RSS

Category Archives: Fiction

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:

2017-06-02 15.43.08

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.

 

 

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.
 

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?

 

Say hello to Goodbye Days

GoodbyeDaysThe first thing I did after finishing Goodbye Days at 5am was plot how to connect with Jeffrey Zentner so that we can arrange a school visit for next year. Yes, Goodbye Days was that good. And after staying up past my bedtime months ago to read The Serpent King, it was apparent that Zentner is a skilled author that focuses his creativity on character-driven novels that speak to readers on a deeper level. This is the case with his newest, Goodbye Days where Carver feels like he has blood on his hands after texting his friends as they drove in a car, knowing that they’d likely text back while driving said car, and were killed when they crashed with a half-written text in the queue of the phone. In an instant, Carver lost his three best friends, the Sauce Crew.

Memorable character: The way Zentner fleshes out each of the deceased characters in flashbacks and the titled “goodbye days” that happen makes each an essential character, even in the afterlife. And while Carver is the main character, Blake’s grandmother has to be the most memorable. Blake, one of the friends in the car, was being raised by his grandmother who moved him from his dysfunctional home to raise him where they could go “bad fishing” and watch movies, garden and chow down at a local restaurant on the weekend. Her sadness is palpable and she has the outlandish idea to have a goodbye day, a day she couldn’t have with Blake. Using Carver to share the details that only he knew, while she shared with Carver the things he didn’t know about his friend, they could both say goodbye. But it’s when readers discover something that wasn’t foreshadowed and a very real conversation occurs that tears run. And that leads to one of my favorite quotes in the book.

Memorable quote: “Funny how people move through this world leaving little pieces of their story with the people they meet, for them to carry. Makes you wonder what’d happen if all those people put their puzzle pieces together.” Isn’t that a wonderful thought to have? What pieces does each person who knows you hold and how would that puzzle look all put together? It’s these precise tidbits in this book and his first that are endearing.

Memorable scene: Just like many of scenes that come together to create the book there are too many to really pick a favorite, but one of the most memorable was certainly when Carver shows up at Thurgood nee Mars’ home where he lived with his father, whose position as a judge makes Carver sweat. He knew this goodbye day was going to be very different from the others. And that moment when he asks Carver to leave the bowl on the counter… oh, you just wait until you get to it!

The book is one feel after another: swirling and circulating around with an electricity in the writing and characters. It’s important and sends a message, but it’s also about the bond of friendship. Expectations. Who we are. Almost too much to explore in one book, yet Zentner masterfully flashes back to capture it all while following Carver’s journey in the present. A must-read.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 15, 2017 in Authors, Fiction, Young Adult

 

Six sensational new releases

I spend most of my free time reading. Both because it’s my favorite hobby and it’s also my job. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a six sensational list, so let’s get back into it since my #edublogsclub challenge this week is to create a listicle (if you don’t know what that is, look it up!) Here are six sensational new releases in order of their publication date.

  1. What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold
    • Not for the faint of heart, Arnold packs a punch. Nina’s relationship with her mother, who does not believe in unconditional love shapes Nina’s relationship with Seth. It’s dark and vividly portrayed and oh, so necessary.
  2. Ronit & Jamil by Pamela Laskin
    • This is Romeo and Juliet where Ronit is an Israeli girl and Jamil is a Palestinian boy and what happens when they fall in love… in verse. Breathtaking!
  3. Crazy Messy Beautiful by Carrie Arcos
    • If you’re named after the poet Pablo Neruda, you must use his poetry to woo the ladies. And Neruda is a hopeless romantic and an artist, but it’s the friendship he forms with Callie, a girl in class that allows him to work through his own feelings about friendships and relationships, especially when one closest to him is fractured and he’s caught in the middle.
  4. The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak
    • Remember those early video games? Know how popular virtual reality is now? Well mix the two and you’re back in 1987 with Bill and Mary, the main characters of the story where Bill’s friends want to see Vanna White naked and Mary is a girl coder working on her family’s computer in their store. It’s about their relationship to coding, to each other, and darker secrets that will be uncovered.
  5. The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu
    • I’m a fan of offbeat stories and this one is an homage to one of my favorite adult novels, Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides. In this story, the girls of Devonairre Street cannot fall in love because the men always die. They’re a curiosity that is now attracting tourists to this quaint street. It’s the story of their pain and what kind of future they can have with this awful power.
  6. Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef
    • A powerful look at a woman who is known as a legendary nurse yet wielded significant power as a manager with adeptness at numbers and charts. Her style made some cry and her work essentially drove her sister mad since she felt that Nightingale overshadowed her.

As always, these are just a few of the many I’ve read and a snapshot of some of the newer titles that will be released soon (or were released in the recent past) worth reading if you are a fan of young adult literature.

sixsensational