Monday, January 31, 2011

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Miranda is just a regular old high school student when the unthinkable happens: a meteor hits the moon, knocking it closer to the Earth.  This causes dramatic changes in weather patterns.  Tsunamis, volcanoes and earthquakes hit all over the world.  The temperature climbs, and then becomes terribly cold.  With no electricity, and no food coming in, Miranda's family struggles to stay alive through the winter, as their stores of food steadily dwindle.  They try to cling to hope that things will get better, but no one is sure if they will.

This was very interesting.  And I liked it.  It was different from other disaster books (and movies).  Usually, something large and dramatic happens (meteor hits the Earth, massive earthquake, alien attack) and our hero is called on to do something heroic and save people, and at the end of the book we know that things are going to be OK.

This was quite a bit different.  Life As We Knew It is written through Miranda's journal entries, and she's recording her daily life, which is not exciting.  Not exciting at all.  She isn't doing anything big and heroic, and neither is anyone in her family, aside from surviving day by day.  She writes about being scared and sick and frustrated and feeling trapped.  Learning that people she knows have died, having people she cares about leave in the hopes of finding something better.  It's just daily life in extreme circumstances, and it was really compelling.  She's dealing with huge issues like finding enough food, but she's also a teenage girl and she fights with her mom about little things and wishes the boy she liked hadn't had to go away.

As I neared the end, I was really wondering where Pfeffer was going to leave us.  It didn't look like it was going to end with a big happy conclusion and everyone being saved, and I'm glad.  That would have felt wrong after the realism of the situations Miranda describes.  I got closer and closer to the end, and it didn't seem to be coming to any kind of resolution.  I think it ended the best way it could have.  There wasn't really an end point.  They made it through the winter, good.  Now they have to keep on living and hope that life will improve.  An excellent look at survival.

I'm unsure about the science, however.  First of all, if a meteor hit the moon, you wouldn't be able to tell that the moon was closer to the Earth right away, right?  Because, you know, the moon is far away and it takes a while for light to get to our eyes, etc.  The moon effects the tides, so tsunamis seem reasonable, what about the other stuff?  The volcanoes and so forth?  And would they lose all electricity for that long?  I have questions, I need a scientist.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Nailer works as a Ship Breaker.  He scavenges copper and other metals from wrecked ships.  Life is very hard in the Gulf Coast region, especially for Nailer who not only must do dangerous work but also then go home to his drug addicted and abusive father.  After a terrible storm that leaves many of the workers on the beach dead, Nailer discovers a wrecked clipper ship.  Inside he finds a rich girl, Nita, who promises him great rewards if Nailer can get her back to her father.  Nailer decides to take the risk in the hopes of a big payoff, but his father finds out about Nita too, and now both Nailer and Nita are on the run.

Ship Breaker won the Printz Award this year.  I didn't feel very strongly about the Printz Award this year.  I did last year.  There were several books I thought were absolutely amazing and wanted them to be recognized.  They weren't.  I was disappointed.  But this year, while I read a number of very good books, I wasn't totally blown away by anything, with the exception of Monsters of Men, the third book in the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness, which did not get recognized.  That series is amazing, why did it not get more attention?

Friday, January 28, 2011


Child and adolescent psychiatrist Harold Koplewicz talks about what makes kids love dystopia fiction.  From The Huffington Post.

Philip Pullman defends libraries.  From 

More news on The Hunger Games movie.  It's scheduled to come out March 23, 2012.  From The Wall Street Journal.

Oh dear.  Jennifer Love Hewitt is going to be directing a movie adaption of Wait Till Helen Comes.  My 5th grade teacher read this aloud to us.  Don't mess it up, Jen, or Helen will get you.  From The Hollywood Reporter.

The entire cast of Eclipse has been nominated for a Razzie.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Diversity in YA Fiction

Look what I have discovered!  Young adult authors Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon have started a blog to promote diversity in YA fiction.  They will feature books that include diversity and do a roundup of books each month.  Both Lo and Pon have new books coming out shortly, and they will be going on tour together and have invited a number of other authors who have written books with diverse characters to join them.  So hop on over and check out their web site.  I think this is going to be fabulous.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Lakshimi lives with her family in Nepal.  Her family is very poor, and her stepfather cannot work and squanders most of the family's money by gambling.  Lakshimi dreams of going to the city to work and being able to send money home to her family.  She thinks her chance has come when her stepfather arranges her to leave her village.  However, it turns out Lakshimi has not been sent to work as a maid to a wealthy women.  She has been sold into prostitution.  Thirteen-year-old Lakshimi faces horrors she never dreamed of, as she tries not to lose hope of someday obtaining her freedom.

