Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fan of #walkingdead? Try #readingdead

Mondays in my library are often spent doing the Walking Dead watercooler convo thing with my students - y'know, rehashing all the brain-bashing and nuances of the previous night's ep. The show's midseason 3 finale gave us much to munch on - who are the new peeps Carl locked in the cell? will Daryl survive? what about his crazy brother Merle? what will the Governor do next? Ugh, is it February 13th yet?!!

While we wait on "The Walking Dead" to return, zombie lovers can get their fix reading these zombie books in the meantime...

World War Z - Max Brooks
Ashes - Ilsa Brick

Warm Bodies - Isaac Marion
Infinitey (Chronicles of Nick series) - Sherrilyn Kenyon
Rot & Ruin - Jonathan Mayberry
Cell - Stephen King
This is Not a Test - Courtney Summers
The Zombie Survival Guide - Max Brooks
The Enemy - Charlie Higson
Something Strange and Deadly - Susan Dennard
The Forest of Hands and Teeth - Carrie Ryan

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Book Christmas Tree

Thanks to Pinterest, the Book Christmas Tree has popped up in libraries all over - including mine. Using books with green, red or yellow spines, two students and I created this masterpiece in about an hour this morning. Didn't take long for word to spread through the school about the awesome Book Christmas tree in the library - since many of my students don't 'do' Pinterest ("No, but my mom likes it!" is the most frequent answer I hear when I ask students if they Pinterest), this is literally a novel idea to them, so they're in awe of it!

For added awesomeness, I'm sponsoring a Book Counting Christmas Tree Contest - the student who correctly or most closely guesses the number of books that make up the book tree wins a gift card to Target or GameStop. And, no, even I don't know the number yet - guess I'll find out when I take it down. ;-)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Body Weight Issues in Y.A. Lit and Donna Cooner’s Skinny
Books that address body weight issues will forever be popular because, thanks to peer pressure/the media/magazines/infomercials/the culture of celebrity, body weight issues will forever be with us. Is there a female out there who doesn't obsess about her weight? Whether you're a size 2 or size 22, it's like females are born with a 'I-will-never-be-satisfied-with-my-weight' gene - it kicks in with our hormones around age 10 or 11...and never lets up. Of course, females don't have a lock on weight obsession. I have a nephew who went on a purging binge his 8th grade year to try and rid himself of his 'blubber' as he called it. As with most weight issues, there were some other things going on at home that triggered this terrible time in his life - thankfully, with the encouragement of his family, he got some outside psychological help and, now a senior in high school, is doing much better.
In the past, Y.A. novels that address body weight issues have pretty much stuck to anorexia and bulimia, but with Donna Cooner’s Skinny, we can now add obesity and the effects of Gastric Bypass surgery to the lexicon.

“How can anyone possibly eat all that? And you wonder why you are HUGE?”
“God, she takes up so much space. Just look at those thighs. I can’t believe her fat is touching me.”
“They’re laughing at you. Look at that fat girl out exercising. Hopeless.”
“You’re like the big marshmallow monster in that old Ghostbusters movie. Soft. Gooey. Horrifying.”
Skinny is the voice inside Ever Davies’s head that constantly reminds her she’s anything BUT skinny. Ever doesn’t need her dad, stepmom, stepsisters, and classmates to comment aloud when Skinny is always there to pass judgment for them. Y’see, when Ever was in middle school, her mother died from a sudden sickness and her dad remarried a woman with two perfect daughters, leaving Ever to cope with her sadness by eating her way up to 302 pounds.
Her best and only friend, a nerdy boy named Rat, encourages Ever to take drama and try out for the school musical. Ever loves musicals and has a knock-out voice, one that even cute guy Jackson would take notice of if he could see past her rolls of fat and listen to her sing, but then that’s the thing – Ever allows her low self esteem to hold her back from pursuing the things she loves. In Ever’s experience, she seems to generate two reactions from the ‘normal’ kids – invisibility or revulsion. Most girls want nothing to do with her, afraid her ‘gross obesity’ will rub off on them, while guys take no notice of her at all except for the occasional douches/cowards who hurl insults from passing cars.
Ever does her best to remain invisible - she sits at the back of class, never volunteers answers, keeps to herself after school - but then one day she’s at a school awards ceremony and the worst thing possible happens – the chair she’s sitting in actually BREAKS…onstage…in front of everyone.  Skinny is quick to verbalize exactly what the shocked and horrified faces of those classmates and teachers surrounding her are thinking. Mortified beyond measure, the public humiliation is enough to drive Ever to make a change and try to lose the weight. How? Gastric Bypass surgery.
Cooner, a former Gastric Bypass patient herself, knows firsthand the range of emotions and physical changes that that come with this difficult medical procedure. There’s nothing easy about the surgery, from the procedure itself to the change in eating habits – no sugar in the diet, no water while eating or you’ll be too full for food, the need to chew your food into nothingness because you only get 3 tablespoons of food…total! For the surgery to be a success, exercise is also a must and patients are warned it can take more than a year before a desired weight is reached…if then. Determined, Ever does as the doctor orders and, sure enough, starts to shed the pounds. Unfortunately, Skinny still has some things to say. Even as her classmates take notice of her shrinking form and praise her for the weight loss, the sadness and insecurities that got Ever up to 302 pounds in the first place don’t automatically disappear post-surgery. As Skinny is quick to point out, can these same people who ignored and hurled insults at her when she was heavy truly be her friends now just because she’s several sizes smaller?
To her credit, Cooner also doesn’t write Ever as some misunderstood saint – Ever may have been discriminated against in the past for her size, but she’s  guilty herself of having wrongly judged the motives of others who tried to befriend or help her along the way. This realization is what helps Ever grow stronger in her sense of self-worth and in her relationships with others. Best of all, by learning to love who she is – flaws and all - she’s finally able to quiet Skinny…forever.  
For students who are drawn to books on eating disorders, I created the poster at the top there to share, and here are some other titles that my students have, um, devoured…
Wintergirls – Laurie Halse Anderson
Eighteen-year-old Lia struggles to come to terms with her best friend's death from anorexia as she struggles with the same disorder.
Perfect – Natasha Friend
Following the death of her father, Isabelle uses bulimia as a way to avoid her mother's and ten-year-old sister's grief, as well as her own.
Perfect – Ellen Hopkins
Northern Nevada teenagers Cara, Kendra, Sean, and Andre, tell in their own voices of their very different paths toward perfection and how their goals change when tragedy strikes.
Identical – Ellen Hopkins
Sixteen-year-old identical twin daughters of a district court judge and a candidate for the United States House of Representatives, Kaeleigh and Raeanne Gardella desperately struggle with secrets that have already torn them and their family apart.
Purge – Sarah Darer Littman

