Friday, October 30, 2009

Day in the Life of a Children's Librarian

8:30a - Arrive at work, talk with T about the Indiana Library Federation conference.

8:35a - Set up the Small Meeting Room for storytime and the craft. I move tables and chairs around, put plastic tablecloths on the tables, set out the craft supplies, etc.

8:50a - Turn on lights and computers in the department. Feed the fish and frog.

9:00a - On desk, I work on the holds pull list. We run a list every morning that tells us what books patrons have put on hold through the computer. We try to find all the books on the list (and mostly succeed).

9:35a - Get name tags ready for storytime. For our registered storytime sessions, we prepare a name tag for each child and set them out at the reference desk before their storytime. When they arrive, we have them practice picking out their name and each week they attend they get a small sticker to put on their name tag. After the last storytime, they may take their name tag home.

9:40a - Help kids find their name tags and check off storytime attendees.

10:10a - Take call from local preschool to schedule a visit.

10:10-1:00p - On desk. I work on some weeding in between questions.

1:00-2:00p - Lunch time!

2:00p - Talk with C about ILF conference.

2:30p - Get Small Meeting Room set up for After School Adventures, make a sample of the craft. This week is our last week and we're doing an Afternoon of the Paper Bag Monters.

3:15p - Work on weeding. My staff members have pulled hundreds of books based on circulation, publication dates, and condition. I'm going through them to make the ultimate decision whether we'll weed them.

4:00p - Get out name tags for After School Adventures, make sure the room is ready.

4:15p - Time for After School Adventures!

5:00p - The program is done. I clean up the room, put away the craft supplies, and record the statistics for the program.

5:15p - Time to go home!

Around the interwebs

Yes, there are posts upon posts coming out of the woodwork about KidLitCon 09. It really was a splendid time. I'd like to direct you to MotherReader's extensive KidLitCon roundup and Greg's Twitter transcript of the conference [via Tea Cozy] (please ignore the fact that my tweets are so stupid...!). ALSO, in case you missed it, KidLitCon 10 will be in Minneapolis next fall!

At Chasing Ray, Colleen points out an alarming connection between three internet controversies this week. Said controversies include Betsy's views on the Amazon VINE program, the holiday book price war between Amazon, Walmart, etc., and Scholastic's censorship of Lauren Myracle's Luv Ya Bunches from the school book fairs. Do check out her post for an overview of these issues and how they all add up to big companies limiting consumers' choice of books. And if large companies are only promoting certain books, it's up to us book reviewers to step in. She says:

If we are all going to embrace the notion of "independent reviewing" then we have to step back and be independent. That means publishers do not choose, retailers do not choose and book fairs are not permitted to alter text to fit their vision of choice. It means we work harder at what we do so readers can choose from the largest possible selection of books.
I'll heartily second that emotion and add that while I enjoy browsing new books at bookstores, I've always preferred the comparatively vast selection at my local library. Just as independent reviewers are charged with promoting a diverse range of books, so should any librarian worth her salt! Thanks to @mawbooks for the link.

Did you hear that Norma Fox Mazer passed away? It's certainly sad. As a teen, I read and reread After the Rain. If you've got memories of Norma or her books, add them in the comments of PW's In Memory of Norma Fox Mazer post. Thanks to Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace, & A Tea Cozy for the link and the news.

Wondering what kids are reading these days? Well, Renaissance Learning has posted a report on the top books that kids in grades 1-12 are reading. This is certainly helpful for libraries serving schools that use the Accelerated Reading program and will make interesting reading for other libraries as well. Thanks to @thereadingzone for the link.

Will e-books solve the problem of Book Cover Shame? Lee Wind at I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? postulates that the rise of the e-book will level the playing field as far as "girl books" and "boy books" and even "gay books". Thanks to Betsy at Fuse #8 for the link.

While Sarah at GreenBeanTeenQueen was sick with a cold, she started thinking about her favorite Sick Day Reads. What are yours?

Grace Lin's excellent novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon has been chosen for Al Roker's book club. She is understandably thrilled and her editor shares the reaction at the office on Blue Rose Girls.

Oh, and this is completely unrelated to kidlit, but Color Me Katie posts about Improv Everywhere's latest mission: a grocery store musical. This will brighten your day. I guarantee it. Take a gander:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Book Review: Candor

Candor by Pam Bachorz. High School. EgmontUSA, September 2009. Copy purchased.

Candor is a perfect place to live. No one overeats. No one is late. Everyone is respectful to others. Everyone follows the rules.

Because the Messages tell them to.

Oscar, son of the creator of Candor, has figured out a way to block the Messages. He can get people out... for a price. But when Nia shows up, Oscar begins to care for her. He has to save her before the Messages erase her. That means getting her out... but what will Oscar do without her?

I'm a fan of dystopian lit and Candor did not disappoint. I was sucked in by the premise and by the two faces of Oscar. On the surface he's the perfect son, appearing to follow all of his dad's Messages to a tee. He knows he can never let that image slip, but underneath Oscar-Boy-Wonder, he's working against the establishment any way he can.

I won't spoil anything, but I think this book's got one of those perfect endings. It wraps things up sufficiently, but still leaves room for a sequel.

This is a fast-paced story and I'd hand it to fans of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series.

Read more reviews at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy, Jen Robinson's Book Page, Sharon Loves Books and Cats, and Reading Rocks.

Oh, and check out this awesome book trailer:

Two years of bloggity fun

I had grand aspirations of writing an awesome post about my blog turning two. I was going to revisit my mission statement and do all that blogging homework that MotherReader was talking about.

However, it's 11:30pm and I have to work tomorrow morning.
So... all I'll say is Happy Blog-iversary to me!

