Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

2011 has been a big year for me. I graduated and started my big girl career this year. I fell in love and had my heart broken this year. Pinterest happened. That alone would make 2011 a banner year. But I also met a lot of amazing people, and some not-so amazing people too. Books were read, crafts constructed and dance parties danced. Through it all I've been supported by the best family and friends I could ever ask for.

And now it's time to look ahead to 2012; I want 2012 to be even better than 2011 and with none of that whole broken heart business. Seriously y'all, that sucks.

Resolutions for the Library:

1) Read more elementary and middle grade fiction. Even the series. I am shockingly behind on Geronimo Stiltonand the 5 bajillon read-a-likes that Diary of a Wimpy Kid has spawned.

2) Plan more programs for school age kids. Ones that don't include me feeding them. It is unbelievably hard to tear these kids away from the computer if I'm not willing to get them hopped up on sugar. But I'm going to keep trying.

3) Try themed story times. I get in a comfortable rut with the same set of books, flannels and songs that I really like so themes will force me to try new ideas outside of my comfort zone.

4) Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. This bastardized latin phrase kept popping up this year, first in my re-read of The Handmaid's Tale and then again in the more recent Saving June. I'm not going to let the bastards grind me down anymore. No kids, parents, nannies, or co-workers will get to me or make cry this year. Like a duck everything is going to roll off my back. That's the idea anyway.

Resolutions for Myself:

1) Read more books written for adults. Seriously. It's time.

2) Figure out this quilting thing. And learn to knit in the round.

3) Open the Etsy shop I've been talking about forevers.

4) Go see Hunger Games at midnight.

5) Watch the new season of Downton Abbey, and play catch up with all the other series I've been meaning to watch and haven't gotten around to.

6) Get this grown-up thing figured out. Like my dental insurance and the 500 page union contract I was handed this morning.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top Ten YA of 2011

Here's my Top Ten YA Titles of 2011, copied almost exactly from another blog I contribute to. I haven't gotten into my New Year's Resolutions yet, but suffice it to say one of them will deal with reading more middle grade and early elementary titles next year. It'd be nice to do more lists like these, for the books meant for the customers I actually work with on a daily basis, with some authority.

2011 was a weird year. I didn't like almost ANYTHING that came out in the first half, but the second half was loaded with awesome picks. Even now, at the very very end of the year I feel bad about this list because my library account is full of books on hold that I just know will be life changing.

10. 10 Miles Past Normal, Frances O'Roark Dowell
Things I love: Farms (check plus), Awkward Ugly Ducklings Who Don't Realize They're Already Swans (check), Civil Rights Movement Knowledge Bomb (check), Music, specifically bass guitar (check), and Hootenannys (check plus). This book is just a bunch of checks and check pluses in my ledger.

9. Paradise, Jill S. Alexander
I'm a big fan of cowboys and I can't wait for YA authors to catch on and make them the new vampires. I certainly would not mind reading about more cowboys like Paradise. He's cocky and attractive and he plays the accordion with swagger. Throw in mom issues, sisterly bonding, unrequited love (just a little bit and from an unlikely and totally awesome source), crop duster planes and a drum kit and I was sold on Paradise.

8. All These Things I've Done, Gabrielle Zevin
This was a slow burn but a long linger. I didn't initially love it like I loved Zevin's first YA novel Elsewhere, but in a year filled with teenage heroine's in a dystopic future (I blame Suzanne Collins 100%) this is the book that kept creeping back into my mind. It's even set in a recognizable world, which I really appreciated. Sure, chocolate being illegal is a bit of a stretch, but the parallels drawn between this future world and the past world of prohibition, gangsters, dames and gritty New York noir places it firmly in the realm of enjoyable escapism.

7. Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have), Sarah Mlynowsi
Is this book pure fluff? YES. Is it a completely unrealistic teenage fantasy? TOTALLY. Is it worth every single second you spend reading it? OH MOST DEFINITELY. And hidden in between the living without parents, hot tub renting, awesome party throwing escapades are some great insights into relationships (between friends, between boys and girls, between parents and children) that I wish I had been privy to at 16. When I was living with my best friend completely unsupervised by adults. That's a lie, I was very supervised.

