Sunday, December 27, 2009

Double Take, Part XVIII

While some of us take time to celebrate the holidays (...and some of us are in the midst of moving!), here's a double take for your enjoyment. We promise a blitz of very exciting posts coming the start of the year, including a great giveaway.

Toy Monster: The Big Bad World of MATTEL by Jerry Oppenheimer was published by Wiley in February of 2009. We get a nice close up of Barbie's eyes.

My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters by Sydney Salter was published by Sandpiper in April 2009. This time we get all of Barbie's face (with special emphasis on her eyes, of course).

I like both of them for different reasons. I feel like both fit their books very well, as the first looks like a book ready to make some big disclosures, and the second one fits because, well, it's nice to not have an image of a real person's supposed big nose (thereby setting an artificial standard).

Do you prefer one over the other?

Continue reading...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg

If you don't get the cover or the title, then this book probably isn't something you'll understand completely and many of the not-so-subtle jokes will be so lost on you. Elizabeth Eulberg's debut young adult novel The Lonely Hearts Club will no doubt leave young Beatles fans with something to swoon over.

Penny Lane Bloom -- yes, that's her real name -- has been close to Nate her entire life. They grew up close and finally, the summer before her junior year of high school when her parents are out of the house, she's ready to have the sex with him he's been subtly pressuring her into for a while. But when she sneaks downstairs, he's there with another girl.

Penny Lane isn't happy and she isn't going to take it. She decides she's going to begin her own club, just her and herself, called (you guessed it) The Lonely Hearts Club. The rules? No more dating for the rest of high school.

When school begins just days later, she begins noticing a change in her former-but-no-longer friend Diane, who'd always been attached to Ryan, her boyfriend since 7th grade. Diane suddenly wants to be friends with Penny Lane again, and it isn't long before Penny Lane decides to give this a shot ... if for no other reason than to get the dirt on why Ryan and Diane broke up after all of those seemingly happy years together.

It's then that Penny Lane confesses about her club, and Diane asks to join. Of course, it doesn't take long for a slew of other girls, fed up with the boys in their small school, to take part in this club, either. The club's mission is to establish camaraderie among the girls and to feel empowered. They spend their Saturday nights together, and they gain strength from one another to do things outside their comfort zone -- Diane, for example, quits the cheerleading squad, which has always been "her thing," and chooses to try out for the basketball team.

But when Ryan begins to make his feelings clear toward Penny Lane, what will become of the Lonely Hearts Club?

The Lonely Hearts Club was a very cute read, with an interesting, albeit conflated and confusing, pro-feminist flavor to it. It recently had its rights picked up as a film. I liked Eulberg's writing style a lot, as it made the book fly for me. Penny Lane was a fun character who, I think, was a realistic portrayal of a girl caught between wanting to swear off the male population completely and wanting to find a good guy to date. I think that this will indeed make a great movie, as the writing style Eulberg has is just conducive to that. The Beatles references throughout made a nice motif, as well, and where it could have gone overboard quite easily, I think there was enough going on elsewhere to not make it overkill. This is a nice stand alone book that will be one many girls can relate to.


I had a lot of issues with the book, too. First and foremost, the pacing did not work. Penny Lane begins her club when her junior year begins, but it takes only a couple of weeks before there are hordes of girls begging to be a part of this. Her friendship with Diane is cemented way too quickly, and the book wrapped up by the end of the first semester, with the group that was all about feminism and swearing off guys deciding its okay, actually, to date guys. It happened too quickly to be anywhere near realistic and too quickly to be authentic. Oh, and her parents, while they were supportive, were also clueless, flat, and went along with anything she did.

There were a number of subplots that happened, too, that were impacted by this pacing. There was a member of the club, her name being Kat or Kate (the ancillary characters in this title are all the same, so I can't remember her name) develops an eating disorder that's quickly mentioned. By the end of one month's time, she's suddenly healed. No one seems to care, either, about the issue at all, other than the two times it's mentioned very casually. Can I remind you that I just read Hungry and myself, along with the entirety of teendom, also read Wintergirls and know this isn't in any way realistic? It seemed like there was a huge missed opportunity here or it seemed like the author felt or was told she needed to have an "issue" thrown in. I'm not sure, but it really bothered me and I wish those six sentences (that may be a liberal estimate) could have been edited out.

Likewise, the principal character decided he didn't like the club and rather than discuss this with Penny Lane alone, he calls her parents in for a conference about her behavior. He also decides to ruin a fundraiser that the club spearheaded to raise money for the basketball team (wait, isn't it the case that sports are already funded well at high schools and yet no one had a problem with this at all?) but he himself kept a secret organization that asked the students what they wanted out of their school because his student council wasn't good enough. Ryan was a part of this secret club, but we never hear more about it -- I was expecting that the principal's dislike for the club and his interest in input from students like Ryan would have something to do with my next issue of the blatant disrespect of the males in school. Weird. Just weird.

