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They’re not just words, but a full orchestration on bathroom walls

WordsonBathroomWallsSites like Edelweiss and Netgalley that provide advanced reader copies of titles are perfect for the librarians who want to get ahead. We want to know what’s coming soon, so the books are on the next shipment in upon publication. My strategy on both sites is never say, strategic, it is more about surveying the landscape: a mix of new authors and seasoned ones, series that I follow, or topics that are trending. Oftentimes with topics and trends, it’s taking a leap of faith on new authors usually because of a snappy summary, awesome title, or eye-grabbing cover.

I can’t remember exactly why I chose to request Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton but likely it was the tag regarding mental health. Now I admit, everything related to this topic is reflected against Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep *cue book hug and swoon.* So when I got a few pages in… and then a few pages more… and then full chapters and chapters until I was ignoring everything else to finish it, I was blown away by my response to a book about a male teenager with diagnosed schizophrenia undergoing a new experimental drug and seeing a therapist while changing schools and meeting an intelligent life force in a girl named Maya.

  1. A female writer capturing the insights of a male protagonist so well that I went back twice to remind myself that she was in fact a female writer.
  2. How can this book make me laugh when the book is also seriously discussing schizophrenia in a teenager? It is a beautiful dichotomy and portrays the humanity of all, including those with a mental health issue.
  3. The familial relationships are (just one of many) very real representations of families. There are healthy adult relationships, divorce, loving parents, grandparents, new babies, broken relationships, and more.
  4. Sex. The funny, the true, the butterflies, the necessary conversations that Adam wanted to have with readers about his experiences with Maya. Adam was indeed the most memorable character, though I found Paul, Adam’s stepdad a unique voice in Adam’s narrative. The conversation in which Paul tells Adam where to find condoms in the bathroom was just perfect.
  5. I panicked at the very beginning as it is epistolary and I briefly eye-rolled at the cliche, but it worked. So well. Seeing a therapist and not wanting to talk, so he talks and takes jabs in writing. It worked. So well.
  6. It references the historical event in Newtown, Connecticut from December 2012 when a mentally unstable young man took the lives of twenty-six people: twenty school children and six adults. This was a memorable scene and quote for me as a reader

“They didn’t mean you, Adam.”

“They did, they just didn’t know they meant me.” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling, when I learned what someone would say if they knew my secret. What they really thought about people with my condition. Not the fake comforting words they’d give that other people would hear. The real words in their heart. If they knew I was a threat, they’d tell me to kill myself. They’d think I was a monster.

I will tell you that I had no less than thirteen quotes, highlighted paragraphs, or bookmarked pages that I wanted to revisit once I finished reading it and plenty of experiences that Adam references that helped me better understand (albeit fictionalized but researched) a person with schizophrenia. At one point Adam discusses the very real problem of not knowing whether music playing when he’s entering a Starbucks is really playing inside the Starbucks rather than in his brain. He uses cues from other people quite frequently to filter out his brain versus reality.

Walton’s portrait is a fully-realized masterpiece that I can only compare to a symphony. Each element of story is tuned to perfection and that is a testament to her writing ability and gift for storytelling. This book has sat with me each day since reading it like others than capture a fundamental story.

So before I finish, I’ll share other recent books that capture a fundamental narrative that I advise reading:

  1. The Serpent King by Jeffrey Zentner (relationships, aspirations and goals, family)
  2. Bad Girls with Perfect Faces by Lynn Weingarten (revenge, relationships)
  3. Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner (legacy, friendship)
  4. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (choices, family)
  5. Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist (choices, self-discovery, savvy)

FiveFundamental

 
 

A guest’s thoughts

As part of the #edublogsclub year-long challenge about blogging on education, this week’s suggestion was featuring a guest blogger. Today, I welcome my colleague Stacey Rattner to share her thoughts. You can find her leaping on her own blog and follow her powerhouse presence on Twitter

Yesterday I went to the city with a good friend of mine, his rising high school junior son, Tim, and my rising sophomore daughter, Tari. Joe and I have been taking this trip together for many years.

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Our kids consider themselves “cousins.” Now they are also good friends.  The conversations have moved from forced to whispers in the back.  An eclectic genre of music has always been an integral part of the trips:  Lady Gaga, Sia, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, Justin Timberlake, Chance…

We make lifetime memories:  Top of the Rock in the rain while it was a blizzard back home, getting rush tickets to “School of Rock” and it being the night Stevie Nicks shows up, insisting on going to the top of the Freedom Tower on the cloudiest day on record, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, making t-shirts at the Museum of the City of New York…We have delicious food memories, too:  dim sum in Chinatown, Big Gay Ice Cream in the West Village, Chocolate Works on the Upper West Side, matzo ball soup at Bubby’s in DUMBO and Meatpacking District…

Now our focus is moving from exposure to culture to opportunity.  Last February we crashed an information session and tour of NYU.  Yesterday we attempted to check out Hunter College but alas a Friday afternoon in July was not the ideal time to do that.  We are thinking and talking more about college and it’s becoming the focus of our trips.