When her parents check sixteen-year-old Janie into Golden Slopes to help her recover from her bulimia, she discovers that she must talk about things she has admitted to no one--not even herself.
Nothing – Robin Friedman
Describes a young man's battle with bulimia in a Jewish family and his struggle is confronted by family and friends and the pain of his father's cancer.
Skin – Adrienne Vrettos
When his parents decide to separate, eighth-grader Donnie watches with horror as the physical condition of his sixteen-year old sister, Karen, deteriorates due to an eating disorder.
The Best Little Girl in the World – Steven Levenkron

Kessie thinks she's overweight. She's five foot four and ninety-eight pounds. A now-classic that tells of one girl's struggle with anorexia nervosa.
Faded Denim: Color Me Trapped – Melody Carlson
Originally trying to lose only a few pounds, seventeen-year-old Emily's weight loss spins out of control as she develops eating disorders until she decides that trusting in God and her friends can help her regain her health.
Skinny – Ibi Kaslik
The death of their father, two sisters struggle with various issues, including their family history, personal relationships, and an extreme eating disorder.
Shrink to Fit (Kimani Tru) – Dona Sarkar
Basketball star Leah Mandeville believes that losing weight and becoming superthin will solve everything wrong in her life, and, reaching her goal, discovers that her "perfect body" comes with a whole new set of problems.
Hunger – Jackie Morse Kessler
Seventeen-year-old Lisabeth has anorexia, and even turning into Famine--one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse--cannot keep her from feeling fat and worthless.
Just Listen – Sarah Dessen
Isolated from friends who believe the worst because she has not been truthful with them, sixteen-year-old Annabel finds an ally in classmate Owen, whose honesty and passion for music help her to face and share what really happened at the end-of-the-year party that changed her life.
*list summaries from MARC records

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

SCASL Snapshot Day November 9, 2012

For the past few years, our state's association of school librarians (SCASL) has requested our school libraries participate in an initiative known as Snapshot Day. The idea is for each school library in South Carolina to choose a day during the month of November to collect data about its collection, circulations, technology, patrons, etc. so that data can be used to share within our school as well as compiled along with other libraries state-wide to be used as an advocacy tool. What better way to promote your library to people who may not understand what it is you do all day than to show them exactly what it is you've done in one day? Better still, why not pretty-up all that data with a poster that depicts information and scenes from that day? After gathering information based on my November 9th school day, I submitted the info to SCASL and created a poster about my library stats. The poster definitely grabs the attention of students and teachers and can be a conversation starter about the library collection and how patrons use our library. It's also an excellent gage for me to compare the previous Snapshot Day (conducted in April) with my latest one to see how my school library program is growing in its second year open...

My stats for November 9, 2012, were as follows:

Number of students attending my high school:  498
Number of teachers on my staff:  32
Number of school librarians on my staff:  1
Number of full or part time library assistants on my staff:  0
Number of computers in my school library and on mobile laptop labs:  72 (13 student desktops, 59 netbooks)
Number of mobile devices such as Kindles, Nooks, and iPads:  57 (20 Nook SimpleTouches, 8 Nook Color, 29 iPads)
Number of items in my library's collection:  3,088
Number of individual students visiting the library (not with a class):  88
Number of classes visiting the library and the total number of students in those classes: 9 classes/235 students
Number of teachers visiting the library (with and without classes):  11
Number of classes the school librarian taught:  4
Number of items circulated:  70
Number of individual student computer uses:  151

Monday, November 12, 2012

YALLFest 2012

On the ride home from this year's 2nd Annual YALLFest, the group of students I took to the festival were already making plans to attend next year's festival. Nicole, a junior, even asked if once she graduated, she could continue to go with our school to the festival as a chaperone. Teens don't normally think past the next weekend, so you know an event must've been amazeballs to inspire that kind of long-term planning!!

Me and the fifteen students I took as part of a field trip were all YALLFest newbies. I only heard about the first YALLFest after the event *sniff*, and kicked myself when I saw a list of the authors who'd been just a three hour drive away *wipes tear*. When you live in upstate South Carolina, Y.A. author visits or sightings are few and far inbetween. For years, author Neal Shusterman has been great about visiting schools in our area - for a fee that required sharing him amongst schools - but as library budgets continue to shrink, paying authors to come in our schools is fast-becoming a fond-reminiscence for most. When this year's YALLFest line-up was announced, featurting 44 of some of today's most popular and well-loved authors, my head and heart nearly exploded.