Okay, now my big beef: feminism is not about hating boys. Throughout the very quick book and way-too-quick school semester, Penny Lane and all of her friends in the Club have a misconception about feminism. They believe that it is all about hating boys. Not just that, but they believe all boys are out to get them and are jerks, tools, slobs, and cheats. They're flat our disrespectful. Although by the end they have a bit of a change of heart, I think this message could be dangerous. To be quite honest, it felt to me like The Lonely Hearts Club was trying to be the antithesis of Twilight -- whereas Bella becomes a tool for a boy, these girls just went to bat believing ALL boys were going to treat them as tools and thus, they should swear them off and treat them like dirt. I cannot believe Ryan let these girls treat him the way they did when we as readers were not given any reason why he should be treated poorly. In fact, there's an excellent scene in the book (perhaps my favorite), where Diane begins to talk about her and Ryan's decision not to have sex during their lengthy relationship. I felt like Ryan was actually a stand-up guy for the decision!

I know that the girls figure it out in the end that not all boys are jerks, but it takes a very long time (250 pages) to get to this conclusion. This isn't feminism; this is man-hating. This isn't empowerment we should be teaching girls; this is blatant hatred and mistrust.

But for all of my gripes, I'll say this would be a fantastic book club choice for an all-girls book club. There is a lot to discuss in this title, particularly when it comes to things like relationships, feminism, empowerment, and blazing one's own path in life. This book actually reminded me quite a bit of Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials in terms of lessons learned. I am curious to see how this one plays out on the big screen. Since Eulberg's worked on Stephenie Meyer's saga, I'm curious what sorts of parallels we may see happening.

I look forward, too, to seeing where Eulberg may go with a next novel, and I really hope things like the awkward pacing, flat secondary characters, problem-introducing-and-rapid-resolution-with-no-sympathy-from-the-main-characters, and other issues don't hurt the movie. This is a book that will definitely have appeal to teens, but those of us a little removed from that (and I'll be honest to say I'm not THAT much removed from then!) may be disappointed. Other bloggers, including The Compulsive Reader and Becky at Becky's Book Reviews have absolutely loved this one.

The Lonely Hearts Club hits stores December 29. Keep your eyes on our site over the next couple of weeks. You're going to see this book mentioned another time or two!

Continue reading...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hungry by Sheila and Lisa Himmel

I'm not a big memoir reader. I like my non-fiction very factual and often technical, and anecdotes really aren't my cup of tea, which is why authors like Malcolm Gladwell always end up disappointing me. But when I had a patron call and ask to put a hold on Hungry by Sheila and Lisa Himmel, I read the description and was intrigued. So I put myself on that hold list too.

Hungry is the true account of a battle with an eating disorder, told in a manner different from every other one you've read. Sheila Himmel is a food critic for a major newspaper in the San Jose, California area, and Lisa is a recent college graduate. Sheila begins the book by talking about the differences in the births and childhoods of her son, the first born, and her daughter Lisa, who was quite the opposite of her son. At the same time, she chronicles her experiences climbing the ranks in her own career as a journalist. I found her depictions of motherhood and her stories about getting from the bottom of the writing barrel to climing to such a fun, well-revered position through nothing but her hard work and determination.

As Sheila reflects on these issues, Lisa chronicles her obsession with eating and food, describing the events that led her to becoming not only anorexic, but an exercise addict and eventual bulemic. She grew up a bit chubby, but as she entered middle and high school, she began spiraling out of control. Going to college -- as her mother writes -- was her opportunity to grow up and become strong over this need to be hungry all the time (and what I found fascinating was that this wasn't always about being skinny but about being hungry and the control issues therein). But when she got to college, she found herself a disaster. An eventual recovery occurs, but spirals out of control her senior year of college, culminating in treatments, both traditional and non-traditional.

I really appreciated a book on this topic that explored the impact of mental illness on more than just the individual. Sheila is an advocate for mental health in this particular title, and I think that her unique position as a food critic just made it more relatable (these things can happen to anyone because it's a mental illness).

Another strength of this book is that it's not about being resolute. Lisa is in her mid twenties and still figuring things out. The last couple of chapters in the book are reflections of what people struggling with eating issues and those struggling with knowing and being close to someone with disordered eating can consider as options for proceeding. None are radical but they are rational.

That said, one of the weaknesses was that I felt there was almost too much Sheila in the book and too little Lisa. For a bit, Sheila does dote on a bit much about why she chose to attend Berkeley rather than Santa Cruz for college, but I think that this will be an interesting title for this pair to revisit in 10 or 20 years when Lisa comes into her own as an adult.

