Thursday, February 28, 2008

My adoration of Jenna Fox

Mary Pearson is a terrific writer, so I was very excited when I opened a package from Holt and saw an advance of her new book, The Adoration of Jenna Fox. If you've read her previous YA novel, A Room on Lorelei Street, expect something very different. Jenna Fox is just as good in terms of quality, but it's got a much different tone

Because this book won't be out until April 2008, now is a good time to stop reading if you don't want to be even remotely spoiled.

The plot: A long time from now in a state far far away (California), seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox awakens from a year-long coma. What she can't figure out is why she has a phenomenal grasp of everyone's history except her own. She knows the entire text of Walden but doesn't remember that she always called her grandmother Nana, not Lily. Her mother is reluctant to let her go to school or drive, and she never sees her father anymore; he still lives in Boston. When she is allowed to go to school, it's to a local charter where all of her classmates have something wrong with them. When she tries to log onto the Net to find out the details of the car accident that took a year of her life, her access to the information is denied. There's a hidden key in her mother's mattress to a closet, and that closet contains a secret Jenna is desperately trying to crack. Eventually, her mother and father do tell her the truth about her missing year. Or at least, they tell her most of the truth. The rest...she remembers.

Why you'll love it: There's always lots of talk about the theme of identity in YA lit, and here Pearson has taken it to its furthest extreme. Jenna has to figure out who she is with no memory of who she used to be. She's surrounded by people who tell her half-truths and she gets the feeling she's an inconvenience to them. Pearson has built an amazing futuristic world where science may be quite different from what we know now but the basic human condition, that we want to know ourselves and be loved by others, has stayed very much the same. The line on the front cover asks "How far would you go to save someone you loved?" I think the real question here is, "How far would you go to save yourself?" (Of course, the question of how far you'd go to save the one you love is one that drives the book, but I think the other one is far more overreaching.) This is a creepy, creepy book along some of the same the lines of David Lubar's True Talents and Nancy Werlin's Double Helix. It also reminded me of Airhead by Meg Cabot, which I'll review at a later date. And it's already been picked up for a movie.

Mary Pearson's Jenna Fox page.

Hints at Talk It Up! and Speak Out! titles

A week from tomorrow I'll be announcing the twelve titles chosen for Talk It Up! and Speak Out!. This is one of the best parts of the TIU/SO program. It's not easy, because I have to pick just six books that will appeal to a wide range of teen readers. The dry-erase board in my office has remnants of ink from titles I've picked, erased, picked again, modified, crossed out, and finally chosen. Every year, I announce the chosen titles at the TIU/SO information session, and I give free books to those who can guess the titles from the booktalks I write. Here are some hints at what I've picked, if you feel like guessing early:

Of the six Talk It Up! books (7-9 grade):

  • Two are centered around the relationships of a group of friends

  • One is historical fiction

  • One is speculative fiction

  • One is a graphic novel

  • Two have urban settings that are important to the plot

  • Two are by an author who was not born in the United States

Of the six Speak Out! books (10-12 grade):

  • One is nonfiction

  • Two of the authors have very popular blogs

  • One received a Printz honor

  • Three have family dramas

  • None are set west of the Mississippi

  • Two are first novels

(You didn't think I'd make it easy, did you?)

Have fun guessing! If you guess correctly you get... nothing but the satisfaction of being right (and I can't tell you if you're right for another week).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I confess, I am just about the uncoolest teen librarian in existence. I keep track of manga but I don't read it. I know that anime exists but I don'

I confess, I am just about the uncoolest teen librarian in existence. I keep track of manga but I don't read it. I know that anime exists but I don't watch it. The only TV shows I watch that could even be remotely construed as teen favorites are America's Next Top Model and Supernatural. And I do not own, nor have I ever owned, a gaming console. I was just never that into it. Despite my complete lack of cool, however, I do know that gaming in libraries is very popular right now and there are a lot of questions from librarians on what games to buy, how to catalog them, etc. Because of these questions, I hosted a Teen Talk Tuesday on gaming in libraries and invited Tyler Rousseau of the Ocean County Library, Lakewood Branch, to talk about his experience hosting gaming at his library. Tyler is an avid gamer as well as a teen librarian and had some great insights.

Read the transcript of this chat, and if it helped you at all, feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Read what I wrote: Jan/Feb Public Libraries

About six months ago, I was reading Public Libraries, the journal of the Public Library Association, and saw an interview with author Deb Caletti. I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to write one of these author interviews?" Even better, Public Libraries is easy to pitch to. I wrote to the journal's editor and offered my skills as an author interviewer. Lo and behold, the stars had aligned in my favor and it turned out that the journal was seeking contributors for the January/February issue, which would focus on teen services.

I came up with several ideas on who to interview, all viable options, but the one I decided to go with in the end was the Class of 2K7. Since I first heard of it, I thought the Class of 2K7 was a great concept and even better, it seemed to really do nice things for its member authors. In the article, I interviewed class president Greg Fishbone and representatives Judy Gregerson and Paula Chase Hyman. Unfortunately, the interview is not online, but you can read it in print: First-Class Authors: An interview with representatives of the Class of 2K7.

A cool new blog, for real!

We all love nonfiction, right? The demand for high-interest nonfiction for kids grows every day, and now you can add a cool new blog in which writers talk about writing nonfiction: I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids.

