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Five for Friday

Five for Friday

Last night was the last book group meeting of the year that I facilitate through a local cooperative. With the size of the group and timing, we can usually share 1-3 books each, but I realized I’ve read so many fantastic books lately that I had a hard time choosing. So, it’s perfect for a five for Friday (and the last Friday of the school year with only one more school day left)!

 

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Shamblers aka zombies are being made out of the Civil War dead in an alternative history where African Americans are still oppressed. Jane is at a combat school for African American girls where she will learn to use the tools of combat to keep people safe from shamblers. But her cheeky attitude to “remaining in her place” gets her into trouble with the powerful leaders and she’s sent away to a town out west that is off. It’s her job, along with a band of others, to discover the truth and take down these leaders while searching for answers about her mother and Red Jack. It’s an adventurous, action-oriented, imaginative story that is as intense as it is funny, ambitious, and unique.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer with Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano (illustrator)

The graphic novel format does justice to the story of a fictional boy, Ebo, who along with his brother leave their homeland to cross the desert and eventually the Mediterranean to find their sister and peace. Colfer and Donkin’s storytelling and Rigano’s artwork create an emotional platform for sharing an immigrant’s journey with several scenes eliciting the same response I had to several scenes in Don Brown’s Drowned City about Hurricane Katrina. Multiple copies on order for it’s future release.

Be Prepared by Vera Brogsol

So, quick story: I’m currently doing the Book Riot Riotgrams challenge for June and Thursday’s post needed to be “ice cream/sweet treat”. Literally the day before, I read and adored Brogsol’s new graphic memoir, Be Prepared, in which she includes the Stewart’s Shops sign as she’s driving to summer camp. Stewart’s is a community-minded convenience store in our area that has amazing ice cream. So, what was a librarian to do?

2018-06-07 15.20.44

Go to Stewart’s, get a seasonal flavor (Mounds of Coconut) ice cream cone, and ask a Stewart’s employee to take a picture of me with the ice cream, Brogsol’s book, and the Stewart’s logo in the background. Mission accomplished (and the ice cream was delicious). But the book itself is everything that is right with sharing the universal experiences of tweendom. The awkwardness of making friends. The prospect of not having them and how we earn them, and who is worth our time, all while sharing pieces of her Russian culture as a Russian summer camp. The olive-toned colors bring out the story in a way that makes the expressive characters pop and readers enjoy the beauty of nature.

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka

Hearing him speak this past week about the experience of writing his life’s story and turning it into a graphic novel was powerful. And while I have yet to watch the TED talk that inspired the graphic novel, it details his upbringing with his grandparents after they took him from his heroin-addicted mother (he never knew his father until later) and how he became an artist with their often tumultuous support. Yet, my favorite scene is when he pays homage to Jack Gantos (who I adore and we had the pleasure of hosting in our schools) as an impetus for his own craft. It’s raw and really real.

Teen Trailblazers: 30 Fearless Girls Who Changed the World Before They Were 20 by Jennifer Calvert and Vesna Asanovic (illustrator)

Add this to the stack of new informational nonfiction that highlight the stories of women who have accomplished something great in their lives in order to recognize the value of women throughout history. While some of them are starting to blend together, Calvert’s focuses on women who accomplished this even before they turned twenty years old is themed. The easy-to-read format features little-known and well-known women that inspire the next generation of kids to take charge in changing the culture when and where it’s needed. And it’s currency cannot be neglected since one of the women featured is Emma Gonzalez from Parkland High School in the aftermath of the school shooting in her school just several months ago.

Which one are you picking up first?

 

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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.

 

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

 

Best of 2017: Six sensational adult titles

As promised, I’ve drilled down my picks for the six sensational adult titles of 2017. What will 2018 bring? I can’t wait to find out.

ReasonYoureAlive1. The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick

I have read his young adult novels but have never read his adult ones… until now. I’ve recommended this title to more than a few people immediately after finishing it since the cyclical story about redemption is the human story. Do not read if you do not like some tragedy with a side of hope. Well, a lot of tragedy. And the grittiness of the main character is at times difficult to swallow, yet the story is significant: a Vietnam veteran rehashing a lifetime of darkness. But the arc of the story is why Quick is known for his writing acumen.