6. The Probability of Miracles, Wendy Wunder
I'm a crier. This has been known about me since my junior year of high school when I straight up bawled through an amateur production of Children of Eden and terrified the stuffing out of the poor kid I was babysitting. It's not something I'm proud of, or something I like to do too often, so I normally avoid books about things like incurable cancer at all costs. But man am I glad that I picked up this book. I cried, and it was an ugly cry, but I laughed a lot too and I got totally sucked into this story about a Disney hula dancer and her family who escape to a tiny town in Maine as they prepare to say goodbye and learn to let go.

5. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor
This book is going to show up on a lot of other top ten lists and I'm not going to be able to add a lot new to the discussion. Yeah, it's fantastical in the best sense of the word. Yeah, that thing with wishes as beads on a bracelet are cool and yeah, I like the market scenes and all the crazy traders Karou outwits in her dealings. But here's all you really need to know: A street performance with an actual ballerina pretending to be controlled by a giant reverse marionette puppeteer. Never have I wanted to go to art school in Prague so badly.

4. Past Perfect, Leila Sales
Dan Malkin is the single swooniest boy I read about all year.* That alone would have earned Past Perfect a place on my top ten list- swoon is very important to me- but it got there in other ways too. Like with rival historical reenactment villages, the search for ice cream perfection, territory wars and did I mention HISTORICAL REENACTMENT VILLAGES?

3. Five Flavors of Dumb, Antony John
Fine, this one came out in 2010. But LATE 2010. And in the middle of exams. So I couldn't possibly have been expected to read it then. I read it in January. And again in September. And it was just as good the second time around. This book about the deaf manager of a high school rock band reached the finals of Nerds Heart YA and it makes me really want to dive back into the Nirvana (and Jimi Hendrix) catalog. Oh, and learn sign language. Anyone else with me?

There was a pretty big gap for me between my top 2 favorite books of the year and the other 8 I've already talked about. It's not that the first 8 aren't worthy (they made my top ten list and I am very, very picky) but the top two are books I have a feeling I'll be buying soon. And y'all, I work in a library. I do not, as a rule, buy books. Without further ado:

2.The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater
A complete and absolute 100% stand out from 2011. And I don't even care about the horse races. It's a world I want to live in, or at least visit, since I think the people of Thisby would probably chew me up and spit me out. I want to be stoic like Sean, I want to be tough like Puck, I want a love that doesn't need flashy declarations or overwrought pining, just a simple loaf of bread. And I get to have all that when I read and reread and eventually fall asleep with my head on a copy of Scorpio Races.

1. The Piper's Son, Melina Marchetta
I don't know what else to say about this book; it's just so freaking beautiful. I've heard Melina Marchetta is hard to get into (I don't get that personally) but I swear, if you give it 50 pages you'll be in an entirely new world that you'll never want to leave. Luckily, The Piper's Son features characters from two of her other, also amazing books Saving Francescaand Jellicoe Road. So you can keep hanging out with your new friends for a little longer. Froi of the Exiles, the second in Marchetta's fantasy series, is coming out next year and I'm already calling it for my best of 2013 list.

*In an I-actually-want-to-be-the-object-of-his-affection-and-in-his-story kind of way. Sean Kendrick had some intensely swoony moments as well, but man he's dealing with some heavy stuff.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Piper's Son, Melina Marchetta

It's coming up on the end of the year and all over blogland people are putting up Best Of and Top Ten lists. I've submitted my Top Ten YA picks for 2011 over at another blog I contribute to and pretty soon I'll reproduce it here. Yes, I am that lazy. And I'm pretty sure there's zero crossover audience, so deal with it. While I have reviews of some of my Top Ten YA picks up already, written as I read the books (this was a weird year, almost nothing on the front half and completely loaded in the last six months) I won't end up having full length reviews of all of them. But I figured I should at the very least have a review of what is my (spoiler alert) very favorite book of 2011.