And THANK YOU for reading. Thank you for commenting. Thank you for responding to my tweets and adding me as a friend on GoodReads. Thank you for creating this wonderful community and letting me be a part of it!

I never could have imagined that blogging would become as big a part of my life as it is now. And now I honestly can't imagine my life without it!

So, here's to many more bloggity years to come.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

250-Word YA Novel Discovery Contest

I'm a little bit excited about National Novel Writing Month. Okay, that's an understatement. I can't wait until Saturday night when I will start my novel at 12:01 on November 1! And now I've been alerted to a contest going on this November where you could win a one-on-one consultation with a leading literary agent by submitting the first 250 words of your YA novel. I can pretty much assure you that the first 250 words of my novel are going to be total crap, but I might enter it anyway just for kicks.

Press release time!

Have a young adult novel—or a YA novel idea—tucked away for a rainy day? Are you putting off pitching your idea simply because you’re not sure how to pitch an agent? No problem! All you have to do is submit the first 250 words of your novel and you can win both exposure to editors, and a one-on-one chat with one of New York’s TOP literary agents Regina Brooks.

Regina Brooks is the founder of Serendipity Literary Agency and the author of Writing Great Books for Young Adults. Brooks has been instrumental at establishing and building the careers of many YA writers, including three-time National Book Award Honoree and Michael Printz Honoree Marilyn Nelson, as well as Sundee Frazier—a Coretta Scott King Award winner, an Oprah Book Pick and an Al Roker book club selection. As an agent, she is known for her ability to turn raw talent into successful authors.

ADDITIONALLY: The top 20 submissions will all be read by a panel of five judges comprised of top YA editors at Random House, HarperCollins, Harlequin, Sourcebooks and Penguin. All 20 will receive free autographed copies of Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks. Of the 20, they will pick the top five submissions and provide each author with commentary and a one year subscription to The Writer magazine. ONE Grand Prize Winner will have the opportunity to get feedback on a full YA manuscript and win a free 10-week writing course courtesy of the Gotham Writer’s Workshop.

Please submit all entries via the contest website at One entry per person; anyone age 13+ can apply. Open to the U.S. & Canada (void where prohibited). Entries for the YA Novel Discovery Contest will be accepted from 12:01am (ET) November 1 until 11:59pm (ET) on November 30, 2009.


In honor of National Novel Writing Month (—an international event where aspiring novelists are encouraged to write an entire novel in 30 days—this contest is meant to encourage the aspiring YA author to get started on that novel by offering an incentive for completing the first 250 words.

So apply now!


YA literary agent Regina Brooks, along with editors at Sourcebooks, will read all of the entries and determine the top 20 submissions. These submissions will then be read by Dan Ehrenhaft, head Acquisitions Editor at Soucebooks Fire; Alisha Niehaus, Editor at Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin); David Linker, Executive Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books; Michele Burke, Editor at Knopf Books for Young Readers (Random House); and Evette Porter, Editor at Harlequin. These judges will whittle the top 20 down to four winners and a grand prize winner—all five will be provided commentary on their submissions.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Review: Heart of a Shepherd

Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry. Grades 4-8. Random House Books for Young Readers, January 2009. Copy from my local library.

(This is a 2009 Cybils nominee and this review reflects only my personal opinion of the book, not necessarily the opinion of the panel!)

Ignatius is known as Brother to everyone in his small Oregon ranching town because he has four boisterous older brothers. Though he's the youngest in the family, he's the only son left at home when his dad gets called from the army reserves to fight in Iraq. It's up to Brother and his grandparents to run the ranch until Dad comes back. If he comes back. The trouble is that Brother has never felt the same passion for ranching that his dad and grandpa have. He's sensitive to the death of animals, though he knows that's part of ranch life.

In a series of vignettes Rosanne Parry takes us through a year on this Oregon ranch as Brother tries to deal with the absence of his father and tries to find his way in the world.

It's a quietly powerful book. Though the kids play at war games and most of them assume that they'll enter a branch of the military eventually, Brother has never felt comfortable with that. He has no real concept of life outside ranching or the military, but he's still searching.

One thing I really liked about the book was its engrossing sense of place. Rosanne Parry paints a perfect picture of life on a rural Oregon ranch in all its harsh beauty. She also paints a picture of a family members scattered to the winds, but still caring about each other a great deal.

I'm sitting here trying to think of who I would hand this book to. I wouldn't say it's touchy-feely, but it's about a boy dealing with his emotions. I might try it on fans of Bridge to Terabithia, Bird Lake Moon, or When the Whistle Blows.

Read more reviews at Kids Lit, Semicolon, Jen Robinson's Book Page, and Shelf Elf. Read author interviews at Cynsations and Authors Unleashed.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Non-Fiction Picture Book Roundup

I love me a good nonfiction picture book. Here are a few gems I've come across recently.

Tyrannosaurus Math by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Doug Cushman. Tricycle Press, July 2009. Review copy provided by publisher.

The first thing he did out of the egg was add up his fingers and toes, so his mom named him Tyrannosaurus Math. From then on, T-Math was doing math constantly, from addition and subtraction to multiplication, estimation, and geometry. This lively story will add to any math unit and the bright acrylic illustrations demand to be pored over. A section in the back of the book explains the various mathematical skills that T-Math demonstrates. Young dinosaur fanatics who are learning these concepts will thrill at seeing T-Math use them in the story.

The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert & Sullivan by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Richard Egielski. Arthur A. Levine Books, April 2009. Copy from my local library.

