In Which I Feel Something Needs to be Avenged

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 Replacing outdated stuff and filling in holes.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:

hulk

 

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:

thor

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:

iron man

 

and

9780316383523

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.

ss

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:

tcp

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.

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2014 in Books

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!

2014 Book Collage

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.

best2014

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).

Books_Read_in_2014

Pages_Read_in_2014

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!

Genres_in_2014

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.

Books_Read_2010-2014 Pages_Read_2010-2014

Books_Read_By_Month Pages_Read_By_Month

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.

ontrack

What did you read this year? Any great recommendations? What’s on your to-read list? I’d love to know!
completed2011 completed2012 completed2013 completed-6b630d7e0aec7a2dd83b309f0257d8ef

Review: Copper by Kazu Kibuishi

In our middle school library, which is heavily frequented by boys, there are a few authors whose books never seem to touch the shelves before being checked out again. Chief among them are graphic novelists Jeff Smith (the Bone series), Doug TenNapel (Cardboard, Bad Island), and Kazu Kibuishi (the Amulet series).

I’m always hoping these guys will release another dang book — so when I realized that I’d somehow missed Kibuishi’s 2010 collection of his webcomic Copper, published by Scholastic, I ordered it right away.

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this slim volume with a cute boy and his neurotic-looking but equally cute dog on the cover. What I got was a fantastic collection of short stories and one-page vignettes that demanded more time to read than I’d planned.

Copper is a boy — or is he a man, rendered small to reflect his childlike spirit? — whose sole companion is his dog, Fred. Copper is brave in a a reckless sort of way, and he is also recklessly optimistic. He wants to believe that crazy things are possible. Fred is cautious, worried, and battling an existential crisis. Copper wants to go check things out, and Fred wants to wait and see. The bright-eyed boy tends to get his way, and the result is a quiltwork of adventure and misadventure, both real and imagined.

I tried to read it as a kid and found myself thinking about Calvin and Hobbes, especially in the scenes where Copper and Fred dream themselves into wild escapades. (They seem to have plenty of wild waking adventures as well, and I spent a good portion of this book wondering what was real and what was dream.) If I follow that line of thought, Copper is a grown-up Calvin who has absorbed the best of his tiger friend’s philosophical maturity… and Fred is Hobbes crossed with a healthy dose of Eeyore.

Reading it as an adult, I was drawn in by the surprising depth of emotion captured in the short pieces. Copper often seems chipper and carefree, but his dreams are haunted by a sad girl trapped in a bubble, and his nights and days are painted over a backdrop of loneliness and a yearning for something more. Fred, meanwhile, is wrestling with his sense of his own mortality and his fears that no one cares enough to even notice him. Is Copper’s audacity really a frantic attempt to get to an adult life he fears he’ll never have? Is Fred’s reticence really a half-conscious attempt to slow the march of time? A better mainstream cartoon for comparison might be Family Guy, with its moral underpinning in the forms of canine Brian Griffin.

What you’re wondering is, is this book right for middle school guys (or high school guys, or….)? I submit that the answer is yes. It isn’t necessarily written “for” my rampaging hoards of eleven-year-old boys, but they’ll pick it up and they’ll read it. They won’t understand all of it — they’ll possibly miss the deep stuff entirely as they rush to soak in the gorgeous imagery and daring exploits. But I think seeds will be planted, and if they return to Copper as an older teen, as a man, as fathers — why, I think they’ll find that it’s a pretty dang literary work of sequential art.

(Speaking of art: hands-on types will love Kibuishi’s “behind the scenes” section at the end of the book. It was accessible, entertaining, and illuminating — a great resource for the budding graphic artist.)

Review cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.

Building a Better Yearbook

Last year I took over as the yearbook advisor (adviser? This is one of these words whose ambiguous spelling haunts me) for our middle school.

I love graphic design and bookmaking and yearbooks. I do. And I was once the editor of our school yearbook — our middle school yearbook, when I was in eighth grade. (I started to do yearbook in high school, but the story of that disaster is a whole blog post unto itself.) So sure. Definitely qualified.