So, for my aversion to most memoirs, I'd say this was definitely worth the investment of time. It's a fairly quick read and it doesn't dwell too much into the stuff we've all read before (it's definitely not as graphic as say, Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls) and I do think it treds some new ground. The Himmels are not well-to-doers, and in fact, this is an issue they talk about a bit. They're down to earth and human, something hard for me to find in many books of the ilk.

Continue reading...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

2009 Picks

There are a ton of "best of" lists floating around this year. I have a hard time choosing a best of anything, simply because I haven't read everything and don't want to make a decision when I could read something written in 2009 in, oh, 2011, and be disappointed I didn't add it. Likewise, the reading experience itself changes as you read more and become a better reader.

So instead, I'm just going to give brief shout outs to some of my favorite 2009 reads this year. Many of these were not top-of-the-listers from their respective publishers or didn't quite get the buzz they deserved. Although many of the other lists I've seen lately have had a lot of really great books on them, to me, they're all the same books (you know I really liked Lips Touch but it's been on everyone's top list and it makes me wonder if people really consider their OWN favorites, rather than crowd favorites. Oh, and don't get me started on Marcelo, which you already know my feelings on. But I digress...). These are all young adult picks; my adult reading this year mostly consisted of a few classics and a lot of non-fiction that either fell far from high opinion (Methland will be the topic of a future post about misinformation and the absolute importance of fact-checking) or was something that no one else would be interested in me gushing about (I love reading books about real estate, business, and finance, ok?).

In no particular order:

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford really blew me away. It was absolutely original and the writing itself was fluid and gorgeous. I heard someone describe this as an indie hit of books. This is a fantastic story of friendship and of loss, as well as family and how family goes through cycles because each individual does, as well. I love the relationships here, particularly the one Jonah has to Matthew -- to the idea of Matthew and what that relationship does to him as a person. I love Bea's position as a person on the outside and on the inside of both Jonah's relationship to Matthew and the relationship he has with himself. It's so pitch perfect and moving.

I felt like this book was just different from so much that's out there right now. There's a lot of depth but there's not necessarily a lesson to be learned: it's a moment - a year in the life of Bea - that has a lot of meaning and power but at the end the main character realizes that it is indeed one year of many and that that helps shape who she is. She is and is not Robot Girl, just as Jonah is and is not Ghost Boy.

The use of a radio show and characters was beautiful and unique, but not unique enough that teens won't "get" it. This was something so modern, even though it takes place via radio - we all have these networks outside our physical place and all of these people shape us as we shape them. The ending conversations nearly brought me to tears because they were so powerful. Add to that the notion of the boy behind the camera rather than the boy in front of it also worked really well for me.

What really made this a great read was that it never once felt like Standiford was trying too hard. Sometimes an author or artist just tries to hard to make things work, but in this book, it felt like things just tied together well. It was clearly a well-planned book but it wasn't oversculpted nor manicured to a point. It was left with enough room to make connections and pull together ties for each reader to take away something personal.

Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker. I've already reviewed this one in depth. Since that review, I've taken every opportunity to talk this bad boy because it never got reviewed in a professional journal, which kills me. Sure it looks girly, but it is so much more. I recently talked this one to a group of 9th graders, and it went out....not only did it go out, but my co-talker said she'd never otherwise pick it up but is now interested. I've already mentioned, too, what I think is a turnoff on this one, but if you are able to look past it, you're in for a real treat here. I'm dying to get my hands on Walker's Violet on the Runway series, but it's hard to come by. It's on my 2010 to-read list for sure.

Ruined by Paula Morris is one I read recently that continues to stick with me. This is a ghost story, set in Lafayette Cemetery in post-Katrina New Orleans. I'm going to be honest, though, and say that it's not the mystery or the ghost story that appealed to me; it was Morris's absolutely enthralling descriptions of New Orleans and the history of Mardi Gras. What she weaves into a story that has massive teen appeal is something much deeper and more intriguing for adults. Setting plays such a huge role in this story, and Morris is able to make the city such a vivid character here. This isn't to say that the entire plot, driven on the idea of spirits wandering the city, particularly after the disaster, isn't interesting because it sure is. I'm not a mystery, ghost, or supernatural reader, but this one definitely did it for me, and it did it for me in a big way.

An Off Year by Claire Zulkey didn't really give me a lot of emotions, to be honest, but that's the point. Cecily and her dad drove from their home in the Chicago area to Ohio, where she'd be beginning her freshman year of college. We all remember those days, right? Well, Cecily decides when she gets there that she's not actually ready and oh, hey, could she just go back home? Dad agrees to this, and the book follows as Cecily struggles to figure out who she is and why she made that decision.

