Friday, April 29, 2011

Pink, by Lili Wilkinson

Pink. Wilkinson, Lili. 306 p. HarperCollins. 2011. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9780061926532.

Pink
addresses a question I think we have all asked ourselves at one time or another- or perhaps ask ourselves continually: WHO THE HECK AM I?

Ava doesn't really know who she is, but she knows she just wants to fit in. Unsure of her image as a gothy lesbian, she transfers to a new school for a chance to start over and be who she wants to be. And maybe for the chance to date a boy, although she's afraid to break her girlfriend's heart. After a hilariously disastrous audition for the school musical, she falls in with a group of stage crew kids who use Internet slang and make Star Trek references. They are awesome!

This is one of those stories where a character makes grand plans for social betterment and everything goes spectacularly awry. I have so much empathy for that! Because OMG, have we not all been there to some degree? Those teenage years are tough. You’re just trying to figure out who you are, who you want to be, who your friends are, what you’re supposed to be doing… and there really are no easy answers. So, Ava hits rock bottom, but she manages to regroup in a way that will be a comfort to many teen readers. It's encouraging to see that things can be okay after messing everything up completely.

One of my favorite things about this book is the way it demonstrates that, in high school especially, everyone is searching for their identity- even those who seem the most self-assured. Everyone is trying to fit themselves into a neatly labeled box- but the message in this book is that you don't have to choose just one particular box. I love that! So affirming.

I have to admit, though, the one thing that detracts from the book's strength for me is the stereotypical depiction of an Asian character. Also, the fact that his name is Kobe. I mean, sure, there's the famous basketball player, but is anyone else actually named Kobe? Really?? But more concerning to me is that the character is stated to hate being Asian. Like... whoah there. What's that about?! Unfortunately, his story isn't fully developed because he's not the main character, so we don't really get the details on his apparent racially-motivated self-loathing. It's odd, because there's no racism demonstrated by others in this book- it's just that the Asian kid randomly hates being Asian. But he gets a girlfriend in the end, so we can assume comes to term with his ethnicity...?

I don't know what to make of that.

But everything else about this book is super awesome and positive about being happy and confident about who you are, so I'm going to assume the author had only the best of intentions when writing the Asian character.

On another note, how much do I love Ava's super-supportive progressive liberal parents?? They are completely adorable and the cause of several laugh-out-loud moments. Wilkinson has a talent for writing very endearing characters. In addition to the hilarious parents, the stage crew kids are a crowd you just want to hang with, and even the less-than-pleasant characters are shown to have a vulnerable side.

Overall, a fun read for anyone who's ever felt like they don't fit in. (Which would be, well, everyone!)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

On hosting author visits

Shannon Hale's recent blog entry about mortifying author visit experiences is such a fascinating read-- in a horrified, agonizing sort of way! As a librarian who regularly seeks out authors to invite to my library and helps plan, publicize, and host their visits, I am absolutely cringing at the way Shannon and other authors have been treated by some of the people hosting their events.

But most of all, I'm struck by the idea that authors feel responsible for the outcome of their events. I have honestly never thought of it that way. On the contrary, I always feel like the library (or school or bookstore) is responsible for making it a good event for the author! How funny (and a little sad) that both parties end up feeling responsible, when sometimes there are things that nobody has any control over, like a snowstorm that keeps the crowds away or an event schedule that conflicts with finals week. But aside from those sorts of things, it's up to the hosting organization to publicize widely, make sure the space is set up properly, have enough books on hand, etc.

Things running through my head when I host an author visit:

Is the author comfortable? Would they like a snack and bottled water? Would they prefer to give their presentation sitting or standing? Do they like my library? Are they having fun? Do they feel welcomed? Do they have the right kind of pen for signing books? Is there anything I can get them? Do they feel this visit is worth their time? (Please say yes!)

Things NOT running through my head when I host an author visit:

Who is this person again? Why are they here? What did they write?

Yikes!

Come to my library, authors. We'll treat you right.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Summer Reading Ideas: Passive Programs

This summer's travel-themed program lends itself to some really fun event ideas- but my library's budget dictates that staff-facilitated programs are on hold for now. In this economy, I'm sure I'm not the only librarian faced with budget-related challenges, so I thought I'd share what I'm doing to keep the summer reading program FUN. Instead of running events for my library teens, I am planning a series of passive programs I call Boredom Busters.

WHAT? Each week during my library's summer reading program, I'll feature a different make-and-take craft with an international theme. This gives the teens something to do while they're hanging out at the library, and hopefully they'll learn a little something about the world around them while they're at it!

WHERE? Our reference desk has a section that's used to store things like the stapler, hole punch, and a brochure display. It's easy to relocate those items during the summer, cover that area of the desk with decorative butcher paper, and designate it the Boredom Busters zone. Hosting these crafts at the reference desk is great because it's an opportunity to interact with the teens and make them feel welcome in their library. It's also convenient for keeping an eye out for spontaneous glitter fights. Not that my library teens would ever do that! I'm just saying.

