Monday, October 26, 2009

Guys read

This is the second post in a series to be shared over the next couple of weeks. Today's topic: why boys don't read. Before I give the background, make sure you read the first post, and then keep in mind that these comments are about the average boy (not the exceptions you know) and they ARE backed by research. I will post a bibliography in a concluding post.

So, why don't boys read like we wish they would?

Simple: they're wired differently.

Boys' brains work differently than girls because they are hardwired differently. They react differently to stimuli than girls (think of this simple example: a desk chair is in a classroom. Who is making it come off the floor?). And maybe most importantly, boys are taught very different lessons about reading than girls are. When they're young, reading is fun. They get story time, which allows them to be active and stimulated. The other time they're read to they're getting ready for bed. Reading is an activity that energizes and relaxes boys.

But when they get into school, reading is work. You can't get up and dance and you can't fall asleep. The way the boy brain works just doesn't "get" this like a girl brain. So now reading is a chore - but it's moreso when the boy is nestled between two girls in a classroom, both of the girls reading well and beyond. The boy? He's struggling because reading is not fun now and he's struggling because he thinks he's dumb since Suzy and Sally are reading just fine.

Boys think in a manner we can call "rules and tools" -- they want something to do and they want a way to do it (or a way to figure out how to do it). Women think in a manner that seeks information to communicate and connect. Sullivan gave the great example of a man and a woman driving and getting lost. The woman suggests asking for directions while the man pulls out the map and insists the road was supposed to be there. He doesn't want to ask because he should be able to figure out the solution.

So when the boy sees that Suzy and Sally are reading well and he is not, he's discouraged. He has no rules nor tools to do it here. And since the majority of teachers are female, particularly in those developmentally important years for reading, boys are taught to read in the same way girls are, but since they don't learn that way, well, they're stuck. Boys are trying to read for information, but they're being taught how to read for communication.

This does not make on type of thinking better than another. It means they are different. This is what we are missing with boys and reading. We are teaching them the way we've learned as women -- people who have always been catered to in learning reading -- and we're missing that boys learn it in just a different way.

Just to note: a girl's brain is fully developed at 11 1/2. Boys? 14 1/2. There's even further disadvantage for them because they're already starting out behind, but because they aren't being taught in a manner most advantageous to them, they're further and further behind.

Now to complicate this information a bit more, here are some scary statistics:

  • Over the last 30 years of standardized testing, girls always outscore boys on reading
  • Boys get 1.5 years behind in reading ability and level (makes sense when you know about their brain development, right?)
  • By 11th grade, the average boy is 3 years behind in reading
  • The Sophomore Study in the U.S. found that boys read 10% less than girls…being 2.3 hours a week on average (that also doesn’t say much for girls).
  • Boys can drag girls down
  • A Kaiser Family study found that boys spend 6.5 hours in front of electronic screen … per day.
  • 35% of the entering males in the freshman class at UCLA said they don’t read
  • 23% of females in that study said they don’t read
Scary stuff, right. Well, it gets scarier:
  • 70% of the Ds and Fs earned in school are from boys
  • 80% of high school dropouts are boys
  • 80% of convicted felons are high school drop outs
  • 85% of special education students are male
  • 85-90% of those diagnosed as ADHD are male
  • 14% of all boys are coded as ADHD
  • 1 out of every 3 boys is in remedial reading by 3rd grade (recall the statistic about boys being 1.5 years behind in reading than girls)
Besides being scary, what do these things all mean?

Being a boy is a disability.

Did you see that part about 35% of UCLA freshman males say they don't read? This is something important -- remember the structured thinking aspect of boy's brains? Well, for them, admitting failure isn't okay. Rather, admitting they don't do something fits with their rules and tools mindset. It's easier for boys to say they DON'T do something vs. they CAN'T do something. Boys do read. We just need to reach out to them to get them understand they they can.

Thoughts? Comments? Share them. I promise this is my only scary post on this topic. Next installment I will discuss about where and what boys are reading, and then in a final post, I'll give some of the links to resources from Sullivan's fantastic program.




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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Double Take, Part XIII

Here's another great double take for you!


Does This Book Make Me Look Fat? is a collection of short stories about body image. It was published in December 2008 by Clarion Books. Pretty memorable cover and I think it's quite fitting to the book itself.


Check it out -- it's the same image but they've given this one a bit of a different crop. They did the same thing with the book, too.
Writing Great Books for Young Adults was published by Sourcebooks in September 2009.

Who did it better? I personally like the first one better because she looks more like a teen than the second one. Something about the cropping makes her look way older.




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Friday, October 23, 2009

Lips Touch, Laini Taylor w/ Jim Di Bartolo

I'm going to do something I haven't done before: I'm reviewing this title without finishing it.