This was absolutely heartbreaking.  I was becoming very upset while reading it.  Lakshimi is just a character, but her story has happened to far too many real little girls.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Illegal Book Downloading

I have to say I haven't given a whole lot of thought to the illegal downloading of books.  It's certainly a problem with music, and has been for some time.  But somehow, I just didn't think about book downloading.  And it seems I'm behind the times because it's certainly an issue, and it looks like writers and publishers and going to be locked in the same battle that recording artists and their distributors have been for years.

This came to my attention when I read a post on Bookshelves of Doom.  It was a link to a post from Saundra Mitchell's blog entitled "'Free' Books Aren't Free."  I suggest you read it.  Mitchell makes the case that because there are upward of 800 illegal downloads of her book, Shadow Summer, a week and only about 10 hard copies purchased a month, her book will be going out of print and she has made very little money off it and won't get any royalties out of it.  That certainly sucks.

However, a post from Gravity's Rainbow argues that while that does suck, the issue is publishing companies not understanding how people want to read books, and how people want to read books isn't available, and therefore people will keep right on illegally downloading.  This is of course the same with the music downloading debate.  It's a losing battle.  Why not meet the people where they are?

An article from Wired from May 2010 asks whether the introduction of the iPad caused illegal book downloads to jump.  This article claimed that book downloading was a small issue, down only by a few "geeky" individuals.  It seems that in a little more than half a year it's become more widespread.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

You Killed Wesley Payne by Sean Beaudoin

Dalton Rev is a hard-boiled, er, teenage who's just transferred to Salt River High, the most corrupt high school around.   Cliques rule the school, teachers expect to be bribed, and of course the cops are crooked.  Dalton is searching for the killer of Wesley Payne, who was found dead and duct taped upside down to the football goal posts.  The case has been ruled a suicide, but Wesley's sister has brought Dalton in to find out the truth.  Relying heavily on his knowledge of Lexington Cole mysteries, Dalton attempts to find Wesley's killer, locate $10,000 that's gone missing, and end the clique wars.  All while trying not to piss off his mother too much.

This was OK.  I didn't love.  This might be because like the day before I read this, I'd re-watched The Sting.  Man, the movie is amazing.  It is so good.  It all comes together so mind blowingly well.  Can anything ever live up to it?  The answer is no.  And while it's more about con artists, not detective, it's in a similar style and it's just so well done.

I had a hard time buying in to this.  Salt River High is a place where there are people shooting off the roofs into crowds of kids, the principal, secretary and teachers are all excepting bribes from the students.  There are three million different cliques that are constantly beating the crap out of each other.  You have police punching kids in the face.  And it was done in that noir style, but the world of cops, detectives, murderers and prostitutes with hearts of gold felt really forced in the world of high school.

I also found the plot confusing.  Dalton is suppose to be finding out who killed Wesley Payne, but then he's also suppose to find the money that went missing from the principal's safe, and then he gets pulled into this whole clique war thing.  The clique war thing is really what I really was having trouble following.  Why did The Balls and Pinker Casket feel like they needed to take each other out?  Why did Dalton feel he needed to fake a deal between the two of them?  That part felt weak to me.

There were some things I didn't see coming, which I enjoyed.  You always need to have some surprises in a mystery.  People who were actually secretly working for other people the whole time and so forth.  And the Clique Index complete with flowchart at the beginning of the book was excellent.  I also loved the ridiculous titles of the Lexington Cole mysteries Dalton would refer to, which got more and more ridiculous as the book went on.  Just to give you a taste: Fjord of the Flies and Ten Stories up on the Windblown Ledge of Desire.

