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Author Archives: Alicia Abdul

About Alicia Abdul

I treasure my reading time while obsessing about family, food, fitness, and librarianship

Find a moment

Find a #moment (1)

A while ago I wrote about Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation that I marked up and continue to think about and reference in conversation almost daily. The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath will be another book that I continue to think about and reference in conversation. Published in October 2017, this is the latest collaboration between the brothers and their other book topics include decision-making, ideas, and changes. The Power of Moments deals with memorable moments in our lives.

PowerofMomentsAs I started to shape what I wanted to share in this post, I also remembered that a fellow New York State librarian, Sue Kowalski, often uses the hashtag #momentsthatmatter when she posts to Instagram, usually when sharing pictures of her mother, but friends and family. She knows the value of a moment. I wonder if she could have contributed to the book? In essence, the Heath brothers set out to demonstrate to readers how experiences in our lives have an “extraordinary impact” and drill down to the four elements of powerful moments: Elevation, Insight, Pride, and Connection. They reluctantly share the acronym to easily remember it as EPIC.

They walk through the four elements and hone in on succinct examples and scientific research about how moments can be orchestrated (but recognize they’re hard work to create) and when they occur naturally. I can share that I used about two pads of Post-its as I read the book feverishly taking notes. Especially for educators, there is commentary on how we can create moments that matter using the four elements in schools.

In addition, anyone who wants to think deeper about their own lives can use the book as a tool too: a) creating milestones (using the Couch to 5K example), b) that purpose trumps passion in work, c) that courage is contagious, d) that transitions are natural moment-makers, e) that employees strongly agree that “full appreciation of work done” is the best gift they can receive from bosses, f) that variety truly is the spice of life. And I could go on, but I’m putting it to others to read the book. Read deeply and openly.

I want to “turn up the volume” on moments in my life. There are already elements that I’ve used without understanding the reasons that the book lays bare. And, it’s also why apps are revolutionizing moments– they are creating moments in our lives when we didn’t know there were milestones to celebrate (think: You’ve walked 10,000 steps today! Or, congratulations, you’ve sampled 100 beers from 13 different states!)

If you haven’t read the book, read it. I’d love to form a book group about the topics Chip and Dan Heath present. I know librarians who create these moments for students every day (ahem, Stacey Rattner) and sparkling personalities that savor human interaction (ahem, Sue Kowalski) and apps that helped me run a 15K (ahem, Runkeeper), so let’s work toward creating more of these moments.

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Posted by on January 19, 2018 in Adult, Authors, Nonfiction, Research

 

My cup runneth over (feeling the pride)

Filling my cup

Three times a year, I spend the day outside of the library doing a non-librarian task that is meaningful to me personally and to our school’s community. I’m the faculty adviser for the school’s blood drives.

2016-10-20 09.46.32As a large city school district, we have the ability to host three drives a year: October, January, and May and collect about 100 units per drive which is amazingly powerful. A smattering of staff, but the majority of these units are donated by upperclassmen looking to help our community.

In my eight years of overseeing the drives, I have never had to ask students to step up to be the student volunteers nor have we ever had a lack of enthusiasm from staff and administration in supporting the drives. Everyone rallies to help whether it’s the PE department giving up their space for the day, teachers giving during prep time, and the students overcoming their fear of needles or first time jitters. No matter what happens, I always finish the day down a pint of blood but feeling full of Falcon pride.

These are the moments that reinvigorate me. There are days I feel like I’m only fixing printer issues or checking passes. Then there are days that I’m riding high on research questions and inquiry. Then there are the blood drives. What do other educators do outside of their regular duties that make them feel as fulfilled as what they do each day?

2017-10-13 17.13.08

This year’s three senior student volunteers and me (second from right). Photo courtesy of Jake Planck, communications for our district. 

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2018 in Events, Librarian Life, Miscellaneous

 

I Maya want more from Samira Ahmed

LoveHateFilters

Coming off of reading American Panda at the end of 2017, I stayed up past my bedtime to finish the last chapters of Love, Hate, and Other Filters which I consider its sister book or really: if you like this, you’ll love this. They feature female main characters struggling with the traditional beliefs of their parents’ non-native backgrounds and the fast-moving changes that they believe raising their child in America is causing. You can see my homage to American Panda here, but now I’m going to gush about Love, Hate, and Other Filters. Bonus points that I discovered through some Twitter conversation that Samira Ahmed and Gloria Chao are friends and neighbors!

