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Author Archives: Alicia Abdul

About Alicia Abdul

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

Stepping back in time

After a short long weekend away from home where we were able to travel back in time and breath in the history of a long ago time while enjoying what it is in 2017, it got me thinking about the books that make me want to travel to a specific time or place.

  1. Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck uses the Fitzgerald’s specifically Zelda and her private nurse, Anna to bring readers to the 1930s using a main character whose husband is MIA from the war, a young daughter who died, and her new charge, the unstable Zelda Fitzgerald to bring the Jazz Age to life.
  2. Mary Coin by Silver is a haunting, heartbreaking, and lyrically romantic interpretation of the subject of Migrant Mother, the photographer, and a possible relative focusing on the Great Depressions far-reaching effects.
  3. Garden of Stones by Littlefield uses the same concept as Silver with the comparison of different generations in one story and how they all persevered. In this story it focuses on a woman’s survival at all costs during the Japanese internment.
  4. Into the Wild by Krakauer takes us to the wilds of Alaska and leaves us to wonder, what was Chris really thinking?
  5. Mudbound by Jordan shows us the dead-end life that Laura is feeling she’s living after relocating to the Mississippi Delta in 1946. The intricacy of relationships romantic and otherwise bring this story to life.

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All of these are adult titles whose authors have a particular penchant for historical fiction or in Krakauer’s case, writing nonfiction with a bevy of research and purpose, that provide readers with an experience. The kind of experience I had sitting for brunch with a pomegranate mimosa and eggs benedict  in the oldest tavern in the United States that opened its doors in 1697 and where the Colonial Legislature would meet. All you need to do is close your eyes and listen to the creaking of the wood floors and feel the bustle of life that long ago. I’m guessing it would be far noisier and smokier and sans white linens.

 

Cover Love

Covers are integral for selling a book without having to say a word (as well as titles, but that is a blog post for another day). If put on the spot, the kind of covers I drool over are Sarah Cross’ Beau Rivage series, Ellen Hopkins hardcovers, George O’Connor’s Olympains graphic novels, and standalones that capture the mood of the book like Out of Darkness and And We Stay.

So I took the opportunity to capture the beauty of a new book to be released in October that I had an advanced copy for, E.K. Johnston’s (Exit, Pursued by a Bear) That Inevitable Victorian Thing. Not only is the cover art gorgeous, when you really look at it, the artist understood the book as well. Plus, the content is an intriguing alternate history with GLBTQ characters, picturesque settings, and lovable secondary characters.

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Teens will keep interested in the content, but likely what will draw them in if a librarian isn’t there to recommend it is the cover. What other covers do you adore? I can say for certainty that I would poster-print Cross’ covers and hang as wall art if I had the wall space. Well… we are remodeling our house, so maybe this is a real possibility.

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Then, what’s really underneath it all, too? Anne Blankman shared her love for the hardcover where publishers put thought into what’s underneath. Understandably I now strip all my hardcovers to see what’s underneath. Ever done it? You should, you might be a winner! Pun intended– because the last book that I fell in love with was You May Already Be a Winner for it’s navy hardcover with a complimenting golden ribbon along the spine.

Your mission next time you’re holding a book in your hands is to take a few minutes to appreciate the design of the cover. And if it’s a hardcover, see what’s underneath it all *wink wink*.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2017 in Cover Love, Fiction, Graphic novels, Young Adult

 

My origin story

Like Batgirl, I’m a librarian. But how did I get here? Here’s the quick and dirty version:

  • I got my Bachelor’s in English education and was teaching middle school ELA when I needed to decide what Master’s track I would take.
    • Being in New York State, it is a requirement that educators have a Master’s.
  • I knew I didn’t want to go into Special Education or specialize in reading or literacy, I also really didn’t think I wanted to work toward an administrative position.
  • But I remembered a conversation with the librarian at the school I did my student teaching at who encouraged exploring a library program.
  • So after one year teaching and a few courses into my library science program, I knew that the library was likely where I would be spending the rest of my days. Why?

I wanted to know and interact with more than just the students on my roster. When I was teaching, it was only about the kids who were with me each day and I yearned for an eagle-eye view of the school. Being in the library, I can be that eagle. I also wanted a greater impact and the reader’s advisory and programming that we do at our high school library is exactly the kind of work that keeps me getting up for work each day.