There is not much action in this book, and frankly, Cecily did a lot of sitting around, whining, and picking fights. But as the book progresses, as a reader you really pull for her to figure herself out. Cecily is a little bit of all of us and I felt that Zulkey did a great job of making her totally human. And the lack of real plot is perfect because it's realistic -- but don't worry. Cecily kind of figures something out at the end of her year, and it's not a fabulous trip to Europe taken like many gap year kids.

Destroy All Cars by Blake Nelson is another one I've already reviewed, but it fits my bill here. This book is hilarious and spot-on in narration of a teen boy. I've read a couple other books trying to fit the voice of a teen boy, and they have just not done it for me (Carter Finally Gets It made Carter a total jerk and I think it was trying far too hard with being funny and Two Parties, One Tux, and a Short Film about the Grapes of Wrath was just a bit too forgettable). But James Hoff? Yep, he's a teen boy and really, really funny....because he's not trying to be.

That's it folks, my five favorites of 2009. I've got a couple more 2009er's in my currently reading pile, too, including Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis (totally underrated and one that while I enjoy now, I would have absolutely eaten up as a teen, even though I have a contention with some poor editing [articles missing in more than one instance in sentences]) and Beautiful Creatures....and Along for the Ride, which I'll likely go audio on.

I'm already thinking about the titles I'm excited about for 2010, but I also try not to get myself worked up about forthcoming titles because it's this hidden gems that need to be uncovered and discovered.

What do you think? Do you agree/disagree or have any other favorites?

Continue reading...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What to Buy Your Boy

So now that you know why boys don't read (and how they do), here's a quick list of some titles that would be knockout choices for holiday gifts for boys in middle through high school:

Alive in the Killing Fields: Surviving the Khmer Rouge Genocide is a work of non-fiction by Nawuth Keat about his time as a child in war-town Cambodia. It sounds reminiscent of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, which is another work of non-fiction about growing up in war torn Sierra Leone. What's appealing about these titles? In both cases, the main character -- a real person -- sees a problem and acts upon it (or is acted upon, as the case may be). There's war, there's action, and there's a gripping story.

Guardian Of The Spirit (Moribito)by Nahoko Uehashi is a graphic novel but is part of a series that's laden with mythology and thus more similar to manga. There's swords, action, and great graphics that'll keep boys plowing through. And hey, when they finish this one, there are more in the series.

I'll admit this is a riskier choice, simply because it's not your standard Gordon Korman book. But either way, it was one of my favorite reads lately. Pop is a story about Marcus, a football player who's just transferred schools and is having a hard time having the new team give him respect. He decides to take up practicing at the local park, where he meets an old man who is quite a prankster. Turns out that guy is the father of Troy Popovich, football team quarterback and he has a major mental health issue -- so Marcus takes it upon himself to connect Charlie with his past and his present. This book has sports and has a character who sees a problem and tackles it full on. Oh, and it's funny!

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman is all fantasy. In this story, 12-year-old boys have the opportunity to become an apprentice of the Dragoneyes -- men who harness the power of the 12 energy dragons. But there's a twist this time, with a girl perhaps being chosen instead of a boy. This one's got a lot of myth and action and a proposed sequel in the works.

I've mentioned both of these series before, but it's not going to hurt to repeat them. Darren Shan is a wildly popular horror writer for both the middle and high school grade boys.

Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare will appeal to the younger set. This book series was just made into a film, too, which will come out after the holidays. But you know, there is also Cirque Du Freak: The Manga . So if they read the books, maybe the manga will appeal to them, too.

Of if they've finished that series or are more in the high school set, you should give them The Demonata #1: Lord Loss: Book 1 in the Demonata series. The ninth book in this series just came out, so there is plenty of reading here.

And lastly, here's something you probably won't see from me again simply because I am a Very Biased Person and as a librarian, I am willing to admit it. But here it is. I'm going to recommend James Patterson's Maximum Ride Series. This is a book with adventure and science fiction, both of which have mega boy appeal. But here's my other reason for recommending Patterson's teen series -- it's a gateway. Maximum Ride also is a graphic novel series. Two ways to read it.

Oh did I say he was a gateway? Well, he is. He also has another popular teen series called Daniel X. Finished that one already? Well, there's a new series coming out sure to appeal to boys, too, as well as those who are obsessed with the paranormal: Witch & Wizard. The first book came out this last Tuesday. When those books are finished, Patterson's got an entire world of adult fiction that more sophisticated readers can dive into (some are a little more risque than others, and some are perfectly suitable). Know why else Patterson's a gateway? He'll get kids interested in reading books like Patterson's, which will open up their worlds to new authors and adventures. As much as he annoys me as a librarian (he's a shelf hog), he does something for readers and for reading.