Well… let’s just say that we ended the year with a yearbook. And honestly, it’s not bad. Some people even thought it was good. I love the cover art, I love that there are few enough mistakes that no one has brought any to my attention yet (I’m not so crazy as to assume there really aren’t any), and I love that we got it done on deadline.

But there are so, SO many things that I would have done differently. Fortunately I get that chance this year. Some of my thoughts as I forge ahead:

  1. I still am not sure what to do about my staff, but at least I have my applications in hand. I have too many good 8th graders applying and too few good 7th graders, too many girls and too few boys. I can take them all and have an enormous staff; I can cut some excellent applicants in favor of a smaller, more manageable group. I haven’t decided and I’ve had months to do so. Sigh.
  2. I’m not going to ask the staff about the theme. I know what our theme is going to be, I know approximately what the yearbook is going to look like, and I’m not interested in reopening a yearlong debate with fourteen-year-old girls. They’ll still have creative control of their own pages, within reason, but I’m seizing creative control of the cover, dividers, etc.. Someone may complain now, but they’ll thank me in May.
  3. REALLY hoping I can have my yearbook staff at least 1-2 times a week during Advisory… please oh please… will make such a big difference in terms of communication and organization.
  4. I want to highlight some of the previously overlooked groups and activities in the school. There’s a lot going on that gets skipped in the yearbook due to other, “bigger” organizations and lack of pages. But I think I can address that this year.
  5. I need to figure out how to teach rudimentary design to really young designers — specifically the idea of working off a grid instead of plopping down pictures willy-nilly. Last year, I was really in the “let’s just get it done” frame of mind. This year, I want to get it done well. I want them to have learned something by the time they finish it. I want them to have designed something that they’ll be proud of when they graduate high school.
  6. Definitely going to be more conscious of and deliberate about photography. I’m going to do some direct instruction on photography, and now that I’ve unraveled the mystery of the yearbook cameras we’ll have much better equipment. Last year’s photography was a fiasco. This year, I’m going to be proactive and protective.

Speaking of photography! We have one big D-SLR with some good lenses that will probably rarely be in anyone’s hands but my own. Then we have a set of Nikon CoolPix cameras that are sturdy and surprisingly good. I found the Nikon interface a little confusing, so I took the newest one with me on a family vacation to master it before trying to teach its use to students. I’ll tell you what; for a smaller digital camera without the ability to swap out lenses, the CoolPix was pretty impressive! I loved playing with the epic (yes, epic) zoom capabilities; when other people reached for binoculars to spy on distant sea lions, I grabbed my camera instead.

Here’s an example. Check out this sunset photograph I took on August 7 in Bandon, Oregon:

ship1

You may not realize it, but there’s a boat in that picture. Here, I’ll circle it for you:

ship2

See it yet? You can click on the photograph to enlarge it, if that will help.

Anyone who has ever tried to photograph the moon knows that objects appear much smaller through a camera lens. I could see that boat with the naked eye, but it certainly wasn’t clear — just an obviously manmade object, moving slowly along the horizon. I decided to use my camera to get a closer look.

ship3

From this vantage, I had about as much detail of the boat in my camera as I did with just my eyes. So I zoomed in closer. (By the way, none of these pictures are cropped or zoomed in after I took them. They are original files straight from the camera.)

ship4

I love this picture, but I knew I could see more because I hadn’t even started to play with digital telephoto yet.

I kept zooming and got this:

ship5

Look at the detail, kids. Look at that. Just look at it. Wow.

And the thing is, I think I could have zoomed in until I saw the people on the boat, if I’d had a tripod. The problem with super duper zoom is that you can’t keep the subject in your viewfinder without steadying the camera, and in this case I had the added problem of a drifting subject. This is one of several different shots I took, each with the boat careening out of view, except this one.

So yeah. I’m pretty happy with these cameras. I think we can do some really good work with them this year. I’m especially looking forward to some good sports and performing arts photography.