Lips Touch by Laini Taylor and with illustrator Jim Di Bartolo is one of the nominees for this year's National Book Award. I'm going to go out on a limb and say -- even without reading the other two nominees just yet -- that this is going to be the winner.

Why?

This book is fantastic, it is beautiful, and it is a book worthy of such an accolade. Although this definitely strikes me as a book that would speak in that way to an awards committee, this is also a book with high appeal, though it's definitely going to appeal most to those who love fantasy, mythology, or fairy tale worlds and older teens. That's not to say it's got a lot of questionable content that wouldn't be appropriate for younger teens but more because it is written in a very sophisticated manner with dense language. And the allusions and depth Taylor has is going to be most appreciated by those with a little reading and literary currency.

Lips Touch is a series of three short stories that revolve around kissing. They're wildly different but are related through that common theme. Each story is preceded by a few pages of fantastic illustration by Di Bartolo which tell the story graphically. The art uses red, black, and grey to set the tone and the colors are throughout the book, as titles, page numbers, and chapter titles are red themselves. The extra money that the publisher spent on the color was well spent and as a reader, I just loved the beautiful book itself. Sorry Kindle users, but you will miss out on a piece of art.

The first story is an exploration of Christina Rosetti's famous poem "Goblin Market." This a poem that, like Taylor, I've been fascinated with for a long time. Kizzy, the main character in the story, is one of those girls who wishes she had the boys interested in her like others in her class do. She never will, of course, because she's not that attractive and well, she has a very, very weird family.

That is, of course, until a new boy comes to town and rouses the goblins. Will they ruin her or him? Will they ever get to experience a true kiss or will they become victims of the goblins out to haunt Kizzy?

Taylor's second story is a story about a curse placed upon a baby. Based heavily in mythology -- and I believe this is Middle Eastern mythos -- Taylor crafts a story where the Devil can kill at will, but it is through the promise to a woman with power to travel between life on earth and Hell that he chooses no longer to kill children. That is, if this child who will be given the most beautiful voice on earth never utters a word. When a solider sees the cursed individual upon her late teen years, and she falls deeply in love, will she break the curse? Will she break it for love?

And the third story, admittedly, I did not get through. This is a story that relies a lot on world building and development and will definitely appeal to fantasy readers. This is not my genre and because I was so enamored with her first two tales, I did not want to read through the third knowing that I could not appreciate nor evaluate it well. The preceding art I did enjoy but knew from that and the short summary following the illustrations that it wouldn't be for me.

Lips Touch was so enjoyable, so different, and so memorable. I first heard of this book from a webinar I attended wherein David Levithan raved about the book but had a heck of a time finding it anywhere. I wanted to purchase it for my library when I first learned of it but could not locate it through my vendor. A few trips to a number of big chains proved fruitless, as well, both before and after the NBA nomination announcement. So, if you're interested in reading it and can't find it easily, don't be surprised. I did land a copy through Amazon.

This is a literary work. It is based deeply in language and imagery, and it alludes to many myths, legends, and other literature. This will not have wide appeal, but I think that any reader can appreciate at least one story in here. If for no other reason, pick up Lips Touch for incredible language use and for the unique use of visual story telling.

I'm pretty okay taking the risk in saying this will be the winner this year -- I suspect that Claudette Colvin and Charles and Emma are going to be great reads, but this book has so much more to it than the text and for a fiction title just glows differently.




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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dairy Queen winner!

Yep, it took me a couple of days to realize that indeed, the 19th already happened. The winner of the audiobook of The Dairy Queen is Literature Crazy! I'll be emailing you soon.

Didn't win? Don't worry. There will be another contest soon.




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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia

On to my second book out of the five nominees for the National Book Award in Youth Literature. This time it's Rita Williams-Garcia's Jumped, which is also a Cybils nominee this year.

Jumped is an urban novel, told from three perspectives and takes place over the course of one school day -- about 7:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. with a bit of story taking place later. This is the story of a girl full of confidence and pride who inadvertently got in the way of a girl with a mission to cause trouble (to make herself feel better about her troubles) and a third girl - the one who saw it coming.

Leticia has to take class during 0 hour to make up for not doing so hot in school last year. She's a sly one, of course, and tricks her teacher into thinking she needs to use the bathroom desperately and is able to ditch out of class early that day.

Dominique, at that time, was making her way to her basketball coach's office to ask for play time in the game. She's not passing with a high enough grade in one of her classes and coach has benched her. She isn't happy. When her coach tells her she can't play, she leaves his office, rage rising.

And Trina? Well, her day is great. She's looking cute and her art work's put on display in the hallway. Girl's floating through her day ... and floats right past Dominique in the hallway who swears she's going to beat her at 2:45.