There you have it -- a short list of books sure to please the boys you are still looking to buy for. Remember to check out Michael Sullivan's website, too, for more recommendations.

And as promised, here's a quick bibliography of the research for this series of posts based on Sullivan's program:

Continue reading...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials by Rosalind Wiseman

Have you ever read a book that, while you're reading it, you can see how the movie would be filmed perfectly? Not only that, you're able to pretty much cast it, as well?

Welcome to Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials
by Rosalind Wiseman, set to be published in early January of 2010. Does that name ring a bell at all? Aside from this earlier post by Kim, which I'll get to in a minute, this is the same author who wrote the book Queen Bees and Wannabes, a non-fiction title that was the basis for the hit film Mean Girls starring Lindsay Lohan.

I think that Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials could go in the same direction, and I think that it would also be a hit!

Wiseman's story follows high school freshman Charlie Healey (whose real name is Charlotte) as she navigates the tricky waters of fitting in, making friends, and figuring out exactly who she is. Charlie's going to a new high school -- one that is just outside her old district -- in order to avoid Lauren and Ally, who made her last year in middle school miserable. They got her in huge trouble on a class trip to Washington D.C., with a punishment of not only being suspended from school for a bit, but she also lost the trust of Nidhi, a girl who she really wanted to bond with. What Charlie doesn't acknowledge is that she's really going to this high school because she's intelligent and talented; the new high schooler's perspective's a bit different than that of readers, her peers, and the adults in her life.

When Charlie gets to school for orientation, though, she meets and befriends Sydney right away, who is the type of girl you want to hate: tall, thin, beautiful, and genuine. Charlie's excited to make a friend so quickly, and as we learn, it's a friendship based on more than adoration. Oh, and that same day she meets Will, who had been one of her best friends for a long time and had moved away. Throughout the book, their relationship develops stronger than when they were friends at a younger age, and this relationship will be tested in many ways throughout their freshman year.

It's at this point you're probably thinking this is all set up for the Mean Girls scenario, right? But you'd be wrong. This time, it's the boys who are mean to one another, and it centers on the ideas around hazing and initiation. Charlie is witness to an awful incident near the end of her freshman year that leaves an innocent person injured, and she must make the decision whether to let it go or to test these relationships she's built and rebuilt through that tumultuous year. Add in a subplot of reconnecting with Nidhi, becoming a strong writer for the high school's newspaper, and a fast-paced, engaging writing style, and it's no surprise that this is the sort of book that will fly off shelves. Wiseman's entrance into the growing world of young adult literature is certainly a welcome one!

Before delving into what makes this book such a great one, let me step back and critique some issues I had. First and foremost, the new cover is deceptive and is a VERY poor choice. The initial cover -- the one my galley has -- is the black cover with red bomb. It doesn't tell you anything about the story, and I think this is important, since this is the sort of story that unwraps itself and doesn't lend to an easy "telling" on the cover. The new cover, as seen here, pictures a very thin girl kissing a boy. Kissing might be an understatement, even.

There was no making out in this book. There were no girls ogling over boys nor boys ogling over girls. In fact, this was a very clean read through and through; in the instances where crushes or dates were brought up, they were very realistic, awkward, and there was never one mention of their sex drives. I would feel 100% comfortable handing this sort of title to those who don't want a book that will make them blush, and it's the sort of books parents wouldn't mind having a kid read.

But you know? This cover says EXACTLY the opposite. How am I supposed to sell the merits based on a cover that clearly suggests otherwise? Oh, and Charlie makes clear in her prologue that she's not a stick thin, hair-model type girl. So why is his cover that way?

Back to the good, though.

Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials delves into a topic that really isn't covered much: boys as the "mean girls." Throughout the story, we see how boys are mean to one another and mean to girls in a way that is absolutely realistic. There is the picking on, then there's the tormenting verbally or physically (in this instance, there's a scene where a group of boys intentionally clap through a class presentation given by Sydney which makes all her hard work look worthless), then there's the outright harassment and pain infliction. Besides there being retribution for these actions, there's a lot in the way of discussing what power and influence do in terms of getting people out of trouble for their own actions.

Wiseman, in her end note, talks about how this was a tough book to write and thanked a class of students who helped her edit it. It shows: this book is put together so well and so realistically; I was able to put myself right back into my freshman year of high school and live so many of the same moments that Charlie did. Wiseman's writing style is smooth and lively. This is a book that teens will relate to -- there's crushing, there's involvement, there's sports and discussion of sports in ways that don't put it down or make it the be-all-end-all of high school, there's praise of intelligence and confidence, and there's good kids. You know what else this book has that makes it a knock out?

Good parents.

