Friday, December 19, 2008

Vacation reading

In 24 hours I am going to be someplace with palm trees, so Librarilly Blonde will be on vacation for a week unless I'm feeling really inspired to blog (unlikely). Until then, have some links:

As my holiday gift to all of you, here's the opening of the best holiday special ever made, Shari's Christmas Concert:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Final lists for the BCCLS Mock Awards

The BCCLS Youth Services Committee has been very hard at work this year, reading and making lists of the books they deem most worthy of appearing in the finals for our Mock Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz Awards. The lists are final and available to all in several places.

First, you can see our flyer for the event (all are welcome!), which lists all of our favorites.

Second, you can visit BCCLSVisor, where the lists appear individually.

  • Mock Caldecott. I'm not sure which of the books deserves the award the most, but my personal love goes to The House in the Night.

  • Mock Newbery. I'm all about Chains and The Graveyard Book.

  • Mock Printz. I'll do a longer post on this soon, but my favorite to win is Madapple, with honors for Pretty Monsters and Octavian II.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

From the YALSA blog: In short, read these

I've mentioned my fondness for short stories here before, and today I wrote a post for the YALSA blog highlighting some outstanding YA short story collections and an anthologies from 2008: In short, read these. Pretty Monsters is my personal favorite to take a Printz Honor, but that's coming in another post.

Happy reading!

Reading is Love is Hell

Here's something that sets me apart from most readers: I love short stories. I know they're not as popular as novels, but I don't care. I am in awe of those able to create great short stories, where you have to build the world and tell the story in so little space. You can imagine, then, how excited I was to read Love is Hell by Justine Larbalestier, Melissa Marr, Laurie Faria Stolarz, Scott Westerfeld, and Gabrielle Zevin (many thanks to Farrin Jacobs at Harper for sending the copy). It's five absorbing supernatural twists on love and love ripped apart, with not a weak story in the bunch. From beginning to end:

Sleeping with the Spirit by Laurie Faria Stolarz. Brenda isn't sleeping so well in her new house. She keeps waking up exhausted with bruises on her body. As her dreams become clearer, she learns that the bruises are coming from Travis, the ghost of a teenage boy who was murdered in her house seventeen years ago. Travis can only contact Brenda through her dreams, so he enlists her help in tying up some loose ends related to his death.

Stupid Perfect World by Scott Westerfeld. It's very The Giver meets Feed. As part of a class experiment in a future society, students must live with a condition that has troubled their ancestors. For example, the hot girl Kieran likes decides to give herself a cold. Kieran himself decides that instead of letting his bioframe run the programs that allow him to function 24/7, he's going to go Shakespearean and learn to sleep, perchance to dream. Maria decides to allow her teenage hormones to run rampant. Drama, both Shakespearean and high-school-hallway, ensues when Kieran and Maria find their emotions bringing them together.

Thinner Than Water by Justine Larbalestier is a dark faerie tale set in an historic tourist village. In Jeannie's small village, teenagers can become handfasted, a trial one-year love and living arrangement between couples. Jeannie would rather escape her village, move to the city, and become a doctor, something her parents are very much opposed to. The one bright spot in Jeannie's village life is Robbie. A handfasting ceremony joins the two, and the village's small-minded people tear them apart. Temporarily.

Fan Fictions by Gabrielle Zevin is, I confess, my favorite story in the book, probably due to my wanting to live in the books I read as a child. Paige is the girl that no one except the new librarian at school really notices. The day the librarian recommends a book called The Immortals, Paige meets the new mysterious boy in school. Aaron and Paige's romance grows until the day Paige hears the school book club talking about The Immortals. If they're just discussing the book, why are they quoting and describing Aaron?

Love Struck by Melissa Marr. The convoluted, complicated romance between Alana, who refuses to have relationships longer than six weeks, and Murrin, a selchie, is made even more confusing when Murrin's brother tries to interfere. When Alana steals and hides Murrin's seal skin, he cannot leave her. Not that he wanted to leave in the first place.

Despite their quick pace and the fact that half the battle of reading SF or fantasy short stories is getting into the world in the first place, I was completely absorbed by these stories. I found that the three stories in the middle, in particular (Westerfeld, Larbalestier, Zevin), were really economical with their language and made intelligent use of the short space. I confess I've never been a fan of True Love Forever stories, nor of stories about the Perfect Love between Two Perfect People (I'll have to write another entry on how I was born without the romance gene someday). These stories totally satisfied the part of me that loves to see stories about the heart without making me gag on how physically perfect and emotionally unobtainable the main characters were. The stories are dark, serious, and often gut-wrenching. That's a compliment.

