Friday, December 7, 2012

Recent Reads and Happenings

How can it possibly be December already? I've got our Christmas shopping done (all books, of course) but somehow I still find myself surprised that we're heading into the final weeks of 2012. It's been a busy year!

So what have I been up to lately? Working on the grant application to seek funding for my Eureka! Leadership Program project, reviewing books for School Library Journal, accepting taskforce/committee appointments for YALSA and my state library association, blogging for The Hub (my latest post is about gender-neutral names in YA novels).

What have I been reading? 

The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater
I've read some of Stiefvater's previous works, and I liked them, but none hooked me as much as her latest book did. The Raven Boys is a most excellent blend of eclectic elements-- a family of psychics, a group of elite boarding school boys, and a quest to find a legendary Welsh king said to have been buried in the hills of Virginia. I was riveted. Stiefvater's prose is always lush and gorgeous, and the plot elements really clicked for me in this one. It may be personal preference- I'm just not that into werewolves or horses- but I think this is her best work yet.

The Fire Horse Girl, by Kay Honeyman
Historical fiction lovers, keep an eye out for this title in January 2013. Honeyman's debut novel tells the story of a headstrong girl who leaves her small village in China with hopes of a new life in San Francisco during the 1920s. I haven't seen many YA books addressing the difficulties Chinese immigrants encountered in coming through Angel Island to enter America, so this was a refreshing read. Honeyman's historical research shines on every page, and the characters are interestingly flawed and three-dimensional. Also, how gorgeous and eye-catching is that cover? I love it! (ARC for review generously provided by Scholastic via NetGalley.)

What have I been up to?

Last weekend, I went to the grand opening of the Whittwood Branch Library in the City of Whittier. The director of Whittier's library system is one of the mentors I was honored to meet at the 2012 Eureka Leadership Program, and I wanted to take part in celebrating her success.

It was fun and interesting to observe a library event as a spectator-- I'm used working these types of events as a librarian, so I really liked being able to step back and witness this community's deep appreciation for their library.

Maybe the best part of the event was seeing how many people came out on a Saturday morning- during the holiday season, when they could have been shopping, no less!- to support their new public library. Hundreds of eager library patrons lined up to enter the building, as soon as the ribbon cutting ceremony was done, they streamed into the building and immediately started using all the resources the library offered. It was truly inspiring. Congratulations, City of Whittier!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Giveaway Winners & Other Stuff

Thanks to everyone who entered the Dear Teen Me and Diviners giveaways on my blog over the past couple of weeks! The winners have been contacted. Congrats, Ashley R. and Tina Crossgrove!

I was also the lucky winner of a blog giveaway recently, and just wanted to publicly thank Rori of Rori Roars for the Ballet Beautiful Blast Series DVD! I like doing the Ballet Beautiful exercises to build up strength between actual ballet classes, so I'm really grateful to have won this prize. If any readers of my blog are also into ballet, you should check out Rori's awesome blog. (By the way: I am happily back to my ballet classes after injuring my toe a couple months ago, for anyone following along. Whew!)

What else? Obviously, I've slowed down in my blogging lately. I've been busy! Still reviewing books and apps for School Library Journal and blogging for The Hub. And in September, I was one of 32 California librarians to participate in the Eureka! Leadership Institute. After an intense week of learning, discovering, and making connections with amazing people in the library field, I am now embarking on the implementation of a year-long, grant-funded project that will benefit my library's community. I am so honored to be a part of the Eureka! Leadership Program and I know I'm going to learn so much through the experience.

In other news, I just went to an awesome author event at the beautiful Encinitas Library in San Diego county: YA in the Sun.

Twenty amazing authors were there to mingle with readers and sign books, and everyone had such a great time. We'll have coverage of this event up soon at Authors are ROCKSTARS!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Book Review and Giveaway: The Diviners, by Libba Bray

Bray, Libba. The Diviners. 592 p. 2012. Little, Brown. Hardcover $19.99. ISBN 9780316126113.

What can I say about The Diviners? It's like Libba Bray sat down and said, "Now, Allison, I know you're a big fan of my work. What would YOU like me to put in my next book?" Because I swear this book was practically tailor-made for me! Let's take a little inventory of the things I loved about this book:

  • Extensively researched 1920s setting. 
  • Plucky heroine with snappy dialogue. 
  • Diverse cast of characters. 
  • Fascinating Victorian/early 20th century spiritualism.

Yep, it's awesome! And creepy. Awesomely creepy! Creepily awesome? It may seem a little daunting at nearly 600 pages, but the intricate plot and strong pacing kept me riveted. Bray introduces a large cast of characters, and juggles their intertwining storylines with grace. This is the first volume in a four-book series, and I am definitely looking forward to the sequel.  

I was thrilled to get a chance to meet Libba earlier this year at the ALA Annual Conference and chat with her about The Diviners. She is just as awesome as you would expect!

While I was reading The Diviners, I kept thinking about Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, a small retailer that creates all-natural, hand-blended perfume oils with a "dark, romantic Gothic tone." I could see the Lab having a field day crafting the most incredibly evocative scents to compliment the eerie imagery from this book. In fact, there are already several scents in the Black Phoenix catalog that remind me of The Diviners. For example...

Lush parlor rooms draped in thick velvets and gilded in gold, unearthly whispering in the distance, fleeting flashes of wraithlike figures rushing just outside your vision, the chill of a phantom presence brushing by your cheek, the inscrutable knowledge that disembodied eyes are peering at you from darkened corners-- this is the essence of Victorian-era spiritualism: rosewood, oak and teak notes with wispy blue lilac, tea rose, dried white rose and ethereal osmanthus.

Deep, mysterious, and full of dark portents: oakmoss, juniper berry, myrrh and patchouli.

Sleek, dark, and ominous. Violet and neroli mingled with iris, white sandalwood and dark musk.

A sultry, exotic scent that inspires devious plotting and clandestine affairs. It is a scent painted in artifice, veiled in deceit, and slithering with whispered secrets. Black palm, with cocoa, fig and shadowy wooded notes.