Almost all of the kids in this story have strong parents who are good influences in their lives, and the kids who don't, well, you see what happens. Wiseman achieves something here that is rare: good, realistic, dependable parents who the kids actually have relationships with. Another element important to mention is that Charlie is keen to seeing discrimination and understanding enough to know it's bad without moralizing or making it a crusade. Nidhi is Indian and Hindu, and it's this fact that causes a lot of the problems arising between Charlie and former friends Ally and Lauren. Wiseman is really spot on with this issue, as she is also spot on with pop culture references that won't necessarily date this book.

There's been much buzz lately about books being picked up for film, but I certainly hope this one does. There is plenty of action, great dialog, compelling and realistic characters, and many wonderful messages about being happy with who you are. Charlie is a winning character, and I think that so many teens will find themselves rooting for her the entire time, since they can see bits and pieces of themselves in her. This is a clean read, with a lot to latch on to. Although there is more to enjoy in this book, I think it's one that will generate a lot of discussion and lend itself easily to a book group.

Here's a classic high school story in the making!

* Obviously, the publisher was kind enough to send an ARC for me. There was no expectation of a review, much less a positive one.

Continue reading...

Friday, December 11, 2009

2010 Morris Nominees

The Shortlist for the 2010 Morris Award was announced several days ago. In case you are unfamiliar with the Morris Award, it is in its second year and honors a young adult novel written by a newly-published author. This is one of those awards I get very excited about, because it means I am guaranteed to read a number of well-written books by someone I had never read (or possibly even heard about) before.

Last year, I only read two of the nominees: A Curse Dark as Gold, by Elizabeth C. Bunce, and Graceling, by Kristin Cashore. I loved Graceling but just felt that Curse was too slow for my tastes. Because the awards committee doesn’t take my opinion into consideration, though, Curse won the award. I’m not bitter – I know a lot of people who loved it. This year, I hope to read all five of the nominees before the winner is announced on January 18 at ALA Midwinter in Boston. We’ll see if I succeed.

Ash, by Malinda Lo
This one has been on my to-read list since I discovered it’s a retelling of Cinderella with a GBLT twist (and plenty of magic).

Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
A huge doorstopper of a book advertised as a Southern gothic thriller with plenty of mystery and romance. Normally right up my alley, but I confess the length (626 pages!) is daunting.

The Everafter, by Amy Huntley
The book that has (in my opinion) the most unique concept of those on the list: Teenage Maddy has died, and she finds herself in a place filled with glowing objects from her life. Upon touching these objects, she is able to re-experience parts of that life and in the process unravel the mystery of her death.

Flash Burnout, by LK Madigan
It’s difficult for me to determine what this book is about – most blurbs describe it as a book about a teenage boy with a complicated life that involves juggling two girls: a friend and a girlfriend. Probably the one I’m least excited about.

Hold Still, by Nina LaCour
Kelly read and reviewed this book about teen suicide a few weeks ago.

What do you think of the list? Had you heard of most of these books before the shortlist was announced? I’m actually quite surprised that I had – that was not the case last year.

Continue reading...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Double Take, Part XVII

What I like about this double take is how complimentary the two books would be!

Ending Violence in Teen Dating Relationships by Al Miles is a non-fiction title published by Augsburg Books in April 2005.

Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles -- the paperback edition -- was published in April 2007 by Flux. Although this isn't a book about teen dating violence, I think that readers of this title might also be interested readers in the other one (and vice versa).

It's the same stock image, just cropped differently and with a lighter treatment. When I stumbled across the first book, I instantly identified it as the same image on Elkeles's title. In both cases, I think the cover is a perfect fit, and I love the wider focus on Leaving Paradise.

What do you think? I actually think the double take here is kind of a cool one.

Continue reading...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Guys Read - still!

[This is a continuation of my guys read series courtesy of a fantastic workshop by Michael Sullivan.]

As we know, boys and men are reading something, even if they claim they aren’t. But what and where they are reading is something that we need to not only take a look at but we need to work with.

Where do the men in your life read?

The answer is probably “the bathroom.” Another popular answer is probably “in bed at night.” More broadly, the answer is men read in isolation – they do it when no one else can see them. If they are reading outside the bathroom or the bedroom, they’re probably doing so covertly, too. Michael Sullivan joked, with all seriousness, that the paperback book is a male’s best friend because it can fit in his back right-hand pocket just like his wallet.

Do you see the challenge?

By not seeing men reading because they read in isolation, boys don’t develop reading role models. They model this behavior, then, and read covertly, if they’re reading at all. Remember back a couple weeks ago about the fact boys think with “rules and tools.” If there’s not a road map there to guide them (i.e., a male reading role model), then it will be difficult for boys to see reading as something they should do.

