“What’s this? People throwing brightly colored balls at each other?”
“What’s this? Ammunition?”
I am going on an imaginary shopping spree and imaginary-buying myself the following things with imaginary money. Such fun!
Although, I want them all to wear to work. So maybe they would be a tax exemption? Haha!
I can see it now. The friendly middle school librarian rocking her hyperbole t-shirt (also comes in plot, doppelganger, and bildungsroman; the latter is probably the one I ought to have, being a youth librarian, but I just liked this design) with a date stamp fleece over it, accessorized with library card socks, bag, and coin purse. (That’s a wonderfully big tote bag, by the way. Would hold a great many books and back issues of School Library Journal.)
And of course, H needs this Little Prince t-shirt, don’t you think?
And I can polish it off with my book-lover necklace that Meredith got me, or maybe switch it up with this beautiful fairy tale necklace.
I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what books to add to our library’s collection. There’s quite a bit to consider, actually. Informational texts that support the curriculum and standards. Replacing outdated stuff and filling in holes. Fulfilling student and staff requests. Getting the latest installments in popular series. Award-winners, notable books, things the kids really ought to read but probably won’t, things the kids are dying to read but arguably aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
This involves reading: publications like School Library Journal, review websites, publishers’ catalogs, authors’ social media outlets, even stuff like Entertainment Weekly. It involves chatting with teachers, kids, parents, fellow librarians, and other members of the Tribe of Avid YA Readers to find out what they and their kids/friends are loving.
But the best way to find good new stuff, as far as I can tell, is to actually get into the trenches and spend a few quality hours in a bookstore. This is especially true of books that are going to fit into my “guilty pleasure” category: books that will fly off the shelves, that aren’t going to win any awards or teach any Valuable Life Skills, but that will be falling apart from the sheer force of frequent circulation by the end of the year. It’s your Minecraft novelizations, your Ever After High, your Adventure Time graphic novels and variations on the “1,000 gross things you didn’t know about _______” theme. They’re not going to show up on any of the websites or magazines, but they’re must-have items in a middle school library.
Today, while on a quest for junior adaptations of high-difficulty classic novels, I took a break to browse the new middle-grade fiction and found something that immediately caught my eye. Before I even opened the front cover, I knew it had to go on my wish list. Behold:
It was a perfect cream puff. Very popular movie/comic book tie-in. Library-bound so it’s durable and easy to process. Just under 200 pages, in a friendly font that would make it accessible for all but our weakest readers. Marketed for third through seventh grades, ages 8-12. Right around $10, not counting my educational discount. Perfect, perfect, perfect.
Ah, I thought. Where there’s Hulk, there might be….
Sure enough, a little ways down I found Hulk’s not-quite-as-puny-god friend:
Excited, I wrote down both ISBNs for future purchase consideration and returned to my intended business. About an hour later, parsing the differences between illustrated adaptations of Great Expectations began to get to me, so I took another walk. And I found the other half of the series:
Dear reader, I am incensed.
Let me show you something else. I just Google Image Searched “Avengers t-shirt kids.” Here’s a screen shot of the top page of results. Click it to see it a little bigger and see if you don’t see what I don’t see.
Let’s make it a little more obvious, shall we?
Here, what about toys?
Hmm. Funny, but I seem to remember that there was a woman in the Avenger movies. Well, more than one, obviously — Pepper Potts, Peggy Carter, and Maria Hill are all important elements of the films as well — but there’s an actual member of the Avenger team who happens to be female and who also conveniently vanishes when it’s time to print a t-shirt (or, apparently, write a junior novelization).
I’m not the only person to notice this trend. Take a peek at …But Not Black Widow, which points out that Guardians of the Galaxy merchandise is also conspicuously missing one green-hued heroine. The Geekquality blog, with its byline that “all geeks are created equal,” saw it at Target. Mommyish found the gaping absence running rampant throughout the wide world of Disney paraphernalia. There are lots of websites, lots of blogs, wondering the same thing I’m wondering, but what you really need to read is this article from Business Insider. It’s talking specifically about Gamora but I guess it answers the mystery of the missing Black Widow, too. For those of you who don’t have the time to read the article, I’ll grab the important bit:
Ah, I see. Superhero stuff is for boys, and it would make their little boy parts shrivel up and fall off if they wore a shirt with a female superhero on it or had a female superhero among their action figures.
Come on, guys. We’re officially firmly in the land of Joss Whedon here. Surely we can do better than this?
(I’m not even going to get into the whole “sexist girl’s Avengers shirt” thing. It’s similarly fantastic.)
