Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Review: This Means War! by Ellen Wittlinger

I've read a number of books by Ellen Wittlinger, and I acknowledge that they are good books, but I can't honestly say I liked them. I found her writing harsh, like she was trying to be mean to her characters. But I did like This Means War! I think Wittlinger really connected with her setting and time period, so everything that happened to the characters and all the things they worried about seemed to arise naturally from the comic books, news casts, and town gossip that swirled around them.

The story is set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in a small town near an Air Force Base. The main character, Juliet, lives above her family's grocery store, which is threatened by the arrival of a local supermarket. But Juliet's primary concern at the beginning of the novel is that her best friend, Lowell, no longer wants to hang out with her, because she's a girl. Soon Lowell and Juliet are both entangled in a competition between the boys and girls in their neighborhood: ten tests of skills and bravery to prove once and for all whether boys or girls are the best.

It's the kind of kids game that parents never approve of. Each test is a little more dangerous than the last, and although most of the characters are aware that the challenges don't really prove anything, they all have their reasons for participating. I related most to Patsy, an Air Force brat who wants to be a pilot when she grows up and has no romantic interest in the boys. She just wants to beat them. I think this is one way girls cope when they hit adolescence and realize that people expect them to do certain things, but not others, and gender and sex become the most salient aspects of their identity. It can be a shock for a daddy's girl and a tom boy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Review: Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan

Recently, a reading specialist and I were lamenting the difficulty of finding picture books for older readers that aren't re-e-e-e-e-e-ally long (no disrespect, Patricia Polacco). And then along comes Big Red Lollipop. Although it will play well with little girls, the book focuses on a kind of frustration and embarrassment familiar to upper elementary and middle school girls. This is more than a sibling rivalry story.

First of all, Rubina's family comes from Pakistan. So when Rubina rushes home, waving a birthday party invitation, her mother (referred to as "Ami") wonders what a birthday party is. And then she insists that Rubina take her little sister, Sana, to be fair. Rubina knows that none of the other girls will bring their younger siblings, but her mother insists.

So where do you think this is going? In so many books, the child is horrified to be different, but it all works out when, after a little prodding by an understanding adult, the other children are delighted by the difference. Not so here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A list for Percy Jackson Fans

I continue to be behind the times with my booklists, but soon I will do something relevant, like "un-whitewashed books for fans of the Airbender series." This week, I made a list of books with mythological themes. Skulduggery Pleasant, the Thief, and the Alchemyst reference mythologies that are sort of vaguely related to the Greek and Roman canon, while the others are based on the same pantheon as Percy Jackson.

And look, I'm slowly remembering what I learned about design in college!

Blurbs after the jump.

Friday, May 21, 2010

I played with the Nook

I went to Barnes and Noble today to look at the Nook, and I was a bit enchanted. It looks a lot like an Apple device: thin, white, minimally labeled. It does say "Barnes and Noble" on it. It makes sense that it was B&N rather than Borders* that dove into the eReader field, because they were the store that crossed over into publishing with their line of classics. I believed they've also been at the forefront of in-store print-on-demand technology.

Anyway, the Nook has a mini full-color touch screen on the bottom, separate from the screen that displays the text of the book. This is best-of-both-worlds in that it you have a quick-responding touch screen menu, but the beauty of the E Ink display up top, unmarred by the extra layer required for touch screen capability. The touch screen definitely makes navigation faster than on my Sony eReader pocket edition, although the page-turn delay is about the same. There are forward and back buttons on both the right and left sides of screen, which give you more flexibility in how you hold it, too.

However, there is also just a little bit of a disconnect:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Beginning Readers Storytime

This is a program I've thought about doing a lot. Have you ever noticed how as kids get older, they never want you to do a program for them? Instead they want to help you do a program. But there are only certain kinds of helping that actually interest them.

The way this applies to story time is that once the kids hit a certain reading level, they want to read the words off the page before I say them. Which kind of drives me crazy. Which shows what a narcissist I am. But I've been thinking for a while about how to turn that into a program.