A quiet scent, soft, calm and enigmatic. A perfume of mystery, of whispers, and of secrets behind secrets. White sandalwood, lilac, gardenia, violet, orris, lavender and ylang ylang.

Are you convinced that Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab goes perfectly with The Diviners? Then I have a giveaway for you!

This giveaway includes the following:
  • Diviners pendant on a black cord, in a small burlap bag.
  • Sample vials of Ouija, Veil, and a few other Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab perfumes that remind me of The Diviners. (To be honest, I have quite a collection of sample vials, so I'll throw in some random ones just for fun!) 

To enter, just comment on this post and tell me:
1. Your favorite thing about The Diviners (or what you're most looking forward to about this book, if you haven't read it yet).
2. The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab scent that tempts you the most. (Take some time, browse their catalog! They offer hundreds of scents and the descriptions are alluring. And no, I am not affiliated with this company in any way- just a big fan.)

Be sure to leave your email address with your comment so I can contact the winner. Contest is open to US residents only. Enter by November 8th for your chance to win.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Blog Tour Stop: Dear Teen Me

Anderson, E. Kristin & Keneally, Miranda (ed.). Dear Teen Me. 192 p. 2012. Zest Books. Paperback $14.99. ISBN 9781936976218.

I'm thrilled to be a part of the Dear Teen Me blog tour!

This book, based on the awesome Dear Teen Me website, hits bookstore shelves on October 30th from Zest Books. Distributed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Zest is one of my very favorite publishers of teen nonfiction. I know I can always count on something edgy, entertaining, and informative from them, and Dear Teen Me is no exception. It's a compelling read.

Dear Teen Me is an anthology of letters from authors of young adult fiction giving advice and insight to their teen selves. Contributors include Ellen Hopkins, Lauren Oliver, and Sara Zarr, among many other fantastic authors. Ranging from heartbreaking to hilarious, their letters share the most soul-baring, cringe-inducing, and life-altering moments they experienced during their teen years. There is an overall message of hope and affirmation in these letters-- a reminder that we all experience ups and downs in the process of growing up, and we can all come out on the other side, older and wiser.

It's the perfect book to curl up with on a contemplative evening. If you're an adult, this book will make you think about what you would want to tell your teen self, and remember what it was like to be at a such a pivotal point in your life. If you're still a teen, it will make you think about what you're trying to get through right now, and encourage you to realize that you're not alone.

Now here's the part where I take you on a nostalgic pictorial tour of my own teen years... 

But before we journey back in time to the 1990s, I should mention that if you read all the way through this post, there's a giveaway at the end! Okay, here we go--

I was a teen in San Diego during the mid-'90s, and I remember those years fondly. I was kind of a bookish geek, but given the fact that I'm a librarian now, that's no surprise, right? Middle school was hard for me. I had trouble figuring out who I was and where I fit in. But by high school, I was feeling more comfortable in my own skin. Not perfect, but pretty happy.

I had really long hair.

I reveled in wearing pleated miniskirts and Mary Jane high heels Thank you, Clueless, for that fashion aesthetic!

I did a lot of plays and musical theater, and absolutely loved performing. Every theater experience was so important to me-- from playing an extra in Our Town as a freshman to getting the lead role in Steel Magnolias during my senior year. (I can't quite explain my fashion choice in this picture from a musical revue, but I'm pretty sure vests were considered stylish at the time.)

I was a cheerleader. Mostly to earn the PE credit, and certainly not because I was an amazing dancer. I wasn't! It took me forever to learn each routine (and also, I never actually understood football). But I tried really hard, got to know a great group of girls I might never have spoken to otherwise, and had so much fun.

I had an awesome group of friends. We used to pass notes in class, use ridiculous code names to talk about cute boys, and laugh at inside jokes built up over layers of years.

If I  were writing a letter to my teen self, a la Dear Teen Me, I might include the following...
  • Study harder. Seriously!
  • You're not the only one feeling angsty. It's just part of being a teenager. You'll be okay.
  • Do me a favor and stick with ballet instead of quitting after 6 months. 
  • Please don't wear this outfit:

The dress is cute, but why the hat? Why?? Oh, 13-year-old self, bless your heart. I'm pretty sure you were exceptionally pleased with that ensemble.

Since leaving my teen years behind, I like to think I've matured and maybe even gained some wisdom along the way. But... well, confession time: I used to get in trouble with my high school librarian for spinning the giant world globe in the library. It absolutely begged to be spun! It rumbled in the most satisfying way with each spin... which was, of course, the reason I got shushed and scolded.

Last weekend, I visited my high school for its centennial celebration and had the opportunity to peek into the gorgeous, brand-new library during the festivities. What did I see? THE GLOBE.

What did I do?


Some things never change.

Do you think my high school librarian would believe I'm a librarian now?

Hey, Teen Me, you did all right.

Giveaway alert! 

Now that you've gotten a peek into my teen years, I'm sure you're eager to read the (much more insightful) letters in Dear Teen Me. Well, lucky you: Zest Books is giving away an awesome Dear Teen Me prize pack to one reader of my blog!

To win a copy of Dear Teen Me (autographed by 4 - 5 contributors, plus postcards and bookmarks!), comment on this post by Monday, November 5, and tell me about your favorite or most regrettable fashion choice of your teen years. Pictures earn a double entry. Be sure to leave your email with your comment so I can notify the winner. Contest open to US residents only.

Be sure to visit all the stops on the Dear Teen Me blog tour, and take a look at the Dear Teen Me events page to see if there's a book signing at a location near you!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Book Review: Red is a Dragon, by Roseanne Thong and Grace Lin

Thong, Roseanne & Lin, Grace. Red is a Dragon. 40 p. 2001. Chronicle. Hardcover $15.95. ISBN 9780811831772.

