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Author Archives: Alicia Abdul

About Alicia Abdul

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

#PresentationMode

PresentationMode

Yesterday was a good day. An early morning run, then a walk with the dog. A new dress for a presentation with a group of fabulous ladies: two school library system directors, one reading specialist and professor, and two school librarians (me included). It was a day designed to discuss books and empowering our readers at every level.

With a keynote that shared how our varying perspectives of how we interpret what we read and what we seek out is usually a very conscious decision. We bring an experience to any book we read that is different from the person sitting next to us and we should be conscious of that and respect the reader. And the message of her keynote led perfectly into my presentation that went next about young adult books since I chose to focus on names: who we are as individuals and striking up a conversation simply by getting to know someone by asking their name.

I covered names of my author crushes (James L. Swanson, Caitlin Doughty, Rae Carson to name a few), fabulous names for books (The Hate U Give, Dumplin’, Puddin’), moms (Allegedly, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter), dads (The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, My Brother’s Husband), girls (The Nowhere Girls, What Girls Are Made Of), boys (The Prince and the Dressmaker, Words on Bathroom Walls), and a whole lot of series, niche student readers, and popular titles with my students. Could I have talked the whole day away? Of course, but there were wonderful conversations interspersed in my my presentation about topics and challenges presented in books, getting books in the hands of readers using their subtopics as a way to diversify their options, and why series books are magic. You can find my presentation and the booklist here.

And once I was finished, the day was just warming up because then it moved on to middle grade titles and then elementary titles. But I’m at the high school, why would I need to hear about middle grade and elementary titles? Librarians should always know what’s new, popular, and discuss-able at every level in part because librarianship means finding the right book for the right reader or the reader’s needs. It might be a teenager wanting a book to read with their cousin, it could be a teacher wanting to use a picture book in their middle school classroom, and any host of possibilities in between.

It’s no secret that readers advisory is my favorite part of librarianship so a day like yesterday was just as good as spending the day booktalking. The next opportunity to share about books to professionals will be with the effervescent Stacey Rattner, my partner-in-crime aka The Leaping Librarian, in July and our theme is #getbooked.

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Are you ready for this conversation?

AreYouReady

 

2017-02-14 15.14.12-2There is no greater purpose for me than when someone, anyone, approaches me to ask for a book recommendation. Be it a student, a faculty member, or my own mother. Multiply this love by one thousand when I’m asked to present to others about books and reading.

This week I’ll be presenting with some of my favorite people: people who love books and spread the love and their appreciation for what books can do. Specifically children. But where do you begin to organize a presentation about them? You most certainly need a thread. A theme. A focus. Because without it I’d literally be a rambling, excitable mess spewing sunshine and rainbows for the printed page and those that write them.

Sometimes the theme is a given, like the hottest books of the year (or yet to come), sometimes like in past presentations they were about books that can inspire activism or that celebrate the vibrancy of people’s life experiences. This one didn’t necessarily have a theme other than to give librarians a chance to hear about books, whether they’ll be adding them to their collection, reading them, recommending them, or sharing them with content teachers. It’s also about celebrating what books can be for us.

After mulling it over, I settled on approaching my talk of young adult books with the theme of names, as in “what’s in a name?” Fabulous titles and authors, the books of my favorite students, books for a specific type of student all inspired by the fact that in a lineup that includes covering elementary, middle school, and high school…. I’m going first! If you’ll be at the presentation on Thursday, you’ll hear more about why I’ve decided to take this approach, but until then, keep reading! And if you won’t be at the presentation, keep reading! And then read my follow up post later this week with some of the titles I shared.

 

Booktopia in Hudson

Booktopia

I couldn’t have asked for a more sun-filled day to spend with my kids at the Hudson Children’s Book Festival in Hudson, New York. And so close to home! I really can’t believe in its 10-year history this was my first time but it was the perfect time with my nine year old boys.

Two weeks ago when I asked whether they’d be interested in attending, I don’t even think there was a two-second pause before they answered yes. So off we went, making quick work of the drive and getting to park right at the school, though barely.

I had a few assignments, namely to meet a few authors for my librarian friend Stacey Rattner, reacquaint with authors who have visited our school (I see you Jason Reynolds, Eric Devine, and Jack Gantos), and have my kids scan the books and chat with the superstars of the printed and illustrated world– they even sat for a story time with Hudson Talbott who wrote Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs.

So what did we purchase? Two books by Nancy Castaldo: Back from the Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction and Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (And Their Noses) Save the World. Then, Writing Radar and Jack On The Tracks by Jack Gantos. Plus, a picture book for their cousin for her upcoming birthday (but shhh, we can’t spoil the gift).  Could I have walked out of the Festival without the money needed to put flooring in our new addition to the house? Yes, but I’m a responsible book nerd. The impulse was there, but we kept it in check.

HCBF2018It was an inspiring event with all levels of amazing authors. The vibe is absolutely incredible and filled with book love. But I wasn’t done yet. I have never spent time in Hudson so I couldn’t not stop at The Spotty Dog Books & Ale and have a beer at the bar while we perused books and book paraphernalia.

