Friday, August 1, 2014

This Week at Book Riot

Here's a look at what I wrote this week over at Book Riot:

  • For 3 on a YA Theme I talked about an interesting trend of nail polish lines being created around YA dystopians that have (or are) hitting the big screen. The comments gave some insight into the nail polish side of it, too, though less insight into the why dystopian YA specifically. 

Continue reading...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Edelweiss 101: A Guide for New Users

I'm a huge fan of Edelweiss. I've talked it up at a couple of library conferences, telling attendees that it's a one-stop shop for learning all about the books coming out that they should have on their radars. I used it regularly not only for features here at Stacked, but it's where I acquire some of my digital review copies of forthcoming titles.

Something I regularly hear, though, is that Edelweiss is not easy to use and for those who haven't been playing with it for a while, it can be extremely difficult to navigate. It's not intuitive. So I thought because it's a tool I find so useful and valuable not only in blogging but in librarianship, I'd offer up a quick and dirty how-to to Edelweiss. This is geared toward US librarians, educators, and bloggers who aren't otherwise familiar with the site and its interface, and I know for sure I'll miss some key or valuable features. Things might vary depending on what country you're in, which is why I note it's geared toward those in the US (I think most things should be the same if you're in Canada, but I can't tell you for certain). This is meant to be a beginner's guide, and it's meant to help make some of those really frustrating elements of the site easier to work through.

What IS Edelweiss?

First, if you haven't used it or have only heard of it in passing, you might not even know what Edelweiss is or where to find it.

Edelweiss is a one-stop shop for publishers to share their seasonal catalogs. It's not comprehensive, as it's opt-in by the publishers. But it offers the biggest place to peruse numerous catalogs; it saves you from having to track down each publisher's website then navigate their websites to find their most recent catalog. Many publishers not only have the current season up, but they have loads of former seasons still available and many of them will share specialty catalogs as well. Scholastic, for example, will offer not only the Fall 2014 catalog, but they'll also have a catalog of titles they spoke specifically about during one of their educator/librarian webinars, making it easy to see only the books that were talked about.

That's the front page of Edelweiss when you're not logged in with your own account. It's got the publishers listed on the left-hand sidebar, and down the center are the most recently added catalogs. Even if you're not logged in, you should be able to access many -- if not all -- of the catalogs when you click on a publisher's name. I'm logged out, and I clicked on the ABRAMS catalog:

All of their listings are along the left-hand sidebar, and down the center are the most recent catalogs they've added to Edelweiss. 

When you pick a catalog to view -- I chose the Spring 2014 Children's catalog -- this is what the screen will look like. There are 79 entries for this particular catalog, but the entries include all sorts of products that ABRAMS made available this spring. The top entry, for The Night Gardener, is for that specific book and you can see all kinds of information about it, including the ISBN, publication date, page count, what the first print run will be, the cover, and so forth. Not all publishers furnish all of this information; it's entirely dependent upon the publisher. The second entry for this catalog is for the 12-copy floor display of the same book. This is meant for book sellers, rather than for librarians or educators, so it might not be super useful information. 

Digging Deeper Into Catalog Entries

I'm still logged out of Edelweiss, but even logged out, there's a ton of information that can be pulled from the individual catalog entries. Using the same ABRAMS Spring 2014 Children's catalog from above, I went and clicked on the title The Night Gardner.

Where looking at the entire catalog as a list gives you some basics about upcoming titles, clicking on the individual entries will give you far more in-depth information. This particular title doesn't have as much information in it as others do, but it gives you a summary, a biography of the author, and it lists the first book in the series as a comparable title. You can also see the reviews that the book's garnered, as well as blurbs that might have been given for the title. 

The information presented varies depending upon the book and depending upon the publisher. Some offer far more information and some offer even less. Here's a title that gives a ton of great information about the book:

The entry for Melissa Marr's Made for You, out in September, has a really filled-out entry. You not only have the basics, but you also have the marketing plan laid out on the right-hand side. For a general reader or blogger, this might not be interesting. But what it can be valuable for -- what I've told people to use it for -- is to see where the book, or other books, might pop up. You might see website names that there will be promotions pitched to and that can be useful for sussing out where people are learning about books more broadly (and it lets you stay ahead of the curve on those things). Made for You doesn't list any specific sites except for Epic Reads, which is Harper's promotional site, but it does tell you that there will be some significant marketing for this title, suggesting teen and non-teen readers will likely see something for this book, especially around Halloween. The 150K first printing, which you can see in the top box, tells you it's one of the lead titles in the Fall. 