That means finding male role models who are reading or getting those men in your life who do read to do so in sight of younger males. Boys want role models, and if they see it, they want to do it, too.

As you’ve gleaned from here and from the last two posts, the problem is that we’ve made reading work for boys. There are barriers all around them, even if we don’t necessarily see them. Remember that the “rules and tools” mentality combined with the lack of reading role models, as well as the belief we share about books being what it means to read is telling boys that they aren’t really reading. They believe they’re weak because they don’t do it as well as Susie or Sally and they believe they don’t read because the newspaper, magazines, or the internet isn’t really reading.

So rather than admit they can’t read, they practice the mentality of they don’t read. As humans, it’s easier for us to admit to not doing something versus being unable to do something….even if it’s the case they CAN and ARE doing it.

Never fear, though, as we can solve this problem, and the solutions are much simpler than we can imagine, given the cards stacked against boys from the start.

First – never stop reading to boys! Boys love listening to stories, and often it is this very act of reading aloud that helps them strengthen their reading skills. Find a male to read aloud to them, too. This is a bonding activity and a force of modeling the behavior.

If you don’t have time to read aloud, introduce boys to audiobooks. This increases their literacy just like the printed word does, and it also allows them to do other things while they’re reading (remember that boys prefer being active since that’s how they learn best – can you get better than an audiobook to give them that freedom?). Here's the plug for my post on audio literacy, too, if you haven't come to see just how valuable that learning is.

Stuck on WHAT to have to a boy to read? Welcome to Boys Lit! Remember the discussion about how boys like rules and tools? Well, their brand of books is fast paced, action-filled, and features characters who see something then act on it. These books don't develop character who have complex relationships with one another or communicate; these are books of things happening, with a character using rules and tools to move forward. These characters are mad because the map showed a road and darn it, there will be a road (they don't need to ask for directions!).

Boys love:

* Non-fiction (sports, action, adventure, gross, quick factual books -- the sorts of things they don't get to read in school);
* Fantasy (the hero’s journey speaks to the male “rules and tools” mindset). Sullivan believes it's never too young to give a boy Tolkien;
* Sports (it is identifiably male – Mike Lupica has done a lot for this area, and Gym Candy was one of the best books in last 5 years for boys lit, according to Sullivan)

See a pattern here yet? These are the things they aren't getting to read in school. Add to that non-fiction magazines, newspapers, and internet materials (of any variety, truthful or not).

But let's not get too excited here. One of the things we're failing to do is understand that our ideas of a good book from a female perspective is different than those of a male's. We're getting something different out of these books than boys are, and when we turn to recommend a title to them we're sure they'd like -- the safe choices -- we're giving them books that are for girls (aka, not "boy" writing). As much as librarians like Chris Crutcher and Gary Paulsen, those aren't boys lit writers. Sullivan called them “girl” writers, despite their intent. As females, we cannot get into the male mind, and as such, we often overlook what’s going to really speak to them. So, we're trying, but we're only giving them the half way answer.

Need help now?

Rather than Paulsen, choose Ben Mikaelson (Touching Spirit Bear and others). He is a much, much better adventure writer with real boy appeal. Paulsen focuses too much on emotion and connections. Mikaelson is action and adventure.

Graphic novels – they’re the half-way answer. We need to be giving boys manga. Manga’s often based on mythology (and thus the hero’s journey) and it often spans many volumes. Once they get hooked, they will read as many in a series they can get their hands on, and isn't that the goal?

Gothic horror – boys want to explore violence because it is SO unnatural and doesn’t make sense in their world (rules and tools). Let them read it. Boys want to start on Stephen King young. There’s a better choice in Darren Shan. The "Cirque du Freak" series is great for 4-6th graders and the "Demonata" series is great for 6-8th grade. 8th grade or older? Give them Stephen King if they ask, and Dark Half is where to begin.

Now that you've got an idea of what you should be doing (i.e., reading the books boys love, taking that knowledge, and considering what you recommend), you need to talk to boys about these books. Never fear. It's not that tough! First off, general book talking rules:

1. Never talk a book you haven’t read;
2. Always talk to the back of the class because the kids at the front are already readers. Sell READING itself more than the book;
3. Book talking is not a review. Sell the book instead of reviewing it.

Now, remember that the boys are in the back and need to be sold on reading. Talk to them:

1. Keep it short (remember they think reading is solitary, feminized, and sedentary and by being lengthy, well, it is);
2. Get the boys involved (read in concert and make it a social activity);
3. Highlight what boys like (in Maniac Magee there is one scene with sports. The book is not about sports but by highlighting that, the book sells itself. Selling it as a book about race relationships goes back to #1);
4. It is EASY to book talk non-fiction. Idea: pick a book of gross facts and ask the audience to pick a number; open to that page and read.