The easiest thing to do would've been to go on my own, but knowing I have students who love these authors and their books as much as I do, I couldn't NOT try to take some of them. The cost of the festival itself is FREE, so the only student expense would need to be for the school bus transportation. School field trips aren't cheap, so to reduce travel expenses for the kids, I charged $25 a person - which covered about a third of the cost of the trip - and paid the rest out of my library budget. Money totally well-spent.

Though there are some huge corporate sponsors - Amazon, Tumblr, Justine magazine, to name just a few - the YALLFest festival is Blue Bicycle Books' baby. An independently-owned, small local book store, much credit and thanks fall at the feet of the Sanchez family - owners since 1998. Putting on a festival event of this size is no small feat, especially one that's still so new to the scene, but these people come off as pro's. Miraculously, author panels started on time! Plenty of books by the authors were available for purchase! Authors showed up for their books signings, and in most cases stayed or worked it until they had signed and spoken to every fan in line! If there were any divas or douches, I didn't see them, because everyone I came in contact with - authors, booksellers, volunteers - had read the southern charm rulebook and was on his/her best behavior. And when some panel discussions got a bit bawdy - I'm looking at you, Simone Elkeles and Gayle Forman - well, c'mon that only added to the awesomeness.

Me and fifteen of the raddest readers you could ever meet.

Blue Bicyle Books had plenty of copies of all the authors' books available for purchase. New authors also had booths set up to promote and sign their books.

While waiting to get books signed, fans could take part in trivia contests where you match a book quote to its author and win a free t-shirt. Nine of my kids won shirts!

Nicole enjoying a fangirl moment with her favorite author, Ellen Hopkins. If she looks like she's hyperventilating, it's because she is!

Um, Nicole wasn't the only one who may have fangirl-ed a little over Ms. Hopkins...

One thing I also really appreciated was that authors, such as Jess Rothenberg, were willing to sign student notebooks or YALLFest posters in lieu of books. Not all kids can afford books - which is why they use libraries! - and the authors understood that and were happy to sign. Some clever peeps brought along their Nook/Kindle covers and had authors sign those - might have to steal that idea for next year!

Each hour from 11pm-4pm, there were at least three author panels you could attend to hear your faves discuss topics like "YA Boy Band: Boys Writing Girls (& Boys)," "The Future of Sci-Fi/Fantasy," "Not Your Normal Paranormal", and "Good Girlz and Bad Boyz." What quickly became obvious to all in attendance is not only are these authors passionate about what they do, but they're passionate about supporting each other and the profession. No shame in writing Y.A.!!

Ladies and gentlemen, Stephanie Perkins - one of my fave authors AND a style icon. 

Annnd the award for savviest marketing goes to Simone Elkeles and her publishers, who understand the hottness of the Fuentes brothers should NOT be contained to just words on pages...note: I laminated the poster to protect the boys from student drool. ;-)

So YALLFest #3 has been announced for November 9, 2013 - my students and I are already looking forward to it!!
New Library Displays - Wutchuwant? and MUST-HAVE SEQUELS!!

I'm a total XM radio junkie, and station 2 - Hits 1 - is one of my main jams. A regular feature of the channel is their daily "Hits 1 Wutchuwant Countdown" where the station countdowns the top five most requested songs of the day by listeners. Pop culture thief that I am, I thought, "Why not make my own Wutchuwant countdown for my library featuring, duh, our top circulated items?" It was easy enough to find an XM radio picture via Google Images, so the poster wasn't difficult to design at all. If you're a Follett Destiny person, just go into Library Reports and choose the Top Titles feature to see what those titles are (you can also do most requested holds), and voila!...you've got a display.

Best of all, this little display works ALL YEAR. The only thing I change are the book covers every 2-3 weeks. Students really do pay attention too, because I end up getting hold requests based on what they see their peers are also reading. Ahh, the power of popularity.

October and November are always big book release months, and this year has been allllllllll about the sequels! Me and my students have been anxiously awaiting Becca Fitzpatrick's Finale, Rick Riordan's The Mark of Athena, Robison Wells' Feedback, Kami Garcia's Beautiful Redemption, and Cinda Chima's Crimson Crown, just to name a few. To let my students know what to expect (because Ally Condie's Reached and Alexander Gordon Smith's Execution are still to come!), I created a 'Must-Have Sequels!!' display. Using an image of shoppers on Black Friday (who better to capture all that anticipation and excitement? ha!), I then added captions about the different books alongside the peeps with the tagline, "Avoid the crowds - pick up your copies here in the library!" This dispaly is directly behind my circulation desk, so it's easy for students to see and immediately put in their hold requests if all of our copies are out.

If you have cool displays you'd like to share, comment with a link - I always love to steal, I mean, get new ideas from others. ;-)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

24 Hour Comic Book Day
Back in late September, the art teacher at my school approached me about working together to sponsor a 24 Hour Comic Book Day in conjunction with a local comic book store, Borderlands Comics and Games in Greenville. The idea behind 24 Hour Comic Book Day isn’t simply to read and share comic books for 24 hours, but to actually create your own 24 page comic book…in 24 hours! This isn’t an original idea – people take part in 24 Hour Comic Book Days in various places all around the country, usually in October – but it’s a first for our school and this area. Like most high schools, Powdersville High has a segment of students who are FANATICAL about their comics and mangas, so Matt thought it would be a great idea to host a 24 Hour Comic Book Day event of our own and get these comic fans of ours involved. Borderlands is a local comics store with a thriving patronage – drop by anytime, and you’re likely to see patrons browsing the shelves for comics, checking out the many collectible action figures, or gathered around tables in the back RPG-ing. Our art teacher, Matt Tolbert, contacted Borderlands to see if the store would be willing to host the event and store owner Rob Young, whose son Jacob is a Freshman at our school, couldn’t have been more gracious and excited to help sponsor the event.