I’m sorry, but Black Widow kicks ass, and it’s not only girls who think so. She’s a fascinating character with her uncertain alliances, believable vulnerabilities, and refusal to fall into the obvious romantic story lines. She’s witty, assertive, and possesses more common sense at times than the rest of the crew put together. I want to know more about her. I want to read her library-bound middle-grade origin story. I want to wear a shirt with Black Widow on it, and not in some ridiculous “check out my butt” pose. (Iron Man and the other guys — hey, I’m permitted my biases — kick ass too. I’d also like to read their origin stories. And I do wear shirts with them on them.)
In the defense of author Alex Irvine and his publisher, he does say that these are the “first four” in the series. But why are they separated off like this? Why not release the whole gang at once? Why put Black Widow on the B-side? And frankly, he hasn’t said yet what, if any, the subsequent books will be. I’m not going to be even a little surprised if Loki and Nick Fury get books before Natasha. Or maybe BW doesn’t even get her own book — maybe this “ensemble cast” book, scheduled to come out in March, is all she gets.
I just don’t get it. I don’t believe that boys really won’t want something that includes the whole team. And frankly, if that is the case, isn’t that something we should be pushing back against instead of enabling? I bet you that if their only choice was “Avengers shirt including Black Widow” (or “Guardians shirt including Gamora”) or no Avengers shirt at all, that they wouldn’t hesitate. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the “boys don’t want girls on their shirts” thing is an invention of adults who grew up in a different era.
I’ve got over a thousand kids who use my library, about half of whom are boys. I’ve got a lot of kids of both genders who love Marvel superheroes. I know a cream puff when I see it; these Avengers books are going to be wildly popular. And when — if — a Black Widow title is released, it’s going to be just as popular. Why? Because my kids recognize and respect fun characters who kick ass and would probably have all kinds of choice words to say if I suggested that they couldn’t read about a female superhero just because she’s a girl.
Tonight, my baby boy is getting sleepy and fighting a runny nose, and as a result running at about half speed — maybe slower. He’s just bleary, you know? I was sitting in a chair and he was at my knee, so I picked him up for a snuggle. I expected him to grab my necklace — he’s a big fun of chain necklaces right now — but instead he kind of cocked his head, blinked at something just past my ear, and then reached up and touched my hair.
He ran his fingers through it, pulling them away from my head so that my hair strung out like coppery spiderwebs at Pippi Longstocking angles. As he moved the hair slipped from his fingers and he watched, enchanted, as it fall into new patterns. Then he reached for more, gently — oh so gently — tugging it different directions, feeling it run between his fingers, watching some strands fall quickly and others, charged with static, defy gravity.
Again, and again. Not hurting me, not even looking at me, just mesmerized by the sensation of running his fingers through his mama’s hair.
It’s not an easy time with him right now. He is twenty months old and if, I’m being completely honest with myself, really doesn’t have any words at all. Sometimes he’ll say “num” for food, and he says “no” a lot — to the point where it has become meaningless, just another of his many unintelligible sound effects. He doesn’t follow directions. He doesn’t point or give kisses. He used to wave but that’s dropped off badly in the past couple of weeks. He doesn’t hug; he does a “grab you around the knees” if he wants to be picked up, and when you’ve just walked in to the house that can feel like a hug, but it isn’t. Unless we’re playing a chasey game, he doesn’t really play with us or interact with us, and gets frustrated with us if we try to make him.
He can talk; the list of letter sounds and syllables that he regularly makes far exceeds those on the speech table for those commonly made by 2-year-olds. He can point and wave and hug. He just… doesn’t.
He climbs like a kid twice his age, plays with fairly complicated toys, dances to music, and has just triumphantly learned how to use a straw. He laughs and smiles and makes eye contact and is appropriately shy-and-then-flirty with strangers. He is the most beautiful little boy I’ve ever seen. When he plays piano — either reaching up to the real thing, or sitting down Schroeder-like at his Melissa & Doug upright — his noodling sounds increasingly deliberate and melodic.
I wouldn’t trade a thing. But what I wouldn’t give to sit down next to him and have him smile and say, “Hi mama.” What I wouldn’t give to have him point for something he wants instead of just angrily groping for it. What I wouldn’t give for him to want to communicate with me. My emotional strength is strained badly, between different facets of my life, and most days I’m not strong enough not to feel like I am failing at everything. I get a gold medal in loving my boy, but raising him? Teaching him? Failure.