So far, I've imagined:
  • handing each kid a copy of the book I'm reading and having everyone read along. Maybe having something that makes a "bing" sound when they're supposed to turn the page. But that might not mean anything to them.
  • having the kids help me make giant versions of popular books so we can all read them together. That was sort of inspired by the Angry Chicken blog post on book copying, although I think that requires a certain kind of child.
  • giving the kids parts to read. Lots of books lend themselves to this, although I've been thinking about doing it with Melinda Long's How I Became A Pirate, because there are parts where the pirates repeat things after their captain. The only question is how to get the words in front of the kids and tell them when to read their parts.
  • having the kids write their own "magnet poetry" type stories with words cut from magazines (or that look like they were cut from magazines, using the magic of my color printer) at the end of each storytime and reading each other's stories.
  • having the kids draw while I read the stories. The idea is that they do little symbolic/comic-type drawings that will help them retell the story after I close the book. This is based on an activity I did when I was student-teaching that was surprisingly popular. It was inspired by the Inuit girls' game of telling stories while drawing symbols in the ground with a knife.
  • ending the program with computer time, but limiting kids to Starfall or the literacy programs that are installed on the computer.
But I have yet to form this into a coherent program. Anyway, the reason I'm documenting this idea today is that there's a TOON books blog, and I think it might be an important piece of the program puzzle. How many ways could you use this at your library?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Books for Breakups

I have created another book list! This one is just a, um, what does wikipedia call it? A stub? A schlub? A stem? It's just a beginning. It has only 8 titles, and I'm sure there are more, but here's the "disclaimer" at the top:

WARNING: The endings of these books are unpredictable!!! If I made a list of books in which everyone ended up as miserable as you are right now (sorry), then you’d know how all the books ended, and you wouldn’t be motivated to finish them, right? So instead, I’m offering you a mix of happy and sad endings, books about people who move on, people who get back together with their ex’s, people who break up with the love-of-their-lives because they just can’t get their crap together (I’m still bitter about that one), people who learn to love being single, and people who never, ever, ever give up hope. So I hope these books make you feel better, but it’s possible they will make you feel a lot worse. However, I promise they will make you feel something. And that’s better than listening to people tell you there are plenty of fish in the sea, whatever that means.

Teasers after the jump.

Roadtrip to Queens, anyone?

I really need to visit the libraries in Queens. They're always making news--especially for their teen services. And now, Christian Zabriskie, who is on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee with me, has made it into the New York Times as part of an article on love for manga among urban youth. I particularly like this point:
"Mr. Zabriskie, 39, now assistant coordinator for youth services at Queens Library, says manga is for these teenagers what punk rock, New Wave, and Dungeons and Dragons were for his generation: a world of specialized knowledge that excludes adults and opens a private creative space for young people.

“This kind of secret, hidden knowledge gives them a power and an empowerment,” he said. “It’s this generation’s esoterica.”

But, he said, unlike other teenage rituals like graffiti or, at the extremes, gang membership, manga fandom increasingly happens at one of the safest places around — the library."

I love the word "esoterica."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Review: You Don't Even Know Me: Stories and Poems About Boys by Sharon Flake

This is one of those books that I wasn't even planning on reading because I knew it would be good. I try to spend my time reading the books I'm not sure about or that I think I'll have to sell to kids. But I figured Sharon Flake didn't need my help getting kids to read her book, so I just put it on the shelf.

But I'm visiting a high school on Monday and I was thinking of reading a few excerpts from new books, so I took You Don't Even Know Me back off the shelf and proceeded to read it cover to cover. I figured I might as well write about it, too.

Now, Sharon Flake has great narrative voice. No question. But what makes her books so significant is the subject matter. She's just plain writing about stuff no one else is writing about. Like wanting to hook up with an older woman or trying to help out a 9-year-old who knows more about the streets than you do.

Sharon Flake definitely writes about issues--AIDS, suicide, sex abuse, and gangs in this volume alone. But she's never preachy, and I'm trying to figure out how she does it. But there's no one way. For example, in one story, she shows us what it's like to have a caretaker who's obese. It takes an hour and a half to walk a few blocks to the shoe store. You live on disability checks. You think everyone's staring even when they're not. I'm thinking the story is about how hard it is to live in a situation like that, but it turns out the story is about how good the boy has it--and he knows it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oh, look! Youth RARI has a website

And I'm on it! I interviewed Kate Klise for the summer reading program newsletter, and now that interview is also available on the Youth Reading Across Rhode Island blog.

And just to refresh, the Youth RARI kick-off is at the State House at noon on Saturday, June 12th. To quote from the blog: "There will be information and activities for kids grades 3 - 6 beginning at noon. Kate Klise, author of Regarding the Fountain will speak at 1:00 and Joe's Backyard Band will perform at 1:45. The first 250 families will receive a free copy of Regarding the Fountain."

Review: 8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich

Ah, the 8th grade book. Where to shelve it? Kids? Young adult? I think once kids are in 8th grade, they want to read about high school, so a book like this really has more appeal to 6th graders. But this is a looooooooong one.

The force driving the plot is Reggie McKnight's campaign for president at a progressive school in New York city. To win, he has to overcome the mental image everyone has of him throwing up on stage on the first day of school.