LoveHateOtherFiltersOf course again, there are wonderfully realized secondary characters to talk about including the two boys in Maya’s life: the “good on paper” older Indian college student, Kareem, and the white all-American classmate that she’s been pining away for, Phil. There’s Maya’s best friend, Violet, Maya’s dentist parents, and Hina, the coolest aunt ever who has deigned to swim against the current and be an Indian American woman who has forged a career in graphic design but has not married and has never had children. But, I digress and focus on the most memorable character, the main character Maya who is in her senior year and feeling the pressure from family to go to one college and study a certain thing rather than attend another college in another state and pursue her passion of film-making. Understandably, her parents moved to the United States for more opportunities for her, but they still have traditional values and want to keep Maya safe. So whether it’s her post-graduation plans or her love life, Maya is confused and needing to work through her doubts but empower her needs and wants. Her complexity of feelings and emotions are what drive readers to follow Maya on her journey.

That journey, especially as it relates to her parental problems is by far one of the most realistic portrayals featured in the memorable quote:

“The best way to get out of this conversation is to keep my mouth shut. I totally know this, yet apparently I prefer to bang my head against the wall over and over because I think arguing can change my mother’s mind. Note to self: It can’t. It never has.”

Yeah, I remember those teenage thoughts. I know my own kids who are not yet teenagers likely think this. Every teenager thinks this and yet, the arguing still happens because everyone involved in stubborn.

And while there are any number of scenes from the book that are memorable for their romance, their realism, their beauty, I think the scene that portrays a dark reality of hatred toward Muslims is the most memorable scene. I will not go into details because readers must experience it for themselves (actually several different times throughout the story), but Ahmed builds a secondary story from intermittent italicized pages that collide with Maya’s story in a powerfully contemporary way.

Ultimately, I dislike insta-romances and while Ahmed has a saccharine romance unfolding, it was not so unbelievable. Rather, it provided a juxtaposition to the harsher elements of tradition and Islamaphobia that Maya experiences. There’s commentary on fashion, school, friendship– literally everything that exists in a teenage world. It has a calming effect but serves as a lesson and discussion for any book club wanting to dive in.

And it is so worthy of being a book club book. It hits shelves on January 16th and when American Panda arrives on shelves on February 6th, book them close together, like an awesome book pairing of peanut butter and jelly, chocolate and more chocolate, or milk and cookies (or in Maya’s case- chocolate cake).

 

Covers to keep you warm or make you cold

CoverstoKeepyouWarmorMakeyouCold

Books covers to warm you up… 

AmericanPanda

Who doesn’t love hot chocolate with heaps of whipped cream?

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Patina

Running will certainly keep you warm.

Patina by Jason Reynolds

SunnySideUp

So will basking in the sun while sitting on a pool floatie like our title character, Sunny!

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm

Invisible

But a flame can only do so much, I’m sure you’d rather than a heater than a match. Invisible by Pete Hautman

90DaysofDifferent

And there’s only one thing that will get anyone thinking of summer and that’s ice cream. 90 Days of Different by Eric Walters

Book covers to keep you cold… 

AndWeStay

Even in tights, wearing a skirt in winter is it’s own kind of chilly. And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

TheSnowChild

A little girl with snow in her her bones and beautiful (but still cold) lashes lined with frost running around the Alaskan wilderness.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Peak

I make sure I’m bundled up on my way to the car, but Peak Marcello needs more to summit Mount Everest, that’s for sure.

Peak by Roland Smith

Winterdance

And speaking of extreme sports, what about the Iditarod that Gary Paulsen ran and wrote about several times?

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen

IfYouComeSoftly

It looks beautiful, only if you’re not standing out in it.

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

 

Mei I have seconds?

MeiIHaveSeconds

Early this morning I decided that I was not going to read another book today. And that was a difficult decision (Navy or burgundy? Eggs Benedict or Belgian waffle with fresh fruit?) because I had a full day of nothing planned on vacation. I could have read more but I stopped because I wanted to end 2017 having read a stellar one.