Leticia saw it all go down. But is it her responsibility to tell Trina? Should she intervene in a situation that could only get her in deeper trouble? Trina did nothing to warrant the anger Dominique has for her.

Jumped is an interesting story and it gives a good perspective into a culture I am totally unfamiliar with - the urban high school. With the proliferation of stories in the news lately, I thought this book was so contemporary and so well done without becoming an issue novel. But unfortunately, I think the enjoyment I got stopped there.

I found the book very slow for being such a small book. I think the pacing is intentional, building up how each character proceeds through their school day through the end scene. The end scene unfolds precisely as we imagine it will, but when it's over, well, there's no resolution. An issue novel would go the mile to resolve the story, and since this ISN'T an issue novel, there's not a good resolve. I'm still undecided how I feel about that as a reader taken into such an unfamiliar world. I believe readers who find this a familiar world may feel similarly.

Williams-Garcia knows the language and the people well. I don't think, though, that their voices are well developed. If this is intentional, it's brilliant, but my reading on the story -- and my understanding in the format of a very short time line and short novel more generally -- maybe didn't lead to that conclusion. The characters are pretty flat, built as just their situation. As a reader, I know why Dominique is mad and I know what Trina did to irritate her. Kind of.

Maybe I'm meant to feel like Leticia, unsure of what's going on and what to do about it.

That said, this is a quick read that will be enjoyed by so many teen girls, both those who know about this urban landscape and those who don't. I don't think this one will walk away the winner of the award, though -- but I think it was highly deserving, whether or not it was one of my favorites. I understand entirely why it is appealing and worthwhile, and the press it will get from its nomination is justly earned.




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Saturday, October 17, 2009

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

If you haven't heard of this book before, you might believe that it's a teen romance from the title. Do not let the title fool you. It has a very small romance in it, but it is mostly peripheral, and this story is about something entirely different.

There is so much involved in this 197-page book that it's hard to know what to mention in this review and what to leave out. Miranda lives in New York City with her mom. It's 1979, Miranda is twelve years old, and she's been receiving mysterious notes from a stranger that discuss things that will happen in Miranda's future. And then those things come to pass, like the fact that Miranda's mom becomes a contestant on the game show $20,000 Pyramid. Within this time-travel mystery, the book also touches upon class, race, friendship, bullying, homelessness, and so many other issues. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is a recurrent theme, and any kid who loves that book (as so many did in 1979 and so many do now) will also love the many references to it here.

When You Reach Me starts a bit slow. Miranda doesn't receive the first note until page 60, and before that happens, I wasn't sure where the book was heading. Once the first note hit, however, I was hooked.

The book benefits from short, snappy chapters (2-3 pages each) with interesting titles deliberately mimicking the game show (Things That Go Missing; Things That Sneak Up on You; Things That Turn Pink). (For those of us who haven't ever watched the $20,000 Pyramid, the second round involves one contestant trying to get her partner to guess the category of the words she recites. For example, she might say "Lever, Handle, Hair," and the answer would be "Things you pull.")

I think young fans of genre fiction, particularly mysteries and science fiction, will find a lot to like in this book. It has those mystery and sci-fi elements, but it really is something unique that makes it stand out from these genres. At times Miranda's voice seems a bit too mature, but for the most part she is engaging and seems like a twelve year old. If a young reader makes it to page 60, he or she will not be able to stop until reaching the end. The end is really spectacular, perhaps not as surprising to an adult as it might be to a child, but beautifully written and just challenging enough to require some thought after the last page is turned but also be understandable for its intended audience.

The biggest thing that will prevent this book from moving off the shelves, or at least the copy that I read, is the cover. Not the front cover, which isn't too bad, but the back. There is no book blurb. Instead, it's a litany of praise for Stead's earlier book, First Light. That isn't terribly unusual, but the book doesn't have an inside flap. There's no way for a tween browsing the shelves to find out what this book is about. Something like that is vital, and I'm sad that it's missing from this copy, because I really think this book could have a fairly large audience. I can think of a half-dozen ways to pitch it: how Miranda's friend Sal gets punched in the face for no apparent reason on the street one day, the time travel enigma, the mysterious notes...the blurb could easily grab someone.

Despite that (or because of that, really), I encourage you to give this one a try. It's refreshing and interesting, and you could read it in an afternoon.




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Stitches by David Small

This week, the finalists in consideration for National Book Awards were named, with much kerfuffle over one title named to the Young People's Literature category: Stitches by David Small. Throughout a number of list servs and through the discussions on various blogs and Twitter, it seems many are disappointed that a number of worthy titles in the Very Large category were left out, while Stitches -- published as an adult graphic novel -- was given a nod.