You Killed Wesley Payne comes out on February 1st.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Kim, nicknamed Skim (because she isn't) is having a rough year at school.  Skim is a bit of a loner.  She doesn't really hang out with anyone but her friend Lisa, who hasn't been much of friend lately.  A girl at school, Katie Matthews, is dumped by her boyfriend, who then kills himself.  There are rumors he was gay.  Skim's school makes mourning their main occupation, with a group of popular girls creating Girls Celebrate Life!  A club that's supposed to prevent suicide.  But the popular girls are still as much bullies and ostracizing as ever, no matter what they say.

While all this is going on around her, Skim falls in love with her English teacher.  Love does not make her happy though.  In fact, Skim becomes more depressed as she fights her way through her confusion with no one to help her.


We remember librarians, authors and illustrators who have died in the past year.  From SLJ.

Today Show Snubs 2011 Caldecott and Newberry winners.  For Snookie.  Ouch.  From SLJ.

Help the world's awesomest cancer comic book happen. From GalleyCat.

Something good has come out of Twilight!  Stephenie Meyer rasies $1.5 million for Red Cross.  From GalleyCat.

New e-reader in town.  The Kno Tablet.  From SLJ.

Katerine Paterson reflects on her first year as the Ambassador for Young People's Literature. From PW.

A kids' book club for adults. From The Wall Street Journal.

A friend sent me this link.  We are very serious librarians.  From Pearls Before Swine.

The Hipster Huckleberry Finn.  We can probably expect to see a lot of these. From GalleyCat.

Wow, there's going to be a new Sherlock Holmes novel. From

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thoughts on Self-Censoring

Michael Chabon writes about his experience reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn aloud to his children in light of the upcoming publication of Huck with the word "nigger" replaced with the word "slave."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve

The story of King Arthur as you've never heard it before. Arthur is the leader of a war-band. He is no wiser or kingly than any other man, but Myrddin, a storyteller, believes that Arthur will unite Britain again, and drive the Saxons from the land once and for all. Myrddin's stories, most of them completely fictional, spread, and Arthur's name is known.

Gwyna loses her home when Arthur's war-band destroys her village. Myrddin takes her in and uses her to help create stories with Arthur as the hero. Gwyna is the Lady of the Lake, a boy page, a lady's maid, anything that Myrddin asks her to become. Gwyna observes all that is happening in Arthur's quest to become King of Britain, and she isn't sure if it's for the best.

I listed this as fantasy, but it isn't fantasy, not really. It's the myth of Arthur with all the magic taken out of it. No wise, gentle King Arthur; instead we have the leader of a war band. No all-powerful wizard; just someone who can convince people with stories. No noble knights of the round table. Rival war-bands fight for land, betray each other and kill each other. Nothing magical, nothing noble.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

Curzon, a runaway slave, finds himself part of the Continental army after saving a sergeant's son's life.  Curzon claims to be a freed slave, and for a time finds some happiness as part of the army, befriending many.  When Curzon's old master discovers him, he takes him back to be a slave, and Curzon discovers that Isabel, the girl who helped him escape, has also been recaptured.  Not only that, but Isabel is forced to wear an iron collar around her neck to prevent her from running.  Curzon cannot leave without Isabel, but Curzon knows he can never go back to being a slave.

Forge is the sequel to Chains, and there will be a third volume coming out as well, called Ashes.  I enjoyed Chains for several reasons.  First, it was really good, so there was that.  Second, it was about slavery during the Revolutionary War.  Most historical fiction about slavery revolves around the Civil War.  Another distinguishing characteristic is that it's taking place in the East, Boston and New York (and in Forge, Philadelphia), rather than the South.  There aren't that many books about slavery in the East.  So I found that fascinating.  It also looked at the British army, and the promise of freedom to slaves who joined them.  Forge has taught me that the American Revolution was the last war where black and white Americans served in integrated units until the Korean War.  That would be 1950, people.  Incredible.

So all that was to say I really enjoyed Chains and was looking forward to reading Forge.  It did not disappoint.  Excellent historical fiction.  Exciting and engaging while also giving an in-depth look at that terrible winter at Valley Forge where so many soldiers died from cold, starvation and disease.