The comp titles for this entry are all Marr's previous titles. This isn't particularly useful when you know the author's other works, but it can be useful to know it's going to be fairly similar to her prior books and it can be useful to know in the event you've missed an older title. 

There are some publishers which offer really great comp titles in their entries that can be extremely useful for figuring out what a book might be about or who that book might appeal to.

For Brenna Yovanoff's Fiendish, the comp titles are really great. You not only get a look at her own titles, but you also see that Fiendish is comparable to Kendare Blake's books, Tom McNeal's, Jonathan Maberry's, and Holly Black's. They're not meant to be read alikes, but rather, they're meant to sort of situate the book within a genre or a style. Sometimes they work as read alikes, but that's not the purpose of comps. 

Limitations of Using Edelweiss Without an Account

While you can pull a lot of information out of Edelweiss without an account, you're also limited in what you can do. For one thing, there's not a good search interface. You can't, from the front page, look up books well. Even within catalog, it's not easy to search through titles. So if you wanted to pull up information for a book, you'd have to dig around for it. 

If you're not logged into Edelweiss, you also have no access to digital ARCs, either. You have no idea whether a title is available for request because the buttons just don't exist at all. 

You don't have the capability of looking up buzzing titles. In fact, the way the home page of Edelweiss looks when you're logged in as opposed to using outside your account is substantially different. This is my homepage while logged in:  

I'm able to pick up where I may have last been looking (the center column tells me the last catalogs I looked at), and I'm able to simple do and peruse a lot more. 

Signing Up for Edelweiss

It's easy to sign up for Edelweiss and have access to a lot more information. Signing up does not guarantee you anything -- you might never be given access to digital ARCs, for example, which I'll get to in a minute -- but you will be able to do more advanced searching and other things. 

To sign up for an account, click on "Register" in the top right-hand corner. The form looks like this:


Fill this out as best you can, with as much information as possible. Include all relevant URLs and be as specific as possible about what your role within an organization is. If you're a blogger and a librarian, I'd put librarian down as your key role, followed by your blogging information under the "User Profile Information."

You'll get a confirmation email minutes after you agree to the terms, and then you can log in to the site. Now your screen looks different and you can see so much more.

Digital Review Copies

The biggest advantage for logging in at this point is probably digital ARC access. But just because you have access doesn't mean that publishers are going to grant you copies. There are limits in distribution and choices aren't always clear-cut. Sometimes, you'll find you have access without having to ask for a book, and other times, you'll see that there isn't even a button to request a digital ARC. Still other times, you'll request a title and wait for a couple of weeks before you find out whether your request was accepted or rejected.

When you're perusing a catalog and logged in, oftentimes, you'll see a button that there's a digital copy available right in the catalog itself.

I can request this particular digital ARC right from the catalog Fall 2014 Penguin Children's catalog. When I click on the "Request" button, this is the box that pops up:

The first time you request a title, you'll be asked to describe your role. This is going to stay attached to your requests every time you put one in, unless you choose to edit them each and every time. Be specific in your role -- mine says I'm a YA librarian, as well as a book blogger. I listed where I blog, since that tells the person going through all of the requests exactly where I'm writing, rather than just saying that I have a blog. It's one way to differentiate yourself and it's giving a better idea of who you are. You can include stats or any other information, but I choose not to furnish that information because it's not something I pass along for free. 

That second box, where you can give a specific reason for your request, is really important. This is a box I make sure I fill out each time I request. In it, I reiterate I'm a blogger and where, and I note that I'm requesting it for potential coverage at either site. I don't promise a review or any response; I note that there's the potential for it.  

I request very few digital ARCs, so I don't feel bad about saying that by requesting, I may not cover it. In many cases, I've also used this box to express an interest in a particular digital ARC because I've read the author's prior work or I saw it in a promotion somewhere and it piqued my interest. Fill this out each and every time to increase your chances of having your request approved. Even if it doesn't grant you a specific ARC at times, it's important for you to do because it reminds you why you're interested. It's a reminder of the role YOU play. 

There's no timeline for when requests are approved or denied. It can be hours, it can be days, it can be weeks. Those will come through the email you gave Edelweiss when you signed up. But if you happen to miss the communication, there is a way to check out it. 

Discovering available digital ARCs isn't limited to catalog perusal. There's an entire tab on the Edelweiss website devoted to ARCs and to ARC organization. You're able to search it, narrow down your interests, and you're able to submit reviews or other information as you choose. 