Other books in the "...Hell" series:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pictures (of wizards) at an exhibition

Sometimes life is just serendipitous. Today's announcement:

Harry Potter, the Exhibition opens April 30, 2009 and closes September 7, 2009 at the Museum of Science and Industry. Tickets are on sale now. The MSI says:

The Harry Potter™ books, by author J.K. Rowling, are among the most popular books of all time and the film adaptations have been equally well received by moviegoers the world over. Now the Museum of Science and Industry is pleased to invite you to experience this imaginative world for yourself in the world premiere of Harry Potter: The Exhibition.

Look at those dates. They run right over the summer of 2009, when the ALA Annual conference is scheduled to be in Chicago. I think this calls for a librarian road trip, don't you? The only catch is that you have to buy tickets in advance; you can't get in with general museum admission.

There's more information here: Harry Potter Exhibition. Who's coming with me? I'll drive the broom. You navigate.

Friday, December 12, 2008

You're giving me a language complex

The things you learn from the Washington Post! In today's Short Stack, written by Dennis Drabelle, I learned that one "graduates" from children's and YA literature to adult novels. No, really! Take a look at the article's introductory paragraph, which I've snipped here:

There comes a time in every reader's life when he or she graduates from kids books and young-adult titles to nonfiction with no holds barred and fiction that draws on the full resources of the language in portraying complex human relationships... The switchover doesn't happen all at once, of course, but there must have been a night when kid lit provided all the thrills and fascination I could handle, followed by a dawn when it seemed blah.

The author then goes on to give us a list of "grownup" books he read around the age of 14. It makes me wonder a few things, the least of which is, "Is this article written for the purpose of being a competitive reader?" You all know competitive readers: "I read The Iliad when I was eight!" "My son/daughter/cousin/neighbor's kid read Harry Potter at 3 and they're his favorite books ever!" I am in no way saying Mr. Drabelle didn't really read or enjoy these books; I am just one of those cynical people. I'm dying to know how old he is and what books were around when he was a teen. I'm also dying to know if anyone guided him to YA lit when he was in its target age range.

He asks at the end of the article for readers to chime in on the books that transformed them into grownup readers. I wonder, then, if those of us adults who read and love YA are not considered "adult" readers.

I think what really annoys me the most is his statement about the "full usage of the language to portray complex human relationships." I have two words for you, Mr. Drabelle: Charlotte's Web. Sure, one could argue that E.B. White didn't use all the words he knew, or strive to write the way Faulkner or Morrison would. It's a disservice to books, however, to say that those that don't use the most adult of adult language and lots of fifty-cent words don't use it fully. The great thing about language is that there are many, many ways to use it. White showed us in Charlotte's Web that complex human (or pig and spider, as the case may be) relationships can and are portrayed in books that don't use the language fully by Mr. Drabelle's standards. Thinking about it, doesn't every book use language fully? Doesn't Ramona and her Father use language as fully as The Great Gatsby? The books fulfill different reader needs and purposes, absolutely, but to say that one is less "full" than the other seems a little silly to me.

I don't think readers should read only children's and YA books all their lives. I certainly enjoyed my fair share of adult books when I was a teen and I expect that most of you reading this did as well. I do think, however, that children's and YA literature is not to be dismissed by any reader, especially those who think enough of their own maturity to call themselves grownups.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Comparing apples and pineapples much?

The dumbest thing I've seen today: Calling Harry Potter and Twilight fans: debaters needed for the ultimate lit geek series showdown.

Wanted: Potter-heads and Twi-hards ready to defend their series in a Harry Potter versus Twilight showdown.

I swore to myself I wouldn't do this, but the handwriting is on the wall: fans of both sets of books are snarking at each other continually already, and I love nothing better than a good old fashioned knock-down, drag-out over the merits, inconsistencies, brilliance, or utter juvenille stupidity of a piece of literature, so who am I to stand in the way of fate?

I'll tell you who you are. I'll tell you that you're one to stand in the way of a "debate" that compares two books that have nothing in common except they're both long, they're both published as YA, and they're both bestsellers. What's there to debate about? The books are two different genres. They take place in two different worlds. They're told in two different styles of narration. They have two different themes. Debating which is "better?" You might as well debate "Which is better: Peanut butter or chicken salad?" They both go on sandwiches, but beyond that, what is there to argue? And what, exactly, is to be derived from this "showdown?"