Since last year I missed out on reading the nominees before the winning title was announced, I have made it my goal to be on top of it this year. I've got Charles and Emma and Jumped on my pile right now, with Claudette Colvin available to be at work, too. Lips Touch, on the other hand, is going to require some hunting, as a prior attempt to purchase it for my library's collection met with an inability to find it. I digress.

Stitches is Small's memoir about growing up in an abusive household. At this point you're probably thinking his name sounds familiar -- it is. He has done a lot of work on children's books, so chances are you've seen his work.

Small's story is dark. His mother had a deep seeded hatred for him from an early age, and his father may have been responsible for him being a sickly child and ultimately developing cancer. It is Small's therapist who becomes his real savior in the story. It's the first scene between Small and his therapist that brought tears to my eyes.

Depressing and dark indeed, but an absolutely moving story with, I think, an optimistic ending. This is a story very conducive to the graphic novel format and would be one in which non-graphic novel enthusiasts would find themselves wrapped. This is the *perfect* companion to Dave Pelzer's A Child Called It, and I think many of us working in libraries can attest to this particular title still being one asked for again and again by teens and adults alike.

This is where it is crucial to discuss category. Where does Stitches belong? Is it an adult novel or a teen novel?

I say it does not matter. It will find its audience.

We use categories for convenience, and as in all things in life, there are rule breakers. You know how there are men and women in the world? Well, there is also a whole spectrum between those two polar ends, even though we only have categories for those two. People who live in that middle find their way and find one another, even as they often have to dodge the bullets from those who see things as one or the other, not both or neither.

Stitches is that sort of book. And for that matter, so is A Child Called It. In the case of the latter, I don't think anyone can say that the book has become lost nor not received any attention because it's not clearly for a certain audience (or if it falls clearly into fiction or non-fiction - it's a memoir!). It will have appeal for so many ages and readers that its classification does not matter. For sake of locating an item, we have to put it somewhere, but look: there is no "right" place for it. It will find its audience whether or not it's shelved in teen graphic novels, adult graphic novels, or among memoirs penned by authors.

It's also worth stepping back for a second and looking a little closer at the particular publisher here: W. W. Norton. Know anything about them at all?

They only publish one imprint and thus do not publish for any specific audience in mind. So, sure, this book was definitely not marketed for teens when it came out because, well, that's not what Norton markets for any time.

I'm thrilled such a book has made the short list for the National Book Award. This sort of book needs this attention to reach the multitude of audiences it could reach. I think it's quite an honor a book like this can make the Young People's Literature category among so many tough competitors. Who cares whether or not it was marketed as a teen graphic novel -- there's something much deeper here than category or marketing.




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Friday, October 16, 2009

Kid-Friendly Graphic Novels & Knights of the Lunch Table by Frank Cammuso

Every two months, all of the children's librarians from my entire system (73 libraries!) gather downtown for an information order meeting. One of the presentations at a recent session? You guessed it - graphic novels for kids. Our fearless leaders in Children's Services have been trying to broaden the world of graphic novels in the Los Angeles Public Library. The battlecry? No longer will the Young Adult area hold a monopoly over the graphic novels! Publishers, children's librarians, and patrons are demanding more content for younger kids.

I managed to coerse the graphic novel committee into letting me post their great powerpoint overview of the graphic novel genre and how Los Angeles Public Library is incorporating these books into the children's collections... and programming around it! As a verified non-expert in this genre, I appreciated the synthesis of a huge amount of information into a simplified format. I only wish I could've grabbed some snapshots of the cute insanely cute crafts that were demonstrated. I hope you enjoy the efforts of Marc Horton, Eva Mitnick, Carey Vance, Joanna Fabicon, and Maddy Kerr - I know I did.




The September issue of School Library Journal reflects this trend. Peter GutiĆ©rrez wrote an article entitled "Good & Plenty: It used to be hard to find good graphic novels for the K–4 crowd. My, how times have changed." Okay, the title is a bit of a clunker, but the article itself offers a great primer to some of the awesome material for children. And I decided to challenge myself to read a few of the novels mentioned.



My favorite of the bunch? Frank Cammuso's Knight's of the Lunch Table series, without a doubt.

I accidentally ordered the second volume of the series, the Dragon Players, instead of the first volume, the Dodgeball Chronicles. No matter - the story was easily picked up without needing an introduction.

King Arthur and the Round Table seemlessly fits into this modern day story about middle school. Artie attends Camelot Middle School with his evil sister Morgan. Of course, there's a Mr. Merlyn, a science wiz with a mysterious raven as a classroom pet. And Percy and Guen show up as Artie's best friend and love interest respectively. That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to references to the Camelot legend. At times, I really want to go back and grab my copy of the Once and Future King, just to catch more obscure allusions in the text.