It's called The Piper's Sonand it is pure awesome.

The Deal: Tom Mackee's Uncle Joe died in the London subway bombings and it's only now, years after the fact, that his family is beginning to crawl out of their individual grief holes and figure out what the tragedy means to them as a family and to the friends they left behind. For Tom it means coming to terms with breaking the heart of the only girl he's ever loved and trying to make amends with his close friends who he shut out in the aftermath. For his Aunt Georgie, it means finding herself 42, pregnant, and ashamed to be in love with her baby's father. The book alternates between Tom and Georgie's viewpoint as we meet the entire Finch-Mackee family and watch them try to rebuild their family.

What Worked: I can't say everything, can I? Fine. Marchetta writes about grief better than anyone I've ever read. And there is a lot of grief in this book. Georgie's story is rich and deeply realized, giving respect to a character who wouldn't necessarily get respect in another YA novel. She is 40 after all. I love the way Marchetta ties history, both personal and communal, into the story. Every single break through is earned.

What Didn't Work: It's not so much a What Didn't Work as an I Want More, but I would have really liked to know more about Georgie, Dom and Joe's childhood and Georgie's first relationship with Sam.

Anything Extra Special?: YES. So this book follows the same characters as Saving Francesca aka the book that made me a Melina Marchetta fan girl. I missed Jimmy and Siobhan, but I loved catching up with Francesca, Justine, the psycho Tara Finke and of course, Tom. There are also mini appearances by characters from Marchetta's Printz award book Jellicoe Road. Blink and you'll miss them, pick up on it and you'll start praying for a crossover novel.

Would I Read It Again?: I already have.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Twinkle, Twinkle little STAR

We held our last STAR session on Monday. Six sessions of girl alternately not giving a crap and listening really intently and participating. Six sessions of pregnant teenagers eating Cups 'O Noodles and Popcorn for lunch. Six sessions that were designed to be presented with babies in the room that we had to redesign on the fly.

We went out not with a bang but with a whimper. Session 6 is "Print Motivation," or basically "Make Reading Fun" and the ENTIRE session is based around having a baby there to interact with, as opposed to the other sessions where a baby was only necessary for 20%-30% of the activities. So we ran through verse six of Hickory Dickory Dock (even the most jaded girl joined in this time! I think she has a soft spot for Hickory Dickory Dock that I do not share) and I did a super speedy version of "Where's Spot" that did no favors to Eric Hill's great lift-the-flap book. Then we busted out the cupcakes and pomegranate lemonade and asked if anyone had any questions.

They didn't, so we collected our evaluation forms and left.

Overall I was really pleased with the STAR sessions. As previously noted it was a pain in the ass to be working off a script that included small children. And not just because of the time we had to cut, or the missed opportunities to see cute kids (you really can never get enough). People, especially teenagers, are a lot more willing to do silly stuff if a baby is involved. Otherwise it's just a bunch of girls shooting side eyes at each other, or begrudgingly participating, while two overly enthusiastic librarians stand at the front of the room and sing the alphabet song.

It also really, really depended on the day with these girls. And I get it, you're pregnant and in algebra. Your boyfriend isn't helping and when he does, he gets all sorts of praise for just showing up. Praise that nobody would ever think to give to you, with you it's expected. You're sick, you're tired, your body is revolting against you and your diet consists mainly of over-warmed school food. Listening, much less participating, in workshops led by women who don't even have children and who are talking about doing even more work than you're already putting in is not how you want to spend your lunch break. But still, it just takes one girl in a bad mood to turn a good session into a conversation on race.

