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Category Archives: Authors

Dear Nic Stone

DearMartinOh, how I love thee. Let me count the ways or at least count down the days until you visit our high school library this coming fall. After reading an advanced copy of your book, Dear Martin, which will grace the shelves on October 17, 2017, we are highly anticipating our students reading it en masse. It’s the timeliness of the topic and the historical significance of Justyce writing to Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s the rich character development and the realistic situations. It’s the deceptively simple writing that is anything but simple. In a nutshell, it’s exceptionally accessible.

Memorable character: Readers are endeared to Justyce right from the beginning and his issues are our issues. But it’s when he begins to dig deeper both with his friends, family, and himself that the learning commences. We are living with and through him. What would we do in situations that he’s in? If we would be in them at all because of our skin and age. Stone eloquently posits these injustices as Justyce writes to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Memorable scene: There are several significant scenes, but the ones that stick out to me are the conversations that happen in Doc’s classroom. They read similar to a transcript and further incorporate alternative formats like Justyce’s letters to King and the narrative itself. These telling scenes provide insight into necessary conversations in understanding a variety of viewpoints: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Memorable quote: Though, one of the most memorable quotes doesn’t come from Justyce’s class discussions, instead one that takes place between him and his mom after a class discussion as Justyce is awakened to the thoughts and feelings of others: “‘Yeah. We had this discussion in class today, and… I don’t know, Ma. Everything I’m doing right now feels like a losing battle.’ She nodded. ‘Hard being a black man, ain’t it?'”

In addition to following her on Instagram, I advise teen readers to read and re-read the book, stare at the phenomenal cover, and pressure your librarians to order multiple copies to share with your friends.

 

The opposite of long

LongWayDownIt only took me half of the train ride from New York City to Albany to devour Jason Reynolds’ newest YA Long Way Down that will celebrate its book birthday October 17, 2017. Yes, we will be ordering multiple copies for our HS library. Yes, we continue to be in awe that our HS library hosted him a month after the release of his co-written All American Boys. Yes, I will read everything that this guy writes. So what’s so special about this book? I’ll start with the most..

Memorable character: By far it’s each person that walks into that elevator with Will and no, I don’t want to explain anything more other than to say that they all have their own agendas, all have their own histories, and add a deeper layer before he makes his weighty decision. Which leads to the most…

Memorable scene: Which is clearly the ending. My favorite kind of ending. The kind that ends similarly to Wink Poppy Midnight by Genevieve Tucholke or The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, which is to say darkly with a big question mark around what will happen next and, that you’re fairly certain as a reader that the author should never/could never/would never write a sequel that answers the question.

Memorable quote: And when Reynolds’ pulls off an ending like this, it’s true that the entire book was tragically and beautifully written to build the suspense and provide the motivation to do X. And surprisingly, the book is verse. I’ve followed his poetry posts on social media and know he’s gifted, so creating a novel in verse seems like a natural extension of this talent. Rather than ruin it with in-line text, here is a full-page spread in which Dani is asking Will a valuable question:

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So, what’s my advice? If you aren’t lucky enough to land an advance copy, be sure you’re the first in line on October 17th to get your own copy from your independent book store. And if you’re in charge of ordering for a YA collection, I advise you to order multiple copies. You won’t regret it.

 

Books with memories

For the last several years, I have only had a small (for a librarian) bookshelf in my home. This is not to be confused with the TBR stack that is stored in a footstool in the living room. The books that are on the bookshelf have been read and are there for very specific reasons. I’ll share a few of the backstories.

DeathwatchDeathwatch by Robb White is there because it was the first book, as a seventh and eighth grade English teacher that I recommended to a student who came back within days to tell me that it was the best book he has ever read and to thank me for recommending it. Could that have been the first inkling that I would make a good librarian? Perhaps.

Patrick Doyle is Full of Blarney by Jennifer Armstrong is shelved because it was a humorous gift received by my mentor as a middle school English teacher dealing with a particularly challenging parent and child in my first year teaching. Ah, memories I don’t wish to go back and relive, but absolutely learned from.