Having been a fan of Grace Lin's work for years, I'm so pleased to introduce her work to my children. I'm hoping they will become equally devoted fans. We've started with Red is a Dragon, which was illustrated by Lin, and written by Roseanne Thong.

Thong's text and Lin's illustrations complement each other beautifully to celebrate the wide variety of colors found in the world around us. What I love most about this book is the way it presents a uniquely Asian American identity. Some pages introduce elements of Chinese culture, such as incense, a festival with firecrackers and a dragon, or dumplings. Other pages are more universal, with images such as a taxi cab, sand castles at the beach, or flowers in the garden. The text includes Auntie and Grandpa, subtly showing the importance of extended family in Asian cultures.

My children are half Vietnamese, and I really value the way this book speaks to my children's Asian-American experience just as naturally as we incorporate both sides of their cultures into their daily lives.

Books can be a mirror of our own experiences or a window to another world-- and this book is both. It doesn't appeal to my children just because they're Asian-American; children of all cultural backgrounds can enjoy it. The reader might learn something new, see something familiar, or just enjoy the vivid colors and bold, lively illustrations. Whichever way a young reader approaches it, they will surely regard this book as the treasure that it is.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

In Which I Finally Get Hooked on Eaudiobooks

I am basically addicted to audiobooks. With the right narrator, an audiobook can be such a fantastic way to experience a story. And what can beat the convenience of "reading" a book on your commute? Indeed, most of my audiobook listening is done in the car. But there's a little problem with that. My car is stuck in the last decade: it only has a CD player. No iPhone hookup. And audiobooks are increasingly becoming available as electronic downloads these days.

I love the concept of eaudiobooks-- so convenient, having the audiobook on your phone! You can listen at the gym! (I'm not a fan of the gym.) You can listen while you walk the dog! (I don't have a dog.) You can listen while you do housework! (My kids are usually right under foot.) Short of putting a pair of portable iPhone speakers in my car so I can listen on my commute (which I can never seem to remember to do), I haven't found a good solution for working eaudiobooks into my routine. Until now.

Last week, I had a little run-in with a heavy door. Literally. The door won, and I injured a toe pretty badly. Um, yes, I know that sounds pathetic. But even though a toe may not sound like a big deal... it kind of is. A lot of things are off-limits for me right now while I heal up, including my beloved ballet classes.

(Allow me a brief woe-is-me moment here: my poor ballet bag has been exiled to a closet for the next few weeks. SIGH.)

Anyway, so, what to do with an injured toe? I was told to rest and keep my weight off it for the first few days, and I thought the silver lining would be lots of time to sit back and read. But I was on a fairly intense dose of painkillers for the first few days after the injury, so I couldn't concentrate on a book for very long.

What then? I turned to my one and only gaming addiction: Tetris. It was like the early 90s all over again! And what to do while playing game after game of Tetris on my phone? Why, use my phone to listen to an eaudiobook, too! The combination of Tetris and an eaudiobook turned out to be the perfect thing to get me through the first few days of recovery. The Tetris would have gotten boring quickly on its own, and likewise, who wants to just sit and stare into space while listening to an audiobook?

So there you have it: my strategy for working eaudiobooks into your daily routine. Tetris. 

You don't need to wreck your toe to implement this solution, though.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review: The Dark Unwinding, by Sharon Cameron

Cameron, Sharon. The Dark Unwinding. 318 p. 2012. Scholastic. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780545327862.

I was introduced to this book at the Scholastic brunch at this year's ALA Annual Conference, in which Sharon Cameron and other authors performed an excerpt, readers' theater style, to give the audience a taste of the story. She was fabulously funny and the scene piqued my interest, so I knew I had to read this one! And it did not disappoint.

This is a wonderful debut novel, filled with lush prose and a plot that stands out from the rest of the YA shelves these days. Young, orphaned Katharine finds herself saddled with the daunting task of checking up on an uncle to verify that he is insane, and have him committed to an asylum so he will stop frittering away the family fortune. Only, when she arrives at his countryside manor house, she discovers something quite unexpected: a workshop of wondrous clockwork creations and a community of people who desperately need her uncle to continue with his inventions.

The story is full of mystery, self-discovery, and romance set against a sometimes-cozy, sometimes-eerie English manor backdrop. It's an absolutely delicious setting, and I loved the book's period feel. The language is straightforward enough for a contemporary reader, but Cameron employs turns of phrase that ring true to the mid-1800s setting. Also, it's important to note that there's lots of gorgeous costume description. (I don't know about you, but when I read historical fiction, I want to read about the clothes!)

With the steampunk genre on the rise, Scholastic is really playing up the clockwork machinery aspects of this book in their marketing, but it's not actually a steampunk-heavy novel. On the whole, it's more like an Austen or Bronte novel that just happens to have some mechanical goodies in it. I would recommend this book for any fan of historical fiction who doesn't mind a dash of fantasy.

The story wraps up nicely, but a few hanging threads deliberately leave the door open for a sequel. It was so lovely I didn't want it to end, and I look forward to reading more from this promising new author.  

The Dark Unwinding hits bookstore shelves on September 1st. ARC for review received from Scholastic.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Book Review: Princess Academy: Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale

Hale, Shannon. Princess Academy: Palace of Stone. 336 p. 2012. Bloomsbury. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9781599908731.

I was completely enchanted by 2006 Newbery Honor book, Princess Academy. I mean, let's face it-- when am I NOT completely enchanted by Shannon Hale's writing? Never, that's when! I adore anything she writes. So... Princess Academy-- I thought it wrapped up beautifully and never did it enter my mind that there could be room for a sequel. Thus, I was a little...surprised?... to hear there would indeed be a sequel published this year. But, I figured, it's Shannon Hale. She can do no wrong.


It's Shannon Hale! She can do NO WRONG! Princess Academy: Palace of Stone is an absolutely wonderful sequel. It was such a pleasure to welcome back characters I knew and loved in the first volume, delve deeper into the mysteries of quarry speech, and get to know more of the country of Danland as Miri travels beyond her mountain home.