In the Dragon Players, Artie finds himself in a competition of dueling dragons - robot dragons, that is. The bullies of the school, appropriately named "The Horde," have forced Percy to build them a fearsome dragon competitor. Cammuso weaves the theme of duality from the beginning of the story to the narrative climax. I particularly loved the scene where "the ladies of the lunch" dispense a warning.
Arthur, King of Middle School,
Within thy heart, two dragons duel.
One is warm and one is cook,
In thy life just one shall rule.
All pretty standard stuff, right? Of course the mystic lunch ladies would speak in cryptic gibberish. But Cammuso continues the exchange... with an appropriate food-related sense of humor. This, of course, totally confuses Artie.
French fries... or veggie sticks?
Who knows which dragon you shall pick?
Chef salad... or pizza cheesy?
One is right and one is easy.
I couldn't stop laughing, and then I forced several co-workers to listen to the dialogue.

A shadowy figure in the guise of a dorky kid named Evo shows up with an easy answer to Artie's dueling robots dilemma. And of course, Artie and his friends have to go through harrowing hijinx before they must make a decision. Kids will definitely identify with Artie; he's savvy, street-wise, but a little uncertain at the same time. Like most kids, he looks to his friends and his mentors for advice... but Artie can also look to his magic locker (a middle school version of Excalibur) for a more unique form of guidance.



The art is fantastic - the characters are drawn with deft, broad strokes. The coloring is vibrant, appealing to both younger kids and their parents. I'm not extremely visually oriented; I read text too fast. But I found myself going back through the pages a second (and even a third) time to absorb all of the small details in the background of the panels. The stories pertain to middle schoolers, but younger elementary school readers will eat up this series.




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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Your friendly neighborhood PSA



This is the last day you can vote for a title to be considered for the 2009 Cybils. Not sure what to add to the list? Here are a few suggestions. You don't have to have read it to nominate it - I didn't read the one I nominated but plan to and had heard such good things about it, I thought the committee should give it a shot.




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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What I'm reading, Twitter style

...to be fair, it's more like a few of what I've read and a few of what I'm reading.


Crank: On audio - Kristina's deep decent into meth use. Powerful & terrifying yet gripping listen. Will turn anyone off to thought of using drugs.



Feed:
All in society born with feeds telling them how to live, act, buy. Feeds get hacked. Who will survive? May make you cry. BEST AUDIOBOOK EVER.




Someone Named Eva: World War II story. Czech-born Milada taken to reprogramming camp & adopted to German family. Becomes Eve. Terrifying based-on-truth story.



An Off Year: What happens when you turn around and decide not to go to college? A lot of nothing, in this case. Book about nothing but still interesting.



A Great and Terrible Beauty: Slow moving with little action and not yet compelling enough to begin my 4th audio disc. Seems like so many other books & not that exciting.



Her Fearful Symmetry: No candle to author's prior works. Poor editing & writing style. Story of twins & too much happenstance. Can't tell story on chances alone.




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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Guy reading

This is just to whet your appetite for a longer, fuller discussion of male reading habits. This past week, I had the chance to listen to Michael Sullivan give a talk about getting boys reading. If you get the chance, please see him, listen to him, and most importantly, TALK ABOUT HIM with the boys in your life.

One of his key points that I want to quickly mention is that all males who become readers can name that book that turned them into readers. It's one book that made reading something to them in ways no education or program had. This weekend, while among a number of my close male friends, I asked them to name that book. And they all could and they all did.

Sullivan has a belief for many boys, it's a fantasy book. More on why in a future post. But for now, tell me one of two things:

1. What was the book that turned a male in your life on to reading (or if you're one of the rare males reading this blog -- statistically speaking -- what was it for you)?

2. If you are a female, can you name the book that turned you on to reading? One title that made you a reader? Or have you always been a reader?

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to talk a bit about guy reading habits and books they dig. It's an important and underdiscussed topic. Feel free -- i.e., PLEASE -- chime in. I am eager to hear your thoughts.




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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook by Martha Hall Foose


I love food. It's a borderline obsessive thing. I like to eat, I like to go out to new restaurants, I love to cook. At the reference desk, I always have various food blogs open in the background. I'm always making something new and bringing it in... and of course, I'm always on the hunt for good cookbooks. Faithful readers have seen evidence of this obsession in earlier cookbook reviews.

Martha Hall Foose won a James Beard award in the American Cookery category for her book Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook. And I completely understand why, and I've only just made one recipe!

Cornbread Crusted White Chili - and yes, it's as good as it sounds.

Here is the outer cheesy cornbread crust - inside, there was an amazing white chili with tomatillos, chicken, and hominy, but my friend and I devoured it before I remembered to take a picture. Whoops.