When you go back to the Edelweiss homepage, click on the  "Review Copies" tab and this is what you'll see:

Along the left-hand sidebar, you can narrow down your search through the available digital ARCs by age category, subject, publisher imprint, publication date, or publisher. When I pulled up this screen, I had 3,370 digital ARCs I could peruse, so narrowing down to exactly what interests me would be helpful. If there's a specific title I'm interested in, the search box right above the first available title is useful. 

When you look at the right-hand side of this screen, you can see that above the "Request Digital RC" there's a note that lists when the title was added. This is useful if you check back every few days. You'll know exactly what's new. You can also see there are two different colored buttons on my screen: the blue one notes I can request the ARC and the green one, for the title below, means I can just download it. I'm "white listed" for Random House Children's titles, meaning anything they put up is available for me to download without asking. Different publishers have different rules for who and how they choose people to put on their white list. I know some, like Macmillan, let librarians on their white lists and tell you how to go about it

The next little tab to know about within the Review Copies tab is where those ARCs are held and where you can check the status of titles you've requested.

You can see I clicked over to the "Requests" tab which is on the second row of tabs that stretch across the top of the screen. In there, I can see the status of everything I've requested. The top title, The Walled City, I haven't yet heard back about, which is why it's a blue question mark under "status." I sent the request about a week ago. Beside the status, you can see when the title is downloadable until and when I downloaded it. (And funny, as soon as I began writing this section of the post, I got an email saying I'd been approved for this title).

The second two titles you can see were both approved and had both been downloaded. If I had an issue with either of them, the little blue "Message" link beneath them would allow me to be in touch with someone about those issues. 

The bottom title, A Time to Dance, shows that I was approved, but that it expired and I never downloaded it. This happens -- I think this particular title is one I requested close to when it would expire, and since I use a Nook to read and downloading/transferring can be cumbersome, I didn't act on it fast enough. It's not the end of the world, but I do dislike seeing that I never downloaded it when I'd been able to. 

You'll be emailed when your request has been answered, but if you miss it, this is where you can check that status. Do read those emails, though, since they can tell you some of what the publisher wants from you. Though you don't have to comply if the request isn't reasonable -- if they expect a review, for example -- some publishers kindly ask you to hold off on posting reviews until it's near publication date. That kind of stuff I do keep in mind when reviewing, especially if it's for a book I really enjoyed. 

There's a second tab beside the Request tab worth knowing about, too. Though it looks like it has the same information, the Downloads tab is where you'll input reviews of titles you've requested if you want to do that. Many people think you have to write or share a review for each title you request, and I think it's courtesy to do that, but I'm not very good at it. I think part of why is because I read a lot and review them in other venues -- Stacked or on Goodreads -- though it'd be just as easy for me to copy those reviews and put them into Edelweiss. 

Here's a look at the titles I've requested and downloaded in the last 4 months (I can change the view to look at books within the last 2 days or up to the last year or more) and on the right-hand column, I can put in my review. As you can see, too, I do my requests/downloads in batches. I should probably get better about doing that with reviews. It's not the end of the world if you don't include a review, but it's probably a good idea to do that if you aren't reviewing in other places. Here's what the review screen looks like. Note that your profile from where you request review copies carries over into the review form, too: 

You can leave a recommendation for the book with your level of enthusiasm, and you're also able to leave a text review. On the bottom right-hand side, you can see that you have options for who can see the review. The little blue "i" boxes will tell you what IndieNext and LibraryReads are, so if you're able to submit to either of those, feel free to do so. Edelweiss is a professional tool used by professionals, so if you're a librarian and the title fits the LibraryNext criteria, then go for it. 

Those reviews you enter into Edelweiss can be seen in the catalog if a publisher so chooses. I hopped up to the search bar on the top of the screen -- the one that looks at All Titles, as opposed to just the review titles search -- and put in 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith to get back to the main catalog entry for it, which looks like this:

The entry notes that there is 1 featured peer review and that it has received "much love" from 11 peers. 11 people were enthusiastic enough to give this a "much love" rating in their review box, and one person wrote and submitted a text review that then the publisher allowed other users to read:

I think of those text reviews like Amazon or Barnes & Noble reviews. They're as useful as you allow them to be when you write them, and they're as useful to you as you allow them to be when you read them. They're going to be better since this is an industry tool, as opposed to a consumer tool, so if you like reading reviews, digging through these when you're looking at titles might not be a bad thing. 