This book tells the story of Gilbert & Sullivan's big argument and how the friends made up with each other and went on to write one of the most famous operas, The Mikado. Bright, detailed illustrations bring the time period to life. The text is simple enough to read aloud and an author's note gives great background information about both men and their work together. I love picture book biographies and this did not disappoint!

World in Colors series, published by Capstone Press. 2009. Copies from my local library.

As someone who used to fill preschool loan requests, these books would have come in handy. There's not a lot of preschool-appropriate country books being published and these fit the bill nicely. Stunning, colorful photographs appear on each page with a short paragraph of information that ties a color in the photo into something about the country. For example: "A Kenyan farmer walks through a sea of green tea leaves. Tea pickers toss the leaves into large baskets. The tea is prepared in a factory. Kenya is one of the world's top tea growers." (pg 5) The text is simple enough to appeal to beginning readers and the books could easily be read with preschoolers (paraphrasing where necessary) or you could just use the books for their fabulous photos. These books could also add a multicultural element to your units on colors.

I feel like I've been absent from Nonfiction Monday for far too long, so I'm happy to be joining you again this week! Visit Wrapped in Foil for this week's round-up.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

In My Mailbox #10

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted at The Story Siren. Head on over there to see what's been in everyone's mailbox this week.

It's been a slow couple of weeks, mail-wise, which is absolutely fine. Soon those Cybils nominees will be coming in and I'm sure I'll be overwhelmed. This week I received the entire Blue Bloods series by Melissa De La Cruz. The latest one, The Van Alen Legacy, was recently released and I'm looking forward to giving them a try!

Blue Bloods (2007)
Maquerade (2007)
Revelations (2008)
The Van Alen Legacy (2009)

Review copies are from Hyperion Books.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Afternoon of the Paper Bag Monsters

This week for After School Adventures, I planned an Afternoon of the Paper Bag Monsters. With the recent release of Where the Wild Things Are, I thought it'd be perfect timing. This program was for K-2nd graders and we shared books about monsters and then made paper bag monster puppets.

Here's what we read:

Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems. Of course we read this. It's only, like, my favorite readaloud ever...

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I can no longer read this book without thinking about President Obama reading it... which is not at all a bad thing...

Night of the Paper Bag Monsters by Helen Craig. Which, sadly, is out of print. If you can track it down, I recommend it - it was a favorite of mine when I was a wee one. And because some libraries tend to avoid holiday books for programs, I'll mention that this is a Halloween book.

There Was an Old Monster
by Rebecca, Aidan, and Ed Emberly. This is a new one, out this summer, and it's silly and gross and has a surprise ending. Plus, it can be sung if you feel so inclined. Perfect!

After the stories, we made paper bag monster puppets out of brown paper lunch bags and all the odds and ends I could scare up from our program supplies (heh heh). I love this craft because it doesn't require a lot of prep and it does encourage a lot of creativity. We used crayons, feather, scrap paper, and google eyes.

Now, I have to be perfectly honest with you and tell you that only one kid showed up for this program. It was kind of a bummer, especially since it was the last in a series of six After School Adventures, but sometimes that happens. We still had a good time and I thought the books were too good not to share with y'all. It might have been better as a standalone program to go with the release of the movie, but we have been having low attendance at lots of our school age programs this fall, so I'm not sure what's up with that.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I Spy Board

I'd like to you meet my I Spy Board:

Back story: I got a call from the YMCA asking if I'd like to set up a table at their Lights On Afterschool event. It would be for 200+ school-age students, so I pondered what to do.

We could do a craft, but for 200 kids that would be A LOT of supplies to cart around. After throwing ideas back and forth, my staff and I came up with the idea to create an I Spy Board.

I used some discarded books that we'd withdrawn from the collection and a bunch of product catalogs that we had in the recycling bin. I cut out pictures and collaged them on a piece of poster board. When I went to the event, I stapled the poster to a sturdy cardboard stand-up.

I created rhymes that tell the kids what to search for, like in the I Spy books. I discovered that I shouldn't have gone to the trouble because the kids were just interested in a list of what to search for.

It was a hit! I had kids stopping by my table, intrigued by the large picture of The Stinky Cheese Man that I had in the middle of the collage. Then they'd stay and search for a few minutes, often helping each other and working as a team. I had bookmarks and plastic spider rings (left over from a past Summer Reading Club) to hand out.

I love to be part of outreach events, but besides bringing crafts (which can be expensive and/or labor intensive for a large group of kids), I didn't know what else to bring with me. Now that we have our I Spy board, I'm sure we'll be bringing it on many events in the future! I love it because it's very portable, fun for the kids, and easy for one person to run.

I Dream of Bloggers

Last night, I dreamed that I was in New York with Betsy of A Fuse #8 Production (whom I have never met) and she showed me the $200,000 advance she'd gotten for writing a children's novel. And I was asking her about the job opening at NYPL when she moves to LA and also asking her who's going to blog about the publishers' librarian previews after she moves.

Guess I have blogs on the brain. ;)

Bobby vs. Girls and Umbrella Summer

Here are a couple of middle-grade Cybils nominees! (They're getting mini-reviews because I didn't sit down and review them right away and didn't take enough notes to have a whole lot to say about them. I enjoyed both books and think they'll both find a wide audience on elementary school and public library shelves.)

(These are 2009 Cybils nominees and this review reflects only my personal opinion of the books, not necessarily the opinion of the panel!)

Bobby Versus Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee, illustrated by Dan Santat. Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary. Arthur A. Levine Books, September 2009. Copy purchased.

Bobby Ellis-Chan and Holly Harper have been secret best friends since they were little kids. Why secret best friends? Because at their school, boys and girls do NOT hang out together. It's never been a problem for them, but lately Holly's been acting weird. She's been acting like... well, like a girl. And it's kind of driving Bobby crazy. Still, he never meant to start a battle of the sexes... it just kind of happened. And now Bobby's got to figure out how to make it right.