I read this cookbook like a novel. Foose throws us into the slow Mississippi Delta world that she loves so much. Every recipe has a history; we meet characters like Aunt Mary Stigler Thompson - a woman who declares none of the entrants in the mayonnaise making competition are "as good as my own"; Mrs. Ethel Wright Mohamed, a woman who stitched hundreds of tea towels to remember her beloved late husband; and M. Taylor Bowen Ricketts who cooked black-eyed peas just as well as she painted. Foose's notes section with cooking instructions are just as charming as the histories that grace every recipe.

Oh, and the food. Huge color photographs adorn nearly every page of complex, beautiful, mouth-watering Southern food. From curried sweet potato soup with pork rind croutons to banana puddings served in a mason jar to field peas with snaps... I was hungry every time I picked up this book. I took my time with Screen Doors and Sweet Tea - in fact, I took so long that it's now over-due. I had to quickly photocopy all of the recipes I want to try and return it to the library. I know I'm not the only one who's actually cooked from this book - at the front, I found a post-it note from another patron who had meticulously written out each recipe that she tried.

Southern cooking is not fast, nor is it easy. Many recipes require hours of prep work, and I know that I don't have a lot of time for this kind of cooking during my hectic work week. But for special occasions, I will definitely make a caramel cake. Or the greens with cornbread croutons. Or overnight dinner rolls.

Oh, it's time to start planning the next dinner with Foose. And I'm adding this book to my Christmas wish list. I foresee running out of shelf space at this rate.




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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

And the Results Are In...

... and it was tasty!

Don't worry, we're not announcing the winner of the latest giveaway early. You still have until October 19th to enter.

Instead, I wanted to share the end result of a recipe from a cookbook I reviewed earlier in the summer, The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever by Beatrice Ojakangas. I didn't have my camera handy for many of my previous cooking ventures, but I grabbed a few snaps of the finished Burgundy Beef last night. It was too beautiful not to record for posterity. If you haven't picked up a copy of Ojakangas' book, maybe these pictures will change your mind.


Here's the finished product, just after taking it out of the oven.


Extreme beef close-up. You can see the pearl onions and mushrooms in this shot.


My plate for dinner; I served the beef with the classic combination of garlic mashed potatoes.

Let me tell you, it tasted just as good as it looks. And I have the world's best lunch for the next couple of days!  I wish I grabbed shots of the Spicy Cheese and Green Chile Dip and the Vegetable Moussaka... both of those recipes came out just as nicely as this one. But they were quickly devoured at a work potluck. Library workers know how to eat.




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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

More Cover Talk

I received an ARC of Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials a few days ago in the mail. I'm excited to read it, partly because I need a break from my recent diet of rather depressing dytopias, and partly because it's written by Rosalind Wiseman, who also wrote Queen Bees and Wannabes, a nonfiction volume for parents of teenage girls that was evidently the inspiration for the movie Mean Girls (a movie enjoyed by both males and females in my high school - some males saw it about a dozen times in the movie theater, I kid you not).

Here is the cover design of the book I received:That design will never see the light of day in a published format, though, because Penguin Group has changed the cover to this:



When publishers choose a cover, they're making a strong argument about who they believe will be - and should be - interested in the book. The first cover appears to be more gender-neutral, while it seems to me that the second appeals to a more female audience. I don't know much about the book aside from the title, which I think could appeal to both genders pretty easily, but it looks like the publishers have opted for a girl-centric readership. (The protagonist of the book is also a girl, but the subject of "Do boys read books narrated by girls and vice-versa" is the subject for a whole other, much longer, post.)

I am almost universally opposed to having real photographs (or depictions that look as if they could be real photographs) of actual people on the covers of books. It prevents me from forming my own mental image of the person, which is a large part of my reading enjoyment. (This one isn't that bad because their faces aren't showing.) Also, as the cover controversy for Justine Larbalestier's Liar has shown, the models for so many of these covers all look alike. I understand that publishers want to sell books above all, so if they find something that works, it makes financial sense for them to stick with it. I still lament the fact that truly creative and attention-grabbing covers on YA novels aren't as ubiquitous as they should be.

What do you think about these covers? Do you have a preference? After I read the book, I'll have a better idea, but teens grabbing a book from the library shelf aren't going to have that knowledge going into it either. Honestly, I'm not crazy about either cover - the first isn't as interesting as it tries to be, and the second is just too much like so many other YA covers.




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Listen up!

Do you listen to audio books?

I admit to being new to listening to them, afraid my attention span and ability to listen for comprehension of lengthy books would not allow me to get anything out of them. When I moved, though, and my commute went from no time to close to an hour, I gave them a try and am glad I did. Now I'm able to get more reading into each and every day. Moreover, I'm able to dig into books I may otherwise not pick up to read, simply because I'm a captive audience in the car and am willing to give anything a try.