Students prepping their work before the official kick-off time

We set the date for Friday, October 19, at 7pm until October 20, 7pm, which coincided with YALSA’s annual Teen Read Week - how’s that for awesome timing?!  Students registered for the event through me or Mr. Tolbert – and by registered, I mean told us they were planning to come. We mostly wanted a head count for food and art supplies.  Mr. Tolbert provided paper, pencils, erasers and inking pens, while Borderlands provided foodstuffs (think junk food!).

Art teacher, Matt Tolbert, sets the clock while Katie brainstorms
last minute ideas for her comic
Jessi used Dr. Who for inspiration - as you can see from the crazed look,
she's slightly obsessed!!
Joe kicked it out old school by drawing his own frames

Students began arriving around 6:30 on Friday with their own art supplies, snacks, Red Bulls, and – best of all – wonderful senses of humor. Many had never been to Borderlands before, so they took those first few minutes to fanboy/fangirl over all the stuff in the store! Around 7:00, the students gathered at a table set up for them and began preparing to draw. Mr. Tolbert provided template sheets with the comic panels, so students could choose the layouts they wanted and begin creating. We started out with 5 students, but one more joined them around 10:00 that night. All told, 6 students participated in the event though other students from our school came by at different times throughout the 24 hour period to see how things were going.

At 3:00 in the morning, things can get...weird. (picture courtesy of Borderlands)

Daniel shows off the first two pages of his comic, The Black Hat

So how did they go? Ask any of our participants, and they will tell you they had a lot of fun! Not everyone finished a book or stayed the whole time, but they had a blast while they were there. Most had never visited the store before and were enthused to find a new haunting ground for shopping and networking. Students also enjoyed the bonding experience, hanging out with students they may not have classes with at school but definitely share their love for comics and art. Though Matt Tolbert made it through to the end and almost finished his own comic, unfortunately none of our students made it the entire 24 hours. Our last couple of students bailed around 12:30pm the next afternoon. As they explained, they were either done with their books and saw no reason to stay longer or sleep deprivation had finally gotten the best of them! One thing Mr. Tolbert and I hadn’t considered was that these kids were technically up since Friday morning, Friday having been a regular school day. Unless a student grabbed a nap between school and the event – which none had! – a student would have been awake 36 hours by the end of the event. Yikes. Also, we had 10-12 more students who really wanted to participate in creating their own comics, only they had prior commitments and couldn’t attend. Although 24 Hour Comic Day is typically held in October, for our high school crowd, the months of January and February might be best for future Comic Book Days. Students typically have fewer pulls on their time in the winter months. Also, doing it on a Saturday – Sunday OR on a school holiday might help students get caught up on sleep ahead of time.  
Despite a few glitches, the event was such a cool experience for myself, the teachers, students and Borderland patrons involved, and hope to make 24 Hour Comic Book Day an annual event for our school and area. 
Rested and back at school on Monday - rock 'n roll!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Monster Match" Library Display

Teens love 'em some scary movies!! As a tie-in to Halloween and this year's Teen Read Week theme, "It Came From the Library...", I created a "Monster Match" library display featuring some of our students' favorite monsters from the movies. I made sure to get a mix of old school and new school ghouls for students to identify - half the fun was slying getting suggestions from kids who are horror movie fanatics. They tended to steer clear of the more obvious choices (Freddy, Michael, Jason) and suggest the likes of Alex DeLarge from "A Clockwork Orange" and the twins from "The Shining." In fact, Alex seems to be the one stumping students the most, but what a great way to introduce teens to the Anthony Burgess classic!

As I was putting up the display in the hallway outside the library, which also happens to be across from the top of the stairs to our second story, students immediately gravitated towards the display to name off who they knew and ask questions about how the contest works. The students who identify all or the most monsters correctly will get their names put in for a candy prize drawing - thankfully, my students are easy and cheap to please. ;-) The best part of the display by far has been all the discussions it's generated between me and my students. We've spent lots of time Wikipedia-ing summaries and YouTube-ing previews for some of the films they're less familiar with or characters they think I should have included. Based on the success of this year's display, I'm definitely going to make this an annual thing and include some of their suggestions in next year's contest.

Movies I included this year were...

"The Grudge"
"The Orphan"
"Silence of the Lambs/Hannibal"
"Texas Chainsaw Massacre"
"Drag Me to Hell"
"Friday the 13th"
"The Ring"
"The Shining"
"The Exorcist"
"A Clockwork Orange"
"The Omen"
"The Nightmare on Elm Street"
"The Strangers"