Saga2. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (artist)

You’ll see me in line for volume eight of this graphic novel series that should be hitting stores in a few days, but volume seven came out in April. I was already late to the game since Vaughan and company has been giving readers the science fiction soap opera for years, but I had only just discovered it while sitting on a graphic novel committee for teens and a discussion of Saga came up. I read the first volume, then tore through all available volumes until I was fresh out. Is it filled with sex? Yes. Is it genius? Yes. I wish I could take credit for the ingenuity of the sci-fi characters but the story line at its very core is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. But much more contemporary. And with more sex. Did I say that already? I know I’ve convinced you, so see you in line on the 27th and not a minute before because you’ll be catching up if you haven’t already been following it.

FromHeretoEternity3. From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

Yes, still obsessed with Doughty’s one-woman effort to transform the death industry. If you didn’t subscribe to her Youtube channel, you will after watching just one episode. She’s fascinating and funny with a side of serious. And this book (one of very few I bought the first day it came out) was no different. The subtitle tells you what you need to know: she traveled around the world and explains the process of death in other countries. In some cases her vivid descriptions led me to Google and also got me thinking, more than she already has, about my own death preferences. She’s a storyteller with a message.

DifficultWomen4. Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

This was my first read of Gay’s and I’ve quickly put myself in line for her past work. The collection of stories were a mix of haunting and dark (my favorite kind), serious, realistic, sad, and powerful. They pack a punch to the gut and peek behind the curtain of the lives women lead.

DearFahrenheit4515. Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

You don’t have to be a librarian, but you do have to have some kind of book sense to appreciate Spence’s humorous approach to writing love letters and breakup notes to books. In fact, you might be inspired to write a few of your own. And I can tell you I fell in love from the moment she professed her undying love for The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides- it easily makes my favorites list. Though Spence also makes it okay to not like a book because sometimes it’s just not the right time, just like the boyfriend or making a career move. It’s a light read and an easy gift for a bookish friend, but you’ll want to buy a second copy for yourself.

SunandherFlowers6. The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

I’m riding the bandwagon of Kaur fans and I’m not ashamed of it. She’s one of a handful of poets that share their poetry via Instagram and it has made them more popular. I own milk and honey and went out to buy her second collection the day it came out. I waited a week and by the end of the sitting had both finished and had about twenty Post-its sticking out of the book. This one felt more personal than her first as readers got to know more about her background and feelings. The sketches are just as important in this one as the first that add a flair unique to her work. Often without capitalization, some poems are mere lines, while others fill the page and she can pack a punch with either.

FallinLovewithyourSolitude

 

Looking to be inspired

As part of the #edublogclub year-long challenge to blog on education. While the official club has ended, they have still shared posts to continue the journey through 2017. This week’s prompt was blogs we follow. 

Hands

A few years ago, my colleague and I wrote an article for School Library Connection about being local book bloggers. In addition to contributing to a books blog for our local newspaper’s online community, I have maintained this blog for a few years and have grown into what I want the blog to be about. And my message in our article was that for years I was inspired by others and it was time to give back (also my theme for professional development).

Here are my six sensational blogs to follow and why I follow them:

  1. Seth Godin
    • There are so many valuable insights he provides that I actually have a folder called Godin-isms and there are three posts that are printed and sitting on my computer at work to inspire me. Godin’s posts tend to be short, succinct, and pointed in their advice or question about why we do the things we do.
  2. Reading While White
    • I’m white and I work at a school that is predominately non-white. I always need to explore my biases, especially when reading and reviewing books as I do. The offering of multiple perspectives is what keeps this blog fresh.
  3. Librarian Leaps
    • Yes, she’s a colleague and a friend. She’s also an elementary librarian. And while I’m at a high school library, she’s a go-getter and inspiration. She even guest posted for me as part of another edublogs prompt.
  4. Mrs. ReaderPants
    • When I want to know what’s going to be published in middle grade and young adult, I look no further than Mrs. ReaderPants. I’m guilty of not paying attending to publication dates especially since I do so much reviewing and receive so many galleys that I hardly ever pay attention to when they’re available to the masses. She keeps me grounded in when everyone has access to the amazing-ness that is YA books!
  5. 500 Hats
    • While not frequent in her blogs, when she does post it’s always something to stop and read. Her premise being that as librarians’ we wear so many hats and who would disagree?
  6. Goodreads
    • It’s no secret that I love Goodreads since it keeps my reading life organized– gone are the days of laminated pages in a binder using Microsoft Word. So it makes sense that I would follow their blog of book candy.

And this isn’t to say I don’t follow more local, national, and non-librarian blogs because I certainly like to keep my inbox full, but these are a few that pique my interest when they arrive in my mailbox. Consider them for yourselves.