This book is a bit more mature than its predecessor; there is more romance, more danger, and more complexity. The narrative involves self-discovery and romance amidst political intrigue and revolution. It's sort of... Princess Academy meets Catching Fire. In other words, thought-provoking and multi-layered while somehow cozy and, of course, beautifully written. As usual with a Shannon Hale book, I just wanted the story to go on and on; I wanted to live in it. Gorgeous.

Look for Princess Academy: Palace of Stone on bookstore shelves starting August 21st. ARC for review provided by Bloomsbury via Netgalley.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: Famous for Thirty Seconds, by P.G. Kain

Kain, P.G.. Famous for Thirty Seconds. 320 p. 2012. Aladdin. Paperback $6.99. ISBN 9781416997863.

Instead of a typical life attending school and playing sports like most kids her age, thirteen-year-old Brittany has grown up on a steady stream of go-sees, auditions, and callbacks for national commercial spots. Her family's temporary move to Hong Kong put a halt to her acting career, but she's confident that she'll be back in the game as soon as they return to New York. Easy-peasy, right? Well... not exactly. She's about to find out that a lot can change in a year.

I have to confess something: I am a total ham. I used to pretend to do commercials in my childhood bedroom. I would have DEVOURED this book as a twelve-year-old! And I guess I've never really grown out of my fascination with commercials, because I had a great time reading this-- even though I'm well past the age of the target audience. Author P.G. Kain has personal experience in the world of acting for commercials, and has penned a very compelling look at both the glamour and competitive nature of the entertainment industry. Acting may sound alluring, but in reality, it's hard work that can involve a lot of heartache and disappointment.

Besides the appeal of reading about a young person's experience in the acting business, there's a solid story about friendship and self-discovery here, and the main character has a lively, engaging voice. I loved Brittany right off the bat-- she's overconfident, a little judgy, and totally self-absorbed. But she's likable! Her flaws are realistic and relatable (I mean, what thirteen-year-old isn't self-absorbed??), and it's fun to watch her evolve as the story progresses. As she attempts to scheme her way back to the top and knock out the competition, you just know it's all going to end in disaster... but she learns a few things and bounces back in her own way. Plus, there's a cute, well crafted romance, for those who enjoy that sort of thing (AND I DO).

Famous for Thirty Seconds is the first volume in P.G. Kain's "Commercial Breaks" series. This book is a lighthearted, engaging read, perfect for middle grade readers-- especially those who have been bitten by the show biz bug. I look forward to seeing what's in store for the rest of the series! A review copy of this book was generously provided to me by the author.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Teen Make-and-Take Crafts

I just wrapped up the Teen Summer Reading Program at my library last week. Whew! The teens did a lot of reading, and I think we all had a lot of fun. Just like last year, I hosted "Boredom Busters" as part of the program, which is a series of simple, fun make-and-take crafts that teens can do at the Reference Desk in about 5-10 minutes.

To go with this year's Summer Reading theme, "Own the Night," I adapted one of my favorite craft concepts: pocket shrines. Depending on your library's community, you may want to avoid the religious overtone of the word "shrine," so I called this craft "Constellation in a box." 

Altoid tins (or similar)
Acrylic paint
Paint brushes
Adhesive rhinestones (lots and lots)
Silver paint pens
Glitter pens
Sparkly ribbon
Sparkly pipe cleaners
Any other sparkly doo-dad you think teens might use creatively
Mod Podge - both sparkle and regular types
Paint sponges

I collected empty mint tins from family and colleagues during the months preceding this craft, and painted them black in advance of the Summer Reading Program. I've hosted an event where the teens painted the tins themselves, and that was okay, but the paint takes a while to dry, and can be messy-- since these Boredom Buster activities are largely unsupervised, I decided to simplify.

I printed out images of some well-known constellations for the teens to use as a reference. Participants chose their favorite constellation and recreated it using adhesive rhinestones and drawing the lines between the rhinestone with paint or glitter pens.

Other than the constellation element of the craft, the teens were free to decorate the inside and outside of the tins however they liked. I printed out star-related quotes and explanations of the constellations for them to Mod Podge onto their tin, but those weren't mandatory. The teens got creative and decorated according to their whims. Sparkly things are hard to resist, so they had fun!

The other craft I really enjoyed this summer was inspired by something I saw on Pinterest: book page votives!

I followed the directions from Sarah at Arrow and Apple, using small votive candle holders instead of mason jars.

Book page votives are a great way to creatively recycle pages from books you're going to weed from the collection anyway. I gathered a pile of damaged books and allowed the teens to cut out the pages of their choosing for this craft.

Votives (I found the best price at Quick Candles.)
Discarded books (manga too!)
Mod Podge
Paint sponges
Craft thread - the type used to make friendship bracelets (optional)
Small beads (optional)
LED tea lights (optional-- but it gave me peace of mind to supply a flame-free option.)

Now to start thinking of next year's crafts...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: Liar & Spy, by Rebecca Stead

Stead, Rebecca. Liar & Spy. 192 p. 2012. Random House Children's Books. Hardcover $15.99. ISBN 9780385737432. 

I was so excited to get ahold of the ARC of the upcoming title from Newbery Medal winning author, Rebecca Stead. I absolutely loved her Newbery-winning title, When You Reach Me. I still get chills thinking about the way she wove all the plot elements together in that book! On the other hand, I really didn't connect with her debut novel, First Light. Having had such drastically different reactions to her books, I was curious to see how I would like Liar & Spy, a story about a kid trying to survive the awkwardness of middle school and navigate a strange but compelling friendship when he moves to a new apartment building.

My verdict? I loved it. This slim volume, clocking in at under 200 pages, is a quick read that's jam-packed with thought-provoking themes and memorable, multilayered characters. It has the feel of an indie movie-- quirky and brilliant, and will undoubtedly appeal to fans of The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. 