Thursday, September 27, 2012

It Came From the Library – TRW Young Adult Horror Picks

Who doesn’t love a good scary story? One that makes you get up and double-check the locks on the doors, spooks you when a tree branch scratches against the window, or fools you into seeing shadows of creatures and ghouls on the walls around you. This year’s Teen Read Week theme is “It Came From the Library - Dare to Read…For the Fun of It!” so I decided to run with it and emphasize books that make your spine tingle and your heart race - even made my own Teen Read Week poster for my school (snatch for yourself if you'd like!). Since the release of Twilight and Hunger Games, the Y.A. horror trend has veered more towards the paranormal or dystopian variety of 'boo!', but traditional horror that centers around more realistic killings and murder mysteries is making a comeback (ie. Ten, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, I Hunt Killers). For teen fans of horror, what’s out there to recommend beyond long-standing favorite Stephen King and the already popular vampire and werewolf series? Here are a few of the more popular titles amongst the horror fans at my school –  and I would love to hear some suggestions from you!
I Hunt Killers – Barry Lyga
This is Not a Test – Courtney Summers
Dead Time (The Murder Notebooks) – Anne Cassidy
The Body Finder series – Kim Derting
Rotters – Daniel Kraus
The Butterfly Clues – Kate Ellison
The Furnace series  - Alexander Gordon Smith
Demonata series – Darren Shan
Anna Dressed in Blood series – Kendare Blake
Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone – Kat Rosenfeld
World War Z: an Oral History of the Zombie War – Max Brooks
Something Strange and Deadly – Susan Dennard
The Hunt – Andrew Fukuda
Rot & Ruin series – Jonathan Mayberry
Living Dead Girl – Elizabeth Scott
Blood Wounds – Susan Pfeiffer
Ashes – Ilsa Bick
The Loners – Lex Thomas
The Angel of Death – Alane Ferguson
The Body of Christopher Creed – Carol Plum-Ucci
The Truth Seeker – Dee Henderson
The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson
Ripper – Stefan Petrucha
Ripper – Amy Carol Reeves
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
Death Cloud – Andrew Lane
Miss Perengrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs


Monday, September 17, 2012

Tilt – Ellen Hopkins
Every school has students who are meant for Ellen Hopkins' books, and interestingly, it’s not necessarily the kind of kids you find on the pages of Ellen Hopkins' books - at least not at my school.  While Hopkins’ teens may use and abuse drugs, have promiscuous sex, self-mutilate, attempt suicide, succeed at suicide, and suffer physical and emotional abuse – and goodness knows there are teens at my school who this certainly applies to! – there’s also that group of teens who will honestly tell you, these issues are not a part of their lives, they’re just attracted to edgy, dark stories...and Hopkins KNOWS her edgy and dark. Her books may be for and about the messed up kids of the world, but as proof of her wide appeal, you don’t have to come from a messed up home to relate to and feel for those kids who do. Take Tilt, for example…

Mikayla believes she’s found her forever and always in Dylan. He makes her feel special and loved, and they have fun partying together with each other and their friends. Things are perfect really, until her parents find out they’re having sex and forbid them to see each other. Like, really? Mikayla and Dylan are seniors in high school and old enough to know what real love is and how to express that love, so how ridiculous of her parents to try and stop them. That’s okay, though. Mik is smart. She knows how to play the role of perfect daughter and go study with a friend for a test, while she hooks up with Dylan on the side. Parents are sooooo stupid to think they can control their kids, but then Mikayla learns about lack of control the hard way when she and Dylan skip using condoms a couple of times and Mikayla ends up pregnant…and her world tilts.
Shane is gay. He knows it. His mom knows it. His dad knows it. It’s the least of his mom’s worries, though, since she is all-consumed with taking care of his 4-year-old sister, Shelby, who is slowly and surely dying of SMA, a disease that causes her spinal muscles to atrophy to the point she’ll never walk, talk or sit up. A son who’s gay is a walk through the park compared to that! Shane may live in a house of sickness and sadness, but he works hard to keep his spirits up, and meeting and falling for his first ever boyfriend, Alex, sends him soaring. Alex is everything Shane could ever want in a boyfriend – smart, funny, cute, compassionate to his family situation – but there’s just one thing. Alex reveals to Shane he’s living with HIV…and Shane’s world tilts.
Harley is your typical 13-going-on-30 teenager. Her middle school years have been spent living in the shadow of her more attractive best friend, Bri. It’s not that Harley begrudges Bri her looks, she just wants boys to notice her too. When her divorced dad starts seeing a woman with an exceptionally hot son named Chad, Harley determines to do whatever it takes to slim down and get a rockin’ bod.  She diets, starts exercising regularly, learns how to apply some heavy make-up, and whaddya know? One of Chad’s friends – well, drug buddies – takes notice. Lucas starts chatting her up, encouraging her to try new things, like weed, and new experiences, like sexting photos of herself. Smart, he never pushes her too far or too fast, and as Lucas readily admits, pursuing the Virgin is half of the fun. It’ll make closing the deal that much sweeter. Harley knows she doesn’t really like Lucas that much, but she just can’t resist the attention from a boy and being made to feel pretty and how good it feels when he touches her …and so her world tilts.
Tilt is based on Hopkins’ adult book, Triangles, which focused on the stories of the parents. Here, the teens of Triangles get their turn, and fans of Hopkins won’t be able to resist. What’s more, it’s easy to overlook the skill it takes to successfully sustain the free verse format over so many stories and books. There were times I’d stop reading Tilt just to take a moment and reread a passage and appreciate the human heart that beats behind her character’s poetic language…
I Hear
                nobody thinks so. But I do.
                Sometimes people whisper.
                Sometimes they yell.
                Sometimes they say mean things.
I see
                more than the TV. It’s my friend.
                I don’t have any others, like the kids
                on Barney do. Why are people afraid
                of me? I don’t want to hurt them.
I taste
                only the sweet air, whooshed
                through the tubes to help me breathe.
                If I’m lucky a bit of flavor comes
                with the wind or skin or clothes
I smell.
                I wish my mouth would let
                me tell Mama I love her.
                Let me tell Daddy I miss him.
                Let me tell Shane how good
I feel
                when I see him happy with Alex
                I like when I swim because when
                I float, I am free. I like when I sleep
                because I dance when
I dream.
-copyright 2012, from Tilt
Okay, so I’m going to give you a moment to clear that lump out of your throat and wipe away that tear…while I do the same.
Hopkins (http://ellenhopkins.com/) will be one of the featured authors at this year’s YallFest in Charleston, SC. She’s also one of the main reasons many of my students have chosen to go on the field trip we’ll be taking to the festival - they are dying to meet one of their all-time favorite authors. Hope she’s got her autographing hand ready!  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Berlin Boxing Club – Robert Sharenow
In a recent Edmodo poll I conducted with students at my school during orientation week, historical fiction came in DEAD LAST for preferred fiction reading genres. In order of favorite to least favorite, the rankings were: adventure/suspense, horror, dystopian, sports, romance, fantasy/sci-fi, paranormal, urban lit, and at the very bottom of the genre totem pole…historical fiction. I’ve found students who love historical fiction really love it – almost to the point of refusing to read other genres – but for the most part, I get blank, disinterested stares when I try to recommend books about past events or people. That said, the one sad era in history that never ceases to peak student interest is the Holocaust. There’s something about World War II and the Holocaust, in particular, that to this day draws in readers who otherwise want nothing to do with historical fiction – maybe it’s that the Holocaust, where one group of people did their best to completely annihilate another group of people, is at root both an adventure/suspense and horror story for the Jews who experienced it and those of us who read accounts of it today.