The weekend traffic wasn’t what bothered us last night but rather the reality of the cost of college as I became curious and turned to my phone for answers. While Tim and Tari were working the music among their soft spoken conversations in the back, I researched a few schools.

“Check out Hamilton,” Joe asked.  I never got that far as I discovered a gem on their website,  actual essays written by students who were accepted into the school.  Wow.  I was planning to just read one aloud but ended up reading them all. Joe Pucci’s hit a nerve so much that I ended up sending him a tweet and following him.

Think of a life changing event, add some dialogue, vivid descriptions and get it down on paper.  Is being raised by two dads in a small town enough?  Or a Jewpanese girl who goes to summer camp every year to escape the same small town?  Doubt it.  Whatever our kids end up writing, I look forward to it moving me enough to grab the Kleenex, shift in my britches from being a tad uncomfortable and finally, to take out the phone to tweet a “bravo.”

What would I write about today if I was 16?  I can’t say but I can tell you about the fateful little girl’s birthday party I attended nearly 11 years ago while still out on maternity leave for my son.  “I’d really like to go back to school to be a 4th grade teacher, “ I exclaimed to no one in particular.  

“You should become a school librarian,” a woman I didn’t know responded in between bites of salad.

“A school librarian? Why?”

“It looks like the best job in the building and plus, there are jobs,” the third grade teacher said.

“Really?  Hmmm…tell me more.”

Two days later I attended a prospective graduate student fair at SUNY-Albany and sought out the library science program.  Couple of months later, I enrolled in my first class.  After nine years in a job my husband thought I would be in forever I left to become a school librarian.  I have never looked back and owe it all to my very good friend, Val.

 
 

Reflecting on blogging

In January, I took on the challenge along with other seasoned and new education bloggers through Edublogs as a way to expound on my day job. For the most part, my posts kept true to libraries and books somehow. I’ve realized that while an occasional post about a non-library topic is refreshing, it’s not what I want my blog to focus on.

Therefore, my reflection is also a bit of a mid-point resolution to keep focused on libraries and books for each post because…

I like books. A lot. So I want to blog about liking books. A lot.

LoveBooksSoMuch

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2017 in Blogging, edublogsclub, Librarian Life

 

You may already know her, but know her newest book too

YouMayAlreadyBeAWinnerTwo days after its book birthday, I’m posting about Ann Dee Ellis’ newest middle grade You May Already Be a Winner. I had wanted to post last week when I read it on a sunny day in the backyard in my camp chair, but never got around to it. But now that it’s available, I must so that all can purchase, read, and enjoy Ellis’ work from Dial Books an imprint of Penguin Books.

The book is focused on character development in a beautifully heart-wrenching way, so our memorable character is actually the main character, Olivia, a middle schooler who has had adulthood thrust upon her. In charge of the social, emotional, and academic well-being of her younger sister, it’s been weeks since Olivia has been to school herself. But when the school threatens action against her mother for Olivia’s truancy, Olivia is sent back to school, with her small sister in tow. Rather than call attention to their issue, Olivia thinks she can hide her in a closet. To say that Olivia is overwhelmed with adult issues is an understatement made more complicated by an intriguing boy who shows up one day and the question of where her father actually is and whether he’s coming back.

This pressure is perfectly summed up in the later stages as the weight of it all begins to be too much with one of the many memorable quotes: “In that moment I felt exhausted. But mad. But exhausted.” This pressure continues and comes a head at school when her little sister is discovered and mom is called– forced to share the details of what’s been happening at home.

None of my descriptions so far have shared the tone of the book which is of quiet desperation. As adult readers, we’re forced to tears, knowing what Olivia needs but is not getting. As middle grade readers, students will see themselves or their friends who struggle with overwhelmingly adult responsibilities and empathize. So when Olivia finally can’t hold it in any longer (Go, Olivia!) I was secretly cheering her frustration to adults, specifically a staff member at school.

Memorable scene:

“‘I understand you are having some home issues.’ I say, ‘I understand you have bad hair.’

He laughs. I don’t laugh.

Olivia needs love and her childhood and instead gets parents who are trying to make the right decisions for themselves and ultimately their children but are not turning out that way. She’s angry when she finds out her mother is only a few doors away in their trailer park. She’s angry that her father won’t commit to coming back to the family. She’s angry that the boy she was falling for ratted her family out to the school. BooksforWeary

And while I’m not one to enjoy happier endings, this one did and therefore I could not completely fall in love with the book from start to finish, though I appreciated its intended audience’s need for hopefulness. It is provided.

With a lovely cover that encapsulates the book, a rough and necessary story of a girl in need of her childhood, I advise middle grade and high school students to read it since the topics of family and perseverance never get old. You’ll already be a winner if you decide to pick this one up to read.

 

Red, white, and blue titles

USA

Not necessarily red, white, and blue covers, but sharing American experiences. I realized I could write multiple posts on favorite titles (both fiction and nonfiction) that discuss the American experience, but I’ll share a few that highlight different time periods in the history of the United States of America.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America trilogy

Last year I reviewed the final book in the series, Ashes, as an appropriate, haunting, and gorgeous finale to her series highlighting the American revolution. The sisters Isabel and Ruth and the most vivid character, Curzon, delve into the harshness of the revolution, especially along color lines and the reality of those that fought for freedom and those that they left at home.

The Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi

This is a young reader’s edition both sentimental and uplifting of Welles Crowther, a young man who helped rescue people inside the Twin Towers after the planes struck on September 11th. Crowther died when the towers fell, but it’s the signature red bandanna given to him at a young age that survivors were able to identify after the fact, making him a national figure that then-President Barack Obama knew. Rinaldi’s nonfiction account recognizes Crowther’s heroism and bravery.

Don Brown’s graphic novels Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans and The Great American Dust Bowl 

These graphic novels demonstrate the power of a graphic novel in that both provide a visual narrative of traumatizing and debilitating events in different parts of our country. And Brown’s rich style breaks readers’ hearts through pictures of grief and loss with several panels so bold that they’re mesmerizing.

I’ll certainly revisit the idea of books about American history in future posts, but in the meantime, learn about the revolution, dust bowl, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina with these titles in a variety of genres and formats.

 

It’s not “odd” how much I “true”-ly adore Cat Winters’ stories

It’s true that the moment I realized Cat Winters would be at the American Library Association’s annual conference in Chicago, that I resolved to finally meet her. I had already professed my love for Cat Winters’ writing style in this blog post from April 3, 2016 and then having finished her newest Odd and True that will be due out September 12, 2017 just a week before the conference, it solidified her unique storytelling and her articulate and creative writing because after numerous books and short stories that I’ve read of hers I can say: she’s consistently awesome.

First the book, then the picture of when we finally met!

And it all starts for me in telling you when True says to a gentleman in the memorable quote: “Tell little Celia you met a polio survivor who now hunts monsters.” This summarizes both the perseverance of the sisters, Odette and Trudchen, but specifically Trudchen during a point in history in the early 1900s that polio was a debilitating disease and one had to depend on others for help.

So when Odette encourages her sister to escape away from their aunt’s home, it becomes a magical adventure. Which leads to a memorable scene: That split second decision that True makes to get on the train with Odd when Odd returns from years away and little contact. True realizes it’s now or never and gets up from her wheelchair, abandoning it for her leg braces and hightails it on the train, leaving her aunt speechless. It was True drawing a line in the sand. Yet, in second place for a memorable scene is the resolution, which would be a total spoiler if I were to really tell you, so I won’t go there!

But I will go there long enough to tell you that for me, the memorable character while equally shared among the cast of well-developed adults might just have to be the young girl we meet at the end of the story, who we learned about periodically as that thread unfolded throughout the monster-hunting adventures and allowed readers to fall in love with Odd as much as True. It was rich and heartbreaking but why Winters tells an especially captivating tale.

While I missed her at a YA authors speed dating event in the morning, I rushed to her signing on the exhibit floor where I was able to capture the moment when I finally met THE Cat Winters.

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Fangirling aside, I advise you to make yourself a cup of loose leaf tea and hunker down for a dark exploration of monsters and the motivations of one supernatural family.

 

Unforgettable!

Things just came together so nicely for this week’s #edublogsclub prompt about professional learning and conferences because I knew I would be away at one. Now that I’ve returned, I’m ready to impart a few pieces of wisdom, though I know more information will seep into future posts as I had an amazing time at my first American Library Association annual conference (in Chicago!)

Now that I’ve settled back for a day, here are a few suggestions when attending a conference like ALA:

  1. LegsUptheWallDefinitely bring the comfortable shoes, though I know the temptation for those like me, were to also be a bit fashion-forward. So even if you wore the *almost* comfortable shoes to match the dress, do this stretch when you get back to your room each night since you’ll be on your feet all day.
  2. 2017-06-24 10.33.54Dress the part. By nature, I’m a dress-loving, dress-wearing kind of gal. That’s not to say you can’t be comfortable, so wear what works for you, as long as it doesn’t look like you’re going to run three miles when you leave the conference hall. Dressing the part may mean being photo ready when you meet your idol (see picture) or to use as a conversation-starter when swimming in a sea of colleagues from across the country who you don’t know, but want to get to know!
  3. Know your limits. Maybe you don’t want to stand in that line or you desperately need a mental break so you skip a session, it’s okay. Part of enjoying any conference is also enjoying the break it provides from the routine. I spent time walking back and forth between sessions enjoying the weather rather than taking the shuttles. It provided the space to go into the next session ready to learn.
  4. Remember when I said you’d be swimming in a sea of colleagues that you don’t know? Get to know them! Ask questions and listen. Promote yourself and what you do. Trade tips. Some people you’ll want to exchange cards with and others were just a fun way to pass the time and restore that good ol’ fashioned energy you get from face-to-face conversation. It’s invigorating.
  5. 2017-06-26 14.31.19Indulge in local food and try to do at least one touristy thing. I was in Chicago, so that did mean that I would have to stop for some deep dish pizza. I also took at a picture at The Bean and walked along the water in that picturesque city.

Of course, the list can go on of both personal and professional suggestions related to attending conferences, but the listicle above provides a good start. You can tell I enjoyed myself, so be sure to head to any conference with a sense of adventure.