The main character, Georges, is someone the reader really roots for. He's matter-of-factly morose at times, in the most endearing way. The themes of bullying, friendship, and fitting in versus standing out provide much fodder for discussion and insight, making this title a good choice for a middle school book group. Stead also weaves in unexpectedly delightful motifs like spelling and silent letters, choosing one's own name, and painter Georges Seurat's pointilism as a metaphor for life-- whether you see the big picture or examine all of the little dots individually.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand-Jatte,
by Georges Seurat, 1884-86
As she did in When You Reach Me, Stead weaves a tight storyline with subtle clues and red herrings that keep the reader guessing and wondering-- and then brings it all together with a twist at the end. I love a good unreliable narrator, and this book has a great one. 

Brilliantly plotted, tightly written, and deeply satisfying. 

Look for Liar & Spy on bookstore shelves on August 7. ARC for review acquired at ALA Annual from Random House.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Audiobook Review: Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry

Weighing in with my second pick for the Newbery Medal Reading Challenge, and I have to admit: I am not exactly rocking this challenge. It's a struggle to pick up an old Newbery winner when there are shiny new releases and ARCs that beg to be read. I feel like a student again, poring through the list of titles, thinking, "That one sounds boring.... so does that one... no way... nope..."

But that's part of my motivation for participating in this challenge-- making myself read some of the titles I might not otherwise pick up. I am aiming to increase the depth of Newbery titles I can recommend to young readers at my library... and little by little, I will.

My latest selection for this reading challenge is the 1941 Newbery winner: Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry.

Sperry, Armstrong. Call It Courage. 1994. Recorded Books. Audiobook $25.75. ISBN 0788746480.

Why did I choose this one? I'm not a huge fan of survival stories, but it has two things going for it:

1. It's available on audiobook.

2. It's set in Polynesia. My husband and I honeymooned in Moorea and Bora Bora ten years ago, so I was eager to revisit that setting.

Newlyweds on Matira Beach in Bora Bora.
(Can we go back there, please?)
In Call It Courage, a young boy Mafatu survives a tragic incident in which he and his mother are caught by a hurricane. She doesn't survive, and he is left with a lifelong fear of the sea-- which is not an acceptable phobia for a Polynesian boy to have, considering so much of their daily life revolves around the water. Spurred by the constant taunts of his peers and determined to prove his bravery, Mafatu sets out in a canoe for places unknown and must survive against the elements with only his trusty dog and a friendly albatross for companionship.

If you like survival stories, you'll probably like this one: it's pretty solid. As a bonus, contemporary readers will relate to the bullying Mafatu endures, and his desire to prove himself.

I was curious, however, about how a 1940s novel would depict Polynesian culture. Would there be a lot of nonsense about primitive natives and whatnot? Mostly, the cultural elements come across well enough. The author describes Mafatu and his people respectfully. However, Sperry constantly refers to another (purportedly cannibalistic) tribe as "the black eaters of men." It's plausible that there were cannibalistic tribes in ancient Polynesia, but the emphasis on their skin color is problematic. Sperry hardly ever mentions this tribe's cannibalism without making
sure the reader knows they're black, which is awkward and, frankly, disturbing. 

But on the plus side, there's a dog in this story, and he doesn't die! I thought for sure he was a goner when he fell in the water near a hungry shark, and his eyes were described as "puzzled" and "so faithful and true" or something along those lines. I was like, "OH NO, HERE WE GO."  ...but the dog survived! Hooray!

The audiobook makes for a pleasant way to approach this book. The narrator, George Guidall, gives a solid performance. He doesn't display much of a range of character voices, but most of the book is narration, rather than dialogue, so his performance works here. (There's also a 2009 recording from Listening Library done by Lou Diamond Phillips that I'd be curious to hear.)

All in all, I'm not in love with this particular Newbery winner, but if I get a request for a Newbery from a young reader who likes action and adventure, I might recommend this one-- but then again, with all the "black eaters of men" stuff, maybe not. It would depend on whether or not the child's parent would be willing to discuss how the language used to describe other cultures or ethnic groups in the 1940s is not necessarily acceptable now. As long as it's used as a teachable moment, I think Call It Courage could work for a contemporary reader.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Event report: Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

Right on the heels of the ALA Annual Conference at the end of June, my library hosted a visit with Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha Van Leer to celebrate the release of their co-written young adult novel, Between the Lines. I had the honor of introducing them to an eager audience of hundreds.

I was so impressed and inspired by Jodi and Samantha! They were both so nice and down-to-earth. I loved hearing about how they collaborated on their writing: Samantha had the idea for Between the Lines one day while she was daydreaming in class. When she pitched it to her mom, Jodi thought they should write it together. Though they had a few differences of opinion (Samantha wanted the prince to be blond, but Jodi won out with black hair), they were remarkably in tune as they wrote.

Samantha noted that her biggest challenge during the writing process was staying focused, and that her mother helped her stay on track. Jodi stated that she really valued the chance to share the writing experience with her daughter, as writing can often be a solitary, isolating activity. She's excited to share the experience of going on the book tour together, too.

One of my favorite parts of their talk was Jodi's advice for aspiring writers in dealing with writer's block: Just write every day, even if it's garbage. "You can fix garbage. You can't fix a blank page."

Part of the fun of any author event is seeing their devoted fans. I was so charmed by these three girls who showed up in custom t-shirts proclaiming their love for Jodi Picoult! This poster is covered with quotes from Jodi's books-- the girl who made it said these quotes changed her life, and asked Jodi to sign it. How amazing is that?

Since this event was held on the release date of Between the Lines, I didn't have a chance to read it beforehand... but after hearing them talk about the book, I am especially looking forward to it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Review: Perfect Escape, by Jennifer Brown

Brown, Jennifer. Perfect Escape. 352 p. 2012. Little, Brown. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780316185578.

Having been riveted by Jennifer Brown's debut novel, Hate List, I thought it was high time to read another of her books, so I was excited to pick up the ARC of her upcoming title, Perfect Escape, while I was at ALA Annual.