I was not disappointed.

I ordered myself a porter while my kids explored the art supplies. Both felt it necessary to purchase a fountain pen exactly like Jack Gantos’ one. While Gantos’ was purchased in Japan and was red, the boys found their own “waterfall” version. Could I have purchased a few book t-shirts and socks, enamel pins, and totes? Absolutely. Give me all the things. But I indulged instead in the ambiance. And it was magical.

A day well spent.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2018 in Authors, Childrens, Events

 

Speaking volumes

SpeakingVolumes

I love a good quote. When I come across one on Pinterest or Instagram, I usually save them to reflect on and in this case write about as I’ve done in past posts.

Rick Holland, poet, shared this gem with the world that was then made beautiful when superimposed on the world touched with gold.

WorldBelongstoThoseWhoRead

How else could I learn about a war I wasn’t alive for or empathize with someone from a different culture? Learning from books is equally as important as being transported by them be it in fantasy and science fiction. So why did this quote strike a chord with me?

Probably because I understand the significance and weight of why reading is integral to our development as human beings and why I chose a profession that values continual learning. I’ve spent the last decade (and will continue) to demonstrate to teenagers the power of reading for their own learning and understanding. It can be an escape when life is difficult, it can be an instructional manual for how someone rose above a particularly trying life event, it can be entertainment of the most basic kind. I know I get screen exhaustion and reading a book with the paper in your hand can cure that. (It might also be why puzzles and card games have made a comeback in a big way in our library).

And I’m also seeing it in my own kids. As third graders, my boys are obsessive– and possessive– of their books. We make trips to our library at least once a week, they read daily, and I’ve caught them plenty of times with a book and a flashlight past bedtime. I want there to be plenty of opportunities to engage with others who have the same feelings too. And while I’ve been involved in planning book festivals and author visits, I’ve never visited the Hudson Children’s Book Festival, so I’ll be making the drive with my kids there this Saturday to bask in the excitement of the printed book. I’ll post a followup after Saturday to share how it all went.

But be reminded, as Holland’s quote speaks to me, that the world truly does belong to readers. It’s evident in our vocabulary. It’s a cheap vacation when there isn’t money to go on a physical one. Food and beverage feels more indulgent with one in front of you. It is the aha moment when you learn something new. It’s the mirror, the window, or the sliding glass door. So if it’s been a while since you picked up a book, try again. Make it a priority. If it already is, you’re in good company.

 
 

Sweet success

Sweet Success

Our high school hosted its first author visit in 2011. I’ll never forget it both as a first for the school and a first for my librarian career. It was also Ellen Hopkins (go big or go home, right?) And it just seemed to stick. I can honestly say that it is a part of our school culture now. It’s not if we have an author visit, it is when.

Jeff Zentner was our second author visit of this school year, with our first being Nic Stone as part of a partnership with The New York State Writer’s Institute. Zentner visited this past Thursday and resoundingly captivated our student and staff attendees with his stories from music, publishing, and law. It’s one thing to write for teens and it’s another to know what kind of stories they’ll be engaged in during school visits. Zentner certainly knew our teenagers, regaling them with snapshots of cases he’s tried, a few chords on a guitar, and a no-flash-photography cover reveal for his upcoming book Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee. In return, our students shared their concerns with writing their own stories, played their music for him, and queried him on politics. He spoke Portuguese with a student, signed posters inspired by his books, and sat “between two ferns” interview-style in a conversation about leading a creative life.

I took notes on inspiring messages he shared, teared up watching our students show off their sound recording studio and music, and smiled from ear to ear at another successful author event when I sipped my tea after the day was done in the darkness of my living room viewing pictures taken by our school’s communications staff.

Days before the visit, an art teacher shared a few images on her social media account with a group of students touring an art museum on a field trip. She quoted her colleague who said “this is why I became an art teacher” as she watched her students enjoying themselves at the museum. I had commented that we all need days like these. And not more than two days later, that day was again knocking at my door because nothing can beat the connection that students make with authors: it could be from reading their books. It could be the motivational messages imparted by them. It could be validating our teenagers’ struggles. Zentner’s words struck a chord when he mentioned that Toni Morrison was 39 when she published her first book, and she is a pillar in the literary world– writing knows no age. Readers want mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Everyone has a story to share.

Are author visits stressful? Absolutely. No matter how many we do, they’re still nerve-wracking. Are they worth it? Every last moment spent on them because I get to talk to the students for days and years after the visit about what we learned from their visit. I still reference Jason Reynolds’ message from his with us two years ago. Plus, I feel more connected to my colleague as we support each other in our efforts to build the best library program we can for our school because they deserve it.

As I close, I’ll share several of my favorite pictures courtesy of our communications person, Jake. And, a picture of a sweet treat I made to celebrate the sweet success of the visit.

