Friday, January 12, 2018

What My Niece is Into: Sharks

Whenever I hear that my niece is into something, I immediately run out and buy her a few books about it if I can. Providing kids with books that fit their interests is a great way to encourage reading and help kids develop a love of reading. I already highlighted books you can sing, which I bought her for Christmas, and I think I'll try to make this a regular feature on my blog. 

Niece: S, age 18 months
Currently into: SHARKS.

S showed up with a beautifully scientifically correct stuffed shark at book club the other night (rows of teeth and everything!). My sister in law said that she's also got fish bath toys; sharks are big right now. I think it comes from the song Baby Shark, which maybe they sing at her daycare? Not sure. But my mission was clear: shark board books for a toddler (particularly I wanted to get her some science-based ones)! Here's what I came up with: 

Sharks by the American Museum of Natural History (Sterling Children's Books, 2017). This is my favorite of the ones I ordered. It has real photos and lots of information. Too much information for a toddler, but we can definitely talk about the pictures together and it shows lots of different types of sharks, so there's lots of great vocabulary. 

The inside is awesome: each shark spread gets its own die-cut page, so it looks really cool. I think S will have a lot of fun turning the pages and exploring this book. 

I Spy in the Ocean by Damon Burnard, illustrated by Julia Cairns. (Chronicle Books, 2001). This is a cute board book with a die-cut hole in each page to give a clue as to the new spread coming up in our game of eye-spy. Spelling out the word OCEAN, each letter features a different ocean animal: O is for Octopus, C is for Crab, and so forth. The game is probably a bit beyond my niece right now, but it's a nice introduction to the eye-spy game and I like the soft watercolor illustrations. Highlighting letters is a good way to build letter knowledge. 

My Little Golden Book About Sharks by Bonnie Bader, illustrated by Steph Laberis (Golden Books, 2016). This will definitely be one for the library for her to grow into. It has a lot of information, including naming the parts of a shark and showing a cutaway of a shark's skeleton. Some of the illustrations are kind of scary, which I think might be too much for her right now, but if she's interested in ocean animals in a few years she may be super into them. This one would be a good choice for early elementary kids who are interested in sharks. 

That's what my niece is currently into and what I just bought to add to her library. If you're looking for more picture books about sharks, check out my recent Shark Storytime for some ideas. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

There's No "I" in Collection Development

(Okay, of course there's an "i" in Collection Development, but bear with me...)

Image of teetering, overstuffed bookshelves. If I am not careful, our shelves will look like this.

It's a selector's responsibility to maintain a balanced collection in the library. We're taught that in grad school. They say that if 20% of your library's collection personally offends you (politically, religiously, etc.), you're doing your job.

But there are smaller biases that we need to be aware of, too. What are your personal biases? And how do you check them as you're selecting for your collection?

What I mean is, I can tell what personal interests our selectors have had as I look at our collection. There are some sections that are just perennially popular and have been widely ordered throughout the years: mysteries, large print, Christian fiction... But there are some sections that give me pause.

Looking at the collection, I can tell that at a certain time our selector of nonfiction loved reading biographies. Our biography section ballooned at that time. Other past selectors have had other personal interests I can spot as I look through what's circulating - and what's not - in our collection.

When I first heard I had gotten this job, I thought "Great! Now I can make sure we have any book my heart desires; I can just buy any book I think I want to read!"

Surely, I thought, if I read it someone else will want it. I have great taste! Everyone will love the exact same books I will!

That's flawed thinking and will probably result in many books sitting on the shelf, not circulating or checked out once (by me!). And that's not doing any favors to our collection.

Being in charge of selection is about more than getting the books I personally want to read on our shelves. I'm selecting for the entire community. And that means more than just ensuring that I'm buying books I know my patrons will be interested in. It means checking my impulse to buy the books that personally sound interesting to me and asking myself if they're a good fit for my community as well.