We’ve had two evaluations with the Infant & Toddler program now. He’s qualified for speech therapy; he’s behind in three different types of speech, although the only one whose name I remember right now is reactive. Maybe adaptive? And… whatever they call it when you’re talking without prompting/reacting. We were supposed to have appointments every two weeks starting in the new year but we haven’t been contacted by our provider yet, and work has been so hard this month that we haven’t remembered to call until after their offices have closed for the day. And so it’s a cycle: Tell him good-bye, go to work and get caught up in the whirling maelstrom that is life in a middle school, get home, remember that something isn’t right, reach for the phone only to see the time, and then spend all evening irritated that I forgot to call (and that they fell down on their commitment to call themselves).
Except this evening, I’m not irritated. My baby is sitting in my lap, adjusting his seat for a better angle, facing me with a rapt look on his face. He’s got a fistful of hair in each hand and is gently, so gently, pulling them until I’ve got enormous wispy wings unfurled on each side of my face. He pulls the hair forward, curtaining my eyes. He grabs more hair before the first handful slips away and shakes his hand free of the resulting loose snarls.
From this angle, his face looks thinner, older. Every few minutes I catch a breathtaking glimpse of what he’ll look like when he’s old enough to be one of my students. He is breathing through his mouth because of the stuffy nose, and making soft little puffing sounds with his rosebud lips. His eyes are pink-rimmed but so bright. His nose, his chin — God, how I love that chin. I steal kisses from his cheeks when he turns his head to consider which lock of hair to seize next. He is mesmerized. I am bewitched. We could both sit here for hours.
I duck my head a little so that I’m in his line of sight, say his name, and am rewarded with a moment of distracted eye contact. He’s in the middle of playing with his new favorite toy, but he pauses to look at me with a look on his face that I crave like the cliched drowning man craves oxygen. It looks like love. It looks like he loves me.
I’ve been having a hard time keeping up with blogging lately, but it wouldn’t be the new year without my annual stats-about-books post! As I said two years ago,
I keep track because I enjoy making lists and graphs, and because it gives me something nerdy to do every New Year’s Eve. Sort of a tradition, I guess. What I’m trying to say is, I’m not really competing with anyone, even myself — I just find it interesting to see what my reading does, and I like aiming for goals, especially when it comes to reading. This is kind of like the grown-up version of libraries’ summer reading programs for kids, only instead of earning prizes I earn… er… graphs!
(In honor of all of the
thousands hundreds dozens absolutely zero readers who enjoy these posts, I thought I’d link to previous years. Sate yourself on 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010. I also keep a complete list of all books read since I started keeping track here.)
As usual, I’ve only counted books that I completed — well, there are a couple of books in here that I almost completed, but they were nonfiction books with a chapter or two that I skipped due to irrelevance. I count picture books if they have plot, but they only count once, and a lot of times I forget to record them so that’s an inexact statistic.
So with no further ado: the 2014 book post!
Looking back at the books I read in 2014, I see some trends or themes emerge.
First, I returned to some friendly author-voices. I had paused in reading The Hollows series by Kim Harrison, and in the second half of this year I got caught up with all but the final book in the series. I also found another series by Elizabeth Moon and enjoyed them as well. I spent some time with guilty-pleasures Laurell Hamilton and J.R. Ward, too.
Second, there’s a fair amount of YA in there — shock and surprise, coming from a middle school librarian — including some series that I really liked (Jennifer Nielsen’s Ascendance trilogy, Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, the beginning of Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series, the continuance of Kiera Cass’s Selection series), some graphic novels, and some “older kid” picture books.
If I disregard series, my Best of 2014 were probably Styxx by Sherrilyn Kenyon (yes, technically part of a series, but works as a standalone), The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
Something for everyone there: award-winning historical fiction, magic realism, R-rated paranormal fantasy, and a picture book.
In 2014, I read a grand total of 100 books (and to quote last year’s post, “not including unfinished books, plotless picture books, and a ridiculous amount of non-book online reading because let’s face it, an iPhone is easier to read than a novel when you’re
nursing wrangling a toddler”). For the first time in a while, January wasn’t my best month; I read the most pages in June, which makes a heck of a lot more sense, really. I had a serious dip in the fall, which coincides with the start of school and a lot more stress than usual due to training a new staff (and, as previously stated, wrangling a toddler).
After skipping the genre breakdown last year because it was such a pain in the butt, I decided to beef up my Excel spreadsheet. Now it all but does the breakdown for me. Each book that I read could be categorized in up to three genres, allowing for a more accurate portrayal of what sort of things I was actually reading.
Yay pie charts!
Lots of kid stuff (picture books and MG/YA), lots of fantasy — especially when you consider I usually tried not to categorize a book as both fantasy and urban fantasy.