However, Reggie doesn't declare his campaign until page 178 of 324.

That's because the author also wanted to cover Reggie's "big brother" relationship with a troubled kindergarten kid, his community service project at a homeless shelter, his worries about his dad's unemployment, the rift between him and his sometimes-clueless white friend, the spiritual questions his youth pastor raises, and his sister's attempted transformation from basketball queen to cheerleader.

I was genuinely interested in how these issues would work out, but I tended to lose one thread as another one was woven in. And a lot of the issues never got worked out. But I think that was intentional. The author is showing us real life: a messy tapestry full of loose ends. The feeling of completeness at the end of the novel comes from Reggie finding peace with himself--not from him fixing anything.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rhode Island Children's Book Award 2011

Wow, that's the first time I wrote 2011 on anything.

Also at RIEMA, I attended the Rhode Island Children's Book Award workshop. The RICBA is going paperless this year, so I thought I would link to the list of nominations. I'm thinking about participating for the first time--I don't think there are a lot of public libraries that do. It's more of a school library thing. But I'm interested in tapping into the power of statewide programs.

So I'm thinking of creating a "Backwards Book Award Book Club" for 3rd-6th graders in the fall. I know--why "backwards"? Well, rather than requiring them to read the books before they come to the meetings, I want to use the meetings to promote the books. I'm thinking of reading parts aloud, having snacks that are featured in the stories, doing related activities, and making predictions about what will happen in the books. And maybe if your prediction is correct you get a prize?

Have any other public libraries participated in RICBA?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The New Children's Reference

Caption: So, do you have this at your library?

I always enjoy the RIEMA conference: it's small enough that you can actually catch up with people, but big enough to give you a nice selection of workshops. And there's free coffee all day. I attended Bonnie Lilienthal's reference workshop, and had some interesting conversation with her before and during. She said that many librarians tell her they're ordering fewer reference sets (which didn't surprise me) and fewer nonfiction titles in general (which did surprise me). They claim they're simply getting fewer reference questions, because kids use online resources to complete their homework.

I don't have that problem. I do have kids coming in with different kinds of information needs, so I am switching up the selection on my reference shelves. But I'm not eliminating that part of my collection. Frankly, I wish I knew one of the librarians who is buying less nonfiction so I could say: "That's so interesting! Tell me more!" when really I mean: "That's wack. Don't the kids in your school district still do reports on Native American Tribes, Countries, States, specific species of animals and ancient cultures? Don't the kids want world record, poetry, joke, and drawing books? Don't you have those ambitious early literacy teachers who want science books appropriate for 3-year-olds?" But every community's different, so I shouldn't judge.

So instead I'll focus on the new demands for reference. In some cases, I haven't found a good reference set to meet these demands, but here are the kinds of questions I'm getting:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Do you have a parenting collection?

I do. It's very utilitarian, and lately I've been trying to jazz it up. Especially because if you looked at the shelves now, you would think that parenting was composed of potty training your children, taking them to the doctor and dentists, helping them understand death and divorce, disciplining them, and then teaching them to read at a 6th grade level and appreciate Classical music before entering school. Chilling, isn't it?

So I've found a number of jazzy titles, and I'm now putting them on the shelf like bait to see which ones get snapped up.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Behold the beauty of my Twilight Readalike Booklist!

I've been meaning to make a booklist like this for ages. In fact, I meant to make it, and then I figured the Twilight thing was over, so I gave up the idea, and then people kept asking for vampire books, so then I went back to meaning to make it.

But now I have a color printer! I am unstoppable! And the blurbs are on the back! My dream is to print it on an 11x17 paper and make it foldable. But perhaps I should actually make it smaller? Anyway, blurbs after the jump.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Library, meet your new best friend

According to the articles I read last week, one of two things is going to save the publishing industry: the ipad* or erotica. I'm sort of hoping it's erotica. But seriously, what does this mean for libraries? Since the ipad came out, there's been a lot of talk about ebook pricing, and the different players in the industry: authors, publishing companies, bookstores. But libraries are never part of the discussion, which I assume means that the number of books publishers sell to libraries is too small to be important.

Actually, I bet libraries are big buyers of some of the niche nonfiction titles, but publishers never rely on niche nonfiction to bring home the bacon. We all know now that publishers rely on a few bestselling titles to subsidize the rest of their publications. Which is either ridiculously inefficient or sort of encouraging, if you're an aspiring writer.

So the only thing I can figure this means for libraries is that we better get on the ebook and erotica trains, because those seem to be what people want. Interestingly, both ebooks and erotica in the library evoke questions about what a library is "supposed to be."