Fail, Newark Examiner. The concept of a book debate is good, but your choices for said debate are bad.

Professionals, pressure, perfection

Today I want to talk about something nasty that affects YA librarians but we only talk about in whispers: Insecurity.

Not long ago I posted on my Twitter: "I am a bad librarian because I don't craft. I don't knit, cross-stitch, ANYTHING." I don't make origami. I don't even draw stick figures. I am just that bad at art and all its related fields.

And then, my Twitter friends picked up on it. They confessed to being "bad YA librarians" because they don't craft, don't like fantasy novels, prefer that libraries be quiet places, and many other things that are often seen as being in opposition to delivering quality teen services in libraries. These people who responded, however, are some of the best librarians I know.

As much as I love my job, there are some days when I feel like throwing in the YA towel because I feel I'm sorely lacking in YA librarian skills when compared to my colleagues. I wish only for quality professional, not personal, relationships with my teen patrons. I don't believe a library can be all things to all people. I like old rock bands, boring clothes, vintage jewelry, and crime shows. I thought Twilight was one of the worst books I'd ever read. I have no interest in gaming; the only video game I play is Guitar Hero. I don't read manga. I don't watch anime. Intellectually, I know that it's impossible to be interested in all of these teen trends at once. No one has the time or the inclination. Also, diversity of interests is what makes the profession strong. Still, because I'd rather watch Numb3rs than Gossip Girl, I feel like I'm not doing what I should do to be the best teen librarian out there. There are days I feel like I can't read fast enough or come up with any kind of decent program.

Most importantly, there are days I feel like I am a bad YA librarian because I cannot save the world.

This is not a cool thing to admit at all, but I became a YA librarian because I love the literature. I believe that the quality of YA literature is only going up and I love to match books and readers. It's not that I don't enjoy other aspects of librarianship, either. I considered becoming a cataloger in library school (which speaks to the skills of Arlene Taylor, my cataloging professor) and find reference and adult services work rewarding and interesting. When asked about my greatest strength as a librarian, I always respond that I am one heck of a collection developer. I am great at weeding. I am great at keeping up with literature trends, reader's advisory, pop culture, and generally shaping what patrons see on library shelves. I am not great at solving other people's personal problems. I am not everyone's best friend and advisor. I listen when people talk, sure, but ultimately I know there are better people than I to give advice to teens on things other than homework or reading interests. To me, being a great YA librarian means staying on top of teen culture and literature, and helping teens to become fluent library users and advocates. It has never meant advising teens with problems better handled by a social worker, being a therapist, or saving lives through literature, although if that last one happens incidentally I'm certainly happy about it.

There is no one right way to be a teen librarian, though there are certainly lots of wrong ways. Every day, I do my job as best I can, advising my colleagues on collection development and YA services. I think I do all right, but there are times when I feel like it was wrong of me to want to be a YA librarian because I love the literature. In my most insecure moments I feel there is a widening rift in the profession between those who believe that books are the least of what we should do as YA librarians and those who believe that without the books, we have lost the foundation of our jobs. I can't say which answer is right, though I know which one I believe. Hearing responses from my Twitter friends makes me know that I am not alone in my thoughts about where the profession is going and how well I fit into it. On bad days I worry I'm becoming irrelevant, and I don't think I'm alone.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Shortlist for the Morris Award

I'm really excited about YALSA's Morris Award, given to a first YA novel. You can see the complete list here, and personally I'll say that I have a definite favorite (Madapple) and a least favorite (Absolute Brightness). Hmm. I also loved Me, the Missing, and the Dead and am happy to see it on the shortlist.

So, um, may the best Madapple win!


After thinking about this for a little while, I have decided that I am really, really bothered by the inclusion of Absolute Brightness on this list, given the award's criteria. They say:

The William C. Morris YA Debut Award celebrates the achievement of a previously unpublished author, or authors, who have made a strong literary debut in writing for young adult readers. The work cited will illuminate the teen experience and enrich the lives of its readers through its excellence, demonstrated by:

-Compelling, high quality writing and/or illustration
-The integrity of the work as a whole
-Its proven or potential appeal to a wide range of teen readers

Now, those first two are debatable. Ask fifty librarians what constitutes compelling, high quality writing and potential teen appeal and you'll get fifty different answers. On these points, I'm not going to debate with the committee, although clearly they have different ideas about compelling, high quality writing than I do. On the second point, I have to ask this: Doesn't the "integrity of the work as a whole" include fact-checking? The thing that turned me off Absolute Brightness the most was the number of factual errors that could so easily have been fixed. All it takes is one look at a map to know that the Parkway and the Turnpike are nowhere near each other, and that Neptune is quite a schlep to Trenton. It would only take Google to tell you that the scene with the dad pumping his girlfriend's gas would not be possible, because you can't pump your own gas in New Jersey.

