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Alabama Moon

Alabama Moon by Watt Key

Farrar, Straus & Giroux; September 2006; 304 pp; $16.00 HC


Core Audience: Boys 9+; readers who loved Hatchet or Holes; paranoid survivalists

Strengths: Incredibly vivid writing; a charming and original hero in the spirit of Huck Finn

First, let me say that this review is way overdue, because like Susan Pfeffer’s Life as We Knew It, this book is at the absolute top of my favorites from 2006, and I’ve been recommending it to everyone except the faithful readers of this blog, unfortunately. This was an egregious oversight, because I can’t say enough good things about this book. This book was recently awarded the E.B. White Read Aloud Award by ABC’s independent booksellers, and it sure deserves it. It grabs you by the throat from the first paragraph, and doesn’t let go.

Written by first-time author Watt Key, Alabama Moon is the story of ten year old Moon who has spent his entire life deep in the Alabama woods with his survivalist father. He knows everything about taking care of himself in the wild from hunting food to building a shelter, but he has never spent much time in the company of strangers. When Moon’s father dies after breaking a leg, his last piece of advice is for Moon to go to Alaska to find others like them. Of course, as soon as Moon sets foot outside of the woods, he finds himself caught up in a world of trouble, and he must figure out a way to make his skills work for him when he has no experience of society.

This novel is amazing both for the originality of its voice, and the fine line it treads between poignant drama and the particular comedy that comes from the clash of two cultures. It is a testament to Watt Key’s writing that he is able to give Moon the complexity of character where his rebelliousness, his vulnerability, and his self-reliance show through in equal measure. The book is full of authentic detail and woodcraft, and boy readers in particular will get plenty of vicarious enjoyment out of Moon’s skills. (My favorite—making a hat worthy of Davy Crockett from the butt-end of a white tailed deer.) Moon is so irrepressible, readers are quickly in his corner as he confronts and rejects the expectations society has for him. In the tradition of Huck Finn and other fine iconoclasts, Moon just will not be kept down.

Of course, in the end we want for Moon what he wants for himself—a place in the world where he belongs. As a first time author, Watt Key has written a remarkable book, and although its most obvious appeal is for middle grade boys, this book deserves a much wider readership. Afterall, the themes of family, friendship, and belonging resonate far beyond the Alabama woods.

Get thee to a bookstore.


Order this book from your local independent bookstore.


Parenting Books

Hello from Babyland. I’m glad to be back.

It’s been a wild few weeks here at pixie stix, but I’m happy to say that it’s also been totally amazing, and our pixie is doing great! (see below)

In thinking about what would be my first post A.B. (after-baby), it seemed that the old adage “write from where you’re at” seemed particularly appropriate. So here’s a round up of the best new parenting books I’ve come across, and they all belong within arm’s reach for anyone expecting or recently delivered.

Let me say that I believe there is such a thing as too much reading when it comes to pregnancy and parenting books. Certainly there is no shortage of books out there that seem purposely calculated to overwhelm and scare the bejesus out of anyone who’s new to the baby game. I have found that the best books in this category combine sound advice with a level headed approach, and I completely embrace anything that delivers the above with some humor and honesty. A couple of these books will come in handy a little later on, but are so good they bear mentioning here. Any of these would be a great shower gift, or the salvation of a sleep-starved new parent. Enjoy!

THE BABY BOOK by William M. Sears, M.D. and Martha Sears
978-0316778008; Little Brown; March 2003; $21.95

This is the closest thing you will find to an owner’s manual for a baby. Covering everything from breast feeding to new baby care, and all kinds of parenting advice for both moms and dads, this is the definitive guide written by a husband and wife team who are a pediatrician and nurse respectively. Commonsensical and strongly supportive of the attachment parenting style of childrearing.

THE PREGNANCY BOOK by William M. Sears, M.D. and Martha Sears
978-0316779142; Little Brown; June 1997; $16.95

Written by the same team as THE BABY BOOK above, this book shines at giving grounded, sensible advice that looks at both the changing body and the changing feelings of a pregnant women. Covers everything from nutrition to exercise to picking a birth team. Strikes a better balance between information and advice than its main competition WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU ARE EXPECTING, which can provide a little TOO much information at times.

978-0553381467; Bantam; May 2003; $14.00

One of my biggest pre-birth fears was that I was going to get a fussy baby that I would be unable to soothe. This book is the bible for calming fussy babies in the first three months of life, and it is full of practical strategies for tapping into a newborn’s powerful relaxation reflexes. The theory here is that babies need another trimester before they are really ready to take on the world, so for the first stage, they love anything that duplicates their experience of being in the womb. This book is great reading for any soon to be parent.