The premise is compelling: Kendra is an overachieving, perfectionist who has lived in the shadow of her older brother's OCD all her life. When she gets caught cheating in her senior calculus class, she starts driving and doesn't look back-- with her brother an unwilling passenger. She believes she can get away from her troubles and "cure" his mental illness all in one shot.

Brown's writing is just as tight and engaging as I remember from Hate List, and while I enjoyed this book, I had a mixed reaction to it. The fact is, I'm the wrong audience. Teens will love the sense of escape with Kendra's impromptu road-trip, and they'll empathize with her "I made one mistake and now my life is ruined" thought process (I so remember that feeling!). On the other hand, I found Kendra to be frustratingly irresponsible and self-centered, which is by no means a criticism of Brown's writing-- on the contrary, she is a realistic and well-written character.

I'm reading as a mother. I kept thinking how selfish Kendra's actions were toward her family, and even more, I got completely hung up on a secondary plot point. Kendra and her brother come across a teen mom and her baby, and that section of the book had me SO WORRIED that the baby wasn't going to make it, I couldn't focus on the main storyline. I HAD TO KNOW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN TO THAT BABY... to the point that it made me really uncomfortable. A teen reader would have an entirely different experience with that part of the book, so again, my comments are not a criticism. My issues are entirely my own!

All in all, I will definitely recommend this book to teens, especially those looking for a realistic, issue-driven book that keeps you hooked. Tension is sustained throughout the narrative as the reader wonders if Kendra and her brother will make it to their destination, or if they'll have to give up and turn around-- and what, exactly, was so terrible that it drove Kendra to run away in the first place.

Brown provides a thoughtful portrayal of OCD, and I feel I came away from the book with a better understanding of the disorder. Kendra's brother, Grayson, is a multi-dimensional character who struggles, but is not defined by his mental illness. Also, readers with siblings will appreciate the well-crafted, complex relationship depicted here-- sometimes tortured, sometimes affectionate, but always genuine.

Perfect Escape hits bookstore shelves on July 10th. ARC for review received from Little, Brown at ALA Annual.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

ALA Annual 2012 Recap

Well, hi!

Yes, it's been a while. But that's okay-- I was off having an amazing time at the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim at the end of June. I'm still sort of buzzing with excitement over the intensity of it all. As the chair of YALSA's Conference Marketing and Local Arrangements Committee, I felt actively involved and engaged in the conference, and came away energized by the fantastic connections I made. I got to meet so many new people, and was especially pleased to meet librarians, authors, and publishers I had only interacted with on Twitter or listservs prior to the conference. It's refreshing to bring the virtual into the real!

I hardly know where to begin, or how to put the vibrancy of this conference into words. Here are just a few highlights of my ALA12 experience:

My committee work
After working with the other members of the Conference Marketing and Local Arrangements Committee all year to promote YALSA's activities at the conference, talk up the local area, and organize on-site assistance at conference sessions, it was so rewarding to finally see our planning come to fruition. I was practically overjoyed to see my committee members had printed out and were using the meticulously color-coded schedule spreadsheet detailing our commitments.

If a future ALA conference comes to your neck of the woods, I highly recommend serving on a Local Arrangements committee. It's a really enjoyable way to get involved.

The Newbery Caldecott Banquet 
I love the energy that fills the room when hundreds of people come together to celebrate children's literature. I was very honored to be a guest of School Library Journal at this year's banquet, and it was a magical evening. I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to meet some of my fellow SLJ reviewers, and put faces to names of the wonderful editors I've been working with via email since I started reviewing for SLJ. It was a truly memorable evening.

Plus, the event program was adorable! You take the band off, unfold it, and out pops a red paper ball (a la the Caldecott winning title, A Ball for Daisy)! My 3 year old would love it. Sadly, he won't see it until he's at least 18 because it's a treasured souvenir from a very lovely evening, and there is no way I'm handing it over to him to be destroyed. Sorry, kiddo! This is mama's toy.

The Little, Brown dance party
Little, Brown is one of my very favorite publishers-- and now I can add "throws a mean party" to the list of reasons I love them. I was thrilled to be there to celebrate Libba Bray's upcoming Fall title, The Diviners.

The music was amazing-- old-school '70s, '80s, and '90s songs that had the crowd cheering for every song and dancing like crazy. If you have the opportunity to be invited to a Little, Brown event... don't miss it!

The Odyssey Award Program and Reception 
The Odyssey Award is given annually to the producer of the best audiobook for youth, available in English in the US. I am a huge fan of audiobooks, but I didn't realize how awesome it would be to actually see the audiobook narrators read aloud at this program. I was blown away, for example, by the physicality Kirby Heyborne put into his characters while reading from Rotters, by Daniel Kraus. As his voice shifted from character to character, so did his posture, his movements-- truly fascinating. And after seeing Wendy Carter read aloud, I'm now enjoying the audiobook of Young Fredle, by Cynthia Voigt, on my daily commute.

YA Authors Coffee Klatch 

Last time I attended this event at ALA 2008, I wasn't involved in any way, but this time I was there to assist as a member of YALSA's Local Arrangements Committee. I helped check in the authors as they arrived and waited in the green room for the event to begin, and the enthusiasm was high. Just as the librarians and other book lovers who attended the event were looking forward to chatting with their favorite authors, the authors were genuinely eager and excited about the chance to connect with readers face-to-face. It was fun seeing the other side of the event!

The Printz Reception
Just as the Newbery Caldecott Banquet is a wonderful celebration of children's literature, the Printz Reception celebrates the best in young adult literature. The speeches were amazing-- especially Daniel Handler's accordion serenade.

John Corey Whaley (who won this year's Printz award for Where Things Come Back) gave the most heartwarming, delightful speech. He seems like a really sweet, genuine person. I was glad to meet him!