I know it's fiction, but if we're quick to judge historical fiction based on its accuracy, why can't we deem a book to have less integrity when the author didn't bother with the geographical facts of the setting? The New Jersey setting in Absolute Brightness is mentioned a lot; this is not one of those books that could be set anywhere. It's because of the frequent mentioning of New Jersey and the many wrong facts about it that I think this book lacks integrity as a whole.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Spectacular Book

Count me as one of the legions of YA librarians who'd never heard of The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp until it was nominated for the National Book Award. Wow, my little cave was a sad, sad place.

The plot: The plot is kind of boring, really, but that's okay because this is one of those snapshots-of-life books rather than a book involving adventures. As I've said before, I am always up for cerebral books with male main characters. In the last months of garrulous Sutter Keely's high school career, he's determined to...well, he's not determined to do a whole lot except for maybe reconciling with his ex-girlfriend, Cassidy. A no-holds-barred alcoholic (though never once does the word appear in the book), Sutter spends his days cutting his 7Up with whiskey, nearly failing algebra, and thinking about girls. A bender one weekend turns out to be serendipitous, as it lands him in the lawn of Aimee Finecky. Aimee's not really Sutter's type of girl. She's shy and geeky and not very outspoken. She's also good at math, a fact Sutter uses to get to spend more time with her. As time passes, Sutter grows further away from his best friend (who went and got himself a girlfriend) and closer to Aimee, even though he's convinced himself that she's not really the type of girl he could fall for. Aimee and Sutter are both good and bad for each other, and the best and worst parts of both their personalities come to a head at the prom, when Aimee asks Sutter to do the thing he is most afraid of: make a commitment to her.

Why you'll love it: This is one of those books that doesn't really hit you until after you've closed the cover and maybe gone to check your email, fed the cats, and picked it up again. Then you realize that Tharp has created one of the most fully human characters you've seen in a long time. Sutter's kindness is as strong as his cruelty. He acts nonchalant, like living in the now is the best thing ever, but as you read on you realize he harbors some great fears and insecurities about his family and friends. At heart, Sutter is not a bad guy. It's not like in Chris Lynch's Inexcusable where Keir has to keep telling the reader he's a "nice guy" when it's blatantly obvious he's not. Sutter is deeply misguided, yes, and lives only for the now, but you read the book and think that in the end, there's hope that he'll give his life some direction. You want it for him. Sutter shows the reader that the smart kids don't all grow up to go to perfect colleges, or even want to. And despite the vast amounts of liquor, Tharp doesn't waste the reader's time on lecturing about the bad bad, one-drink-and-you'll-die side effects of drinking that have plagues YA novels of the past. Instead, he shows how liquor affects Sutter's thoughts and actions and leaves the reader to conclude whether or not alcohol consumption is a problem for Sutter.

When I next update my "great guy reads" list, this is so going on it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Boys will be readers, or not

What's the YA lit blogging world atwitter about today? This SLJ Talkback contribution: Wanted, Male Models: There's a good reason why boys don't read. No one seems to like it but me. I think it's kind of great.

First, it's written by Gail Giles, author of books that include the modern classic Shattering Glass, Right Behind You and What Happened to Cass McBride?. If there's anyone I admire for saying what she thinks, it's Gail. Not only that, but she is an experienced teacher of reading and writing and I've learned quite a bit from her just from reading her YALSA-BK posts. She fully admits that the article stems from her experiences and from generalized observations, not from peer-reviewed research, and the opinions she expresses in the article are shaped by her personal thoughts. (Or, as I like to say around here, "The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'evidence.'")

With this acknowledged, she speaks about one big reason boys might not be enthusiastic readers, that is, they don't have male reading role models. She doesn't pretend that the reason she writes about apply to all boys, but she does encourage men to set an example for the boys in their life by reading. It's true what she says about teachers and librarians being mostly female (one only has to enter library school to see that), and I also believe it's true that as boys get older, reading becomes a chore. It becomes a chore for many girls, too, but that's not the focus of the article.