And no, Nikon didn’t tell me to write this. But if someone from Nikon reads this and wants to adopt my yearbook staff and give us new gear, I’d be delighted to review it. 😉

Anyway, wish me luck with my yearbook staff and with doing a good job with yearbook on top of my other responsibilities. This is my year when I’m going to kick things up a notch, or at least when I’m going to try. Lots of ideas, lots of blank slates…. whee!

 

Review: The Ascendance Trilogy

[Cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire]

I want to tell you a story.

There’s a sixth grader who frequents my school library (I’ll call him Tim), checking out an astonishing number of books every day. In fact, in the past eight months, he’d checked out well over 200 books — but every one of them was a graphic novel. Nothing wrong with that, but I occasionally wondered what it would take to get him to make the jump from visual to verbal narrative.

And then, in fourth quarter, he checked out The False Prince, the first book in the Ascendance trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen.

A few days later Tim was practically jumping up and down at the circulation desk. “This book is SO COOL! The author, like, doesn’t ever even let you know what’s going on! I was completely tricked!” I can’t continue quoting him without printing spoilers, but his excitement over this novel (completely devoid of illustrations though it was) was extraordinary — and he desperately, desperately wanted the second book.

Yesterday, when I asked him to pick out his favorite library books, he walked right past the graphic novel section and picked up the Ascendance trilogy. I don’t think I have to tell any of GLW’s readers what that felt like to me.

Tim’s love for these books is far from unique at our school. We brought in several copies of all three books in anticipation of the author visiting, and it quickly gained fans of every age, reading level, and gender — including among the staff. As a school librarian I read a lot of YA books. Admittedly, sometimes reading some of these books feels more like work than pleasure. Reading the Ascendance trilogy, in contrast, was a very different and enjoyable experience. I found myself waiting for the next book in the installment every bit as eagerly as the kids.

I won’t go into a whole lot of detail about the first book, as it has been reviewed here by other readers before (last August and this April) but I will say this: if you’re looking for a swashbuckling adventure story with a great balance of darkness and amusing moments, just a sprinkling of romance (not enough to make it mushy, but enough to keep it interesting), pirates, double-crosses, battles, clever capers, and a resolution that is neither too neat nor unsettling, then here you go. It’s a series that I’d feel comfortable recommending to both fifth graders and ninth graders, and although the main character and most of the supporting cast are male, the strong female characters and great storytelling make it universally appealing.

And of course, my reading experience was complemented by the awesome experience of getting to meet the author. I’ve always said that books have two creators — the author and the reader — but this has been my first chance to speak in person with that original creator. I look forward to sharing some of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s thoughts from my interview tomorrow!

NOTE: Interview with the author is here. Go read to learn more about her writing process, potential False Prince movie news, and more!

Reading Update #15

SGF Reading

Reading Update: Today is Wednesday, April 16. As of late tonight, I have read 36 books this year. Two of them were picture books (Mouse Paint and Grover’s First Day of School). The third was Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Styxx, a 1008-page behemoth that took me a couple of weeks to polish off. And the fourth was Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince.

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(Notice any trends in cover design?)

Okay, so Styxx was not an easy book to read. I mean, it was profoundly easy to read, because Kenyon’s a good writer (with caveats to be explained shortly) and I like her voice/style. But it was so brutal. I mentioned some of that last week. And I mean, yes. Obviously reading an account of the life of someone sold into sexual slavery, or of someone who suffers physical and emotional abuse, is going to be rough. But for me, what was really wrenching was how Styxx was so helpless in the face of all this evil that was done to him — by the gods, especially, but also his family. And let’s just put that out here: Betrayal is waaaay up there at the top of my List of Things that Upset Me, and what greater betrayal is there than a family that rejects you for something outside of your control? Even though I knew how this book would end (trust me, once you’ve read a couple Kenyon books, you know how they all end, which is actually a rather lovely and restful thing) my heart just kept breaking for this guy. And that’s the genius of Styxx, because before this book, the rest of the series had trained me to despise him. Well done, Sherrilyn. I really applaud her research and the fact that she refuses to let her series be just paranormal fantasy, or just romance — it’s complex, and thoughtful, and multidimensional. She resists absolutes in a genre that too often embraces them.

