Thursday, January 29, 2015

Speed Dating with Middle Grade: Part 3

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Here's my last round of middle grade speed dating for a bit; I've played catch-up, and it's about time to get back into the adult world of literature! If last round's three titles seemed similar, this round's are everything but!

It's been interesting to see how my own opinions on certain books have changed as I consider a new perspective—that of an 11- or 12-year-old. The hardest thing to realize is that your personal adolescence is by no means representative of Adolescence. Every kid is in a different place with different emotions, different interests, and different experiences. That makes the job both motivating and disappointing as you introduce your students to new things. I can understand how long-time librarians have a tough time weeding their collection that they so meticulously curated; if you love something, you want your readers to love it too, and sometimes that just doesn't happen! [The number of check-outs on our new, hand-picked-by-me DVD copy of Harriet the Spy is just disappointingly low.]

Title: I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers edition)
Author: Malala Yousafzai
Genre: Memoir
Read If You Like...: True stories, inspiring figures, and world politics
Three-Sentence Thoughts: Malala Yousafzai is a figure that should be a household name—she is the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Prize for her work in human rights advocacy and women's education, after all. Here, she tells her story as she saw her home country of Pakistan change with Taliban rule in the early 2000s, as she defied their ban on education for women, and as she survived a gunshot to the head from an attempt on her life by a Taliban soldier. Malala's story is an exceptionally moving and inspiring one that young readers should encounter, but it's also a frightening one as you realize exactly how easily the freedoms we take for granted can disappear and (for adult readers) how this moment in history happened in our lifetime right under our noses.

Title: Gone Away Lake
Author: Elizabeth Enright
Genre: Classic, Adventure
Read If You Like...: Summer stories, nostalgia, and quaint adventures
Three-Sentence Thoughts: It's summer vacation and cousins Portia and Julian find an adventure when they discover a ghost town in the woods where remnants include decadent old houses, long-forgotten antiques...and two of the town's former residents still living in their deserted home! The jacket flap blurb led me to believe this was going to be much more of an adventure-mystery than it actually was, as the actual plot was pretty dated and not very exciting. Nostalgic adults may delight in this old-fashioned adventure, but now, with my middle school librarian perspective, all I could think was how my kids would be bored out of their minds with this.

Title: Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice
Author: Mike Maihack
Genre: Graphic novel, Fantasy
Read If You Like...: Historical figures, time travel, and Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century [anyone? anyone??]
Three-Sentence Thoughts: In this time-traveling adventure, a young Cleopatra finds a mysterious tablet that zaps her from ancient Egypt to the far, far future where she learns of a prophecy that she will save the galaxy from an evil ruler. She enrolls in school with a typical course-load of math, biology, and combat training and is put to the test to find out if she does, in fact, have the potential to be a hero. I breezed through this one, and it's fun but will definitely be more satisfying as the rest of the series is written and released.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Speed Dating with Middle Grade: Part 2

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In part 2 of my speed dating series, I've got a lot of school-centered, realistic fiction for middle graders! My students seem to be split between fantasy-lovers and reality-lovers; either they want the total invented world or the one that mirrors their own—there's hardly any in-between! This set of books will appeal to the grounded crowd looking for a relatable story, and these three vary in their tone and level of seriousness.

Title: Trash Can Days: A Middle School Saga
Author: Teddy Steinkellner
Genre: Realistic
Read If You Like...: An ensemble cast, day-to-day drama, and stories about school
Three-Sentence Thoughts: Jake Schwartz is starting junior high alongside his lifelong best friend Danny, but in this new environment the two are wondering if they're all that alike anymore. Meanwhile, Jake's older sister Hannah is suffering the stress that comes with being Queen Bee, and eccentric Dorothy struggles to find junior high as exciting as the fantasy world she lives in. This book is really fun but also has a deeper heavy side with character dialogues and internal monologues that felt dead-on accurate with my junior high memories. [Sidenote: There's a sequel called Trash Can Nights, and I can't wait to read it!]

Title: The Great Greene Heist
Author: Varian Johnson
Genre: Realistic
Read If You Like...: An imperfect but lovable hero, stories set in school, and Ocean's 11
Three-Sentence Thoughts: Jackson Greene is notorious for his schemes and hijinks, but he swears he's a changed man and done with the cons for good—that is, until the smarmy Keith Sinclair declares he's running for SGA president against Jackson's will-they-won't-they "friend," Gaby. Jackson knows Keith is up to no good...and knows he's the only one who can save the school and expose Keith for the cheat and fraud that he is. This well-written caper is funny, entertaining and the ultimate fantasy for all kids who want to make their mark and save the day.