This weekend, I traveled up to Wisconsin to attend a conference on listening for literacy which focused on audio books. As a newbie to audio books, I learned about how naive I'd been and how little I really knew about audio books and what makes them good and bad (though admittedly, I knew there WAS a reason I loved the audios of Al Capone Does My Shirts, Dairy Queen, and Wednesday Wars and was just not crazy about books like The Dead and the Gone and Nineteen Minutes).

Rather than give a blow-by-blow of the entire day, I thought I'd share some of the cool things I learned that might make you a better listener, as well.

First and foremost, I learned there are three types of audio books:

  • Fully voiced -- this is when there is a separate voice for each character, and the Harry Potter series would be a good example. It doesn't necessarily mean that there is a different person doing each voice, but rather, it could be one person who has developed enough voices for each character. I'll talk more on this in a bit.
  • Partially or semi-voiced -- this is when the main character and perhaps 1-2 of the other major characters have separate voices. The rest of the characters are in the general narrator's voice.
  • Unvoiced -- this is when the narrator just reads the story and (hopefully) reads it well.
Although listeners can have a preference for one of these, they can all be done well or all be done poorly. But what makes a good audio book and what makes a bad one? If you're listening to one and aren't sure, consider these:
  • Are the words pronounced correctly? Is the narrator using an authentic accent? One of the presenters mentioned a book set in Wisconsin where the narrator had a mid-Atlantic accent and it really killed the book for her as a Wisconsinite. The Dairy Queen, on the other hand, has an authentic Wisconsin accent.
  • Is the book complete with a clear, crisp sound? Is the volume consistent?
  • Do you hear juicy mouth sounds? Is the narrator's voice hoarse?
  • Has the producer done a good job if material was dubbed not making it obvious? Is the text being repeated or omitted or cut too short? Are chapter breaks awkward or poorly timed?
  • Are names of the title, author, and narrator correct? One of the presenters said that there was one book where the reader mispronounced the name Nguyen and a student with that name was turned off entirely (for those of you unsure, that's "win," and the reader said "nah-guy-en")
  • Does the reader mostly match the age and experience -- at least in sound -- to the main characters?
  • The readers connect to the text and are generally excited by the reading and discovery in the beauty of the story and the language.
  • Is music used effectively? Walden -- the one by Thoreau -- apparently has fantastic music interludes and was lauded for that reason.
All of these aspects are what people who listen to audio books begin to understand. They develop a "listening literacy" in a way that readers who read a lot develop about books -- pacing, voice, and so forth. Moreover, listeners also gain stronger understanding of cause and effect, predictability, and how language works. During a panel that brought in local teens to talk with us about their listening habits, it was very cool hearing how much they love learning new vocabulary through listening.

Reflecting on my own audio book experiences and thinking about these things, I know exactly what it was about each of my listens that made it enjoyable or less enjoyable.

Back to my earlier comment about fully voiced audio books -- have any of you listened to a production by Fullcast Audio? The director and two voice actors (David Kelly who did Kenneth Oppel's Airborn and Chelsea Mixon of Shannon Hale's Book of a Thousand Days) came to talk about their company. Rather than depend on one or two narrators, Fullcast hires, well, a voice for each character. Think reader's theatre on audio. I've yet to listen to one, but after seeing a piece about their forthcoming production of Eyes Like Stars and listening to David and Chelsea do a scene from Hale's book, I can say I plan on hunting out a few of their titles at the library now!

Finally, I wanted to say that listening to teens talk about their favorite audio books was so insightful. I think there were probably 15 or so students there, and the most surprising and exciting thing they said was that audio books are the reason they're willing to try books they otherwise would never pick up from the shelf. Need I mention the boys ALL said that the Twilight series was one of their favorites to listen to?

So, do you do audio books? What are some of your favorites? What do you listen for? If you haven't, perhaps you'd love to try your hand at winning a copy of The Dairy Queen from us.

As for me, I'm listening to M. T. Anderson's Feed, even though it's a book I'd never pick up. What a fantastically done audio book that has really drawn me in.




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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Cities, Bicycles, and the Future of Getting Around

I work for a very large library system. Sometimes, this is a curse - I'm subject to the whims of bureaucracy, I'm unable to enact a great deal of change without paperwork, I deal with disgruntled city workers on a regular basis, and oh, yes, there's a lot of paperwork. But one of the advantages of this system has to be the amazing group of donors who support library programming - Library Foundation of Los Angeles. At Central Library, the Library Foundation holds a regular lecture series called ALOUD on subjects ranging from Neutra's architecture to urban farming to poverty. The Library Foundation attracts fascinating authors to speak about their latest published works, and most of the programs are free. On occasion, ALOUD attracts some very big names - I've seen Steve Martin play the banjo and talk about his book Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life, Garrison Keillor will perform next week to promote his novel Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance, and last night, I was able to attend a panel discussion featuring special guest, David Byrne. The lecture was called "Cities, Bicycles, and the Future of Getting Around."