Her final paragraph begins:

Whatever you do, don’t expect teachers and librarians to turn your son into a reader. It’s not their fault he won’t read. By the time he meets them, he’s been primed for failure. Be proactive. And I’m sorry to say this, but a male has to be involved in your plans.

Wow, talk about things no teacher or librarian wants to hear. Talk about a whole article full of things that teachers and librarians don't want to hear. But you know, I don't disagree with it. The thing is, it's our JOB as teachers and librarians to encourage reading and try to turn kids into readers. Kids know this. For all the makeovers libraries give themselves, they're still seen as "the place where the books live." I don't think this is a bad thing, because I love me some books. However, teachers and librarians cannot follow every kid home and make sure that the home environment is conducive to a love of reading. That's where parents come in, fathers in this case. I think that male role models are only one of many factors in getting boys to read, but they're an important factor.

Thanks for a thought-provoking article, Gail!

Susan Juby talks dialogue

A 2008 book I loved to death but didn't write about here (because I ended up writing about it elsewhere) was Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and Cookery by Susan Juby. In short, it's about a boy (a nice boy! score one for more nice guys in YA literature!) named Sherman. Sherman is kind of a geek, but he's a good-hearted geek, and he's got a crush on a girl named Dina. He's worried that Dina is about to become a victim of D-listing, in which a girl's picture appears on the guy's bathroom wall with a letter "D" inscribed in the corner. Girls who are D-listed drop into nonexistence almost instantly. Not wanting this to happen, Sherman takes it upon himself to investigate who's behind the D-listings, an act that wins him both respect and hatred.

In her MySpace blog today, Susan Juby (who is made of awesome, btw) talks about the challenges and realities of writing good dialogue. Since the quality of dialogue is always a huge factor in whether or not I think a book is any good, I read what she had to say with interest. See her entry here: What's that you said?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Paging Dr. Horrible

During a writer's strike, what's a group of cult favorite actors to do? For Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day, and Nathan Fillion, the answer was "Make a short musical, put it on the internet for free for a while, and create a geek phenomenon!"

Okay, so maybe that last part is stretching it a bit. But along with Joss Whedon and a dedicated crew, they did bring Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog to life. The premise: Dr. Horrible, applicant to the Evil League of Evil, falls in love with frozen-yogurt addict Penny. The problem? Penny is dating Dr. Horrible's nemesis, Captain Hammer. There are laughs! There's tragedy! There are very funny lyrics! You can watch the whole thing on, but I'm kind of excited about the Dr. Horrible DVD release, because my TV is a lot bigger than my computer screen.

With all the High School Musical sing-alongs going on at libraries, maybe a comparable Dr. Horrible program this would be fun for older teens and/or adults. Just a thought.

My 10 favorite books of 2008 (I think)

It's the time of year when all the "Best Books of 2008" articles/blog posts come out. While I definitely see the merit of putting lists like that together and even helped contribute to one in a major journal, on this blog I am one reviewer, one librarian, with one opinion. And since I subscribe to the "to every reader his or her book" school of thought, I think in this case it's more appropriate to talk about the books I liked the best. Also, I have not read anywhere near the number of books I want to read. There simply isn't the time, between the BCCLS Mock Printz, PPYA, and my reviewing gigs. With that, on to my ten personal favorites of the year, alpha by author.
  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, for taking me back in time and teaching me things I didn't know I wanted to know.

  • Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, for laughs, heartbreak, and slight music geekery.

  • You Know Where to Find Me by Rachel Cohn, for showing that "just get over it" is always easier said than done.

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, for making me hold my breath.

  • Diary of a Chav by Grace Dent, for showing class, even though there wasn't supposed to be any.

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, even though cats consider themselves superior to all people, living or dead.

  • Paper Towns by John Green, because no one forgets their first love.

  • Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link, for showing how cool short story collections are, were, and ever will be

  • Madapple by Christina Meldrum, for bending everything that a YA novel can be

  • Impossible by Nancy Werlin, from a fellow believer that girls can and do want the good boy over the bad boy.

I read many, many more very enjoyable books. 2008 has been a great year for YA. These, however, are the ten that have really stuck with me for whatever reason. Some were total page-turners and others I had to put down for a while and continue later. But I'll remember and recommend all of them.

I'd better post this list before I change my mind.