Part of what makes Robert Sharenow’s The Berlin Boxing Club stand out from other Holocaust titles is that Sharenow jumps in at the early part of Hitler’s rise to power, right as the Hitler Youth movement is taking root. Karl Stern is one of a handful of Jewish students at a Berlin prep school - but if you ask him, he’s a Jew by birth only. His family doesn’t actually practice Judaism as a religion or recognize any orthodox Jewish observances, and Karl himself could pass as part of the elite Aryan race Germany’s new leader Adolf Hitler is promoting – blonde, blue-eyed, light-skinned…the symbol of human perfection -  unlike those dark, vile, rat blood-filled Jews. Unfortunately, Karl falls prey to some school bullies who suspect him of being a Jew. They beat him and then pants him to see if he’s circumcised, and once Karl’s secret is out, he’s got a target on his back. Humiliated, Karl lies to his family and claims to have ‘fallen down some stairs,’ an obvious lie that his family ignores since they’ve got problems of their own. His mom battles depression, while his dad, an art gallery owner, is steadily losing business since Hitler has banned all art by the Expressionist painters Karl’s dad supports, threatening to jail anyone who shows or sells those paintings. Instead, Karl’s father makes what little money he can printing up flyers for some underground (ie. homosexual) clubs in Germany. 
It’s at one of his dad’s last art gallery showings that Karl meets Max Schmeling, a champion boxer and national German hero. Every German boy dreams of having the strength, wealth and fame of Schmeling, who beat famed American boxer, Joe Louis, in their first face-off. A cartoonist in his spare time, Karl's never cared much about physical sports, but when Schmeling calls him out on his busted face, saying he knows Karl was on the losing end of a fight not a flight of steps, Karl is ready to do what it takes to learn to fight and protect himself. Remembering Karl’s dad has a painting that a German expressionist painter did of him, Schmeling bargains with Karl’s dad – the painting in exchange for training Karl for free at his gym, the Berlin Boxing Club. After some begging on Karl’s part, his dad relents and the deal is made.
Karl takes his training seriously, getting up early each morning to do “the 300” – 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 50 pull-ups, and 50 minutes of running. Sure enough, after months of training, he finds himself growing stronger, and when Max returns from a tour of the States, he gives Karl the green light to start his boxer training at the gym. Dedicated and determined, Karl impresses the seasoned boxers at the gym with his speed and quick cuts, and before long he’s winning some amateur matches. But while Karl is getting better in the gym each day, things are only getting worse for the Jews remaining in Germany. Many flee the country after their businesses and homes are vandalized, and some families and Jews in the community start to disappear, including Karl’s outspoken, anti-Fascist Uncle Jakob, who they later learn was taken to a concentration camp specifically for Jewish traitors. When Karl’s family is evicted from their home and forced to live in the cramped quarters of his dad’s gallery basement, the Sterns realize the Germany they once knew is never going to be the same.
This book came highly recommended to me by no less than three students – all girls! – who read and loved it. The boxing storyline is secondary to the struggles of the Jewish Germans living in Nazi Germany, so while male readers might be drawn to it from both a sports as well as historical standpoint, don’t assume girls won’t like this one too. They do. I did.  
To learn more about Robert Sharenow and his book, in addition to the true story of Max Schmeling, you can visit his website at http://robertsharenow.com/ .