BE PREPARED by Gary Greenberg and Jeannie Hayden
978-0743251549; Simon & Schuster; June 2004; $13.00

Often times dads are left high and dry when it comes to practical advice for dealing with the chaos a newborn brings to his life. If MacGyver wrote a book for new dads this would be it. Packed with practical information, developmental advice, and delivered mano-a-mano, this book is the perfect gift for the dad to be. My favorite tip: How to improvise a diaper from a tube sock and duct tape.

978-1400079094; Knopf; March 2005; $13.95

There is plenty of ink spilled about all of the beauty and sanctity of the birth process, the sweet names, the lovely showers, and the blissful birth stories. And then there is Anne Lamott, who has written one of the most honest, funny, heart wrenching, and ultimately redeeming books about how goddamn hard it is to survive the first year of single parenthood. At turns painful and uplifting, this is a brave book that makes it okay to admit that new parenthood is a messy, difficult thing. An amazing book.

978-0452286245; Penguin; January 2006; $11.00

This book is the perfect gift for anyone who appreciates a slightly darker take on parenthood. A totally hysterical litany of great lies that are just credible enough to fake out children. Like, if you put a piece of cheese in the DVD player, you will see a movie about cows. Great new dad gift.

HATCHED by Sloan Tanen
978-1596912779; Bloomsbury; April 2007; $14.95

A totally biting satire on new mommyhood from the author of BITTER WITH BAGGAGE SEEKS SAME. Tanen’s little photographic vignettes, featuring a cast of slightly neurotic fluffy yellow chicks, cast a jaundiced eye on the Eden of the new mommy experience. From the chick who can’t stand to look at one more onesie at her shower, to the exhausted hen who takes co-sleeping to a whole new level by crawling into her son’s crib, this book will have you laughing so hard you cry. “Goonight moon, hello martini!”

978-0380811960; HarperCollins; January 1999; $13.95

This book is really for a few years into the parenthood experience, but it is so good, I have to mention it here. This book is a boot camp communication program for teaching parents to effectively talk to their kids without crushing their feelings or creating poor communication patterns. Totally practical, this book is full of role plays, scenarios, and hands on ideas for putting its principles into action. It’s sold millions of copies, and there’s a reason.

THE TAO OF POOP by Vivian Elizabeth Glyck
978-1590302873; Shambala; March 2006; $16.95

This deceptively slight little tome is a wealth of support for new moms stuck at home with a baby. By taking a Buddhist approach, Glyck addresses many of the most common anxieties and stressors of new moms with thoughtful, honest, and supportive ideas about slowing down and being in the moment. Of all of the new baby books I received, I find that I return to this one over and over for reassurance.

THE NO CRY SLEEP SOLUTION by Elizabeth Pantley
978-0071381390; McGraw-Hill; March 2002; $14.95

The number one issue for parents of young children is sleep. Well-meaning strangers ask whether your baby sleeps thorough the night, and it seems at times like you will never get a full night of sleep ever again. Although there are dozens of books out there purporting to have the perfect plan for helping your child sleep, this book is head and shoulders above the rest for helping parents solve sleep problems with love and without harsh “cry-it-out” techniques.

978-0688158255; HarperCollins; June 1998; $11.95

Whereas women will happily read a pile of pregnancy books taller than the bed, many men want their information short, sweet, and bite-sized. They want all the good bits with no fluff. Well, this is the book for them. Concise and remarkably honest, the tips in this book are all numbered and broken into three sections– one for each trimester. As the title suggests, there is a healthy sense of humor here, but the information is excellent and delivered in the style of a best friend who is sharing his hard won knowledge. Great gift for the expectant dad.

COOL NAMES FOR BABIES by Pamela Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz
978-0312304393; St. Martin’s; August 2003; $9.95

Go to any bookstore with a parenting section, and you will see a shelf of baby naming books with titles like 50,001 BEST BABY NAMES, and 100,000+ BABY NAMES. But as anyone who has had to do it will tell you, finding a good name is really about quality, not quantity. This little book is a fun read, and does a great job of taking a fresh look at the baby naming game. With tons of offbeat lists like color names, music names, coolest cowboy names, coolest hero names, and an explanation of why names like Ivy are cooler than Ivana, this book is great for sparking a creative discussion of the future baby’s nome de plume.

And last but not least….. here’s our little pixie now.

She’s a blast.

Lola is an elf


Welcome to pixie stix kids pix, the site for reviews and opinions about new and interesting books for children and young adults, by a professional in the children's book industry.

What rates?

When I read books they get rated on a 10 point scale. What I like is subjective, but basically I look for great content, excellent design, and fresh ideas. Generally, only books that receive a 7.0 or higher make it on to the site.

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