There's a thought-provoking conversation between Curzon and Ebenezer, the boy whose life he saves and who becomes his close friend.  Curzon asks him what the difference is between fighting for independence from the British, and slaves wanting to be free.  The colonists are breaking laws and disobeying the British because they feel they are treated wrong.  Why is it different with slavery?  Ebenezer does not understand.  "...I'd be happy for the food and clothes and good care my master gave me.  I would know that God wanted me to be in bondage and I would not question His will."  The friendship ends after this.

So another great book from Laurie Halse Anderson.  Read it!

Book Awards!

Today is the day that many librarians absolutely live for: ALA book award announcements. I have to admit that I don't play the whole guessing game, following who might be up for awards, but I do enjoy learning who the winners are. This year I've only heard of a few of the titles, and I'm pretty excited to find and read the rest:

Caldecott Winner: A Sick Day for Amos McGee illustrated by Erin E. Stead and written by Philip C. Stead
Caldecott Honors: Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Laban Carrick Hill and Interrupting Chicken written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein

Newbery Winner: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
Newbery Honors: Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen; Heart of a Samuri by Margi Preus; One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garci and Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

Printz Winner: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Printz Honors: Stolen by Lucy Christopher, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King, Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick and Nothing by Janne Teller

Other notable awards
Coretta Scott King Award - One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
YALSA Excellence in nonfiction award - Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing by Ann Angel
Pura Belpre Award - The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan and illustrated by Peter Sis
Theodor Suess Geisel award - Bink and Gollie by Kate diCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Teachers as Scholars

On Friday I attended my first ever Teachers as Scholars seminar.  Teachers as Scholars offers 1 to 3 day content based professional development seminars.  It was started by Henry Bolter, and has been around for 15 years.  The seminars are led by university professors and are available to both public and private school faculty and administrators.  Teachers as Scholars is a bit different from other professional development seminars because it's content based.  A lot of professional development focuses on curriculum, which is important, but sometimes it's also good to just go and learn something new, or get to talk about something you care about with other people.  Teachers as Scholars offers many, many different seminars each year, on every topic you can think of.  Science, history, math, English, arts, architecture, local interest, tons of stuff.

I'm lucky that I'm at a school that is very supportive of professional development.  There were a number of openings and I was able to get one.  The way it works is you select three choices, and you'll end up with one of those three, but not necessarily your first choice.  I'm not exactly sure how it's weighted.  First come first serve?  Seniority?  Not positive on that.  The first seminar I signed up for was "The Right Book at the Right Time: Quality Fiction in Children's Books," but I didn't get it.  I was disappointed, it had sounded really good.  I got put into m second choice, which was "Pleasure Squared and Squared Again: Rereading Austen's Emma."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What would Mark Twain say?

Whoa....New edition removes Mark Twain's "offensive" words.  I know these are hard books to teach in the classroom.  And Huckleberry Finn is always going to be challenged.  But removing words that can offend does not seem like a solution to the problem.  Now it's just being ignored.  Isn't it important that people have such a strong reaction?  It signifies caring.  It's something that should be addressed, not glossed over.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

I am going to admit right here and now, for all the internet to see, that I have never read a David Sedaris book before this one. Oh I'd heard enough about him and I was pretty sure that I'd enjoy his tales, but never enough to push me to actually pick up a book and read it. That is until I listened to an interview of him on NPR. HILARIOUS! I had to have this book of short stories (thanks mom and dad!).

In obvious David Sedaris-style the stories are dark and humorous, but I didn't quite expect the fable-like quality that they have. Maybe the fable description is a little misleading, the stories are more like small snapshots into human behavior. Mr. Sedaris starts off with a light story about a cat, baboon, and customer service; it quickly takes a turn toward morbid as he flits from topics like racism to adultery. He cleanses the palate at the end with some stories about redemption and friendship, which I have to admit I needed by the end. Overall what really skeeved me out were the illustrations by Ian Falconer (you know, the author and illustrator of the Olivia books?) that are quite twisted. Find the illustration for "The Crow and the Lamb" and try and tell me that it's not just a little gross. Which is why it's so brilliant.

You might have noticed by now that I haven't actually summarized anything about this book. This is mostly because the stories are so short that if I were to summarize them I would be writing the stories down verbatim. I will say though that I have a couple favorites: "The Sick Rat and the Healthy Rat," "The Vigilant Rabbit," and "The Grieving Owl." So go forth, get the book, give yourself a good hour and a half to read it, and let me know what you think.