This is so easy, but because we think like females (well, those of us who are female do), we can't think about these things. But here it is. The secret to helping boys develop an interest in reading.

And remember back to my last post in this series asking about "the" book? For most males, "the" book that turns them on to reading is indeed a fantasy title. For the males I surveyed, often it was Tolkein or something in the Star Wars series. It's your turn to ask what got them into reading and it's our responsibility to do that reading, too. We need to be advocates for boys reading, and the only way to do it is to know what they are reading, encourage their reading, and insist that they ARE reading (even if it's the newspaper). The more we do that, the more they see themselves as reader, and the more likely they will be banging down your door for the 10th installment of Shan's "Demonata" series.

Although I've finished the content of this series, I will bring you one more post in the next week or two with some of the titles Sullivan highlighted -- just in time for holiday shopping! I'll include a bibliography, too, for those of you interested in learning more and reading the research behind this.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any "go to" boy titles? Do these things surprise you at all? Do you disagree at all? Lay it out there!

Continue reading...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Where have all the fat girls gone?

I've got a beef with young adult fiction right now, and it's this -- for all we try to do to promote body acceptance, we sure don't like to show that in our covers. When was the last time you saw a fat girl (or boy - I'm inclusive here) being portrayed in a realistic manner on a cover? I'm loose in defining realistic, too. I just don't want them being the villain or being the one belittled. Think about all of the covers you see: they're ALL thin. Every. Last. One. Of. Them. Even if the book doesn't talk about the weight or shape of a character, the cover makes him/her thin.

Let me give you a little illustration. We can thank the hard-working ALA "Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults" committee for compiling a list of books about body acceptance. I have taken that list and generated a gallery of those covers. For simplicity's sake and for the sake of not needing to be politically correct here, I am using the term "fat."

Tell me the trend you see:

Food. There is no fat girl here. The girl in the story is fat.

A rear shot of a boy with his shirt puffed out. We don't know if he's fat or not because we don't see a whole body.

More food and still no fat girl.

Oh, a warning not to eat food. Still no fat girl.

I don't even know what to say. To be fair, this is an older book with a cover that reflects the art trends of that time. But really? She looks goofy and she's eating a cookie. You don't see her body. She's a floating head. And the skeleton below? Eesh.

2/11/10 Edit: I compiled this post not having read all of these titles. The ones I didn't read, I tried to glean a sense of the theme from the ALA list. Fat Chance isn't in the same league as the other titles on this list, but I think that there's still something to be said for this cover and the EATING aspect. Plus, she has a fat face.

Isn't this a book where she's PROUD of being who she is? We get shoes and part of her legs. We don't know she's fat.

She's got a pretty face, but we don't see that. We see a scale and her feet. Where's her pretty face and "atrocious body?" I know that the pretty face is meant as something else, but taken in context with the cover, it gives a different impression.

When I pulled this one up, I got excited because we see a fat body! There's no face though, and quite frankly, she looks goofy and vilified, doesn't she? Her stance is defensive and unapproachable while the skinny girl next to her is jovial and approachable.

Ahh, we get not only food on this one, but a skinny girl. This is about plus sized modeling and yet, there's nothing to show that off.

This one, we get a face (which is thin) and a girl in black to cover her "fat." I don't think she's fat at all.

We're almost there now, except I'd hardly call this fat, either. And we see only her stomach that she's pinching to make a "fat roll." Where's her face? How come we don't get a full body shot so we can determine she's really and truly fat?

This butt is curvy -- also known as NORMAL. I like this cover, but again, it's a part of a body rather than a whole person.

Apparently, Lara is so large they couldn't bear putting an image of a person on the cover. It's just a shirt dress floating in the wind (thin as air, right?).

I know she's fat in this one, too, but why isn't she there? I think that's a book or something, but regardless, it's a perfect hour glass shape.

We want good role models for girls to love who they are, but what do we see on every cover? Thin girls or fat girls looking goofy. Why can't fat girls (and boys!) be on covers like their thin counterparts?

I'm sure you can't forget the Liar controversy, where the cover featured a white girl when the main character was clearly not white. Why is it we put thin on the cover when the character isn't (and in some cases is JUST ALRIGHT WITH THAT?).

So I want you to tell me: why can't we do this? Can you find me a cover with a fat girl who is -- how do I say this -- a normal, every day person? We know our world isn't full of perfect bodies and we know we want people to come to love who they are, but if we can't see it in the world (especially in books that are meant to highlight these said issues) how can we make people believe they are ok?

Edit 9/30/11: This post has generated a lot of discussion recently, and I wanted to lead you to a few follow up posts I've written on this subject here and here.

Continue reading...
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