I've learned some surprising things as I've stopped to think carefully about what I'm selecting. I have an impulse to buy every book with feminist themes that is being published. I love reading about icky medical history, I crave short story collections, I am drawn to writers from Africa. Some of those may be interests my patrons share, but I've got to make sure I'm asking myself this question: who am I buying this book for?

If the answer is that my patrons will be interested and check it out, great! In the cart it goes. If not, maybe I add it to my GoodReads to-read list and seek it out for myself later.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Short Story Project

How do I love short story collections? Let me count the ways... 

1. A well-crafted short story brings the reader to care and wonder about a character or a situation in quite a short amount of pages. Some stories you'd happily read a novel-size version of, but some you're fine to let go when they're done. If they're well-written, you keep thinking about them long after the pages are turned. 

2. They provide natural stopping points, so story collections are awesome if you don't have hours and hours to read at a stretch. You can pick up your book, read one or two stories, and then set it down without having to remember who your characters are when you are next able to pick up your book again. Stories are great for busy times when you don't get a lot of time to read. 

2b. I especially like to point this feature of story collections out when I am booktalking - students and other folks often don't have a ton of time to devote to leisure reading and they may not naturally gravitate towards short stories. I point out that this type of book is very easy to pick up and put down without losing your place. 

3. If you don't like a story in a collection.... skip it and move right on to the next one. Maybe you'll like those characters or that setting better. This is another great feature to emphasize when booktalking! 

3b. Story collections (and essay collections!) by multiple authors can be a GREAT way to sample a lot of different authors if you're looking for a new favorite. Back when I first started reading stories in high school, I would go through the Best American Short Stories and copy down the names of my favorite authors so I could go back and read their novels or their own story collections. 

3c. Story collections for middle-graders and teens are great to be familiar with and to promote to teachers because they can be utilized for reading practice for kids who may not be up for reading an entire novel. Or they might be able to be used in the classroom for talking about literary elements, etc. If you work with kids and/or teachers, becoming familiar with story collections is a great thing to do!

As I thought about ways I could read better this year, I wanted at least one way to be devoted to reading something I enjoy. Not because I need to be familiar with the books for work (although that is still helpful!), but just because it's something that I want to read. This year, I decided to rekindle my love for short stories by starting a Short Story Project: read at least 6 story collections in 2018. 

And since I've been thinking about it, I've got a few on deck and I'd also love to know what story collections (for any age!) you would suggest! 


Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin (Random House, 2016). My husband bought us a short story advent calendar this year and Ms. McLaughlin had a story in there, so I wanted to read her collection. I'm in the middle of it now and quite enjoying these domestic tales centered around family members interacting.  

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang (Lenny, 2017). These are stories of first-generation Chinese-American immigrants which The New Yorker calls "ingenious". I am fascinated by the immigrant experience and I think it's important to read and learn about it, so sign me up for this collection. 

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press, 2017). Shortlisted for the National Book Award, this collection is visceral and sensual. I started it a few months ago, but I ran out of time with it and there was a holds list, so I'll definitely be seeking it out again to finish it!


An Unrestored Woman by Shobha Rao (Flatiron Books, 2016). These historical fiction stories center around the Partition of Pakistan from India in 1947, so this one might also count as a postcolonial novel for Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge. 

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press, 2017). I have not yet read Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer, so these stories might be a good way to get my feet wet. Plus, I just read Thi Bui's amazing graphic memoir The Best We Could Do, which has piqued my interest in Vietnam.

Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin, February 2018). Yes, Newbery-Medal-winning Kelly Barnhill has a collection of adult stories coming out this year. Gimme!

Those are all adult collections, but there is a particular YA collection coming out this year that I'm super excited about, too: 

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman (Greenwillow Books, June 2018). This multi-author teen collection "reimagine[s] the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate." (Quote from GoodReads description.) Sign. Me. Up.

So, tell me: do you read short stories? Which collections would you suggest I put on my radar or pick up this year?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Reading Resolutions for 2018

I posted last month about how I failed all my reading goals. Well, it's the very end of the year and time to look back and see if that's true and see what we want to do for next year.