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be…”  - Charlie
I associate two wonderful teen pop culture milestones with the year 1999 – the brilliant but brief 18 episode run of TV’s “Freaks and Geeks” and the release of Stephen Chobsky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Interestingly, both reflect back on earlier eras (Freaks revisits high school life in 1980 while Perks looks back to 1991), yet both address themes of teen friendship and alienation that are as universal today as they were then. If you’re a kid who feels left-of-center from everyone else on the planet, then you can easily see yourself in Freaks’ Lindsay Weir or Perks’ Charlie. Over the years, I’ve always had that awkward kid or two who I knew would relate to Charlie – the ones who tend to be a bit more introspective, prefer to express themselves through art/music/poetry, seemingly relate better to adults than kids their own age. A book like The Perks of Being a Wallflower tends to be a revelation to them as well, and I always look forward to the inevitable deep conversation I’m going to have with that student when he/she returns it. That’s the thing about Perks  – as with any great book, you NEED to discuss it when you’re done.
Perks follows the freshman year of a boy who calls himself ‘Charlie.’ Charlie has been through a lot in his young life and needs to share it with someone who doesn’t really know him and won’t judge him, so he does that in a series of letters he writes to a ‘Dear Friend’ he doesn’t even know. In his first letter, the reader learns Charlie’s just lost one of his closest friends, a boy named Michael, to suicide the spring of their 8th grade year. He begins his freshman year sad and alone until he meets Sam and her stepbrother, Patrick, seniors who take Charlie under their wing. They hang out at school and on weekends, swap mixtapes, and participate in the weekly showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Sam’s unlike any girl Charlie has ever known, and he falls hard for her, but Sam is involved with a twenty-one-year-old guy and, honestly, Charlie respects Sam too much to even consider making a move on her. Patrick, meanwhile, is hooking up with the quarterback of the football team. Patrick may be out and proud, but Brad is so deep in the closet he can see Narnia. As the school year goes on, things grow tense between the trio as one of Sam’s closest friends falls for Charlie, Patrick’s relationship with Brad intensifies, and some of Charlie’s family secrets come to light.
Since its release, Perks has continually been under threat of being banned, and it’s no wonder! The book pushes just about all the major censorship brouhaha buttons – suicide, homosexuality, drug use, sexual abuse, masturbation, abortion. You’d think real teens experienced these kinds of issues…or something. It’s unfortunate people can’t see the forest of human experience for these controversial trees. Yes, it sucks to live in a world where children suffer harm, but that’s why we need books like Perks to show these kids they’re not alone and there is hope. In fact, one of the most compassionate characters in the novel is Charlie’s teacher, Bill, who shares great works of literature with Charlie and pushes him to write essays about how those books affect his view of the world. Bill is an adult and teacher who makes clear to Charlie that he's cared for as both a student and human being.
Perks may not be for everyone, but I can guarantee you it will be just the perfect book for a few special someones - and with the release of the movie in a couple of weeks, expect that number of special someones to grow. It's already become one of the most circulated books in my library this school year and the 'hold' list is growing. Even better are the discussions the book is generating between me and my students as to how they relate to Charlie, Sam and Patrick. If you haven't yet read Perks, consider moving it to the top of your 'to read' pile.  

Check out the official movie trailer above and the movie site at http://perks-of-being-a-wallflower.com/ .

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Love Letter to Orca Soundings (Teen Fiction for Reluctant Readers)

Dear Orca Soundings,
I’ve loved you for awhile now but can no longer resist publicly professing my love by blog.
Y’see, I didn’t always feel this way. When I first found out I’d be opening a new high school library, I wanted books that screamed ‘quality,’ ‘award-winning,’ ‘best-selling,’ ‘classic,’ or ‘modern classic.’ Y’know, like the books you see proudly displayed front and center as you enter Barnes & Noble or the book section of Target - not the thin, little dime-a-dozens you see down on the bottom shelves or stuck back in a dark corner.  The first time you caught my eye was when I flipped through BookBop magazine, and your blurry covers and sinister titles like Bang, Grind and Rat sneered attitude at me. Exactly what kind of student were you trying to hook up with? And then there was the whole high interest/low level thing. I saw that ‘low’ and sucked my teeth. I saw grade level 2.0-4.5 and shuddered. Shouldn’t I be challenging all my students with books targeted above a *cough* elementary level? Because ALL students can and love to read to read, right? Right?!?!!
Fist pound, O-Sound, because YOU know better. You know that not every 15-year-old can read above a third grade level, and even a lot of those who can, think reading an actual book is equal to pulling out all of your teeth…with pliers…while strapped to a bed of nails…that are hot from a fire burning down below...in the bowels of book hell. So you’re smart and cunning. You find topics any and all kids can relate to – bullying, abusive relationships, beating the odds, surviving heartbreak, death and loss – and keep the action popping and the dialogue flowing and authentic. Before the reader even knows what hit him, he’s turning the last page – usually page 100 or 101, because you also get that whole ‘choose a book at least 100 pages long for your book report’ teacher rule – and guess what? After he’s done with that first one, he decides to read another…and then another…and then, it’s a full-on love affair with O-Sound. The librarian takes note of this, so she encourages the student to keep reading and, with time, even guides him toward more challenging reads on similar topics, which really makes that librarian love you so hard.
So, thank you, O-Sound. Thank you for understanding and providing a market for those kids who HATE or STRUGGLE to read. You are the John Green/Sarah Dessen of some of my kids’ worlds.
P.S. I just peaked at new titles you’ve got coming out this fall and can’t wait to see them held in my students' arms…

If you’re not familiar with Orca Soundings and work with kids who struggle to read, seriously consider trying some titles. They’ve truly been a godsend to the reluctant readers at my school, and one of the most rewarding parts of my job is having a conversation with a student that begins, “This is the first book I’ve ever really read…” *heart swells* You can preview all of Orca Books available titles and divisions (such as Orca Sports and Orca Spanish) at http://www.orcabook.com/ .

Sunday, August 26, 2012

In Honor – Jessi Kirby
Honor didn’t think anything worse than her parents’ death in a car crash could happen to her – but then her only brother, Finn, went and enlisted with the Army and got himself blown up in Iraq.