I’m going to keep going; I figure if a book’s page count breaks into four digits I can take some more time writing about it, right?

Like AcheronStyxx is really two novels in one. The first 3/4 of the book is a, if you’ll excuse the subgenrefication, historical fantasy. Kenyon paints a vivid picture of a super-ancient Greece, before the fall of Atlantis, and sets it as the stage for a massive mythological melodrama. The gods meddle, the humans react, and innocent lives are caught and buffeted in between. This part of the book is very R-rated, but it in no way qualifies as a romance novel (differing from the bulk of Kenyon’s writing, which are solidly in the romance category although heavily influenced by urban fantasy). Again, like the first portion of Acheron, this part of Styxx is very well written and I found myself completely immersed in the story.

The last part of the book fast-forwards to the early 2000s and the modern-day issues facing the surviving gods, demigods, and other characters. It’s more in the fantasy/action genre, and if you ask me it seems clear that it was written much more quickly and with less love and attention than the rest of the book. We get repeated exposition, clunky dialogue, dropped threads of subplot, and other little messy things that are distracting after the tightly woven fabric of the ancient Greece part of the story. Plus, it’s a rehash — from a different perspective — of events I’d already read in other books from the series, so there was a pervading sense of déjà vu.

It kind of bothered me to have my loyalties shaken up (I’ve been a big Acheron fan, but now? His twin seems the better man, and I’m not entirely sure what to do with that! #bookwormproblems) and I’m still a little confused as to what, exactly, was going on in all the times when Styxx and Acheron had their memories messed with, but this was a good solid 4.5 stars for me. I wouldn’t recommend it to the general public, but if you’ve been a Dark-Hunter series reader, you absolutely have to drop everything and read Styxx now.

Hey, there was another book I read, too. I read The False Prince, the first book in a middle-level/early YA trilogy, because its author, Jennifer A. Nielsen, is coming to my school for an author visit next Thursday. I’m going to try to read all of her books before she comes, if I can pry them out of the hands of our students (ha ha). They’re all pretty quick reads. The False Prince was an action-adventure fairy tale about a bunch of orphans (sorta) sucked into a plot to overthrow (sorta) the kingdom. For most of the book I felt like it was a bit too simple for my tastes, but I kept reminding myself that I was reading a book written for twelve-year-olds. Then as all the loose ends began to knit together, I realized that this was a more sophisticated story than I’d assumed. I mean, I’m an accomplished reader. I knew exactly what was going on with this novel long before it told us. But I still appreciated the cleverness and am excited to see what happens in the other two books.

Currently Reading/Looking Ahead: I just finished The False Prince and haven’t started anything new yet. However, the copy of Nielsen’s Elliot and the Goblin War (the first in a trilogy written for upper elementary/lower middle) that I had on hold just came in, so I’ll probably read it this afternoon. I have several adult books waiting in the wings, starting with Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts, but I’m going to try to finish both Nielsen trilogies first in advance of the author visit. I’m trying to land an interview with her, and I feel like I ought to be familiar with her books first. Of course, my brain is now in paranormal romance/urban fantasy mode, thanks to Styxx, so I may succumb to that temptation if a book presents itself at a vulnerable moment.

Yearbook 2013-14: Mischief Managed

 

 

 

As of about 4 PM on April 1, the 2013-14 yearbook was complete and sent to the printers.

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Custom cover art by Meredith Fern Messinger:

cover

 

Spreads by a staff of fifteen, plus Ryan and myself:

yearbook thumbnails

 

At the very last minute, I discovered extra space in the 8th grade section, so I ran a report of 8th graders who had no candids in the book and went on a mission. I pulled as many of them as possible from class, convinced them to do funny poses, and took their pictures. Then Ryan used his Advanced Photoshop Ninja Skills to cut them out from their backgrounds, and I stayed up until after midnight making the page on the right below. Glad I did. They’re going to like it:

26-27b

This was definitely a “building year” for yearbook, at least for me. I got off to a late start, didn’t do the best possible job acquiring staff, and really did a lot of last-minute learning on the job. Now that it is behind me, and I have some breathing room, I have SO many ideas for the future. And I just found out that we have some money to work with, so I’m excited about updating our equipment and getting some new “toys”. I want to add a signature to our book so we have some room to design instead of just cramming as much as possible into the space we have, and I think we want to buy or build some sort of green screen for cutouts. We need a telephoto zoom, too, for sporting events. I’ve started collecting ideas on a Pinterest board and am going to get all my foundations taken care of this spring, instead of next fall, so that we can hit the ground running and do an amazing job with the 2014-15 book. That said, I’m very pleased with the way this one turned out, all things considered!