Title: Kinda Like Brothers
Author: Coe Booth
Genre: Realistic
Read If You Like...: Characters you see grow and learn, an urban setting, and stories about home and family
Three-Sentence Thoughts: Jarrett is used to sharing his mom with other kids, since she's been fostering babies for as long as he can remember, but it's completely different when a kid his age named Kevon arrives. Now he has to share his room, his friends, and his whole life with Kevon, and Jarrett doesn't like it—especially when he finds out Kevon is keeping secrets from him and his mom. My students have enjoyed this story because it's realistically relatable without being too heavy, and readers will benefit from reading Jarrett's thoughts and actions as he deals with a tough situation and gains an understanding that his perspective is not the only one.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Speed Dating with Middle Grade: Part 1

At some point (semi-)recently, I noted the irony in being a librarian but never having time to read, and as I mentioned in my year-end summary, that's not entirely true. I have been reading, some. Mostly I've binged on middle grade books over breaks—Fall Break, Thanksgiving Break, Winter Break.

Because one of my two reading goals for the year was to simply post about it, I'm going to do a speed dating-style summary of allllllll that I've read over the past semester. These books have been so enjoyable with a busy schedule, because they're just so wonderfully non-complex—that's the draw of the middle grade genre. Real things can happen, but it's not quite so realistically dramatic and complicated; there's still a titch of innocence there. I frequently just grab books off my shelves and check them out to myself, because I'm dying for that carefree fun!

I've covered quite an array of styles and genres in the recent past. Hopefully something here will entice you!

Title: Liar & Spy
Author: Rebecca Stead
Genre: Realistic, Mystery
Read If You Like...: Quirky stories, sympathetic characters, and poignant, nostalgic self-reflection
Three-Sentence Thoughts: Georges considers himself the lone odd duck in his 7th grade class, until he meets Safer, a coffee-drinking self-proclaimed spy who recruits Georges as another spy in their Brooklyn apartment building. Georges' main struggle, though, is figuring out what's real and what's a lie and if trust is something worth giving. I loved reading Georges' internal musings, because the poignancy of this thoughts trigger that initial entry into the adult world.
Sidenote: This book also has a pretty good message about bullying and how kids can take their own kind of (non-violent) action. I've recommended it to some kids at my school to inspire their own anti-bullying support group.

Title: Buzz!
Author: Ananth Panagariya, Tessa Stone
Genre: Graphic Novel, (somewhat) Fantasy
Read If You Like...: A unique concept, academic humor, and Scott Pilgrim
Three-Sentence Thoughts: This is a world where the spelling bee rules, and our hero Webster has just gotten drawn into the illegal underground spelling bee circuit. Webster is put to the test as he skirts the law and faces the intimidating "big bads" of the competitive bee crowd. The most fun part of this book is the excellent, action-packed art, but I found the story's perspective a little too narrow to really grasp my attention and intrigue and the dialogue to be rather flat.

Title: Mockingbird
Author: Kathryn Erskine
Genre: Realistic
Read If You Like...: Books told through alternating perspectives, serious issues, and affecting stories
Three-Sentence Thoughts: Caitlin is an eleven-year-old with autism having a hard time navigating life without her brother since he was killed in a school shooting. Most often told through Caitlin's perspective, Mockingbird shares her journey of making it through each day as she struggles to understand emotions in situations so strongly affected by it. This is an incredibly moving story that serves a great role in reminding middle schoolers of the importance of perspective and situation while appealing to their growing desire for emotional stories.

Monday, January 19, 2015

2014 in Review

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Well 2014 was a year for the books. It was a busy one, as evidenced by my total absence from this blog—so I guess from your perspective, it wasn't one for the books at all! (Pun!)

On day 2 of 2014, I moved 898 miles across the country.

From days 19 to 79, I traveled halfway around the world.

On day 219, I started a new career.

On day 255, I bought a house.

As much as I've abandoned communication on this blog [all forms of communication in my life—both virtual and non-virtual—have seriously suffered as of late!], it was actually a pretty great year of reading. This was the year I fell in love with a Kobo [a serious necessity for worldwide travel] and became addicted to eBook checkouts from the library. I crossed many titles off my to-read list that had been there for who knows how long. And I seriously binged on middle school selections [comes with the job].

As far as Goodreads is concerned, I completed my annual goal of 52 books—surpassing it, even, with a total of 57. Much of that is thanks to my 7 months of vacation in 2014 when I joyously had all the time in the world to read and relax. [It's a good thing, too, because once school started, my reading pace CRASHED.] Of these 57:

  • 10 were nonfiction (5 of these were memoirs)
  • 5 were YA (4 of which were by Sarah Dessen—obsessed?)
  • 12 were middle grade
  • 36 were by woman authors (21 by men)
  • 14 were by non-American authors (and most of those were English...ick, this is what happens without Idlewild book club)

And I received TWO lovely, amazing, inspiring emails from authors whose books I wrote about [2 more than ever before!].

Here's the rundown of my year of reading:

Most enjoyable
Tie: Relish by Lucy Knisley & all the Sarah Dessen

Most surprisingly enjoyable
Flings by Justin Taylor

Most disappointing
Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding

Most surprisingly disappointing
Tamar by Deborah Challinor

Most engrossing
The Magus by John Fowles

Most satisfying
American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar

Most thought-provoking
The Evolution of God by Robert Wright

Most entertaining
Tie: The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson & How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Most moving
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Most memorable
The Magus by John Fowles

Most forgettable
Girl Walks Into a Bar by Rachel Dratch

Happy reading in 2015! Here's to better updates, branching out, & memorable stories!