WHO? This question has two parts: "Who can participate?" and "Who's running this extravaganza?" The program is intended for ages 13 - 17, but we're not going to turn away an interested child or adult. As far as who's responsible- I am, of course! But since I'm not always at the reference desk, I email my colleagues each week to explain the craft, note the location of extra supplies, and so on. It's all about communication!

HOW: I'm going to kick off the summer with something simple but popular: origami, the traditional paper craft of Japan.


I purchased patterned and solid 6 inch papers from The Origami Paper Shop.

A lot of the teens at my library will probably know how to make their favorite origami patterns already, but I'll display instruction diagrams with step-by-step examples of the folds for the crane, cicada, and tulip.

I'll accompany the instructions with a brief history of origami and its significance in Japanese culture. Good sources for this information include PBS and Kids Web Japan.

I'm thinking of adding on some kind of fundraising effort for the earthquake/tsunami relief efforts in Japan. Maybe something as simple as a change jar for donations?

Next stop: France. Watch for the details of the next craft in a few weeks!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: Bumped, by Megan McCafferty

Bumped. McCafferty, Megan. 336 p. Balzer + Bray. 2011. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9780061962745.

Okay, this is one addictive read. Let me tell you, I've never been so psyched about my baby waking up in the middle of the night. Baby wants to nurse at 3am? SWEET! Time to read more Bumped!

The plot takes a while to really pick up steam, as McCafferty devotes the first third of the book to worldbuilding. Set a few decades from now, the world she's created is sort of dystopian lite. It isn't so different from our own, but a virus has rendered most people infertile after the age of 18, making the fertility of teen girls crucial for the human race's survival-- which, in turn, makes teen pregnancy the ultimate commodity and the ultimate fashion statement.

McCafferty's imagined future society is a smart, tongue-in-cheek commentary on contemporary pop culture taken to an extreme. With shows like MTV's "Sixteen and Pregnant" and our endless obsession with celebrity baby bumps in magazines, it's not so hard to believe society could someday be fueled by teen pregnancy. The introduction of futuristic slang is a bit heavy-handed, but once the setting and the lingo are firmly established, the story's pace takes off and doesn't stop.

I've seen some mixed opinions on the character development in this book, and maybe the characters do fall seemingly pre-defined roles. There's the everygirl overachiever, her religious fundamentalist sister, the handsome celebrity love interest, and the best friend who would make the perfect boyfriend... but you know, I really and truly like them all! Each character has an endearing quality that makes me want to keep reading and go along for the ride with them. The dual narration between the two main characters, a pair of long-lost twins suddenly reunited, is appealing, and McCafferty handles the two distinct voices effortlessly.

This book ends on quite a cliffhanger, and I'll definitely be eager to pick up the second book in the planned trilogy.

Look for Bumped on bookstore shelves next week, on April 26th. ARC for review provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, April 18, 2011

ALERT! ALERT! SOMETHING AWESOME!

Do you like YA lit?

Do you like interviews with amazing YA authors?

Do you like listening to charming and adorable readers JUST LIKE YOU chat about super fun YA books?

OF COURSE YOU DO.

That's why you should check out Authors are ROCKSTARS!


This brand-new podcast is a collaboration between Michelle from Never Gonna Grow Up Reviews and myself. I am so privileged to be working with Michelle on this project- she and I have been friends for years, she's a super awesome voiceover artist, and she's the one behind the audio mixing for the podcast. She rocks!

In our debut episode, we interview the fabulous and amazing Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. [pause for a moment of giddiness: eeeeeeeee!] I loved having the chance to meet them and talk about their writing and characters.

We hope you'll enjoy this month's podcast. Please listen, let us know what you think, and follow the Authors are ROCKSTARS! blog so you'll be sure to catch future episodes!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Time-Traveling Fashionista, by Bianca Turetsky

The Time-Traveling Fashionista. Turetsky, Bianca. 272 p. Poppy. 2011. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780316105422.

Fashion + time travel + Titanic? I would have eaten this right up as a twelve year old! As an adult reader, I have to admit that I feel like the plot and characterizations are maybe just a little thin. But this book is definitely a fun, light read for younger teens with a bit of historical interest, and the fashion is divine.

The premise, that a modern-day girl gets transported back to the Titanic by way of a magical dress, is fantastic, and as a self-conscious, fish-out-of-water type, the main character, Louise, will be very relatable for many young readers.

However, I found myself slightly frustrated by the length of time it took her to figure out that she was aboard the Titanic. I have a hard time believing that a true vintage fashion enthusiast wouldn't have seen the Kate & Leo movie about a bazillion times to drool over the gorgeous costumes and therefore soak up some of the details-- like, say, White Star Line, Captain Smith, April 1912...

I mean, I'm merely a casual admirer of vintage fashion, and my husband makes these CRAZY CLAIMS that I saw Titanic in the theater, like, FIVE times. Um, I don't think so, honey! Surely it was only THREE. But whatever, who's counting!?