From their bio: Here we will meet the writers whose words are presenting nonfiction in a whole new way. Discover books that show how nonfiction writers are some of the best storytellers around. Learn how these writers practice their craft: research techniques, fact gathering and detective work.

Looking for a handy, diverse list of fun nonfiction for teens to kick-start your recommended nonfiction booklists? Check out Popular Paperbacks for Young Adult's list "I'm Not Making This Up."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Congrats, Keri Adams!

Many congratulations go to Keri Adams of the Johnson Public Library in Hackensack, who won a Teen Tech Week Mini Grant from YALSA!

The complete list of winners can be seen here.

Keri, if you read this, please comment and let everyone know what you'd like to do with your grant!

Fun teen display: I'd rather be watching TV

I don't know about the rest of you, but I love watching TV. And most teens love to watch TV, too. Laura Leonard of the Hillsdale Library has done a fabulous display in her YA section that will appeal to all of us who love our televisions as much as we love our books. Here's a picture of the banner Laura's hung over the teen section. She's made adorable cardboard TVs and filled them with books that will appeal to fans of all genres of TV shows.

Want to do a TV-themed display of your own? You can start with this Book Bonanza list (also available in printer-friendly format) and go from there.

And since my current favorite TV shows are Supernatural and Numb3rs, I'll recommend Devilish by Maureen Johnson and An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.

Friday, February 8, 2008

For your amusement: Guess the smartypants song lyrics

You know you want a button that says "We <3 Our Dead Gay Headmaster." And you know you want it in the Hogwarts house colors of your choice. And now, you can win one just by being smart!

Sophie Brookover and I were chatting about the buttons that the NJLA YA section will give out at the NJLA conference this year. These buttons always have some sort of filked song lyric, like "Don't you wish your section was hot like ours?" Then we started thinking, "What if we altered some song lyrics with SAT words and didn't care if they rhymed?" This is an example of some of what we came up with:

A woman exists who believes that objects that reflect light must be constructed from a yellow elemental metal. Translate this to rock lyrics, and it's There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold, which is the opening line of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."

I am aware that this is nothing more than a form of music, but I enjoy its presence. In rock lyrics: I know it's only rock and roll, but I like it from "It's Only Rock and Roll" by the Rolling Stones.

Got it?

Now go over to our smartypants lyrics post at Pop Goes the Library and guess as many of our lyrics as you can. The person who guesses the most lyrics in the next two days wins a button! This could also serve as a fun trivia game at your library.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The best book I should have read in 2006: A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz

We all have to-read lists. Mine...if I piled all the books on top of each other it would probably stretch to the moon. But I was able to knock one off The List last week: A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz, who won the 2008 Newbery Award for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

I admit that until last week A Drowned Maiden's Hair was nowhere near the top of my to-read list. I'd heard good things about it, sure, and it generated a lot of buzz on Adbooks, but I had other books I wanted to read first. Then I attended a meeting for the Garden State Teen Book Awards last week at which my friends Liz and Sophie gave such wonderful, impassioned booktalks that I went home and borrowed the book that evening.

Why oh why did I wait so long?

A Drowned Maiden's Hair looks imposing when you pick it up. It's enormous and clearly historical fiction and for those of us who aren't good at history by any stretch of the imagination, it's not really one of those books that makes us think MUST READ THIS NOW. But once you open it, you won't put it down. It's fast-paced and the language and characters are nothing short of brilliant.

The premise: Maud Mary Flynn, age eleven, lives at the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans. She isn't the prettiest or the nicest girl in her class, but she is clever and she likes to make a little trouble every now and again. When the book opens, Maud is singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in one of the school's outhouses in order to keep up her spirits. She knows that at least one of her fellow orphans will be adopted today. At eleven, and not outstandingly pretty, Maud knows her own chances of adoption are slim. Her singing attracts one of the women who have come to adopt a little girl, though, and she ends up going to live with the Hawthorne sisters: businesslike Judith, charismatic Hyacinth, and straitlaced Victoria. With the Hawthornes, Maud wants for little. She has nice dresses, a room of her own, and modern Victorian amenities. But all is not perfect. She has to hide upstairs if a visitor comes, and she cannot go to school. She is a secret child.

What's the secret? The Hawthorne sisters make their living by doing seances, and they're complete frauds. Maud is their key to getting Mrs. Lambert, a wealthy woman with a dead daughter, to pay them enough so they can get out of debt. Maud is going to pose as the deceased Caroline and satisfy all the spiritual (as in ghosts, not religion) wants of her grieving mother.

What's the problem? Maud is too smart and too wanting of freedom to blithely follow all the Hawthorne sisters' rules.

Why you'll love it: First, Schlitz can do descriptions like no one out there. So many authors go overboard and bog their stories down with descriptors. Schlitz achieves the perfect balance of giving the reader a clear view of the setting but letting it shape rather than interrupt the story. Second, the characters fit well into a melodrama but are also very human and believable. Hyacinth is Dolores Umbridge for historical fiction, sweetness and light outside but give her enough time and she'll show her true nature. The bond Maud develops with the Hawthornes' housekeeper, Muffet, is inspiring. This is 400 pages that feels like 200, with a wide range of both love and cruelty. Moral ambiguity is the driving force, raising questions about other people's happiness and what you have to do to survive.

Move this one to the top of your to-read list. It will make you shiver, gasp, and laugh all at once.