 
 

A case for reading picture books

ACaseForReadingPictureBooks

This post was originally published on the Times Union Books Blog on March 24, 2018

Every reader has their preferences, yes, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sticking with them. Children know what they like, teens, and adults alike. But I want to make the case for adults (even after their children have grown, like the excuse that the grandchildren are coming over to buy chocolate milk when you’re the one that wants the taste) to read picture books.

PictureBooks

Why? You can usually take the pulse on what’s important socially. Which are getting awards and which are in store fronts? I guarantee they’re part of a national dialogue.

Why? Because they’re just so damn good. Visually, creatively, organizationally. Why scroll Pinterest when you can borrow a picture book? Need to present in a few weeks at work? Look at how a children’s book author can write a standard 32-page book with precision over and over and over again. It’s a science. And so are great presentations (if you’ve never seen this TED talk, it’s worth a look).

Why? They make great gifts for any age. We’re all a bit exhausted purchasing copies of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go in bulk for graduation gifts only because there librarians are waiting to recommend a few alternatives. Yet, the concept remains the same- picture books are elemental. Their dual simplicity and complexity astound us.

Of course I’m sharing this because I’m going to recommend a few that hit all the right buttons. So whether you’re 2 or 72, stop by your local independent bookstore to page through them, buy them to gift, or purchase to remind yourself of something from your own childhood worth remembering.


Du Iz Tak? By Carson Ellis

Focused on two damselflies with a language of its own, it’s an adventure of the natural world where readers can create their own annunciations to entertain young readers.

 

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James

Who doesn’t feel like they’re ready for the spotlight after a trip to the barber? It brings you right back or leaves you pulling at your own hair figuring that you’re overdue for one yourself.

 

Giant Squid by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann

The ocean’s depths are always fascinating but when you spotlight an equally mysterious creature and share little-known facts with vivid illustrations, anyone would wish to dive deep.

 

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

She’s certainly kept all of America captivated through her tenure on the Supreme Court. This just brings it to the littlest of people and demonstrates that healthy discourse isn’t something to fear.

 

Love by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Loren Long

This needs no introduction and if you didn’t read it after the last time I recommended it, consider yourself warned that you’d be missing out on a spiritual experience.

 

My Pet Wants a Pet by Elise Broach and illustrated by Eric Barclay

C’mon! Every pet needs a pet and our main character is just trying to be sure that each creature has some other creature to care for because how awesome it is to feel needed and loved.

 

Penguin Problems by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith

Nobody likes cranky people and that goes double for penguins. This hilarious romp might point out that you need to work on your growth mindset.

 

She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

A brief paragraph with a powerful image of each woman who persisted along with a quote showing their perseverance from Nellie Bly to Virginia Apgar is a reminder to anyone to persist.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2018 in Childrens, Cover Love, Fiction

 

Whatcha been reading?

WhatchaBeenReading

March is a month of uncertainty– between weather in upstate New York (a fourth Nor’easter possible next week?!) to party schedules with numerous birthdays (including my own two sons’) and things to plan and schedule. Yet no matter what, I manage to squeeze in some reading. This is certainly not a “six sensational” list nor a glowing review of a five-star book I recently read, instead a snapshot of what I’ve been reading just in case you were about to ask.

 

  • Some true crime… The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century by Simon Baatz
    • Who doesn’t love true crime, honestly? Give me documentaries, podcasts, and books about real life crime dramas and I’m hooked!
  • Some middle grade… Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
    • Read this award-winner so that I can meet up with some librarians and eat some pizza and discuss some books #mykindofparty
  • Some re-tellings… The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice writing under her pen name A.N. Roquelaure
    • Ask me to tell you this story in person
  • Some nonfiction… Noah Webster: Man of Many Words by Catherine Reef
    • Who doesn’t love someone who loves words? And to know that many people disliked him made it even more fascinating
  • Some graphic novels… Speak illustrated by Emily Carroll based on Laurie Halse Anderson’s 2001 classic and another The Breadwinner: A Graphic Novel based on Deborah Ellis’ series of the same name adapted from the animated film available on Netflix that I literally watched a week before this book was shipping to our library through Junior Library Guild
    • I get that visual content appeals sometimes to a different audience, but I’d say both graphic adaptations captured the mood of the original books in a way that makes me adore them both.
  • Some feel-good humor and hijinks that never gets old… Lumberjanes: The Moon is Up by Mariko Tamaki
    • Three words: hecka heart eyes
  • Some more “love and madness”… Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge
    • I’ve already tweeted my adoration for the mashup of beautiful black and white images and the captivating story Judge shares about our favorite haunted woman who created a horror classic
  • Some women’s empowerment for Women’s History Month… What Would She Do?: 25 True Stories of Trailblazing Rebel Women by Kay Woodward
    • With a vivid cover and a unique voice, it stands above others being published in recent years focusing on women who made an impression

While these are just a handful, it’s a taste of the wide-ranging reading that I do daily because I follow my interests and passions, want to be sure I have books in my back pocket to recommend to my students, and heck, there’s just awesome books being published every day by awesome authors. If you want to follow every book I read, you can find me on Goodreads.