2013 in Books

Last year I correctly predicted that 2013 wouldn’t exactly be a banner year in terms of reading, as I would have my hands full of BABY starting in late April (or, as it turned out, early May). Acknowledging that my page counts were going to take a hit, I said,

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!

And despite having my hands full, I managed to meet my (more modest) reading goal and earned myself some graphs! Before we get to all that graphy goodness, though, a few things:

  • I only count books that I completed (and this year was replete with abandoned books, often through no fault of their own)
  • I count picture books if they have something akin to a plot, but am pretty sure I forgot to include a few that I read in the bleary early days of motherhood
  • You can see the complete list of all 2013 books, with links to their Goodreads pages, for a few more days before I archive it
  • You can see a complete list of all books read since I started keeping track, which will include 2013’s books by the end of the day, any time you’d like

Okay, with no further ado… my 2013 reading review!

2013 in books

This year’s reading was inspired by different aspects of my life. I read some birth/parenting books, although fewer than one might expect, some books motivated by my work as a high school English teacher, and some books motivated by my new work as a middle school librarian. I read seven books for book club (would have been more, but I’d already read some of them): Girl in Translation, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Bossypants, Jacob Have I Loved, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I read some books to and for my kidlet, several for the fun of it, and a couple out of stubbornness.

I think the best books I read this year were The Ocean at the End of the Lane and The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. They head up a short list of favorites:

2013 favorites

In 2013, I read a grand total of 68 books (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). While a significant drop from my 2012 reading, this does beat my goal of 52 books, so there’s that.

As usual, my reading peaked in January. I hit an unsurprising low in May, while trying to figure out if I would ever read again now that I had something so much more interesting to look at, but then started reading again that summer and had some healthy numbers boosted by some fun series (including a re-read of the Bio of a Space Tyrant series, which was cool to reexamine as an adult reader). Then I started a new job/career in September, and hit a remarkable low of only 2 books — one of which was a middle-level graphic novel — in November. Ouch!

2013 books

Page totals weren’t that impressive, either, although this is a reflection of the fact that I have been reading more middle-level books in an attempt to become more familiar with literature appropriate to my new clientele (kiddos in that 10-15 year set).

2013 pages

I decided that I didn’t have the energy to do a full genre breakdown this year (this takes a surprising amount of work) so I just separated them into (adult) fiction, (adult) nonfiction, YA/middle-level, poetry, drama, and picture books. I didn’t separate out graphic novels this time but just lumped them in with the appropriate super-genre. I read a fair amount of science fiction and fantasy this year, which should come as a shock to absolutely no one.

books by type

Here’s the big picture — four years of data, huzzah:

books read 2010-2013 pages read 2010-13

monthly books 4 year monthly pages 4 year

So what’s next for the bibliovore’s table here at DYHJ? I’m about halfway through an urban fantasy/noir/paranormal offering by steampunk queen Cherie Priest and have the sequel waiting in the wings, plus another Priest book in a different series that I’d like to check out. I’ve got the next two books in The Hollows waiting for me; this time of year, I really gravitate toward paranormal romance/urban fantasy. I also have a lot of great YA/middle-level books that I need to read, both for myself and professionally. I probably ought to finish The Dark Tower but it got to a place where I was feeling a little squeamish (the whole impending birth of a baby demon thing) so that may be a few months off. I’m anxious to read The One (Cass), which comes out in May. I received The Night Circus as a gift from my book club friend Hannah, and am excited to read it once I purge this whole “canoodling with the undead” craving I get every midwinter. And of course, there will be many great book club books, random finds, and recommendations that come down the pipe throughout the year.