Last year, I set a few reading resolutions, as I have done for many years.

I wanted to finish the 2017 Read Harder Challenge. NOPE. Not even close! I started it, but due to developing circumstances throughout the year, I had way less time for reading this year. So when I wanted to read, I wanted to read what I wanted to read, not what a challenge told me I should be reading. So, yeah. I gave up pretty early on. Ah, well.

I wanted to read at least 30 children's or teen nonfiction books this year. Well, nope. I read 23 children's or teen nonfiction books. But I also read a bunch of adult nonfiction books.

I wanted to read at least 50 teen books this year. Again, nope! I read 42 teen books this year.

I wanted at least 25% of the books I read to be by people of color. As of Dec. 23, I had read 172 books total, according to my GoodReads page. 71 of those books were written by authors of color, which is 41%. Yay! A goal I met! And probably the most important goal to me, so we'll call this year good.

I had set a goal of reading 201 books this year and that didn't happen. It was partly because I had less time to read and partly because I read way more adult books, which just generally take longer to read than youth books.

Let's look ahead to 2018.

I'm not going to set a GoodReads goal because at this point in my life and career, reading more just isn't my goal. I have looked at Book Riot's 2018 Read Harder Challenge and many of the categories fit with personal goals for my reading this year (particularly to read more adult genre fiction). So I'm going to attempt it this year and we'll see how it goes.

I have a number of ideas for reading projects that I want to try this year.

I want to focus on a couple of authors that I always mean to read more of: Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich are my picks for this year. So I'm going to attempt to read at least two books by each of them this year.

I find myself drawn to short stories and that's a genre that I have not picked up much lately! So I'm doing a Short Story Project and aiming to read at least 6 collections of short stories this year.

I need to expand my genre reading and I'm hoping to get Reading Wildly back off the ground this year, but I'm not sure what it's going to look like yet, so no official goal on that one (yet?).

And I loved concentrating on reading diverse voices this year, so I'm going to up the ante and say that I want at least 40% of my reading this year to be books by people of color.

And I'm super geekily excited about trying out this detailed Reading Log created by Book Rioter Rachel Manwill. I love all the things it tracks and that it automatically calculates percentages for you (arg, another goal for myself this year should be to learn about spreadsheets!). So I will be putting that to good use this year.

What are your reading goals for 2018? How are you going to read better this year?

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Books to Send out 2017

What are you reading to send out 2017? What great books are on your TBR pile to start 2018 off right?

In my new position, I don't have to worry as much about taking vacation days on the same days as other people. Or about what days we'll be inundated with kids due to school breaks. So I took next week off! Yes, I've worked my last shift of 2017 and I have the next week and a half off. Of course I have scheduled myself PLENTY of reading! Here's what's on my TBR pile for next week:

I'm in the middle of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (Del Ray Books, January 2017). It's an atmospheric fairy-tale-esque fantasy set in Northern Russia and I'm digging it. It's not a quick read, but one I can sink my teeth into, and I love how it's pitting old religions and superstitions against new ones and how it examines feminism.

I'm also in the middle of Beartown by Fredrik Backman (Simon & Schuster, April 2017), which is another read just perfect for these winter months. I had started it weeks ago but my library copy was due back. Luckily, my library ebook came in right before my vacation - score! This Swedish import deals with a teen hockey team that might be their backwater town's last hope for prosperity. It's a great read heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics, too!

So many bears... but there are also a few other things high up on my to-read list. Our next Family Book Club pick is The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (Simon & Schuster, October 2017), prequel to her popular book Practical Magic (which I have not read). Set in the 1960s and about witches, from what I gather. We'll see!

And because you can never have enough fantasy in the wintertime, I've also got The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager, November 2017) on my stack. This was my Book of the Month pick for December and I started the very beginning and I'm in love with it already. Great voice, strong female lead... I'm in.