I really enjoyed this funny, realistic book. I think it'll appeal to fans of Andrew Clements and other school stories. I liked that supporting characters are diverse and well-developed. The writing was excellent in that it disappeared and I felt like I could see the story unfolding before my eyes. This'll definitely be popular on your middle grade shelves.

Read more reviews at The Reading Zone, Kids Lit, 100 Scope Notes, Fuse #8, and Shelf Elf.

Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff. Upper Elementary. HarperCollins, June 2009. Copy from the Louisville Free Public Library (because libraries are awesome).

Helmet? Check.

Knee pads? Check.

Elbow pads? Check.

Ace bandages (to prevent sprains)? Check.

Band-aids (covering scratches to prevent infection and eventual amputation)? Check.

Annie's ready to bike to the store. To buy some vitamins. Vitamins are very important to maintaining your health. And where last year she might have jumped on her bike and whizzed down the hill to the store, she decides she'd better walk her bike down the steep parts. It's better to be careful, right?

Ever since her brother Jared suddenly died, Annie's been living under a self-imposed protective umbrella. She constantly worries about potential threats to her health. After all, no one knew about Jared's rare heart problem before it killed him. But when a new neighbor moves in, Annie will begin to realize that if you live your life under an umbrella, you never get to feel the sun on your face.

Underneath her hypochondriac tendencies, Annie's just a girl on summer vacation. She's a girl struggling to deal with the unexpected death of her older brother. It's a loss that has thrown her entire family into turmoil. Author Lisa Graff deals with this turmoil realistically and with a lot of heart. The book reminded me most of the second Moxy Maxwell book - a spunky, likeable (and imperfect) protagonist and a plot that delves into the serious side of things.

Plus, what an incredibly cute book cover! I want an umbrella like that!

Read more reviews at Becky's Book Reviews, Literate Lives, and A Year of Reading.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Book Review: The Last Invisible Boy

The Last Invisible Boy by Evan Kuhlman. Upper Elementary, Middle School. Ginee Seo Books, October 2008. Copy borrowed from my local library.

(This is a 2009 Cybils nominee and this review reflects only my personal opinion of the book, not necessarily the opinion of the panel!)

Twelve-year-old Finn is turning invisible, or that's what he believes anyway. It all started several months ago on The Terrible Day That Changed Everything. It was on that day that Finn's father died unexpectedly. Almost immediately after that, Finn's hair started to turn white and his skin began to pale. Every week it's gotten a little bit worse and Finn's convinced that he's slipping away into nothing, maybe so that he can join his dad and be happy again.

In a mix of cartoons and prose, Finn tells us the story of dealing with his grief.

What I liked about it was how immediate it felt. Kuhlman writes the story as if Finn is actually sitting there at that moment, writing down what's happening. Finn addresses the audience. He periodically calls for a break and tells the reader to stop reading for awhile and then come back to the book. He even turns it over to his younger brother for a chapter.

The format and the tone in the beginning of the book really reminded me of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. But this book never really took off for me the way Part-Time Indian did. It wasn't as funny as I wanted to be and it was way more sad and depressing than I had initially thought it would be.

Okay, okay, I know it's about a kid's father dying and dealing with grief, but I would have been more impressed if Kuhlman had been able to keep up the humor throughout the book. Also, the plot kind of meanders along without much happening. Finn warns us at the beginning of the book:

"This book. It's like I'm driving a school bus but my legs are too short to reach the brake. It's a runaway bus so anything can happen." (pg 1)

Well, the plot may be a runaway bus, but it's a bus that just keeps circling the block.

That said, it's a very real portrayal of a boy dealing with grief. I can see that it might resonate with kids, especially boys, who are dealing with loss or unexpected change. Finn cries. His mom cries. Finn is vehemently NOT okay for a long time. And it's important for kids to know that it's okay to not be okay. The book came to a satisfying (if predictable) conclusion.

Check out the book trailer:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Okay, so KidLitCon...

First of all, it was awesome. I mean, I knew it would be fun. I did not know it would be so awesome. I'm so glad I went and I'll definitely be going next year if at all possible.

For me, there were two best things about this conference.

1. Meeting all the awesome bloggers. Everyone was seriously so nice. I was feeling a little nervous as I looked for the blogger group at the Library of Congress on Friday. I was wondering if maybe I should just turn tail when I found Pam and she immediately gave me a great big hug and said, "It's so nice to meet you!"

And, yeah. Meeting everyone was like that. Big hugs all around and if there was ever a lull in the conversation, one only needed to ask what people's favorite books are. Kidlit bloggers are very nice people. I feel so very privileged to count myself among them.

2. Hearing what people had to say at the conference and meeting so many of my fellow bloggers has really rekindled my passion for this blog. I came away with great ideas and a real sense of connection (right, Greg?). I know that there are only so many hours in the day and many of us have "real" jobs and families and other obligations in our lives. We can't always spend as much time as we'd like on our blogs. Attending the conference reminded me why I carve out time for this hobby.

I need to go through my cheat sheet and make sure I have everyone's blogs on my reader. I need to make sure I'm following everyone on Twitter. I need to take the time to leave comments and join in the discussion. And I'm so excited to do all of that!

I know this post isn't giving you a real sense of what went on at the conference. I took copious notes, but I'm sure other people are going to post about the panels and discussions and all of that stuff. I wanted to capture this feeling of possibility and connectedness before the mundane tasks of my life rub it away and I need to remind myself again.

On second thought, maybe this post gives a perfect sense of what went on at the conference...