Now that we school librarians have returned from vacation, let's do a little catching up with library and book news:

Interview with Incarceron author Catherine Fisher.  From GalleyCate.

Hear what a variety of authors have to say about dystopia fiction for young adults.  From The New York Times.

What are millennials reading?  For the most part, not the same books I am!  From

Huh.  It seems I totally missed this whole Elf on a Shelf thing.  It sounds kind of weird.  What's the book about?  Just the elf watching children? From USA Today.

Director Gary Ross talks about casting Katniss.  From EW.

Remember that New York Times article about the death of picture books?  There's some disagreement as to whether this is true or not.  From PW.

Brian Selznick, author of Hugo Cabret has a new book coming out in 2011.  Excited!  From PW.

Fictional books that should be real. From

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

Zoe Elias knows she is destined to be a famous concert pianist.  Well, she will be, if only her parents would get her a piano and piano lessons.  But Zoe doesn't get a piano.  She gets a Perfectone D-60 organ.  And organ lessons.  Not exactly what she had in mind.  Miss Parson becomes Zoe's organ teacher and encourages her to participate in the annual Perform-O-Rama organ competition.  While it might not be Zoe's big concert dream come true, she's willing to give it a shot.

This was another book that was nice.  And we need nice books for kids.  Not every book needs to tackle a big issue.  This book, however, goes outside the usual "nice book" realm by addressing some more serious issues too.  Zoe's dad has some kind of anxiety disorder.  People make him very anxious, especially large crowds of people.  So anxious, in fact, that he rarely leave the house.  He has trouble driving because he worries about getting lost and something bad happening.  He pretty much gets overwhelmed by the outside world.

This is difficult for Zoe at times.  She and her dad are close, and they clearly love each other very much, but she also needs her dad to be a dad sometimes, not just a friend.  He really comes through for her when he manages to drive her to her recital, even though he's afraid, because he knows how important it is to her.  Zoe learns to accept that her family is not perfect.  Her parents don't have a lot of money, they can't give her all the things other girls have, her mom is always working, her dad is a little odd and can't do everything other dads do, but they love each other and they're there for each other.

Zoe also deals with the usual middle school drama.  She figures out who her real friends are, and who is only willing to be friends with her when there's no one else around.  She struggles some with fitting in, and ultimately deciding she doesn't need to fit in.  She kind of has a crush on a boy, but it doesn't really go anywhere, they're still just friends at the end of the book, which felt right.

There was also a happy ending, with Zoe finally getting a piano.  The kid deserves it!  I really liked Zoe.  She had a very true voice.  She's someone who's easy to relate to.

So, very nice, very sweet, but with some heft to it as well.  Definitely recommended for that middle school kid who wants to read about girls that are just like her.

Also, I'm totally going to start using exclamations like "Chopin's toaster!" and "Mozart's postman!" a la Miss Person.  Awesome.

A Whole Nother Story by Dr. Cuthbert Soup

Ethan Cheeseman, the famous inventor, is on the verge of creating his greatest invention: the LVR. This is fortunate, as it is the only chance he has to go back in time and save his beautiful genius wife. Unfortunately, there are dastardly enemies who wish to control the LVR. There is the evil corporation PlexiWave, with the violent Messrs. 5, 29, 88, and 207; the Russian spy Pavel and his multilingual monkey Leon; and secret government agents El Kyoo and Aitch Dee.

Ethan manages to avoid capture time and again with the help of his three smart, witty, attractive, polite, and relatively odor-free children; a sock puppet named Steve; and their psychic dog Pinky. There is Jough Psymthe, the eldest, who is fourteen and is a better than average pitcher. Twelve year old Magenta-Jean Jorgenson, an archer who takes particularly good care of her hair. Lastly comes eight year old Gerard LaFontaine; who wears Steve the sarcastic sock-puppet, chews massive wads of gum, and collects dirt clods that look like former presidents. On their journey between they will befriend a cow-less poetry-spouting cowboy, a circus of injured performers, and a few neighborhood children. Which is good, because the people following them are getting closer and they'll need all the help they can get.

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