(Do you want to try Book of the Month now that you know they offer great books like this one? Use my referral link to get your first book for $9.99 + a free tote [and I'll get a free book, too!]. No apologies for the shameless plug - I love Book of the Month and I love getting free books, too!)

Here's to a week off for reading! I'd love to know what's on your TBR pile right now!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Books You Can Sing

My 16-month-old niece S is obsessed with music. She goes to a wonderful preschool where they must sing a ton of songs because when you start singing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider", it's like the sun just came out after a long winter. Even better if multiple people are singing the same songs together. She seems amazed that we all know HER songs and she loves anything she can dance or move to.

My sister-in-law requested books that are songs for Christmas for her this year and I wanted to share what she's loving and what I bought for her. (Kelly, if you're reading this, stop if you want to be surprised!)


S already has some favorites. Since her go-to song for a couple of months now has been The Itsy Bitsy Spider, I've already gotten her Annie Kubler's board book version and Richard Egielski's super cute pop-up version (for when she's a little older).


She also has most of Annie Kubler's song books, great choices for their simplicity and the diverse cast of illustrated babies featured in the books. She asks for these by name ("Row Row!" and "Itsy!"). She also loves "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" (although she concentrates mostly on the toes). These are sure bets for baby gifts or for storytime staples.

For Christmas this year, there will be some new additions to her library!

The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night by Peter Spier (Dragonfly Books, 1961). This is a song that's important to my family; I have many pleasant memories of singing this traditional story-song with my parents in the car and they still will burst out with it when prompted. It's important to me to expose S to this music, but we're all a little rusty on the words. Buying this book for her library will help us remember to sing it with her and give us happy memories as we remember how fun the song is. She may be too little now to sit through all the verses, but with this book in our collections we can keep revisiting it any time we want.

Do you have traditional songs that have been passed down in your family? If there's a book version, that makes a great gift. Not only do you get the fun of reading/singing it with the young ones in your life but it can help preserve the words, which may have become fuzzy since you were a kid!


The More We Get Together by Caroline Jayne Church (Cartwheel Books, 2011).
You Are My Sunshine (2011).

These board books are super cute, although they are woefully monochromatic. They feature shiny illustrations, which are pretty eye-catching and I love these songs that emphasize love and friendship.

Every Little Thing by Bob Marley and Cedella Marley (Chronicle, 2012).
What a Wonderful World by Bob Thiele, George David Weiss, illustrated by Tim Hopgood (Holt, 2014).

Based on popular songs, both these books send really positive messages without being didactic. I would love for my niece to internalize the messages that every little thing is gonna be alright and that we live in a wonderful, colorful world. Of course we're singing tons of nursery rhymes with her, but I wanted to expand her options of sung books and give her parents something a little different to choose if they want.

It's going to be a musical Christmas at our house this year! What are your favorite books to sing?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

#libfaves17: Abby's Favorites of 2017

If you've been on Twitter recently, you might have noticed that librarians all over the world have been tweeting their top ten favorite books with the hashtag #libfaves17. Checking out this hashtag is a great way to see what books librarians are loving this year, find books you may have missed, or collect titles to put on a book list or display.

I, too, have been tweeting along, but I wanted to compile my list (with some BONUS PICKS because who can choose just 10 books?). I present to you my personal 2017 Favorites (with the caveat that of course I have not read every book and of course I have not even read as many books as I really wanted to this year). This list is in alphabetical order because, really, who can choose actual favorites???

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor (Viking, October 2017). Stop and go read Akata Witch if you haven't already. This sequel won't mean much without it. That said, this was an amazing sequel, which is awesome because the first book came out in 2011! This book continues the adventures of a team of Nigerian (and American-Nigerian) tweens battling the big bad dark magic threatening their existence. For middle schooler and high schoolers who loved the magic and adventure of Harry Potter, these books are a must-read.