Angie, me, John Corey Whaley (holding his Printz award!) and Lalitha
(Photo borrowed from Lalitha's ALA recap)
Best Fiction for Young Adults
In this session, the BFYA committee sits at tables in the front of the room with laptops, taking notes as teen readers step up to a microphone and give quick reviews of books from the BFYA nominations list. The teens are selected months ahead of time, and their preparation really showed. They were articulate, honest, and insightful. One of the teens who spoke was Ishita of The Reading Fish, who I know from Twitter-- she rocked it! I really enjoyed hearing what these young readers did and didn't like about the nominated titles. I use the BFYA list extensively in making purchasing decisions for my library's teen fiction collection, so I found it really interesting and enlightening to witness this portion of the BFYA process. Sitting in on this session definitely made me want to serve on the committee someday. 

The Graphic Novel stage
This stage dedicated to comics and graphic novels was one of the new features of ALA Annual this year-- an awesome addition, if you ask me! I attended Gene Yang's talk on Asian Americans and Air Benders. Since we interviewed Gene via Skype earlier this year for the Authors are ROCKSTARS! podcast, it was great to meet him in person. I really enjoyed hearing him speak about the history of Asians in comics, and his involvement in the Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels. He announced that he's signed on to do three more volumes after "The Promise" storyline wraps up! (I may have squealed aloud.)

The Exhibit Hall
Although my schedule was pretty jam-packed, I did have some time to walk around the exhibit hall.

The publishers get creative with ARC displays - this is a tower of The Fire Chronicle ARCs,
the highly-anticipated sequel to The Emerald Atlas, by John Stephens.
My to-read list is definitely full from here till early 2013, thanks to the ARCs I was able to pick up. 

Treasures I can't wait to read and share with my library teens!
Another highlight of the Exhibit Hall was all of the author signings. I met Allen Say! I reviewed his beautifully illustrated memorir, Drawing From Memory, for School Library Journal last year, and it was a pleasure to purchase a signed copy and have the chance to tell him in person how much I enjoyed it.

I'm still reflecting on all the wonderful experiences I had at this year's conference. One side effect is that I want to join and get actively involved with more ALA divisions and organizations than I actually have time for! I'm hoping to continue volunteering for YALSA committees, and possibly attend YALSA's YA Lit Symposium in St. Louis this Fall. We'll see! 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

ALA Annual 2012: What I'm Attending (And You Should, Too!)

anaheim convention center ala 2008
ALA in Anaheim, 2008. Photo by Timothy Vollmer
With ALA Annual Conference right around the corner, I am SO BUSY right now! As chair of YALSA's Conference Marketing and Local Arrangements Committee, I've been working on conference-related matters all year long, and am so excited that the big event is almost here.

I was interviewed on the latest episode of the YALSA podcast about things to see and do (and eat!) in Orange County, so if you're traveling from out of town to attend, be sure to listen. It's more than just Disneyland! 

Blogging is definitely on the back burner at the moment, but since I posted about conference events I'll (sadly) have to miss, I wanted to pop in to talk about a few of the sessions and events I will be attending at ALA.

If you're looking blankly at all of the amazing events in the ALA Conference Scheduler and wondering where to start, I contributed to this School Library Journal article alongside six other librarians, sharing what we're looking forward to at the conference. But what did I not mention in the article? Here's a selection of what else I'll be attending... 

Friday, June 22, 3 - 4 pm
If you're a new member of YALSA, or are thinking about joining, this is the session for you! According to the official description, it's a "mixer-style orientation, where you can get an overview of the division, its activities and what YALSA has to offer you."

Saturday, June 23, 12:30 - 1 pm
Asian Americans, Air Benders, and Comics
As a fan of the animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, I can't miss this presentation by Gene Luen Yang, who writes the series continuation comics published by Dark Horse. I had the opportunity to speak with Gene via Skype when we interviewed him for the Authors are ROCKSTARS! podcast, and I look forward to saying hi in person. He's awesome, and this topic sounds fascinating.

Saturday June 23, 5 - 7 pm
YALSA Happy Hour
An informal networking opportunity for YALSA members and those interested in joining YALSA. If you're a YA librarian or YA enthusiast, you should be there.

Saturday,  June 23, 8 pm
The Great YA Blogger Meetup
A fabulous way to continue the YA lit networking and festivities into the evening!

Sunday, June 24, 9 - 10 am
YA Author Coffee Klatch
One of the most memorable conference events for YA lit fans-- like speed dating with authors. Plus, breakfast! What a great way to start the day. Attendees get to meet authors up close and personal as they rotate tables and discuss their work. (Ticketed event, $25)
Sunday, June 24, 6 - 11 pm
The Newbery Caldecott Banquet
Like the Oscars for youth literature! This celebratory evening is definitely one of the highlights of the conference. I can't wait to hear the speeches by this year's Newbery medalist, Jack Gantos, and Caldecott medalist, Chris Raschka. (Ticketed event, $94)

Monday, June 24, 2:45 - 3:30 pm
Conversation Starters: Style and Stereotypes: Perceptions of Librarians
There's something to be said for the old adage, "It's what's inside that counts," but I believe the outside counts too. That is, it's important to be conscious of how we present ourselves to the world as librarians, as professionals. This panel session on perceptions of librarian style from the folks at should be a fascinating discussion.

Monday, June 25, 8 - 10 pm
The Michael L. Printz Award Program and Reception
The Printz Award is given to the best book written for teens each year. This year's winner, John Corey Whaley (Where Things Come Back), also won the Morris Award for best debut novel. I'm looking forward to hearing what he has to say! We'll also hear from Printz honor winners Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket!), Maggie Stiefvater, Christine Hinwood, and Craig Silvey. (Ticketed event, $34)

Just under a week until the conference... I hope to see you in Anaheim!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Armchair BEA: Blogging Tips

The final Armchair BEA topic calls for participants to impart their best blogging tips.

I've only been blogging for a year and a half, so I'm not an expert-- but I do feel I've evolved a bit as a blogger since I published my first post in January 2011.
Here's the main thing I've realized: just because you're a book blogger doesn't mean you have to post book reviews all the time. 