I’m setting a goal of 52 books again and hope that I’ll need to increase it, but we’ll see!

What did you read and love in 2013? What’s on your to-read list? Will you do the Goodreads challenge? You should!

completed2011 completed2012 completed2013

Herding Cats, With Pencils and Word Processors

Although I’m wise enough to recognize that this is not going to be the year that I write 50,000 words toward a novel’s first draft, I was pretty pleased to once more be behind the wheel of my school’s Young Writers Program for National Novel Writing Month.

progress charts

This is the fifth or sixth year (I forget exactly) that I’ve run the YWP, and I’d had aspirations of simplifying the whole mess and putting more of the responsibility on the shoulders of the participants. In the end, I just can’t let go of the control I like to have over its (relatively) smooth execution, so once again I’m up to my eyeballs in charts, mailers, and milestone prizes. Admittedly, I make this all MUCH harder on myself than strictly necessary. Most YWP advisors are running it for a class, with about 30 participants to keep track of. Each participant earns a sticker for each 10% toward his/her goal, and then you win a button at the end. NaNoWriMo achieved.

But where’s the fun in that? So instead, I aggressively recruit schoolwide, ending up with about 100 participants (my highest was about 130; this year is my smallest group, with just under 90 kids) and set up an elaborate program that keeps them excited about recreational/quasi competitive writing. I invest time and money in extra prizes, and tend to keep the hallways well-worn with encouraging notes. We do t-shirts, an end-of-event party, the whole nine yards.

This year, I’m skipping the after-school write-ins (which involve time, energy, and candy) in lieu of providing ten lunch passes for kids to come in and type after they eat. And I’m cutting back on deliveries by creating a mailbox system, leaving it up to the kids to pick up the majority of their notes and prizes as the month goes on. This is the innovation that excited and terrified me the most, but it seems to be working pretty well. That’s the benefit to doing this out of a library instead of a classroom; I actually have a public space that is accessible to the entire school.

setupI’m SUPER excited about the prizes I have this year. I found a place that makes customized pencils, and a place that makes customized silicone bracelets, very quickly and inexpensively. On top of that, I’ve been collecting leftover buttons from past YWPs for the past few years, and have enough to give them out as milestone prizes this year. I’ll likely wipe out my supply, but I figure if I do a really stellar job with this in 2013, I might be able to parlay that into some additional funding for next year and buy more customized prizes.

prizesOne of the things I really love about this program is how it is accessible and fun and rewarding to pretty much any kid. I’ve got some really brilliant kids involved in this — you’re going to attract GT students with this sort of event — but some of my most excited writers are kids who previously didn’t have a venue to feel successful and included in the school. We’re talking kids with very limited English, or kids in almost entirely special education classes and very low academic ability. Then there’s the “freaks and geeks,” which believe me, I say with the ABSOLUTE highest affection, because they are my tribe. I just love how this event embraces the kids who may not be great students, who certainly aren’t great athletes, and gives them a community and a chance to win just by doing something that they love.

So yeah, I’m going to be a frazzled nutcase this month. But it will be worth it. 🙂

Seven Things About My New Job

This is my first Monday in the library, and the beginning of my third week as a middle school librarian. I’ve had several questions — from my new coworkers as well as from commenters on the DYHJ Facebook page — about how it’s going, so I thought I’d share a little bit about my new job.

1. No one would ever believe how bustling and busy this library is. I’ve never seen anything like it. When they release the barbarian hoards from the cafeteria before school, probably a hundred kids rush into the library, and we’re still checking out books for the “it’s worth it to be tardy if I can get this book” crowd after the first bell rings. That’s small potatoes compared to break, when the library fills wall-to-wall with children. Even with two people manning the circulation desk, we can’t get through the line before break ends. It’s standing room only with kids reading, visiting, playing chess and checkers, or watching other kids playing. Sixth grade lunch passes are the most coveted property on campus. In a normal week there are 40 class periods; we have 39 different classes who come in each week or every other week to check out books, not including classes who will eventually schedule library time for special projects. The library has only been open for book check-out for a week, and we currently have almost 1,700 books in circulation (and a great many items on hold). This library is alive and it’s awesome.