All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (Dial, September 2017). Imogene was raised in a Renaissance Faire. Homeschooled by two parents who both work at the local Faire, Imogene had rather a unique upbringing. And now she's turned 11 which is the age she can begin to squire at the Faire and she's taken on yet another challenge: she's heading to middle school. Victoria Jamieson has been so clever here with how she infuses Imogene's personality and behavior with Renaissance-isms that it really adds another fun layer to this book that's about lots of things that middle-schoolers struggle with: starting at a new school, figuring out who your friends really are, dealing with strict teachers... For the Ren Faire lover or any comics lover in your life.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay (HarperCollins, June 2017). This is a visceral and powerful story that needs to be widely read. The strength it has taken for Roxane Gay to write about her body and her experiences this way; we as readers are privileged to be let in. And the things she says about her body and the way fat peoples' bodies are perceived and treated in our culture - I kept saying YES over and over again. She is speaking truths here that are not easy, that are not comfortable, but that need to be said and acknowledged. This is a book that I read as a digital galley and then pre-ordered and bought with my own cash money because I needed my own copy on my shelves.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (Penguin Press, September 2017). When a nomadic artist and her daughter drift into the town of Shaker Heights, Ohio in the late 90s, their landlords the Richmonds will never be the same. Multiple moving storylines come together in a really satisfying way in this story that deals with belonging and ownership, motherhood and daughterhood, race and inclusion in a planned community. This was pick for my book club and we had some really great discussions about it.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum, October 2017). You had me at Jason Reynolds. No, but seriously, this is a book that does a lot with a very few words. Will knows what you do when someone you love is killed: you get revenge. And that's just what he sets out to do. But when ghosts from his past start appearing in the elevator on his way down, can they change his mind? This was one of the most powerful books I have read and I can't get over the ending of it. If you or your readers like intense books about contemporary issues, grab this book.

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale (Annick Press, September 2017). This book is fantastic, a must-read and a must-add. Collected here is art in many forms - poetry, essays, photography, and other visual art - all by modern Native American women. If all you know about Indigenous people is the Thanksgiving myth you learned in school, pick up this book and educate yourself. These pieces are powerful and they speak volumes in just a few words. This is another one that I checked out from the library but then bought a copy for my shelves. I want to be sure that my niece will be able to read this one day when she's old enough.

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder (Walden Pond Press, May 2017). I am the first to tell you that I have read nowhere near enough books to make qualified guesses about this year's Newbery Award, but this one just keeps sticking in my mind and won't let go. It actually took me a long time to figure out if I loved it or hated it. Set on an island where every year an orphan appears and every year and orphan leaves, the kids have the run of the place. They also follow the rules. Until one year they don't. I found this book both maddeningly frustrating and also so incredibly relateable.

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (Bloomsbury, February 2017). Jade is dealing with a lot of different stuff - body image issues, being socioeconomically different than most of her classmates at her private school (she attends on scholarship), and hearing about racial violence in the news, stories her white classmates don't pay attention to. It could be a lot for one book, but Renee Watson pieces it together masterfully with even the format of the book (told in short chapters, scenes, and vignettes mixed with longer chapters) mirroring Jade's chosen art form: collage. This is a YA book, but I think a case could be made that it fits on the upper end of the Newbery criteria.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore (Sourcebooks, May 2017). This gripping and horrifying true story, part medical mystery and part courtroom drama, brings to light a forgotten chapter in women's history. In the 1920s, radium was all the rage and doctors advised people to take it for health. Radium was starting to be everywhere, including on the luminous dials of watches so you could tell time in the dark. The numbers and watch hands were painted with a glow in the dark paint, painted by hand, painted by women working in the dial factories. And to make their brush points fine enough, the women shaped the tips of the brushes with their mouths, ingesting small amounts of radium every time the brush touched their lips. No big deal - radium is healthy for you! Except it's not. In fact, it's deadly. And the companies knew that (or they knew it wasn't good for you), but they did nothing. They denied that young women were getting sick and dying. And because the companies were giant, rich companies, they thought they could get away with it. Until they couldn't. This is riveting narrative nonfiction and it was a book I couldn't put down.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (Dutton, 2017). Okay, so you know that I'm a John Green fangirl, so now I will tell you that this is my favorite of his books. Intensely personal, this novel features a character with severe anxiety and OCD. When a reward is offered for information about a missing billionaire, Aza and her best friend rekindle a friendship with the billionaire's son. But it turns out to mean much more than just solving a mystery to Aza. I appreciate how much of himself John Green puts into this story as he explores the spiral of Aza's thoughts.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial, October 2017). Here's another sequel not to miss, but make sure you've read The War That Saved My Life, one of my favorite books in recent years. I was so hopeful for this sequel and it did not disappoint. Kimberly Bradley has a way of writing characters that lets the reader get right into their souls. I am a very character-driven reader, so this is a series that is right up my alley.