And as I’ve mentioned time and time again and the reason for this blog, reading is my expertise. Over the last few years, I have begun presenting at regional and state conferences around books and am on a national committee to decide the best graphic novels for teens. And I couldn’t be happier. This is my calling.

Librarians

 
 

Hop, skip, and jump

I love when books give me a taste of something I didn’t know before and leads me to other things; one thing should always lead to another, just like thinking about chocolate almost always leads to peanut butter or reading one book by a gifted author (hi, Ruta!) always leads to reading everything she publishes.

In fact, I blogged about my discovery of “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne after reading A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry. I adore authors like Sarah Cross who revitalize fairy tales. I picked up Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast after delighting in Ericka Robuck’s Hemingway’s Girl. Even though I disliked the new The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle, I read Christina Rossetti’s 1862 poem “Goblin Market” (adored it!) And though I still haven’t read Shakespeare’s play “A Winter’s Tale” which inspired E.K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear, I look forward to it soon.

Switching gears from books that lead to other books, what about books that lead to field trips? I anticipate an on-site tour of the Albany Shaker site after reading Ann Sayers’ book “Their Name Is Wicks…”: One Family’s Journey through Shaker History.

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Living in a state like New York, and upstate no less, provides rich history lessons everywhere we turn, so I took the opportunity to dive into the world of the Shakers. And it didn’t hurt that I know the author and went to the book launch at the Shaker Heritage Site. You can see my post published yesterday after finishing the book that day. But it brought life to these people and this location.

I remember joining a book group that read the beautiful All The Light We Cannot See by Doerr and having the very real conversation about going on a field trip to France as I’m sure most book groups who read it thought about doing too.

So, what books have you read that ultimately led you to another book or embarking on an adventure? Likewise, have there been books that completely transported you to another time and place providing the cheapest vacation money can buy?

 
 

Reclaiming Conversation

In January 2017, I read Sherry Turkle’s 2015 book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age and I find myself referencing it frequently in my own conversations with others. So I wanted to share it in the context of this week’s #edublogsclub challenge prompt around digital citizenship. My stance aligns similarly to Turkle’s in that she isn’t anti-technology, she’s pro-conversation.

ReclaimingConversationYes, we need to have digital citizenship lessons, but we have forgotten to continue the lessons on personal citizenship because of and ignorant of our digital lives. We believe we know people because we are connected with them on social media. We believe we are better than or worse than people because of what we see on their feeds. We compare ourselves to Photoshopped images in advertising. We reserve the right to demean others either because we are behind a screen or because we think it is our right. Turkle shares a few stories that I can only compare to why teenagers are less likely to get their drivers license. We have scared them with advertisements, statistics, and more. And the same thing is true in real life. We have scared teenagers into speaking less because they see what happens when people say the wrong thing. The instant screenshot or video immortalizes a misstep. For whatever reason, Turkle’s example of a teenage boy who ignored a phone call from a college recruiter so he could email him instead later was explained by the boy as a fear of saying the wrong thing over the phone. He shared that a phone conversation is too quick for him to think about what he wants to say and the fear of saying the wrong thing drives him to email instead because he can think as he types.

How many of us have seen or engaged in inflammatory Twitter conversations? How many have posted a rant on Facebook? We know things can get out of hand quickly but it’s coupled with the positive use of social media as demonstrated in the Middle East and North Africa during Arab Spring in which youth were protesting their governments and convening for the cause. In this case, the instant spread of information was beneficial.

So it’s the quickness of the digital age that means that we must still empower everyone’s voice outside of their digital presence and how they are IRL. How should we prepare to ask the right question to the customer service representative over the phone? How can people guide conversations deeper when most everyone wants a shallow conversation they can maneuver in and out of because what’s on the their phone is more important?

These are the gems that Turkle shares and truly made me think about how I am and how I want to raise my kids and how I want to teach my students. I want to reflect on Turkle’s lens through Thoreau’s thoughts on the subject in which he said his cabin had three chairs: one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society.

We need to remember how to be by ourselves and know ourselves before we know others, we also need friendship, the real kind not the followers kind, and we also need to know how to interact in groups. Turkle’s book was for me the kind of book that comes at the right time and has left an impact on me. While the last third of the book was recycled lessons, the first two thirds of the book provided enough material to think on that I must have used an entire pad of Post-its. It should give anyone thinking about digital citizenship thinking not only about the digital side, but also the personal side.

 
 

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)

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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.