And because I really love my charts and graphs and data and other such nonsense, here is FIVE years of data for your viewing pleasure. I can tell how titillated you are from here.
In those last two — the line charts — 2014 is the blue line, so you can see that I ended up pretty much right in the middle. 2011 was a big year for reading but then again, 2011 was a long time before I had kids or a new line of work!
So what’s next? I have just picked up Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams, which is a nonfiction book relating his efforts to build a simple reading and writing hut on his property. This is a major daydream of mine, and he has a pretty accessible reading style, so even though I’m usually a lightweight fantasy reader in the darker months I think I’m going to enjoy this. I also want to read two of the books my book club recently read (I’m on a book club hiatus): Eli Brown’s Cinnamon and Gunpowder and Graeme Simison’s The Rosie Project. Graeme is an awfully cool way to spell Graham. Apparently he’s a kiwi. Might explain it. (Shoot — is it okay to call people from New Zealand kiwis? That’s not derogative, is it?) I want to read John Scalzi’s Lock In but may want to save it for my Triumphant Return to book club. I also am looking forward to reading the next book in a few different series: The Witch with No Name (last book in The Hollows), Skin Game (book 15 in The Dresden Files) and Immortal (book 6 in the Fallen Angels series). I’d also like to read some of the books I nibbled at or sniffed around last year, like Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, 11/22/63, The Book of Deadly Animals, and Behind the Beautiful Forevers (another potential book club pick).
And there are many, many more — especially the not-yet-published new additions to Kiera Cass’s and Sarah Maas’s series.
I initially set a goal of 52 books for 2013 and ended up surpassing it in May, then reset to 100 and almost didn’t make it in time. (I finished book #100 with only seven minutes to spare in 2014, and had to include two books that I only read because my homework forced me to read them!) I think I’m going to split the difference for this year and set a goal of 75 books. I can always add to it if things go well, right? :) If you like books and stats well enough to have read this far, then you should definitely do the Goodreads challenge with me.
I picked up Shelley Tanaka’s Mummies: The Newest, Coolest & Creepiest from Around the World because it was featured on a “spooky book” shelf and because it looked like a fun, quick read. I wasn’t expecting to get completely wrapped up (ha ha) in it, much less to be murmuring “Wow!” every time I turned a page.
Published in 2005, Mummies is a 48-page illustrated nonfiction book at an 8.2 grade level. It meets the reader right where we’d all start when opening such a book: “Mummies… Right away we think of the ancient Egyptians.” Tanaka immediately pivots, explaining the broader definition of mummies and sending us around the world from Egypt to Chile, where the earliest mummies were found.
This is a book about death and corpses, and it neither sensationalizes nor flinches away from this. In a straightforward manner that will appeal to any reader (but probably especially young guys) Tanaka explains how ancient Chinchorro people skinned and dismembered their dead before reconstructing the bodies with the aid of sticks, fur, feathers, and clay.
She explains how the Inca performed human sacrifice by immobilizing/killing and leaving their “most beautiful and healthy children” in mountaintop tombs, where they were frozen and preserved so perfectly that their blood — even their eyelashes! — are still in place centuries later.
Readers learn about peat bog mummies in Ireland, the Iceman of northern Italy, medieval mummies as far north as the Arctic Circle, 4,000-year-old mummies preserved by heat and sand in a Chinese desert, and of course the famous Egyptian mummies.
Tanaka also brings mummification into the contemporary world by telling about researchers who reproduced the Egyptian techniques on a man who left his remains to science, and about Buddhist monks who mummify themselves before dying! She also talks about famous political mummies Lenin, Mao, and Peron, and about the plastinated mummies currently touring the country with exhibitions like Body World and Bodies: The Exhibition.
Mummies is full of glossy, full-color pictures of mummies, coffins, artifacts, and corpses — including an actual-size photo of the shockingly well-preserved face of an eight-year-old girl, and a far number of skeletal remains. Somehow they didn’t strike me as especially disturbing or disgusting, although I’m sure the majority of adolescent readers will be delightedly grossed out. And if they’re anything like me, they’ll find themselves intrigued, wanting to learn more about non-Egyptian mummies, making surprising connections to history and cultural geography, and probably passing the book around to all of their buddies. I read several sections out loud to my husband and son* and can’t wait to feature this book more prominently in our library collection.
* My son (who at seventeen months old has relatively little prior knowledge of mummies) leaned forward and kissed the picture of an ancient bust of Tutankhamun seen above, then stole the book from me and spent several minutes intently flipping through the pages of desiccated ancient corpses. As recommendations go, that seems like a pretty solid one.