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown, June 2017). This is a heartbreaking masterpiece. In a blend of poems, vignettes, and prose chapters, Sherman Alexie gives us his memoir. This raw, fiercely personal memoir delves into Alexie's painful childhood, his discoveries about his family, and some of the awful things that were done to him and members of the Spokane Nation by white people. Alexie digs deep into his reactions and feelings after his mother's death; Alexie had a complicated relationship with his mother that is maybe even more complicated after her death. I listened the audiobook, which is read by the author, sometimes with obvious emotion, which was an extremely powerful experience. This read has inspired one of my Read Better goals to read more (much more!) of Alexie's work this coming year.

It pains me to leave out some of the other books I've loved this year! Do me a favor and visit my GoodReads profile where you can see all the books I've rated five stars this year. Feel free to add me as a friend!

What were your favorite books of 2017?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

On Reading Failures... and Possibilities

I have failed at most of my reading goals this year. I've constantly been behind on my GoodReads goal and I'm now so far behind that I will never catch up. I set out to complete Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge again this year, but gave up pretty soon into the new year.... I'm pretty sure the only one of my reading resolutions I have stuck with has been that at least 25% of the books I read are by authors of color. (Which is great and a resolution I am sticking with for good!)

So, I am definitely failing at my numeric GoodReads goal I set. But instead of seeing it as a failure, let's look at it as a possibility.

I recently read a post on Book Riot: On Abandoning My Reading Goal and it struck such a chord with me. I do a pretty good job of reading as much as I can. It's no longer feasible for me to concentrate on hitting a certain number of books read. So let's see how I can read better next year.

I want to read more books by Sherman Alexie. I listened to the audiobook of his gut-wrenching memoir You Don't Have to Say You Love Me this year, and it left me wanting to explore more of his works. (Yes, I love Part-Time Indian, too!) So part of my Reading Better goals for next year will be to read backlist by new favorite authors.

I want to reread one of my favorite YA books of all time: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. I've been telling myself all year that I would devote time to rereading it, but I don't really let myself reread books unless I have to for a column or post. So part of my goals will be to reread.

I've been doing some freelance work this year and the extra income has made me feel more free about buying books, so I want to tackle that to-read shelf and read all the books I have bought lately. This includes my Book of the Month books, which is such a fun service.

I've also stepped into a new role at my job, so part of my reading goals this year needs to be about expanding my reading in adult genres. We've been doing Reading Wildly to expand our genre knowledge with our Youth Services staff at the library for a number of years. Eventually I'd like to get something going for all staff, but I have to see how it will be feasible with our staff restructure and our new staff schedule. I know that I personally need to explore some new genres, so that will be part of my reading next year.

I have lots of possible ways to "read better" next year. Tell me about your reading goals (if you set any) and how they're coming along. What ways would you like to read better next year?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Long Way Down

You had me at Jason Reynolds.

Yes, I am a fangirl for Jason Reynolds (join the club, right?!). He is a master of voice and voice is the way to my reading heart. My first Jason Reynolds was When I Was the Greatest, which I listened to on audiobook.

Audiobook is a great way to experience Jason Reynolds's work. It really feels like a character is sitting down and telling you their story. VOICE, MAN.