In between the frustrations, there were some truly great moments and some truly great girls. Sa'nai was there every single session and she paid attention, so much so that she remembered both my first and last names from week to week. She took notes and worried about her diet. She's going to do right by her baby because of all the effort she's putting in now. She's not even showing yet, but she joined the Teen Parenting group the second she found out she was pregnant. Last week the girls really got into dissecting letters into smaller shapes. We talked about recognizing circles and triangles in letters and by the time they got done shouting out suggestions we had erased the white board twice and they were coming up with examples I hadn't thought of. Two girls from the class have made the trip to the library to find either me or the other presenter and another seemed much more interested once we told them that right now you can get all your library fees canceled.

We'll be revisiting this high school and these girls again in the spring with a representative from the organization who granted us the money to put on the workshops. They'll do some interviews and we'll give each girl, some of whom will be new mothers by that point, a big and beautiful copy of a Rosemary Well's Mother Goose book as a baby gift. I for one can't wait to see them in the spring and I hope some come into the library before then.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Story Time Anticipation Models

I made a chart. It's highly scientific. Just look at how well I spaced my x-axis intervals (just typing that made me feel even more scientific).

This is a chart that demonstrates how I feel for the hour before story time. It's a vicious cycle, one I repeat every single Tuesday, Thursday and second Saturday of the month. You'd think I'd have learned by now to just chill out, to trust that just like in a Field of Dreams, I have built something that they will come to. But no, record lev
els of freakage-outage are reported every week.

When looking at this chart, please bear in mind that in a perfect world story time starts promptly at 10:30.

And as an added bonus, here's a new feature I like to call Badass Library Find of the Week in which we'll examine some of the particular gems that my branch has to offer the children of this fine city.

This week's Badass Library Find of the Week is holiday themed and it goes to:

Parents are asking for Christmas music these days, they want it all. Still, I saw three separate moms pick up and then put back down the 2007 classic Yo Yo Yo Kids: Yo, It's Christmas CD. When the room cleared out after story time, I put it on the CD player just to see what was up. It was worse than expected. The sticker on the back has a total of two check out stamps and it's easy to see why.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder

Yes, that's actually her name. It says so on her page. And the fact that she spells it out so clearly is one of the reason I'm so into this new author: She knows what you're going to ask and she tells you with as little fanfare and as much snark as possible.

Full disclosure: 2 days before I started reading The Probability of Miracles I saw a Polynesian dancer perform and visions of hula dancing were stuck in my head. So I may have been predisposed to like The Probability of Miracles even though it centers around one of my plot-points-I-normally-avoid: Incurable cancer.

The Deal: Cam is sick, sick, sick. She's spent the last seven years in and out of hospitals and experimental treatments and she's knows she doesn't have a lot of time left. She doesn't really have a plan for the summer and she doesn't expect to be around for the fall. Still, the last thing she really wants to do is pick up and move with her mother and sister to a tiny town 15,000 miles away from everything she's ever known in Florida just because the name of the town is Promise and miracles are said to happen there. But it's Promise, Maine and all the crazy, wonderful and even miraculous things that happen there that give Cam and her family an opportunity to deal with the awful fact that she doesn't have much time left.

What Worked: Man, I cried like a baby. Cam is a strong lead character who deals with her sickness in an imperfect but totally believable way. This book is really all about relationships and first time author Wendy Wunder draws them so, so well.

What Didn't Work: I wasn't as crazy about everything that happened in Promise. And ohmygoodness so much stuff happened. There were flamingos and unicorns and snow in July. Zip lines, bucket lists and surprise trips to Disney World. Wunder packs so much action into a story that would be just as, if not more, effective as a more slowly paced reflection on coming to terms with the unimaginable.

Anything Extra Special?: Cam grew up in Disney World! Like in, in Disney World. Her classmates are all auditioning to be Cinderella and Snow White for their summer jobs and she's been a hula dancer with the Polynesian hotel dinner experience for a few years. She's so awesome. And sassy. Y'all know how much I love the sass.

Would I Read It Again?: I'll definitely be picking it up again when I need a good cry.

The Probability of Miracles comes out TOMORROW! I received an advance copy courtesy of the publisher and did not receive any sort of compensation for the review.