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Category Archives: Fiction

#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.

 

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.

 

 

I Maya want more from Samira Ahmed

LoveHateFilters

Coming off of reading American Panda at the end of 2017, I stayed up past my bedtime to finish the last chapters of Love, Hate, and Other Filters which I consider its sister book or really: if you like this, you’ll love this. They feature female main characters struggling with the traditional beliefs of their parents’ non-native backgrounds and the fast-moving changes that they believe raising their child in America is causing. You can see my homage to American Panda here, but now I’m going to gush about Love, Hate, and Other Filters. Bonus points that I discovered through some Twitter conversation that Samira Ahmed and Gloria Chao are friends and neighbors!

LoveHateOtherFiltersOf course again, there are wonderfully realized secondary characters to talk about including the two boys in Maya’s life: the “good on paper” older Indian college student, Kareem, and the white all-American classmate that she’s been pining away for, Phil. There’s Maya’s best friend, Violet, Maya’s dentist parents, and Hina, the coolest aunt ever who has deigned to swim against the current and be an Indian American woman who has forged a career in graphic design but has not married and has never had children. But, I digress and focus on the most memorable character, the main character Maya who is in her senior year and feeling the pressure from family to go to one college and study a certain thing rather than attend another college in another state and pursue her passion of film-making. Understandably, her parents moved to the United States for more opportunities for her, but they still have traditional values and want to keep Maya safe. So whether it’s her post-graduation plans or her love life, Maya is confused and needing to work through her doubts but empower her needs and wants. Her complexity of feelings and emotions are what drive readers to follow Maya on her journey.

That journey, especially as it relates to her parental problems is by far one of the most realistic portrayals featured in the memorable quote:

“The best way to get out of this conversation is to keep my mouth shut. I totally know this, yet apparently I prefer to bang my head against the wall over and over because I think arguing can change my mother’s mind. Note to self: It can’t. It never has.”

Yeah, I remember those teenage thoughts. I know my own kids who are not yet teenagers likely think this. Every teenager thinks this and yet, the arguing still happens because everyone involved in stubborn.

And while there are any number of scenes from the book that are memorable for their romance, their realism, their beauty, I think the scene that portrays a dark reality of hatred toward Muslims is the most memorable scene. I will not go into details because readers must experience it for themselves (actually several different times throughout the story), but Ahmed builds a secondary story from intermittent italicized pages that collide with Maya’s story in a powerfully contemporary way.

Ultimately, I dislike insta-romances and while Ahmed has a saccharine romance unfolding, it was not so unbelievable. Rather, it provided a juxtaposition to the harsher elements of tradition and Islamaphobia that Maya experiences. There’s commentary on fashion, school, friendship– literally everything that exists in a teenage world. It has a calming effect but serves as a lesson and discussion for any book club wanting to dive in.

And it is so worthy of being a book club book. It hits shelves on January 16th and when American Panda arrives on shelves on February 6th, book them close together, like an awesome book pairing of peanut butter and jelly, chocolate and more chocolate, or milk and cookies (or in Maya’s case- chocolate cake).

 

Covers to keep you warm or make you cold

CoverstoKeepyouWarmorMakeyouCold

Books covers to warm you up… 

AmericanPanda

Who doesn’t love hot chocolate with heaps of whipped cream?

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Patina

Running will certainly keep you warm.

Patina by Jason Reynolds

SunnySideUp

So will basking in the sun while sitting on a pool floatie like our title character, Sunny!

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm

Invisible

But a flame can only do so much, I’m sure you’d rather than a heater than a match. Invisible by Pete Hautman

90DaysofDifferent

And there’s only one thing that will get anyone thinking of summer and that’s ice cream. 90 Days of Different by Eric Walters

Book covers to keep you cold… 

AndWeStay

Even in tights, wearing a skirt in winter is it’s own kind of chilly. And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

TheSnowChild

A little girl with snow in her her bones and beautiful (but still cold) lashes lined with frost running around the Alaskan wilderness.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Peak

I make sure I’m bundled up on my way to the car, but Peak Marcello needs more to summit Mount Everest, that’s for sure.

Peak by Roland Smith

Winterdance

And speaking of extreme sports, what about the Iditarod that Gary Paulsen ran and wrote about several times?

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen

IfYouComeSoftly

It looks beautiful, only if you’re not standing out in it.

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

 

Mei I have seconds?

MeiIHaveSeconds

Early this morning I decided that I was not going to read another book today. And that was a difficult decision (Navy or burgundy? Eggs Benedict or Belgian waffle with fresh fruit?) because I had a full day of nothing planned on vacation. I could have read more but I stopped because I wanted to end 2017 having read a stellar one.

2017-12-31 14.14.39I tweeted last night after beginning American Panda by Gloria Chao that I hadn’t giggled as much out loud in a while and I wasn’t even halfway through the book. Suffice it to say, I giggled more, but I also cried, smiled, hugged, and loved everything about this #ownvoices story, which is why I’m profiling it here though it doesn’t come out until February. I’ve done my share of lists and themed posts recently, but today I’m spending all my time on sharing my love for this one book (and it’s more than the adorable cover and fabulous chapter-opening font).

Memorable character: Mei! After all, Mei is the heroine of the story. So while I would love to profile others (boy crush Darren, older brother Xing, Mei’s mom, Nicolette, and even Xing’s future-wife Esther because they are all fully-realized characters in Chao’s book), I have “hecka heart eyes” only for Mei. She is seventeen and a freshman at MIT. She’s pre-med because that’s what her parents want for her, but she’s a germaphobe. She loves to dance but must lie that she does because she should be studying. She’s the dutiful daughter especially after the first born and only son has been disowned because he deigned to marry a woman who wouldn’t bear him children. And now she’s questioning everything from tradition to her own future but in a more concrete way.

And it is no more significant than the memorable scenes Chao offers us of Mei dancing in the Porter Room: what freedom she feels every time she lets loose in frustration or joy. A secret space where she can be who she wants to be- expectations be damned. Everyone seems to know what Mei needs except for Mei and the noise is deafening. The pressure she feels doesn’t have to be a reader who comes from a traditional Taiwanese family either because it’s a universal experience. And the book is built from these.

Including when the tables turn and Mei is patiently teaching her mother a thing or two and when a touching moment becomes a memorable quote: “‘You don’t have to pretend. You can be yourself.’ She turned her palm up and squeezed. ‘I’m learning from you. My smart girl. My American panda.’ Then she said the words I’d waited seventeen years to hear. ‘I’m proud of you.'”

The familial relationships are a deep part of the book, yet the slow romance between Mei and Darren feels grown-up. There’s no insta-romance or ridiculous proclamations, just hot chocolate and silly, nutty names that develop across the entire book. And I’m grateful for that. Like an onion, there are layers to the story and characters and Chao explores and probes delicately telling her own private story, just one story.

As readers, we can only hope that more people like Gloria Chao become writers to share their stories. This book is one of mirrors and windows: some will see themselves reflected in Mei’s story, while others are looking in the window at a life they don’t know much about. It’s a lovely example of diversity among books and one I am happy to love as hard as I do. Plus it’s excellence in execution (from the flow of the chapters to Mei’s mother’s voicemails) is the reason I stopped reading at 11am on December 31, 2017 because I couldn’t possibly top the warmth of American Panda to close out the year.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2017 in Authors, Fiction, Upcoming Releases, Young Adult