Important things:

MotherReader is collecting KidLitCon posts
as they come in, so head on over there to see what everybody's saying. Also, other people will post pictures. I will not post pictures since I was a Winner and left my camera in my bag at the hotel all weekend.

And this bears special mention: We were lucky enough to have a representative from the Federal Trade Commission speak to us about book bloggers' responsibilities under the updated endorsement guides. I'm going to point you to Michelle's post over at Galleysmith for a comprehensive summary and links.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kidlitcon '09, post the first

There will be a longer, comprehensive post about the conference, but I'm hijacking M's computer for a sec just to tell y'all that it was AWESOME. I had such a great time, met SO MANY great people, and came away with a to-do list that's gotten me fired up about blogging.

What a great event to connect and recharge each others' blogging batteries.

MAD PROPS to MotherReader for organizing a wonderful event.

Now, for DC weekend part deux. Expect a better wrap-up post Monday or Tuesday.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I'm in DC right at this very moment, trying to figure out how to get from Union Station to the Library of Congress. Except a full report on KidLitCon '09 when I return! In the meantime...

Inspired by Travis's post about Things Librarians Fancy, I present to you my tote bag collection. These are all the bags I could rustle up in my apartment (I have at least two more at work):

On the left-hand side there are a couple from Anderson's Bookshop from the two YA Lit Conferences I've attended there.

Clockwise from the top, we have a Virginia Woolf bag from Barnes & Noble (I'm not a particular fan of Woolf, but at the time that I worked at B&N, she was the only woman featured on a tote bag. Not sure if that's still the case), a bag from the 2008 Illinois Library Association Conference, an Unshelved bag (which is my daily use bag), and a new addition - a Babymouse bag (!!!) from Bound to Stay Bound. Dead center is a lovely Egmont bag which I won as a door prize at this year's YA Lit Conference.

The bag from the ILA Conference is one of my favorites because it is nice and sturdy and has good straps. It's also a nice size, large enough to carry my whole library haul (usually). I also enjoy the bag from the 2007 ILA Conference (not pictured here) and often use it to take books and materials to outreach events at work (which is why it is not pictured here).

So, as you can see, I am never lacking when I need to transport books. Librarians can always use tote bags!

Oh, and FTC? I received all these bags for free except the Unshelved bag and the B&N bag, both of which I paid for. I endorse all of them because canvas bags are awesome.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Around the interwebs: I'm headed to DC version!

Are you headed to DC? I am headed to DC! My plane takes off ridiculously early Friday morning and I'm so excited to meet everyone at KidLitCon '09!

If you're not headed to the conference (sad!), here are some things to occupy your time:

Run, do not walk, over to 100 Scope Notes and check out his hilarious Things Librarians Fancy. That kid cracks me up.

Did you love Leviathan? Larklight? Airborn? Then you, my friend, are a fan of steam punk. This isn't strictly kidlit related, but check out Cake Wrecks's collection of sweet steam punk cakes.

The nonfiction authors that blog at INK (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) have launched a rather interesting database called INK Think Tank. After registering for a free account, you can log in and search a database of nonfiction titles linked to curriculum standards. Might come in handy for teachers and librarians looking to buff up collections in certain areas.

Liz has a couple of posts up at A Chair, A Fireplace, & a Tea Cozy that are perfect for new librarians or people new to the kidlit world. If you're looking for more reviews and discussion about children's and YA literature, you'll want to know which journals to seek out and read and which listservs to join. Excellent compilations, both.

The National Book Award finalists were announced this week and here are the finalists for Young People's Literature:

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Philip Hoose
Stitches by David Small
Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia

And on that note, folks, I'm off to put on my librarian cardigan and work the one remaining shift between me and DC! Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Book Review: Girl in the Arena

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines. (Grades 8+) Bloomsbury, October 2009. Review copy provided by Bloomsbury as part of blog tour.

All her life, Lyn has lived according to the bylaws written out for the neo-gladiators. Her mother is a Glad wife, a woman who has made a career out of marrying gladiators, and Lyn has had seven different fathers, all of them gladiators. Lyn's familiar with the rules, so when a gladiator named Uber kills her seventh father in the arena and captures her dowry bracelet, Lyn knows that it means she must marry him. Unless she can find a way out...

Hoo boy. I'm going to start this off by telling you that I read the first half of this novel and skimmed the second half.

I'll tell you how I felt in the first half - confused. And a little bored. Which is not great when you're reading a book with such a compelling premise. I was psyched to get started, enthused about the plot description and the surely kick-butt heroine I was about to meet. But then the story just dragged on and I never really felt like I got a complete picture of the Glad world.

You could argue that the jacket copy revealed too much of the plot and maybe that's why I was bored, but I would say that when your hook doesn't come until halfway through the book, that's a problem for me. The title is Girl in the Arena, but Lyn doesn't seriously consider actually entering the arena until almost halfway through the story.

Another problem I had was the punctuation (please note that I'm reviewing from an ARC, so it's possible this might have changed, but it was such a major problem for me that I feel I have to mention it). Instead of quotation marks, we have the em dash. I guess I don't really understand why. Maybe it's cool and different? But to me it just confused things further. Characters, who were not incredibly distinct in the first place, ran together and it took some effort to figure out who was saying what. Maybe that's why I felt like I never really got to know Lyn and I felt somewhat removed from her plight.

One last issue (and this may have been explained in the second half of the book while I was skimming) was that I didn't understand the rules of the dowry bracelet. So, Lyn has a dowry bracelet. What does that mean? What is the purpose of the dowry bracelet? All I really know is that according to the rules, if another man besides her father touches her dowry bracelet she's supposed to marry him. And since Uber defeated her father, the rules say he has to keep all of his opponent's objects that were in the arena. I get that this is part of the "Glad culture", but for a book that is supposedly set in present-day America, I need some explanation of how this dowry business works.