ThingsTheyCarriedThe Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is sentimental as it was a book that a group of people spent one full year planning and implementing as a city-wide read. I am particularly proud of the months-long activities that accompanied the the book including a day at our high school library that included local veterans, art installations, and learning activities.

Stolen Lives by Bill Heller. This book has a dedication to me and another employee at the school I work in because we helped him find some answers to the questions he was seeking related to the second book in a series of investigations about a higher incidence of a specific cancer affecting graduates of our school after nuclear fallout during a rainstorm.

HarrisandMeHarris and Me by Gary Paulsen and Belle Prater’s Boy by Ruth White are both great examples of laugh out loud readalouds showcasing that not all stories have to be about dead parents and addiction. Instead, both are wonderful romps about kids being goofy.

And last, I would be remiss not to showcase the dozens of books I’ve amassed (and will continue to amass) when our high school library host author visits. Signed copies are the memories of a job done right and fantastic stories that highlight all that’s perfect in young adult literature.

So while I can do lists upon lists of great YA literature, which I do on this blog, I’ll highlight some of the special copies of books on my shelf.

 

 

In it for the kids

This post originally appeared in the Times Union Books Blog

It was evident from the moment our chartered bus from Albany to Rochester dropped us off on the Nazareth College campus that the Rochester Teen Book Festival is in it for the kids. There are signs around the venue’s various classrooms, opening ceremony in the gym, and in informational booklets that priority is given to teens– this means that if there are one hundred seats in a gym, you bet your butt that all one hundred will be given to teens first. Adults are last to be admitted and last to find a seat. And that is how it should be at a teen book festival- the adults (many of which are fellow middle grade and YA book lovers themselves) play second fiddle. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way because seeing the excited faces of the forty-three teens we brought on the cross-state adventure were all that should be needed.

A Saturday event dedicated to readers.

Bring in twenty authors where you have rolled out the red carpet is exactly what should get your blood pumping. As students scattered with their buddies across the campus to see their rock star authors in the flesh, I found myself listening to a graphic novelist who amazed us with some live illustrating, then a professor leading us in a workshop about graphic lettering, followed by the last two sessions with male YA authors that could captivate anyone with their oratory skills in addition to their amazing literary talent. Plus, I managed to squeeze in a visit to the food truck Macarollin’ for some lobster mac and cheese.  Phew!

So when we got back on the bus after my colleague, Kristen Majkut, counted, recounted, and triple-counted as the captain and all-around Wonder Woman of this trip, I settled in with a smile as we learned one of our students won a raffle drawing, another was given the sketches from her visit with the graphic novelist, and the students lovingly petted their new purchases… books. And you think reading is dead? These events serve as constant reminders about the nature of reading for teens. Plus, we have others to remind us too, since we were joined on the bus by YA author Eric Devine. Hours were spent talking about writing, other books, readers, and the target audience: teens.

So, if you’ve never been, mark it on your calendars for May 19, 2018. If you’re a librarian or teacher, bring your teens. If you’re a parent, bring your teen and their friends. If you’re in neither category, donate to the event which each of the twelve years it has been running is a runaway hit with its intended audience. Teens.

 

Six sensational recent reads

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present to a room of librarian colleagues (and a few teachers thrown in for good measure) about the hottest books for 2017 while reviewing some of the best from 2016. But what have I read recently? A lot. But not everything was a home run, so I’m picking through the trash to get to the treasures.

  1. When Breath Becomes Air by Kalanithi
    • An insightful and introspective approach to science and facing death from a doctor experiencing the end to his own short life.
  2. Geekerella by Poston
    • A quirky retake on Cinderella with a Con, a pumpkin food truck, evil twin stepsisters, and one spunky Elle.
  3. The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found by Sandler
    • Who doesn’t want to find treasure, especially when it unlocks secrets of the past. But it’s significance is in Sandler’s approach which is to demystify pirates and change the bad reputation they have earned that is uncalled for.
  4. The Takedown by Wang
    • Attempting to take down a vile post on the internet isn’t an easy feat, but Kyla is ready for the challenge and has the guts to see it through even when it’s not pretty.
  5. Saints and Misfits by Ali
    • With a rich voice, Janna details those that are saints, misfits (like herself), and saints like others through her eyes as a Muslim teenager where her actions must match her beliefs.
  6. The Book of Chocolate: The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy by Newquist
    • Who doesn’t love chocolate? The depth and breadth of this book is its strength, learning about the rivalries, chocolate during wartime, and the history of what was really a drink became the world’s favorite candy.
 