There is another way to read through reviews, too, but it's a little more involved. Edelweiss has ways for you to make the site social in a GoodReads sort of way. I don't use it this way, so I can't show a good example, but up on the main bar of tabs at the top of the screen, there's a tab for Reviews:

If you use the social aspects of Edelweiss and have friends on the site, you're able to see what reviews they've submitted within any give time frame. You can also filter it down by which friend reviews you want to look through. For me, this isn't particularly useful, but I can see it being an interesting thing to toy with if you're at a school or a library with multiple people reading and reviewing titles. 


Another basic feature worth hitting in Edelweiss is the "Buzz" tab. You can find that up on the top bar, where you found the "Review Copies" tab. This digs through the catalogs and pulls out entries that fall within a variety of different awards. 

Say you want to know what books were on the recent LibraryReads list but can't remember or you want to read through their descriptions. You can find them all here under this tab. The future pub titles are for the most recent list -- the August LibraryReads list -- and the recent pub titles are ones from the last four months. The backlist are from prior seasonal catalogs (and remember in the publishing world that backlist is 6 months old, so those would include titles that were published this year). 

Though there's not a whole lot here for those interested in children's or YA titles, I still find it's useful to look through periodically because it tells me what books are being talked about in other arenas. I may not be reading them, but other people are, and knowing that is useful to me. 

Interestingly, if you were to see the rest of this page of buzzed titles, you'd see that Texas's state awards titles are included, as are starred reviews from Publishers Weekly. I'm not sure I know how the lists got included here or what the criteria are for being included, but they're worth a look. 

Using Search

The final basic thing worth knowing about Edelweiss is their advanced search feature. It's imperfect and misses a lot of things I know I catch when I read the individual entries, but it is a great starting point when you have a question or want to try to remember something you thought you saw.

On the second row of tabs across the top of the main screen page, there's a tab for "Advanced Search." When you click on it, you're taken to a screen where you can search through a ton of different elements within the catalog entries. Again, since publishers include different information in different parts of their entries, this is going to be imperfect searching. 

I find using the "summaries" and "keynotes" boxes the most useful for seeking out what I'm looking for. So, for example, I think I've seen a few books that have been compared to Looking for Alaska recently. But I want to know what some of them might be. I can do that from here by going to the "summaries" box and doing a search for Looking for Alaska and changing my delimiter to "containing the exact phrase." I could limit my search to specific catalog seasons (which is useful if you're looking for books about a certain topic coming out in the fall) or to specific publishers (like I did in a prior microtrends post, I did for books featuring girls named "Lucy" -- I kept it to the publishers I knew did YA). In this case, I'm not going to limit though, since I limited by search to the exact phrase "Looking for Alaska."

This is what that search looks like when you run it. Note that if you're looking for something big, the search can take a long time and can sometimes bring you tons of unnecessary results. This one is pretty straightforward and limited, though:

When I get the results for this search, I get 28 entries. Among them are the various editions and sales models for Looking for Alaska and books which were reviewed by Green. A couple of titles pop up that include the words "looking" and "Alaska" in their summaries, too, even though they're not being compared. But out of 28 titles, I can browse and see that a few have been compared to the book in their summaries:

Indeed, there's at least one forthcoming book with that in the description. 

I looked through the rest of the entries I got for this search and they confirmed that a few titles in the past have been compared to Looking for Alaska. I'm not sure why this is the case, but it doesn't capture all of the titles I know have that comparison. The advanced search, as I noted, is imperfect, but it's a really good starting place. If I wanted to find more comps, I'd go back and revise my search to look in the keynotes, too, as it might help me pull up some of the other titles I know have that comparison drawn (one off the top of my head which didn't appear in any search combination I did is Chelsey Philpot's Even in Paradise, despite the fact the exact phrase Looking for Alaska is right there in the summary). 

To Wrap Up

While the interface is imperfect and there are things which aren't intuitive, Edelweiss is a great tool for professional readers or those who teach or work in libraries. It takes experimentation and everyone will find different aspects of it suit their needs and their interests. I've laid out the basics here, and from those starting points, I'm able to pull out the information I am looking for or thinking about. I use Edelweiss to put together previews and to talk about book covers and trends. Since these are the catalogs from the publishers, I trust them more than I trust pulling images from a retail site (those aren't always accurate, as the wrong cover may have been submitted). 