Now, there was one thing I really liked. I loved Uber. Uber is our romantic hero (kinda). He's a reluctant gladiator (though I don't think I found out why he was so reluctant or why he kept going when he didn't like it... maybe that was in a part that I skimmed). Inside the arena he puts on his tough gladiator face, but outside the arena he wears thick glasses and admits his admiration for Tommy, the man he killed in the arena. I wanted to know more about Uber, so in the second half I skimmed and only read the parts with him.

So, there you have it. I felt it was a great premise, especially on the heels of The Hunger Games, but the writing, characters, and setting just didn't follow through. You don't have to agree with me, though. The Compulsive Reader enjoyed it. And here's a whole tour's worth of people who will have varying opinions:

The 160 Acre Woods, A Patchwork of Books, All About Children's Books, Becky's Book Reviews, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Buzz, KidzBookBuzz, Maw Books Blog, My Own Little Corner of the World, Reading is My Superpower, and The Hungry Readers.

Girl in the Arena is on shelves today, October 13.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

In My Mailbox #9

In My Mailbox is a weekly event hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren! Getting books in the mail is always exciting and here's what was in my mailbox this week:

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb (Razorbill, October 2009).

Um, I know this one is not in my Cybils category, but I'm not going to be able to resist it. I mean, have you seen this video?

In other news, I bought more books and got a box from Amazon this week:

In there is Candor by Pam Bachorz (Egmont USA, September 2009), Eli the Good by Silas House (Candlewick, September 2009), Rampant by Diana Peterfreund (HarperTeen, August 2009), and Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff (EgmontUSA, September 2009).

I believe that Pam and Diana will be at KidLitCon, so I'm excited to get those books signed and chat with the authors.

What was in your mailbox this week?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Around the interwebs

There are still a few spaces for KidLitCon, so if you've been wavering, stop it and register right now! Come hang out with me in DC next weekend!

Signups for National Novel Writing Month have opened! NaNoWriMo is an annual writing event in which participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. It doesn't matter if the novel is terrible; all that matters is word count. If you've thought about participating, I urge you to sign up! It is great fun! And since I have decided not to do it this year, you need to sign up so I can write vicariously! Since I have decided to sign up, you need to be my writing buddy! C'mon. We can sleep in December, right?

The Brown Bookshelf is accepting nominations for the third annual 28 Days Later. From their site:

28 Days Later is the flagship initiative of The Brown Bookshelf. It is a month-long showcase of the best in Picture Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels written and illustrated by African Americans to help parents, teachers, librarians and booksellers recommend good reads.

Link via The ALSC Blog.

Speaking of nominations, remember to nominate your favorite books of the year for the 2009 Cybils awards! Last day for nominations is October 15.

Everyone and their DOG has reported about the Exquisite Corpse Adventure over at, so I figured I might as well report on it, too. We always did Exquisite Corpse with poetry, but this sounds fantastic! Do check it out. Link via, well, thousands of people, but the one I starred was Confessions of a Bibliovore.

Here is a confession: I don't know much about children's music. Which is why Becky at Libri Delectio is so awesome - she's started Fanfare Friday, a weekly feature of a children's album. It's pretty new, but I do hope she keeps it up so I'll know which children's CDs I want to seek out.

Speaking of CDs, Kelly at Stacked is blogging about audio books! When I started my new job, I also started something of a commute (well, the longest commute I've ever had, unless you count when I worked in grad school and had to take the bus). So audio books really get me through it. She's got some interesting tips about evaluating audio books and some great recommendations.

And do get over to The Reading Zone and read Sarah's passionate post about inspiring tween readers. I had decent teachers in middle school, but if I had to go back to sixth grade, I'd totally want to be in Ms. M's class. ;) Her kids are lucky to have her!

Did you know that President Barack Obama has declared October National Literacy Awareness Month? Now, if only he could do something about my library's budget so that we're able to keep promoting and enabling literacy... Link via Sylvan Dell Publishing.

Catherine Gilbert Murdock let us know this week that Front and Center, the third DJ Schwenk book has been spotted in stores! The official release date is October 19, but keep an eye out for it. If you are a fan of Dairy Queen and The Off Season, you will not want to miss this!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Just kidding?

Hah. So remember how JUST YESTERDAY I posted about how I wasn't signing up for NaNoWriMo this year?

Well, tonight I came up with a really awesome idea. And I sat down and outlined, like, the first third of the novel. And, well, yeah. I signed up again this year.

I'm trying to tell myself that it's okay if I fail this time around (and never fear, Cybils panel - Cybils reading definitely comes first!). I just know that I can't let this idea sit. And November was going to be so strange without a word count...

So. Let the countdown begin!

Book Review: After Ever After

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick. Grades 4-8. Scholastic, February 2010. Review copy provided by publisher.

We first met Jeffrey in Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, narrated by Jeffrey's older brother Steven. Then Jeffrey was a little kid with cancer. Now, he's a teenager in remission. That's great, right? He survived, he beat the cancer. But what he found out is that after you beat the cancer, you still have to deal with it. He's slower in school because the chemo affected his brain. He walks with a limp because the chemicals caused nerve damage in his foot. And he'll always, always be The Kid Who Had Cancer.

Which is why it's so interesting when there's a new girl from California in his class. Lindsey doesn't know him as the miracle boy who survived a horrible illness. And let me tell you, if Jeffrey could figure out how to ask her out, that would be the true miracle. If only his trusty big brother was around to help him, but Steven's escaped to Africa to join a drum circle, leaving Jeffrey to fend for himself.