Ahem. I digress.

So, Louise is perhaps a little slow on the uptake. But I can see why the author chose to write the story that way- it's more fun for the character and the reader to get to enjoy the ship a little first before Louise starts freaking out, right?

I loved reading the detailed and accurate descriptions of the various parts of the ship. Turetsky clearly did her research! I also liked the realistic way in which Louise learns that not everything back then was as glamorous as it might seem from a contemporary perspective-- corsets hurt, feathered hats are awkward to wear, and charming, smooth-talking gentlemen might actually be kinda jerky.

The sinking part of the plot is delightfully suspenseful. Even though you know Louise has to make it off the ship in time, you're still left thinking: BUT HOW!? Happily, the book wraps up with a satisfying end, but Turetsky leaves the door open for more time-traveling fashion adventures. Fun!

In addition to being an enjoyable read, this book is truly gorgeous. The stunning, full-color fashion illustrations in this book are an absolute treasure. Extremely swoon-worthy.

Today is the 99th anniversary of the Titanic's tragic sinking. This may not be a scholarly work- nor is it meant to be- but with its unique fashion-related hook, The Time-Traveling Fashionista may interest young readers who might otherwise shrug their shoulders at learning some history.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Why We Do What We Do

The following happened a couple years ago, but I thought I'd share it in honor of National Library Week. It was one of those moments that reminded me what an incredible privilege it is to be in the position to help people as a librarian.

--

A young woman came into the library, several months pregnant. Privately, I admired her adorably round belly and chic maternity dress. (I was pregnant at the time, too, and was always noticing other pregnant women.) She passed me on her way to the children's section, and I smiled to indicate that I was there to help, but she didn't seem to have any questions. About half an hour later, though, she approached the reference desk.

"Can you recommend any children's picture books that are really popular?"

"Sure! Are you looking for books on any particular subject, or just ones that are classic and well-liked?"

"Well... probably ones that are just classic... This is going to sound kind of morbid, but my husband is going to Iraq and we want to make some videos of him reading, just in case he doesn't come back..." And she gestured to her pregnant belly.

Oh.

I didn't miss a beat, didn't make a big deal out of it, but my heart started breaking right then and there.

"I'm sure we can find just the thing!"

As we walked to the picture books, I fumbled around for the right words.

"I hope everything goes smoothly with your husband being away."

"Yeah, me too... This will be a good thing to do anyway, making the videos, since he'll be gone for the baby's first seven months..."

"Absolutely! It's just temporary."

I found her several books and wished her well, saying "Have fun making the videos," wanting to sound confident that this was not morbid at all, and that her husband will be coming back. She didn't strike me as seeking pity or wanting anyone to make a fuss, so I didn't. Sometimes it's hard to maintain that professional barrier; of course I wanted to break down and tell her how sorry I was, how hard it must be, how scary... but I didn't think that was what she needed. She needed me to hear her and help her find some good books, and I did that for her.

It's really an honor to be part of a profession where I can help people like this, help them through something difficult- even in the smallest of ways. I hope that woman's husband will be back home before she knows it, bouncing their baby on his knee.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

White Cat, by Holly Black

White Cat. Black, Holly. Listening Library. 2010. Audiobook $40.00. ISBN 9780307711816.

Hey, I finally caught up with the rest of the world and read White Cat! I loved Holly Black's previous books about faeries, and this book was even more amazing. How does she do it?!

White Cat
is a smart, exhilarating mashup of mafia, magic, and mystery. The story is set in a world much like ours, but with a fundamental difference: there are curse workers, people with magical powers. Those who don't have powers see magic as an unfair advantage, and so curse working has become a criminal activity. The protagonist, a high school boy named Cassel, is the only member of his family without magical abilities. But he can still work a good con.

This book is seriously brilliant. The plot is tightly woven and well paced, full of twists and turns as information assumed to be true at the beginning often turns out to be something else entirely. Through the first-person narration, the reader discovers surprising truths just as Cassel does. A fascinating, multi-layered cast of characters cleverly plays into mafia cliches at times, and other times plays against them. I have a total soft spot for Cassel's brusque but loving granddad, and his geeky, loyal boarding school roommate, Sam.

I can't get over the way Black constructs the insanely clever cons in this book. She provides the reader with just enough information so we think we know what the plan might be, but details are intentionally withheld to heighten the suspense as events play out- and this strategy definitely kept me on the edge of my seat.

I listened to this book on CD, and I enjoyed the audiobook experience. Although I'm not sure Jesse Eisenberg's characterization of Cassel is how I would have heard his voice in my head if I had read the print version, he really captured the character's youthfulness (one of my audiobook pet peeves is when the reader sounds way too old for their role!), and his East Coast accent was perfect for this book.

The sequel, Red Glove, is in bookstores TODAY! I can't wait to pick it up; I know it's going to be a great ride.
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