And my latest Jason Reynolds read is his National Book Award-longlisted novel in verse Long Way Down. (I picked up the print for this one.)

Will knows the Rules. When someone you love is killed, you don't cry, you don't snitch, and you do get revenge. That's how it's always been, how his pop dealt with matters, how his uncle dealt with matters, how his brother dealt with matters. And it's how he's going to deal with matters.

When Will's older brother Shawn is shot and killed, Will grabs his brother's gun and heads down the elevator, on a mission to complete Rule #3 and take care of the guy he knows shot his brother.

But Will's not expecting the past to catch up with him. He's not expecting ghosts from his past to visit him in the elevator. In a modern, tragic twist on A Christmas Carol, Long Way Down explores how it feels to lose a loved one. And how it feels to lose your way, even when you've never been more certain about the path you're about to take.

Written in verse, the text is short. Fitting, since the entire book takes place during a 60-second elevator ride. The verse is visceral, infused with emotion. It's expertly crafted to pack a huge punch into a small number of words.

Here's a sample from page 37:


is when you take a word
and rearrange the letters
to make another word. 

And sometimes the words
are still somehow connected

Same letters, 
different words, 
somehow still make 
sense together, 

like brothers. 

This is a book that makes it clear how easy it can be to fall into a cycle of violence, even if it's the last thing you ever thought you'd do.

And (no spoilers) THAT ENDING, FOLKS. I need everyone to read this book so we can talk about that ending.

I would hand this to teens who devour Ellen Hopkins or who like books about modern issues like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas or Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Grades 7+ Atheneum, Oct. 2017. 320 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Thanksgiving Myth and #NotYourPrincess

I'm still working on figuring out what to do about Thanksgiving books. If you're not familiar with the Thanksgiving myth and the harm it does, I'd start with Debbie Reese's posts about Thanksgiving (linked to my favorite and there are more linked on the left side of her page). Reading While White has also thought about Thanksgiving and offered resources on updating your Thanksgiving displays.

My library still has a large collection of books that perpetuate the Thanksgiving myth. When we looked into withdrawing them, we realized it would leave us with about 10 titles. And there's not a lot to replace them in the holiday section, particularly for young children. So, we're still working on figuring out what to do.

One thing I know I can do is focus on Native American voices during the month of November. One of my catalog display lists focuses on Native American authors (it scrolls - there are more than just four books that rotate through!):

And speaking of Native American authors, I want to make sure you know about this book for your library: 

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale is a powerful collection of writing and art. The collection includes poetry, essays, paintings, photography, and commentary from a wide range of Native American women. Topics run the gamut from identity to fashion to sexual abuse to sports. 

Essays address "the invisible Indian" from a young lady who doesn't "look Indian" and is made to feel out of place for that or the continuing pain felt by families who were forced into the residential Indian schools. A powerful poem "The Things We Taught Our Daughters" talks about allowing a cycle of violence against women to continue because "We don't call the police on our own." 

These women use expressive language and images to get their points of view across in a paucity of words. This book packs a lot of bang for its buck. One passage that stuck with me is from "The Invisible Indians" by Shelby Lisk (Mohawk). She's speaking of white people who want to learn about Native Americans: 

"They want buckskin and war paint, drumming, songs in languages they can't understand recorded for them, but with English subtitles of course. They want educated, well-spoken, but not too smart. Christian, well-behaved, never questioning. They want to learn the history of the people, but not the ones who are here now, waving signs in their faces, asking them for clean drinking water, asking them why their women are going missing, asking them why their land is being ruined."
This book truly has the potential to change minds, but we've got to give it to our teens. Now. The format of the book is that large format nonfiction, which can be a hard sell with teens. But it's worth the effort of pressing it into their hands. Maybe sell it as a magazine-style book instead of what can appear to be a picture-book format. The colorful spreads and varied, interesting formats do resemble a magazine's content.

Do what you need to do to get this book and put it into the hands of teen (and adult) readers.

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. Grades 8+ and adult crossover. Annick Press, September 2017. 103 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.