Add to the mix the standardized tests that all the eighth graders have to pass in order to move on to high school. The test that Jeffrey's sure he's going to fail. Yeah, Jeffrey beat the cancer and lived happily ever after. But this book is about what goes on after ever after.

Oh, you guys. You knew I was going to love this book. I love me some Jordan Sonnenblick. Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie was a winner of the Illinois kids' choice award (the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award), after all. And of course I loved this book. It made me laugh and it made me cry, which is exactly what I have come to expect from Jordan Sonnenblick*.

In Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, who knew that a book about cancer could actually be funny? Well, After Ever After is funny, too. And touching. And my favorite thing is that while cancer does play a prominent role in setting up the story and how things play out, the book is really just about an eighth grade kid who happens to be a cancer survivor. He faces the same difficulties that any eighth** grade boy might face. He likes a girl. He has a best friend who can be a jerk sometimes. He's facing a major test and feeling a lot of pressure.

And boy howdy, Mr. Sonnenblick's stance on standardized testing is NO SECRET in this book. That's all I shall say about it.

Let's look at the writing, shall we? Here's the passage right after Jeffrey meets the cute new girl from California:

"I was speechless. The neurologist would tell you I have "slow processing as a late effect," which is another way of saying that people can really make me look dumb if they're quick talkers. And apparently Lindsey Abraham was, like, an intercontinental talking missile. By the time my brain worked its way through her whole train of thought, I must have looked like a total goon. "Uh, it's Jeffrey. Jeffrey Alper. From New Jersey." Oh, good God, I thought. Did I really just say that?" (pp11-12 - quotes are from ARC and may appear differently in the final book!)

So, Jeffrey's voice snagged me right away. And his witty observations drew me in, too. Like this passage from a little later on:

"Remember a few years ago, when scientists announced that Pluto wasn't a planet anymore? All of a sudden, that was the main story in the news for, like, a week and a half. I remember being all worried for some reason I could never name, and I think that happened to a lot of people. It's not like the planethood status of Pluto was a major factor in anybody's conscious life before that, but when Pluto suddenly stopped being a planet, the whole world was unnerved. Like, if they can take away Pluto, what's next? What if the sun isn't - a sun? What if I'm really adopted? What if everyone in my town was secretly whisked away in the middle of the night and replaced by exact replica aliens?" (pp 36-37)

So, yes, the book made me laugh. And it had characters that I cared about and was interested in. And can I just mention that I love the way the cover (at least the ARC cover) matches perfectly with DGADP's paperback cover?

In fact, if you haven't already read DGADP, I insist that you do so. And you have a little bit of time because After Ever After is due on shelves February 1.

*Except for that Dodger and Me series. I just couldn't quite get on board with a blue chimp.
** Is it just me or is "eighth", like, the hardest word to spell? I don't think I've spelled it right on the first try one time in this entire post. Arg.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

No NaNoWriMo (for me)

I have come to the decision that I am not going to do National Novel Writing Month this year. It is kind of a sad decision because I've completed a (terrible, awful) novel every November for the past five years. November is coming! It feels like it's time to ready those typing fingers! And I know I'll be sad when everyone else's word counts start coming in and I don't have one.

It's just that I feel like I'm already so busy that I can't get everything done that I want to do. I debated with myself over whether it's better to attempt and fail or not attempt at all. And I think it will stress me out, so I'm going to skip this year.

Maybe next year I'll be back with some great ideas* and more time-management strategies. ;)

To all who are doing NaNo, best of luck! I will be rooting for you on the sidelines.

ETA (Oct. 9): Hah. My resolve lasted all of one day. Yes, I did come up with an awesome idea and yes I signed up for NaNoWriMo again this year. Sigh. I can sleep in December, right?

*And I did have an idea for this year. I reserve the right to change my mind and sign up at the last minute if an outline pops into my head. But I probably won't.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I cannot take credit for this

I wish I could take credit for this super cool Banned Books Week display, but I came upon this display at the Oldham County Public Library in LaGrange, KY. (And yes, I know Banned Books Week was last week, but keep this in your file for next year OR bring it out at a random time to help those books that are awesome but just won't circ without some help.)

I didn't have my camera with me at the library, but picture a large bookshelf full of these:

Yup, they had taken books that had been challenged or banned and their teen advisory group wrapped them in paper so you couldn't tell what book was in there. They have the bar code and a genre written on the outside (like "Teen Fiction" or "Children's Realistic Fiction" or "Adult Sci-Fi"). The result was really eye-catching and symbolic. They posted a sign on the display urging patrons to check out a wrapped book to celebrate our freedom to read.

Of course, I checked one out.

Here I am unwrapping:

What a fun thing! Like a present! And maybe the book inside is not one you're interested in, but maybe it is something you never would have picked up and now you'll give it a try!

I think I know what it is:

And it's...

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler! I have read this one already and I love it. If I wasn't up to my neck in Cybils reading, I'd totally reread it.

Good job, Oldham County Public Library! It's things like this that make it worth the trek to visit this small, but very nice (and new!) library. And I am totally stealing this idea, BTW.

Book Review: Also Known As Harper

Also Known As Harper by Ann Haywood Leal. Grades 4-7. Henry Holt, 2009. Copy provided by my local library. Because libraries rule and where would we be without them?

(This is a 2009 Cybils nominee and this review reflects only my personal opinion of the book, not necessarily the opinion of the panel!)