Feel free to ask questions if you have any and I can try my best to answer. Edelweiss does have a pretty good help page, which has a lot of other tips and tricks to help you navigate and use the site in the best way possible. Edelweiss is what you make of it, and once you have the basics down, you'll find that you'll use it more than you thought you would. 

If you know any other tips or tricks I should know about, I'd love to know those, too. 

Continue reading...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Audio Review: The Tyrant's Daughter by J. C. Carleson

Fifteen year old Laila has always been told that her father is the king of their middle Eastern country. When he's killed in a coup by his own brother, Laila's uncle, she escapes with her family - her mother and younger brother - to America. There, Laila's mother keeps up the pretense that Laila's father was a king, even calling her younger brother a prince. Laila slowly begins to learn the truth: her father was a dictator, a tyrant, a man who kept his power by force.

While Laila struggles to adapt to her new life in America, she also struggles to understand her old life in this new context. Written by a former CIA officer, the book has a strong ring of authenticity. Carleson wisely chose to create a fictional country for her book, but the story is based on an amalgamation of real people and events. Nothing is played for gasps or used to deliberately alarm the reader. Instead, we're given a chance to see the world from Laila's point of view. Her voice is authentically teen, but she provides a very different perspective from most other YA books. It's fascinating and makes for riveting reading.

Carleson's book tackles multiple topics and themes, juggling them all successfully. Laila's story begins as an exploration of her experience as an immigrant, including her assimilation into American culture. A white student fascinated with international students quickly "adopts" her as a friend and initiates her into the school's culture, including how many American girls relate to boys. This portion of the novel is particularly well-done. We see Laila's judgment of her new American acquaintances quite starkly. At one point she tells the listener that the first word that sprang to her mind when she saw her new friend was "whore." There's the flip side to this, too, as Laila experiences the myriad ways in which the other teens judge her.

While Laila is an immigrant, her story is not typical of most immigrants. Her life in her home country was extraordinarily privileged, but it was also sheltered. Laila knew nothing of her father's actions, not even whispers or rumors, really. Her American friends speak openly about it, though, and for the first time Laila has access to the internet where she can look up whatever she likes. And she does. Watching her grapple with her new knowledge adds another layer to the story, complicating it further.

Added to the mix is some international intrigue. An American man stops by their home frequently, and Laila eventually guesses that he's an agent for the CIA. He indicates to Laila that their family is in America due to his kindness, and that her mother must hold up her end of the bargain - namely by giving him intelligence. But Laila's mother has her own motivations, and she only feeds bits and pieces of what's really going on to Laila. This part of the story could easily have become unrealistic, turning a thoughtful, complex novel into a Tom Clancy book for teens. But Carleson doesn't fall into this trap. What she has crafted instead is a multi-layered novel with a realistic role for her teen to play. Laila isn't an action-adventure hero. Instead, she overhears phone calls, draws conclusions, and tries to puzzle out the hidden meaning behind her mother's words.

There are many more aspects of the book I could discuss, such as how Laila interacts with refugees from her own country, or how the novel's women have their own kind of power, or how it's impossible to determine what is right and what is wrong, even after it ends. This is a complex, meaty book. It's got so many parts, all the parts of a complicated life, and it's executed nearly perfectly. 

The book is narrated quite well by Meera Simhan, who voices Laila with a light accent, just enough to give her a realistic voice without turning her into a caricature. You can listen to an excerpt here.

The end of the book is devastating. It pulls no punches and provides no easy answers. With this kind of book, there really aren't answers at all, much less easy ones. Because the ending is open-ended, it also makes Laila's story seem a bit more real. An author's note and a some commentary by Dr. Cheryl Benard, a RAND researcher, are must-reads. They provide more context for Laila's story and also give real-world examples of young people in similar situations and what their ultimate fates were. Fascinating, timely, discussable, and highly recommended.

Audiobook provided by the publisher. The Tyrant's Daughter is available now.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hacking, Gaming & Virtual Reality

I've noticed a bit of an uptick in YA books featuring virtual reality recently. The concept is certainly not new; ever since the idea of virtual reality has existed, writers have been speculating upon how it could go terribly, horribly wrong. In 1991, a year which pre-dates my own teenage years (also a time before most Americans had internet), Monica Hughes wrote Invitation to the Game, a dystopia about a group of teens who are coerced by the government into playing a supposedly innocuous virtual reality "game" that's revealed to have nefarious purposes. Hughes' book is certainly not the first to tackle this topic, nor are books the only medium. I remember an episode of Who's Afraid of the Dark about a group of kids who got caught in a sort of virtual reality game, playing the same level over and over again, never able to escape. It also seems like most long-running science fiction tv shows will have a token virtual reality episode (I'm thinking specifically of a Stargate SG-1 episode called Gamekeeper, but I know I've seen similar episodes in other shows).

