how real they are to them.  Take Robin McKinley, who's created several believable and engaging fantasy worlds (more Damar, please!  and more from the world of Sunshine!)

While the geography gives a context for the plot, it shouldn't necessarily feel as though it only exists to serve the plot (I still remember being annoyed that the mother in the Swiss Family Robinson seemed to have a Tardis-like canvas bag that she filled when the shipwreck was happening and which always seemed to have tucked in there whatever the plot, I mean family needed on their island.  I cannot imagine how she fitted it all in there, nor how it was able to be carried anywhere with all that stuff inside).  In Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea, the landscapes illustrate the narrative - Ogion's calm approach to the rain on Gont, the desertlike surrounds of the tombs on Atuan (not forgetting all that is implied in the labyrinths below) and so on.  Skuldenore felt convenient, rather than real.

Let alone, when I think about it, the many other books based on places I've never been, where as a reader I still feel like I'm there, Chicago in The Time Traveler's Wife or wartime/postwar Guernsey in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to name two I've read this year.  It's suspension of disbelief, and confidence the writer instils in you as they tell their story.

If you base your books on a world you know, then some stuff will just come to you because you do know it, inside out and upside down, because you've lived there.  With a fantasy world, there's everything to create - how and where people live, how they interact, how society and hierarchies work; and the world's geographies and surroundings.  That's the game and the challenge for the writer, and their responsibility to the reader***.  And for me, somehow, I felt on the outside of Skuldenore, and distanced from many characters, and indifferent to them.  I didn't want to, but I did.

If you've read it, I'd be interested in your thoughts.  As/when I get comment from students next term, I'll add to this entry.  On a minor note, I think the cover's lovely, but I wonder if the spangly twirly bits will be offputting to some of the boys.  Dunno.

So am I disappointed in this one?  Yes, I am.  Would I read another Melina Marchetta book?  Every time.  I'm still a fan.  The link at the bottom to the image source will also take you to a short video of the author discussing her ideas about this book.  According to this blog entry , her next book is a sequel to Saving Francesca, with Thomas as the main character and set a few years on, when they're in their early twenties.

Added later: For an alternative, more positive review of Finnikin from a NZ children's bookshop, click here.  I think my review is probably the one to which he refers, so it's good to offer you, the reader, different perspectives on the book. 

*bit too much bodice-ripping for a school library, but I can't tell you how many people I've successfully recommended them to.  First in the series is Cross Stitch, if you're in Australia or the UK, or Outlander if you're in the US or Canada.  They're unclassifiable, in that they're historically accurate time-travel romantic military-history fiction damn good reads.  Or something like that, with the first three centring on the Jacobite rising of 1745 and the later ones on the American War of Independence.

**it does.  Here's the Wikipedia entry on Primo Levi.

***I'm writing a novel myself, a long-term project, and am finding just those challenges in creating its world, so this is something that's of interest to me from both reading and writing points of view.

Image source and link to an author video of Melina Marchetta talking about Finnikin of the Rock.