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Category Archives: Authors

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.

 

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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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

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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.