Virtual reality is tied up very closely with gaming in general. Both gaming and virtual reality deliberately blur the line between reality and fantasy, and books that focus on these topics force us to see how one can bleed into the other. Are we different people when we're plugged in? How much control can we cede to a game - to a computer - before we cease to be ourselves? In some cases, can the game be preferable to our real lives - can the game be our real lives?

As technology becomes even more integrated into our daily tasks, this is a topic we return to over and over again. M. T. Anderson wrote his modern classic Feed in 2002, before smartphones had conquered teen communication. Recently, Lauren Miller's Free to Fall explored how an app can consume our lives, dictating all of our decisions if we let it - and even when we try not to let it. These kinds of stories exist both as entertainment and as cautionary tales, a bit of irony in itself.

This booklist features titles that involve gaming or virtual reality in some way. I've also thrown in a few books about hacking, since there seems to be a lot of crossover, particularly in theme (think The Matrix movies, which depict a world where our brains are hacked by the machines we created, keeping us in a permanent virtual reality). All descriptions are from Worldcat (aside from the last one, which is Goodreads). Which recent titles have I missed?

Eye of Minds by James Dashner
Michael is a skilled internet gamer in a world of advanced technology. When a cyber-terrorist begins to threaten players, Michael is called upon to seek him and his secrets out. (The Worldcat synopsis doesn't mention it, but the advanced technology referred to is a large-scale virtual reality world called the VirtNet that consumes most people's lives.)

For the Win by Cory Doctorow
A group of teens from around the world find themselves drawn into an online revolution arranged by a mysterious young woman known as Big Sister Nor, who hopes to challenge the status quo and change the world using her virtual connections.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
After being interrogated for days by the Department of Homeland Security in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco, California, seventeen-year-old Marcus, released into what is now a police state, decides to use his expertise in computer hacking to set things right. | Sequel: Homeland

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner
In a near-future New York City, fourteen-year-old computer genius Sam Wilson manages to hack into the AT&T network and sets off a chain of events that have a profound effect on human activity throughout the world.

Elusion by Claudia Gabel & Cheryl Klam
Teens uncover the dangerous secrets of a virtual reality program that's taking the country by storm. | Sequel: Etherworld

Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon
After waking up on an operating table with no memory of how she got there, Noa must team up with computer hacker Peter to stop a corrupt corporation with a deadly secret. | Sequels: Don't Look Now, Don't Let Go | Kimberly's review

Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks
Child prodigy Cadel Piggot, an antisocial computer hacker, discovers his true identity when he enrolls as a first-year student at an advanced crime academy. (This also fits in well with the teenage criminals booklist.) | Sequels: Genius Squad, The Genius Wars

Insignia by S. J. Kincaid
Tom, a fourteen-year-old genius at virtual reality games, is recruited by the United States Military to begin training at the Pentagon Spire as a Combatant in World War III, controlling the mechanized drones that do the actual fighting off-planet. | Sequels: Vortex, Catalyst | Kimberly's review

Epic by Conor Kostick
On New Earth, a world based on a video role-playing game, fourteen-year-old Erik persuades his friends to aid him in some unusual gambits in order to save Erik's father from exile and safeguard the futures of each of their families. | Sequels: Saga, Edda

Rush by Eve Silver
Rochester, New York, high schooler Miki Jones is pulled into a sort of a game in which she and other teens battle real-life aliens and the consequences of each battle could be deadly. | Sequels: Push, Crash

Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde (2002)
While playing a total immersion virtual reality game of kings and intrigue, fourteen-year-old Giannine learns that demonstrators have damaged the equipment to which she is connected, and she must win the game quickly or be damaged herself.

Honorable Mention Adult Crossover: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

Continue reading...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Censorship, Challenges, and Other Forms of Protest: A Reading List

If you haven't kept tabs on recent book challenges popping up around America, one that's drawn a lot of discussion recently comes out of the Cape Henlopen School District in Delaware. In early July, the school board made the decision to remove Emily Danforth's The Miseducation of Cameron Post from a reading list for incoming freshmen. The board cited language as the issue, stating it was inappropriate for the age group for which the list was intended. 