Assessments for reading: “Miss, this ain’t English class”

In this week’s suggested post topic around assessments, I’m going to connect with what I know best: reading and libraries. Specifically, finding an engaging way to assess reading rather than a book report, log, or journals. So I want to share what a science colleague and I have been doing for the last several years.

She became hooked on the Alane Ferguson forensic mystery series and came in to pick my brain about a way to incorporate reading into her forensics classes. I quickly shared dozens of ideas and pathways to get there asking questions about what product she wanted and what the objective was. What it became was a mix of reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills over the course of three to four weeks, twice a year. And our favorite line was spoken to her after our first attempt way back when when the student asked why they were reading in science class saying “Miss, this ain’t English class.” The process?

  • Come to the library for a book tasting where they get to interact with a diverse 2017-03-07 08.48.57group of fiction, nonfiction that included the graphic novel format and had a forensic theme. They would spend five minutes at each table and circulate until they found a book they wanted to check out.
  • They had two reading logs to complete throughout their reading time.
  • During this reading time (outside of class), science teacher would meet for brief intervals during a work day and ask them about how they were enjoying their book and sharing something interesting about hers to gauge their engagement. This was informal and not graded and provided an avenue to connect individually.
  • Students filled out a book profile card (similar to a dating profile) for their book to get down the basics and refresh their memory in preparation for the final activity with was book speed-dating. This preparation day included a brief video that modeled speed dating.
  • The following day, students would spend the forty minute period sitting for six minutes at a time one-on-one with a classmate sharing and questioning each other about their books. They’d be scoring their likelihood to want to read the book their classmate described and on the classmate’s “presentation” of the book. As the timer rang, they’d rotate again.

So, there are alternatives to a book report. Students must own their reading and be able to intelligently share out about their book to classmates. Their grade was based on their individual presentations to the classmates in a timed speed-date. An alternative to a book report? Absolutely! I’ll take these over a test about a book to show comprehension any day.

 

The art of the booktalk

This post originally appeared on the Books Blog for the Times Union

The art of the booktalk. When a friend asks you about the book you’re reading or you’re sharing a recent fabulous read, how do you approach it? Do you ask a question? Perhaps have a pre-planned teaser or maybe you’d rather share an overview. Sometimes I’m so blinded by the emotion of absolutely loving a book that I clutch the book to my chest and whisper I love this book and then just hope that someone will take my word for it. Luckily I’ve got some street cred with this approach.

2017-03-30 15.40.02-1But, I was thinking about the art of the booktalk after spending two days in classrooms talking to tenth graders about choosing a classic book to read for their fourth quarter project. I had a lot of ground to cover and not all of the books I had read. Yet that is nothing new because I booktalk frequently on topics that I may only know slightly and I am a firm believer that you can booktalk a book you haven’t read. I organized the books into categories that helped channel the number that I was talking about and then prepared my cheat sheet (things like publication date, title characters, main ideas, themes or topics, or a relevant current topic that paired nicely). And while this is necessary, I generally don’t use it as much as occasionally reference it since Benjamin Franklin put it best when he said

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

It’s there if I need it, but the preparation solidifies my approach and then I don’t actually need it. Especially when I capitalize on others in the room who may have loved one of the books and ask them to share. When I talk about a book I may ask a hypothetical question or have a one-liner that intrigues someone, saying little more. And I learn from others. I facilitate a book group of local school librarians and everyone has a slightly different approach, all valuable in their own way. There are some I could listen to all day myself, admiring their vocabulary and word choice. I aspire to be better after each delivery and rework it until I hit booktalk gold. We only get better with practice.

So not only am I constantly honing my booktalking skills based on my audience, I also realized I have a lot of classic literature to read (or reread to refresh my memory). Maybe I can make this a monthly post to review a classic book as a way to kickstart this exploration. Which would you start with?