After the death of their parents at a young age, Honor and Finn grew up close in Texas under the care of an aunt. Just a couple of years older than Honor, Finn immediately took on the role not only of big brother but of protector and did all he could to help care for Honor as they grew up. When Finn dropped plans to attend college and enlisted for the Army upon high school graduation instead, no one saw it coming – not Honor, not their Aunt Gina, not even Finn’s best friend, Rusty. Each are furious with him in their own ways for leaving them to go join up and fight in a foreign land, but that anger turns to devastation when they receive word he’s been blown up by an enemy device.
As the book opens, Honor and her Aunt Gina’s pain and loss is palpable. At times, Honor feels like she can’t breathe just thinking about happy-go-lucky, smiling Finn boxed up in a coffin draped with an American flag. The funeral offers no comfort or catharsis as she watches all these military types going through their militaristic funeral motions – they knew him only as a fallen comrade, not the boy she considered both a brother and best friend. When she gets home from the funeral, Honor is stunned and sickened to see a letter waiting for her on the kitchen table with her address written in an all-too-familiar handwriting – that of her brother, Finn.  When Honor finally has the strength to open it, she finds two tickets inside to a Kyra Kelly concert and a note from her brother teasing her to tell Kyra Kelly she’s sorry her brother can’t make it to her show but he’s really good-looking and she’d like him. Finn knew Kyra was Honor’s favorite singer and the tickets are for a show in California the week before Honor is set to begin college – his gift to her before she starts the next stage of her life.
Honor quickly decides she’s going to honor her brother with a final gift – she’s going to take his beloved Chevy Impala sitting in the garage and road trip to California so she can tell Kyra Kelly to her face what a wonderful brother she had. She leads her Aunt Gina to believe she’s going up to her college early for orientation and loads up the car ready to head out when she’s stopped by the last person she wants to deal with in all this – Rusty. Rusty was Finn’s best friend up until the time Finn announced he would be leaving to serve his country, then the two had a big falling out that they never mended. All Honor has heard of Rusty since were rumors that he was drinking his way through college. When Honor admits where and why she’s taking Finn’s treasured Impala, Rusty insists on joining her. Honor resists at first but then agrees an extra driver for the trip – one who could help fix the old car should it have issues – would help, and the two set off.
Like any good road trip novel, Honor and Rusty meet interesting characters along their ride from Texas through Arizona and New Mexico to California, including a psychic who informs Honor she will indeed meet Kyra Kelly and fulfill a special destiny for her brother. Things are tense between Honor and Rusty during the first part of their journey, but as you can probably guess, as the two start to talk and share mutual stories of their shared love for Finn, the ice begins to melt and they learn a lot about each other and what drove Finn to do a 360 and leave home to go and fight. When their romance starts to blossom, it’s both sweet and natural.
Teens gravitate towards books about love and loss, and this one does a nice job of capturing both the pain that comes with losing someone you love but then finding the good in life to eventually pick yourself up and keep going. Put this in the hands of Sara Dessen fans. You can learn more about Jessi Kirby and her books at http://www.jessikirby.com/ .

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Never Fall Down – Patricia McCormick
Dealing with jammed laminators, adding apps and syncing  iPad carts, ordering books, conducting library orientation sessions, collaborating with teachers on new projects for the year, collaborating with NEW teachers on new projects for the year – let’s face it…the start of the school year is EXHAUSTING. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed out and zombie-fied from the back-to-school craziness that nothing brings some perspective crashing down quite like a book on the Cambodian Killing Fields – Patricia McCormick’s Never Fall Down. As much as I’d like to feel sorry for my overworked self, my woes ain’t nothing…

Arn is the eleven-year-old narrator of McCormick’s chilling book based on the true story of Killing Fields’ survivor, Arn Chorn Pond, who watched as the Khmer Rouge brutally murdered his entire family before sending him to work long hours in appalling conditions in a Cambodian rice paddy. When the book opens, Arn is a carefree boy living with his parents, older sisters and little brother in a village in 1970s Cambodia. One day, soldiers start coming through his village inquiring as to who is educated and who has money – and Arn notices that the people  who are more educated and have the better jobs leave with these soldiers never to return. Within a few weeks, the soldiers announce everyone will leave the village for three days to avoid some American soldiers coming through – only those three days turn into a years-long nightmare for Arn and his people.
Forced to walk for miles to a rice field where they’ll work 21 hour-long days, Arn recounts how older people and small children make the mistake of asking for water or saying they’re tired, only to be smashed in the head with the butt of a gun or stabbed with bayonets by the Khmer Rouge. Age and ability mean nothing. Four-year-olds work alongside thirty-year-olds work alongside seventy year-olds as they gather rice in the rain, many days working these long hours without anything but one bowl of soup for nourishment. Arn watches as his people drop dead from exhaustion, malaria, dysentery, and starvation as the dirt mounds nearby filled with dead bodies and reeking of rotting flesh continually grow larger. So how does Arn survive? By volunteering to play an instrument and entertain the Khmer Rouge soldiers with music. He also keeps his mouth shut, doing exactly as they order him to do, including dumping and burying the dead bodies of his family and friends.
Needless to say, this is a gut-wrenching read. Gut-wrenching as in some scenes you can literally feel your insides twisting and churning as the bile rises in your throat to know horrors like this went on - human beings actually did this to other human beings! – and that similar genocides are a part of our world today. Other than knowing the names/terms Pol Pot, Khmer Rouge and killing fields, I knew very little about this sad history of the Cambodian people. Just as Ruta Sepetys’ recent book, Between Shades of Gray, enlightened readers as to the atrocities that went on in Soviet labor camps during World War II, this book sheds light on a country that persecuted and killed many of its minority people while the rest of the world turned a blind eye. Like Between Shades of Gray's Lina, Arn fights to survive and refuses to let others forget what happened to his family and people - his voice keeps their memory alive. While these subjects may not be taught in U.S. classrooms, that doesn’t mean our students shouldn’t be made aware of the genocides that exist outside of the Jewish Holocaust.  A chapter or excerpts could be read from either Between Shades of Gray or Never Fall Down in class as a tie-in to other incidences of genocide throughout history and in modern times – the Old Testament through Darfur - with much discussion as to should other countries get involved...and to what extent. We may not want to know events like this happened, but we need to know they happened…and, worst of all, are still happening. To learn more about Patricia McCormick and her other books, you can visit her website at http://patriciamccormick.com/ .