Of course, this drew a lot of criticism not only because of the attempt to pull a book but also because it happened to be a book featuring a lesbian main character. It would be hard not to see that there was more to this story than meets the eye. A couple of worthwhile reads come from Jill Guccini, one over at Book Riot and one over at After Ellen.  

Last week, the board went to make a final decision on the book, and after choosing to put the book back on the reading list, the list was then pulled all together. The board chose to reinstate an old summer reading system, in an exercise of power that undermined the hard work of librarian who created the book list and the educators who know how to work with students reading from it. Of course, the real losers here are the students.

There's a lot more going on than meets the eye, though, and close readers of the article will note that the ACLU became involved in this situation. It's hard not to wonder if the board's decision wasn't exactly what they said. Instead, their decision was a way around a potentially bigger, messier situation. If the board really cared about the profanity issue, as they claim to, then some of the classics that are being taught to students this same age would certainly raise the same sorts of "concerns" that Cameron Post and any of the other YA titles on the list do. So, no, it's not about the language concerns. In this instance, it isn't ignorant to see the potential lawsuits that could have spun from this and by removing the entire list, the board absolves itself a bit from looking like the close-minded, fearful body they've shown themselves to be at this point. 

Every year around this time, book challenges seem to dominate the book news world. Leila's done a great job rounding up recent ones and highlighting where they're at at this point in time. I talked a little bit about why the summer and beginning of the school year tend to be favorite times for challenges last fall over at Book Riot, too. This isn't surprising and that might be why it's so disheartening and aggravating as a reader, as a librarian, and as someone who cares about teens. 

I applaud those who can keep writing about this topic -- it's something I tackled before but I don't think I can keep talking about. My feelings are exactly the same, and every time a board makes a decision to take books away from kids, I can't help but get upset about how little faith those adults have not just in the teens, but in the educators and librarians who are trained, competent, and eager to talk about these stories with those students. It's a vote made out of fear. 

I kept a particularly close eye on the outcome of the vote on Looking for Alaska in Waukesha, Wisconsin last week because it's not far from where I live. The book will remain in the curriculum, but it got me thinking about how issues like this impact the children of parents who are bringing them up. What must it be like to be the teenager who has a mother trying to get a book pulled from the classroom? What are they thinking? What will their experiences be like in the classroom now? How will their peers treat them? There are a million questions there that I think are far more interesting and insightful than the ones about why adults choose to pursue these challenges.  

So rather than continue to talk about the issues, I thought it could be interesting to create a book list of YA books that talk about censorship in education or that explore what happens when parents or a school make an effort to keep information and experiences out of the hands of students. In some of these titles, it's the central issue. In others, it's a secondary thread in the story. Not all of these center around book challenges, and many of the titles are older. 

If you can think of other YA books where censorship -- in schools or in the community -- or where parents (or students!) are challenging some aspect of curriculum, I'd love to know. Most of these titles were suggested to me via Twitter, so thanks to everyone who threw an idea at me. 

All descriptions are from WorldCat. 

The Day They Came to Arrest the Book by Nat Hentoff: Students and faculty at a high school become embroiled in a censorship case over "Huckleberry Finn."

Smile Like a Plastic Daisy by Sonia Levitin: A high school senior, concerned about the fight for women's rights, finds herself suspended from school and the focus of community debate following a confrontation at a swim meet during which she removed her shirt.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith: Austin Szerba narrates the end of humanity as he and his best friend Robby accidentally unleash an army of giant, unstoppable bugs and uncover the secrets of a decades-old experiment gone terribly wrong. 
* In this one, The Chocolate War is brought up as a book that's causing problems in the school.

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker: High school junior Lacey finds herself questioning the evangelical Christian values she has been raised with when a new boy arrives in her small town.

Evolution, Me, & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande: Following her conscience leads high school freshman Mena to clash with her parents and former friends from their conservative Christian church, but might result in better things when she stands up for a teacher who refuses to include "Intelligent Design" in lessons on evolution.

Save Halloween! by Stephanie Tolan: Is Halloween really the devil's holiday? Joanna's family never celebrated Halloween - her father's minister who doesn't like kids dressing up as witches and devils. But nobody worries about Joanna's deep involvement in a class Halloween pageant until Uncle T.T. comes to town with his fiery crusade to abolish Satan's own holiday.


Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill: Oklahoma teen Neal Barton stands up for his favorite fantasy series, The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde, when conservative Christians try to bully the town of Americus into banning it from the public library.