David Byrne, to promote his new book Bicycle Diaries, has been on a whirlwind tour of the United States, hitting many major metropolitan cities. In each panel discussion, he brings together a civic leader, an urban theorist, and a bicycle advocate. I had the pleasure to hear Michelle Mowery, Bicycle Coordinator for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Don Shoup, Professor of urban planning at UCLA (a "parking rock star"), and Jimmy Lizama of The Bicycle Kitchen as they joined David Byrne for a lively two hour discussion. Each speaker had fifteen minutes to give a presentation, then they all sat down for Q&A... that was supposed to last for 20 minutes, but ended up in the hour long territory.

David Byrne himself gave a really thoughtful speech - he talked a little bit about the freedom after he discovered cycling in an urban environment. He was living in Manhattan, and he found himself tired of relying on taxis or the train schedule. He found that when he rode his bike, he could easily hop from art gallery to a concert to a restaurant in much less time (and expense) than any other means of transportation. His presentation was particularly notable for the number of photos of different cities - both of urban spaces that worked with cycling (most notably in Europe and Asia) as well as places that weren't conducive for bicycles - including a snapshot of an Austin road.

Donald Shoup added a more academic tone to the discussion; his book, The High Cost of Free Parking, details the amount of money (and time) spent looking for curbside parking spots in urban locales. A biking enthusiast himself, he also introduced the idea of the Bicycle Boulevard as a cheap way to encourage biking within Los Angeles. I'm a neophyte when it comes to new urban planning ideas, so I was particularly fascinated by his engaging presentation. Honestly, it makes me want to take his class at UCLA!

The bureaucrat, Michelle Mowery, was the real star of the show, though. Articulate and passionate, she obviously loves her job... and the world of cycling. Every Monday, she rides from Long Beach to her downtown Los Angeles office via the LA River Bikeway. Her presentation was on the shorter side, but almost every single question in the Q&A section was addressed to her. And boy, was she able to answer them. She was one of the architects of the new Los Angeles Bike plan, and she was able to refer to specific chapter and page numbers that dealt with the complaints of the attendees. She said that the plan was incomplete, but her office was really working hard to gather more funding and more importantly, more awareness for the issues at hand. Mowery was also able to outline clear and feasible ways to practically implement almost every single suggestion from the biking community. I came away from the presentation extremely impressed that cycling had such an advocate in the city government.

The final presenter, Jimmy Lizama, offered a grassroots perspective on cycling in Los Angeles. I liked his presentation style; instead of using a traditional PowerPoint, he used a series of photographs to illustrate a story about his girlfriend's daily bike trip to the local elementary school with her son. Jimmy was able to illustrate both the joys and struggles of a typical Angeleno cyclist. And during the Q&A, he was able to offer more personal recollections to expand on theories presented by the other speakers.

I love the idea of using books as the basis for lectures such as these. Honestly, I have no real connection to the biking community here. I haven't owned a bicycle since my father sold mine in a garage sale during my high school years. But I really enjoyed the community that the library brought together through this book-based discussion. I've added a couple of items to my growing to-read pile, plus I gained some insight into my neighborhood. Sometimes, reading can seem like an insular activity, but events like these can be found at local libraries all over the country... and they're worth the trek. Or the bike ride.




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Giveaway!

To celebrate being a part of the Cybils AND to celebrate the forthcoming release of the third volume, Front and Center, in the aforementioned Dairy Queen series, I'm having a giveaway.

As I made clear, I loved, loved, loved the audio version of this book. It was well done, with an authentic voice for D.J.

So guess what?

I'm giving away the audio book for The Dairy Queen.

The rules are simple:
1. Comment to enter with your email address.
2. You can have ONE addition entry by promoting this contest -- I don't care how you promote it, whether via blog, sidebar, or twitter. Just leave the address of where you promoted it in your comment. You need to make this a separate comment.

So, simple: you may have up to two comments on this one.

Front and Center is in stores October 19, so this contest runs through then.




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Friday, October 2, 2009

Exciting News!

I am very excited to announce that I will be serving as a judge for this year's Cybil awards for YA Fiction.
If you haven't put in your vote on books that should be considered, please do. Anything published this year in any of the categories is fair game.

As for me? My job officially begins in January, but expect many more ya-focused reviews in the next few months. There's been so much gold out there this year it'll be hard to choose favorites! And go to the Cybils website and check out the other fantastic bloggers voting in this and other categories.




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