2017-12-31 14.14.39I tweeted last night after beginning American Panda by Gloria Chao that I hadn’t giggled as much out loud in a while and I wasn’t even halfway through the book. Suffice it to say, I giggled more, but I also cried, smiled, hugged, and loved everything about this #ownvoices story, which is why I’m profiling it here though it doesn’t come out until February. I’ve done my share of lists and themed posts recently, but today I’m spending all my time on sharing my love for this one book (and it’s more than the adorable cover and fabulous chapter-opening font).

Memorable character: Mei! After all, Mei is the heroine of the story. So while I would love to profile others (boy crush Darren, older brother Xing, Mei’s mom, Nicolette, and even Xing’s future-wife Esther because they are all fully-realized characters in Chao’s book), I have “hecka heart eyes” only for Mei. She is seventeen and a freshman at MIT. She’s pre-med because that’s what her parents want for her, but she’s a germaphobe. She loves to dance but must lie that she does because she should be studying. She’s the dutiful daughter especially after the first born and only son has been disowned because he deigned to marry a woman who wouldn’t bear him children. And now she’s questioning everything from tradition to her own future but in a more concrete way.

And it is no more significant than the memorable scenes Chao offers us of Mei dancing in the Porter Room: what freedom she feels every time she lets loose in frustration or joy. A secret space where she can be who she wants to be- expectations be damned. Everyone seems to know what Mei needs except for Mei and the noise is deafening. The pressure she feels doesn’t have to be a reader who comes from a traditional Taiwanese family either because it’s a universal experience. And the book is built from these.

Including when the tables turn and Mei is patiently teaching her mother a thing or two and when a touching moment becomes a memorable quote: “‘You don’t have to pretend. You can be yourself.’ She turned her palm up and squeezed. ‘I’m learning from you. My smart girl. My American panda.’ Then she said the words I’d waited seventeen years to hear. ‘I’m proud of you.'”

The familial relationships are a deep part of the book, yet the slow romance between Mei and Darren feels grown-up. There’s no insta-romance or ridiculous proclamations, just hot chocolate and silly, nutty names that develop across the entire book. And I’m grateful for that. Like an onion, there are layers to the story and characters and Chao explores and probes delicately telling her own private story, just one story.

As readers, we can only hope that more people like Gloria Chao become writers to share their stories. This book is one of mirrors and windows: some will see themselves reflected in Mei’s story, while others are looking in the window at a life they don’t know much about. It’s a lovely example of diversity among books and one I am happy to love as hard as I do. Plus it’s excellence in execution (from the flow of the chapters to Mei’s mother’s voicemails) is the reason I stopped reading at 11am on December 31, 2017 because I couldn’t possibly top the warmth of American Panda to close out the year.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2017 in Authors, Fiction, Upcoming Releases, Young Adult

 

Best of 2017: Six sensational adult titles

As promised, I’ve drilled down my picks for the six sensational adult titles of 2017. What will 2018 bring? I can’t wait to find out.

ReasonYoureAlive1. The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick

I have read his young adult novels but have never read his adult ones… until now. I’ve recommended this title to more than a few people immediately after finishing it since the cyclical story about redemption is the human story. Do not read if you do not like some tragedy with a side of hope. Well, a lot of tragedy. And the grittiness of the main character is at times difficult to swallow, yet the story is significant: a Vietnam veteran rehashing a lifetime of darkness. But the arc of the story is why Quick is known for his writing acumen.

Saga2. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (artist)

You’ll see me in line for volume eight of this graphic novel series that should be hitting stores in a few days, but volume seven came out in April. I was already late to the game since Vaughan and company has been giving readers the science fiction soap opera for years, but I had only just discovered it while sitting on a graphic novel committee for teens and a discussion of Saga came up. I read the first volume, then tore through all available volumes until I was fresh out. Is it filled with sex? Yes. Is it genius? Yes. I wish I could take credit for the ingenuity of the sci-fi characters but the story line at its very core is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. But much more contemporary. And with more sex. Did I say that already? I know I’ve convinced you, so see you in line on the 27th and not a minute before because you’ll be catching up if you haven’t already been following it.

FromHeretoEternity3. From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

Yes, still obsessed with Doughty’s one-woman effort to transform the death industry. If you didn’t subscribe to her Youtube channel, you will after watching just one episode. She’s fascinating and funny with a side of serious. And this book (one of very few I bought the first day it came out) was no different. The subtitle tells you what you need to know: she traveled around the world and explains the process of death in other countries. In some cases her vivid descriptions led me to Google and also got me thinking, more than she already has, about my own death preferences. She’s a storyteller with a message.