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler: Aaron Hartzler grew up in a home where he was taught that at any moment the Rapture could happen -- that Jesus might come down in the twinkling of an eye and scoop Aaron and his whole family up to Heaven. As a kid, he was thrilled by the idea that every moment of every day might be his last one on Earth. But as Aaron turns sixteen, he finds himself more attached to his earthly life and curious about all the things his family forsakes for the Lord. He begins to realize he doesn't want the Rapture to happen just yet -- not before he sees his first movie, stars in the school play, or has his first kiss. Eventually Aaron makes the plunge from conflicted do-gooder to full-fledged teen rebel. Whether he's sneaking out, making out, or playing hymns with a hangover, Aaron learns a few lessons that can't be found in the Bible. He discovers that the best friends aren't always the ones your mom and dad approve of, the girl of your dreams can just as easily be the boy of your dreams, and the tricky part about believing is that no one can do it for you. In this coming-of-age memoir, Hartzler recalls his teenage journey to become the person he wanted to be, without hurting the family that loved him. 


The Sledding Hill by Chris Crutcher: Billy, recently deceased, keeps an eye on his best friend, fourteen-year-old Eddie, who has added to his home and school problems by becoming mute, and helps him stand up to a conservative minister and English teacher who is orchestrating a censorship challenge.

Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You by Dorian Cirrone: Sixteen-year-old Kayla, a ballet dancer with very large breasts, and her sister Paterson, an artist, are both helped and hindered by classmates as they confront sexism, conformity, and censorship at their high school for the arts while still managing to maintain their sense of humor.

The Trouble With Mothers by Margery Facklam: What is a boy to do when his teacher-mother's historical novel is given as an example of the kind of "pornography" that should be banned from schools and libraries?

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

This Week In Reading: Volume IV

This week was a fun one with the mailbox. I don't tend to see a ton of books show up at the same time, but this week, I got four or five separate book surprises. Some were duplicates of things I've already read (which rarely happens) and I've already shipped those off to other people who'll give them good homes and reads. 

In the mail this week: Hell Hole by Gina Damico, Ask The Dark by Henry Turner, The Perfect Place by Teresa Harris, Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers, Vivian Versus the Apocalypse by Katie Coyle (which I am really, really excited about), Zac & Mia by AJ Betts, The Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold, The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner, In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang, Night Sky by Suzanne and Melanie Brockmann, H2O by Virginia Bergin, and Taking Hold by Francisco Jimenez. I also got a copy of Alethea Kontis's Dearest and finished copies of The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupecho and Blind by Rachel DeWoskin -- Kontis's book went directly to Kimberly, and the other two are books I already read, so they went to other readers. 

As far as reading this week, I finished three books:

Anatomy of a Single Girl by Daria Snadowsky: This one didn't have the same magic for me that Anatomy of a Boyfriend did, but I still liked it. I plan on writing about both books in more depth soon. I've had a post about female sexuality in YA brewing in my head for a while now. 

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang (October): I liked, but didn't love, this graphic novel about social justice, economics, and gaming. I thought the illustrations were fantastic, though, and I want to seek out more of Wang's work. I will be writing more about this book, and it left me thinking a lot about the metaphor (and non-metaphor!) of gaming in YA. This is the second book this year I've read where gaming plays a role in talking about social politics, which is a fascinating concept. 

Kiss of Broken Glass by Madeleine Kuderick (September): A verse novel about a girl who self-harms to fit in and subsequently gets "Baker Acted." I had no idea what the Baker Act was so I'm glad I learned that, but the book otherwise left me underwhelmed. 

Reading from around the web this week:

  • I didn't realize the history of TMZ -- yes, that TMZ -- could be so interesting or engaging. But it is! Maybe the parts I found most interesting were about how bloggers were where the idea began and who the target demographic for TMZ is. 
  • Sarah Dessen's honesty in 5 fun facts about books she's abandoned is really refreshing. I think there's a tendency to think writing books is easy or fast, and it's nice when authors like Dessen, who are so successful, talk about the very human side of it all. 

  • The US Department of Labor picked "Bartleby the Scrivener" as one of the "Books That Shaped Work in America." Clearly, they haven't read it

  • I'm not a bookplate user and never have been, but I lived with a girl who loved them and used them in college. This history of the bookplate is worth reading. I never thought about this particular microhistory nor what bookplates represented to readers in previous eras. 

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