When I began blogging, book reviews made up about 98% of my blog's content. And that's fine, by the way. If writing book reviews is your focus and your true passion, then do just that! I like writing book reviews, but after a while, I wanted to branch out more. And that's the beauty of a blog-- it's 100% yours, and you can do whatever you want with it. Ultimately, you're not answering to anyone but yourself.

I started having a lot more fun with my blog once I decided to post more varied content. Alongside book reviews, I like to mix in booklists, genre discussion, book cover analysis, and posts about my work as a librarian. I don't feel like I have to review everything I read, but I'm still writing about books and engaging with other book lovers. I feel I've found the right balance that works for me.

Now here's a picture of an adorable corgi, because the other thing I've realized about blogging is that people like posts with pictures:

Sadly, not my corgi! Photo by anko.gaku_ula.

Thanks to everyone who has visited my blog during Armchair BEA!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Armchair BEA: Networking in Real Life

Today's Armchair BEA topic is all about how book bloggers take the leap beyond virtual networking to make connections with authors, bookstores, and other book bloggers in real life.

As a librarian, I'm fortunate to have real-life book experiences quite often, such as hosting author events with my library or going to conferences. As co-host of the Authors are ROCKSTARS! podcast, I interview authors and do event coverage for book signings. One of the best parts of all of this is meeting other people who love reading just as much as I do. I always feel revitalized after making connections with authors, other librarians, and fellow book lovers.

The Authors are ROCKSTARS! gals with one of our author idols, MEG CABOT
at the Passion and Prose conference earlier this year

For bloggers looking to get in on the fun, I have the following advice...

  • Make friends with your librarian or independent bookseller. Let them know you're a blogger, let them know what you read. Attend the events they host. When I get to know my regular patrons who love YA, I find myself taking note when I order books I think they'll enjoy, so I can tell them next time I see them. I set aside ARCs for them if I think they might be interested. I ask for and appreciate their input on authors to invite to speak at my library.
  • Attend as many author events as you can. Not only will you get to meet authors you love, but fellow readers, too! In my experience, there are always a few book bloggers in the crowd at every book signing. Don't be shy in the signing line-- strike up a conversation with the people next to you.
  • Attend conferences. BEA, ALA, NCTE, Kidlitcon... if they're in your area, don't miss out. BEA, ALA, and NCTE are large professional conferences, but people outside of publishing, libraries, and education may enjoy them as well. Kidlitcon is perhaps the most effective conference for blogger networking-- it's a smaller in scale, and is a great combination of authors, bloggers, and book lovers in general, with lots of opportunities for making personal connections. Read my Kidlitcon conference recap from last year, and mark your calendar for September 21 - 22 in New York this year. Also, if you'll be at ALA in Anaheim later this month, there's a YA blogger meetup happening.  Hopefully I'll see you there!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Armchair BEA: Self-introduction

Book Expo America, a huge publishing event, is happening in New York this week. Many of us who can't be there are participating in Armchair BEA, a week-long virtual book blogging event that provides a little of the BEA fun for those living vicariously. I felt a renewed sense of community and energy for blogging when I participated in last year's Armchair BEA, and I'm excited to take part again. All this week, I'll be sharing themed posts and trying my best to visit other book blogs.

The Armchair BEA folks have asked us all to kick things off by doing a self-introduction, and provided some great questions to get the ball rolling. So without further ado, here's a little about me...

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

If you're visiting my blog for the first time, thanks for stopping by!  I'm Allison, a teen services librarian in Southern California. I'm also a wife, and the mother of a 3.5 and 1.5 year old. 

I'm active in the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association. I'm currently the chair of YALSA's Conference Marketing and Local Arrangements Committee and I've just started blogging for The Hub, YALSA's YA literature blog.

I also review books and apps for School Library Journal, and I co-host Authors are ROCKSTARS!, a YA literature podcast focused on author interviews.

I've been blogging for about a year and a half. I got into it because I thought it would be a casual, fun extension of my professional life-- I am passionate about youth literature, and love connecting readers with the right book. Why not blog about it?

What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2012?

At the moment, I'm finishing up Moonglass, by Jessi Kirby. Her writing is so gorgeous, I want to live in it. And I can never, ever choose just one favorite book. I can try to narrow it down, but that's as far as I can go! My top three of 2012 so far:

Oh, but how could I not mention The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis?? See..? Can't possibly choose just one.

Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you.

During last year's Armchair BEA, I was interviewed by the lovely Leah at Amused by Books, and I mentioned one non-book-related thing I was really hoping to do was take ballet classes. I've taken ballet on and off over the years, and thought it would be ultimate accomplishment to get back into it after having two kids. Not that I'm particularly good at ballet, mind you-- but I just love it. And I felt that taking ballet classes again would be like a sign that I have my life totally together.

Well, I'm not sure if I have my life totally together, but I am proud to say that I've been taking ballet since January! So I must be doing all right. I'm definitely having fun, in any case!

Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?

5 Ways Libraries Can Be Like Nordstrom

As a librarian who works extensively with the public, excellent service is very, very important to me. When I'm outside the library, I value being the recipient of good customer service, and Nordstrom is store that consistently provides me with positive experiences. I think libraries can emulate Nordstrom-style service to provide a welcoming atmosphere for our patrons. So I blogged about it!

What literary location would you most like to visit? Why?

Betsy's Hill Street house
Betsy's house
Photo © bonnyglen, aka author Melissa Wiley

The Betsy-Tacy houses in Mankato, Minnesota! I've been fortunate enough to make pilgrimages to Green Gables and Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House, but I have yet to see the real life "Deep Valley" of Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series, which are among my favorite books in the world.

There's a Betsy-Tacy Convention in Mankato this summer, which would be great opportunity to finally see the houses. Alas, I won't be able to make it... but it's sure to be amazing!

Thanks so much for reading my self-introduction. I'm looking forward to getting to know more of you in the book blogging community this week!

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