DifficultWomen4. Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

This was my first read of Gay’s and I’ve quickly put myself in line for her past work. The collection of stories were a mix of haunting and dark (my favorite kind), serious, realistic, sad, and powerful. They pack a punch to the gut and peek behind the curtain of the lives women lead.

DearFahrenheit4515. Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

You don’t have to be a librarian, but you do have to have some kind of book sense to appreciate Spence’s humorous approach to writing love letters and breakup notes to books. In fact, you might be inspired to write a few of your own. And I can tell you I fell in love from the moment she professed her undying love for The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides- it easily makes my favorites list. Though Spence also makes it okay to not like a book because sometimes it’s just not the right time, just like the boyfriend or making a career move. It’s a light read and an easy gift for a bookish friend, but you’ll want to buy a second copy for yourself.

SunandherFlowers6. The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

I’m riding the bandwagon of Kaur fans and I’m not ashamed of it. She’s one of a handful of poets that share their poetry via Instagram and it has made them more popular. I own milk and honey and went out to buy her second collection the day it came out. I waited a week and by the end of the sitting had both finished and had about twenty Post-its sticking out of the book. This one felt more personal than her first as readers got to know more about her background and feelings. The sketches are just as important in this one as the first that add a flair unique to her work. Often without capitalization, some poems are mere lines, while others fill the page and she can pack a punch with either.

FallinLovewithyourSolitude

 

Best of 2017: Six sensational YA + MG

I’m going to feature two “six sensational” lists: one for YA and MG and one for adult, so stay tuned for the adult list coming in a few days. But let’s focus in on the best published in 2017, not just what I read, but specifically what was published. And it was hard. So hard. Please don’t ask me to rank them one to six, simply it is a list of the six most sensational.

The irony is that I either specifically posted about the book I picked or had it in mind when I was posting about another topic. So beside a recap of why it belongs on this list, I’m linking to the previous post too.

LongWayDown1. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Here is the entire post where I featured Reynolds’ book, but he’s been making the rounds on social media and in pop culture by being featured as the sexiest author and professing the importance of poetry in turning kids on to literature. We need to listen to this voice in young adult and middle grade literature. Not only is he successful for both audiences, he inspires both youth and teachers and librarians.

GoodbyeDays2. Goodbye Days by Jeffrey Zentner

You’ll see more about Jeffrey Zentner in a post in April, since he’ll be visiting our high school library and it was after reading Goodbye Days that solidified the need for a visit. Clearly The Serpent King took everyone by storm, but to follow it up with another rock-solid, thoughtful, and contemporary story made him someone to pay attention too. Here was the original post on Goodbye Days. It makes us think about the different people we are in different situations and also the consequences of one bad decision.

whatgirlsaremadeof3. What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold

I know ’em when I see ’em and I will always read Arnold’s books. They are haunting, imaginative, and unique. Not for every reader, but when they’re the right ones, it’s like magic. The post focused on the tragedy of the main character which was painful but evocative, which is obviously why it also made the National Book Award finals. The book is deep and painful like Demetrios’ Bad Romance and worth taking note.

Pashmina4. Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

While I didn’t post directly about Chanani’s graphic novel for middle grade readers, I had it in mind for the post Cover love. Specifically after reading this article on the cover development of the graphic novel. As a reader, I’m always curious about the design process for the superb covers and what went wrong when they turn out bad (and I’ll not talk about the publishers who slap the movie posters on the covers of books-turned-to-movies because UGH, I can’t even go there).

Snow&Rose5. Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

It is no secret that I’m a fan of a fairy tale retelling as evidenced by my obsession with the Beau Rivage series Sarah Cross pens. And this one was a sleeper, an ARC I received at an event that I got lost in. As with the best ones, I featured the book in this post, and think its value is in the cyclical storytelling that focused on family and friendship in a magical forest. Martin is a captivating writer that does not hide darker elements with the fluffier side of fantasy.

WordsonBathroomWalls6. Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

Score another one for young adult novels that focus on mental health topics but the humor and engaging characters are what caught me off guard and the reason for the post on Walton’s book. Adam has schizophrenia and is dealing with everyone’s fear of him while trying to find a balance and a relationship. The character development was fully-realized from the main character through secondary characters and provided a balance of perspectives and included a very recent tragedy to demonstrate the fear society sometimes has for those with mental illness.