2. Did I mention that the vast majority of our library patrons are boys? Because they are. Our library is stuffed from bell to bell with 11 to 14-year-old boys. How cool is that? And we don’t even let them play computer games!

3. I’m working with special education students for the first time. I know that sounds odd, considering I taught for five years, but as a secondary English teacher I rarely worked with students whose special needs were severe enough to require out-of-mainstream classes. I worked with many students on the autism spectrum — but only very highly functioning kids — and only ever had two with significant cognitive or physical impairment. The students in our special education classes here spend a lot of time in the library, and I’m finding myself very lucky to be getting to know them. We have an entire wall of picture books, and many of these kiddos zero in on them, but others are really fond of the illustrated nonfiction books and will check out volume after volume on their favorite subject (usually animals). I watch their teachers and aides working with them and I still feel astonished at their ability to help, guide, and instruct these students — but as I get to know them, I can understand why a person would love that career!

4. I get to go shopping. For books. With someone else’s money. What a great gig, right? In fact, we had a bit of a windfall this year, which means that I get to really go to town updating our nonfiction section to include CCSS-connected informational texts, and adding the latest and greatest to our fiction and graphic novel sections. I’m about to place a sizeable order, as a matter of fact. The flip side of this coin is that I get to/have to read a lot of middle-level books now, as I need to adjust to and keep up with the current middle level literature. I had some vague idea that I’d be reading as a part of my job, but I’ve yet to see an opportunity to just sit down with a novel while I’m on the clock. So, I’ve always got reading “homework” even when I don’t necessarily want to read something at the PG level… Talk about your problems 😉

5. I’m not 100% certain where I fit in the school. I am paid as a teacher, am certified as a teacher, and even get observed and evaluated like a teacher (although I’ll be darned if I can figure out what criteria will be used for that, given the fact that I have relatively little organized student contact). On the emergency phone tree, though, I’m one of the people responsible for calling a list of teachers — keeping company with the administrators and counselors. The library is connected to the main office suite, set apart from the classrooms. I interact more often with administration than with teachers, and my duties are far more administrative than educational, most days. So what am I? A teacher librarian? A library adminstrator? This school’s social structure doesn’t lend itself toward ambiguity in this area….

6. I like my new job, but I miss my old life. In fact, I really like my new job. I love my coworkers, and I love getting to do nothing but think about books all day long (haha, that’s a joke, because we’re so busy I don’t have time to think about anything, much less books!). But I have to be fair to myself and acknowledge that in leaving, I left behind all of my friends and a career that never felt like “a job.” I have over a thousand students now instead of the 170-180 about which I used to complain, and I’m getting to where I recognize a handful of them and know a few names, but I’m not going to feel close to these kiddos in the same way that I did my most sympatico high school students. I miss bantering with my nerdy almost-adults in the ITE program, or waxing eloquent about archetypes in science fiction films from the past fifty years, or scandalizing seniors by introducing them to phallic and yonic symbols and pointing them out in classical literature. I don’t miss grading essays, feeling afraid of surly male students three times my size, wondering how to teach a lesson without printer ink/photocopies, or dealing with the latest student suicide attempt, juvenile detention, pregnancy, or conveniently-timed “miscarriage.” But I sorely miss hanging out in the teacher breakroom in the English wing, chatting with my friends about everything from Chaucer to church gossip, comparing pregnancies and babies, throwing our collective hands up in the air over the latest catastrophe to befall the district. CHS was one of my homes, and it’s hard (and surreal) to not be there any more, and to know how very different it is than it used to be — because even if I were still at CHS, it wouldn’t be the same CHS, because so many people have gone their separate ways.

7. Sometimes it is really hard to keep a straight face around twelve-year-olds. Without going into too many details, I had to confront a boy who was downloading inappropriate photos on a library computer, and the excuse he gave me — well, let’s just say that it’s been entertaining the staff here for the past couple of days!

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