Harper Lee Morgan loves words. It's a love she inherited from her mama, a lady so in love with To Kill a Mockingbird that she's read it at least 36 times and named her firstborn child after its author. Yes, Harper loves words, and she's certain that she's going to win her school's poetry contest. The only problem is that she and her mama and her little brother Hemingway have been evicted from their house, so getting to school has become a problem. But Harper's determined to get to school for the poetry reading, just as determined as she is to rid herself of any memory of her whiskey-soaked daddy who told her that her words weren't worth anything.

This book opened my eyes. Maybe it's because I've recently relocated to a community where homelessness, unemployment, and underdevelopment are staring me right in the face. Maybe it's because Harper was a character that leaped off the page with her poetry notebook and her frank observations of the world around her.

You're sitting at a computer right now, reading these words. Imagine if you not only didn't have a computer, but didn't have a home or an office in which to sit. Now, imagine you're a child that doesn't have a home. You might be transient because you're traveling to stay with various family members. You might be avoiding social services for fear that they will break up your family. You might be expected to stay out of school to watch younger siblings.

How would you ever get to school and get the education to get yourself a decent job and a stable home? To me, it seems insurmountable. Even Harper Lee Morgan, a child so passionate about getting to school that she tries to hop on the first school bus she sees, can't seem to manage it.

So, that's what I loved about this book: it brings the issue of homelessness to light. It's certainly a conversation-starter. And it's a good read, too. I loved all the different characters. I normally find it somewhat annoying when a book character is a writer and includes their own poetry or stories, but it worked for me in this book.

I'd hand this to any kid who likes books like Waiting for Normal, Home and Other Big Fat Lies, and others in that ilk. (In fact, I know one of my staff members would love this book and I'm going to hand it to her as soon as I can remember to bring it to work with me.)

Do check out other reviews over at Shelf Elf, A Patchwork of Books, Literate Lives, Becky's Book Reviews and A Year of Reading. And you might be interested in Ann Haywood Leal's blog, her guest post at Harmony Book Reviews about untangling her mind, and an interview with her over at Wagging Tales.

Also Known As Harper is on shelves now, so go check it out!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Out Now: Leviathan

Here's a reminder that Scott Westerfeld's wildly imaginative and downright awesome book Leviathan hits shelves today. Read my review and then procure a copy because you're gonna want to read this one!

Steam punk is in, my friends!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Anderson's 6th Annual YA Lit Conference

On Saturday, September 26 I ventured back up to Chicagoland to attend the 6th annual Anderson's Bookshop YA Literature Conference. This is a really fun event featuring some of the hottest YA authors and I love it because it is small enough to feel like an intimate experience and big enough to attract some really fun authors.

This year's conference featured Judy Blundell, Ellen Hopkins, James A. Owen, Gennifer Choldenko, and Libba Bray and those are just the keynote speakers!

The day started out with breakfast in the ballroom of the fabulous Arista Hotel and then Judy Blundell was up. Interesting fact: did you know that Judy Blundell has written tons of Star Wars books (and one of the 39 Clues books) under the pseudonym Jude Watson? She'd been a writer for hire for some time when her friend David Levithan encouraged her to write the story she wanted to write. And she wrote What I Saw and How I Lied. Though she was convinced that her book would disappear amidst all the press The Hunger Games was getting, What I Saw went on to win the National Book Award last year.

Next up was Ellen Hopkins (who is really funny!) and this was a very interesting talk because the day of the conference was the first day of Banned Books Week*. And Ellen has very recently faced a challenge to her books in an Oklahoma middle school. So you can imagine that she had something to say!

I found out that the books Crank and Glass are loosely based on Ellen's daughter's experience with addiction. And if you think that there's no reason to give kids access to books that deal with drugs or the other issues Ellen's characters face, well, Ellen's got a boxful of letters that say otherwise. She read several letters she had gotten from readers telling her how much the stories meant to them and how the books helped them deal with situations in their own lives.

After Ellen's talk, we broke out into our first small sessions. For the breakout sessions, authors were organized into panels. I first attended the Local Treasures panel, featuring authors located in the Chicago area. The authors on this panel were Susan Fine, Daniel Kraus, Cynthea Liu, and Claire Zulkey. Later, I stalked Cynthea who was Pretty in Purple (and perfectly matching her book cover!) for this picture:

Then I attended the Fantasy Panel, featuring James A. Owen, Kaza Kingsley, Libba Bray, and Michelle Zink.

I love the panels because they give you a chance to sit in a smaller crowd with the authors and ask questions, but I will say that I liked the way last year's panels were organized around specific subjects (such as researching historical fiction or debut authors). It seemed to me like the authors probably were asked the same questions over and over as each new group came in and it would have been more interesting (to me) if the panels had been structured to give them some guidance on what to talk about. There was a lot of "Where do you get your ideas?" and "Do you try to write for a certain age group or do you let your publisher figure that out?" and so forth.

After the first round of panels, we had some bookstore and signing time and I purchased the following books:
Paris Pan Takes the Dare by Cynthea Liu (Putnam Juvenile, June 2009).

Initiation by Susan Fine (Flux, May 2009).

An Off Year by Claire Zulkey (Dutton Juvenile, September 2009).

Bobby Versus Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee (Arthur A. Levine Books, September 2009).

After lunch, we heard James A. Owen speak about his path to writing the Imaginarium Geographica series. It was a very twisty path that included having his drawing hand crushed in a car accident right while he was trying to get his start in creating comic books. His memorable quote of the day was "If you really want to do something, no one can stop you. If you really don't want to do something, no one can help you." It was about this time that I realized I had better start taking some pictures or my post was going to be really boring. ;)

And then we had two more breakout sessions. I attended Historical Writing, featuring Kerry Madden, Gennifer Choldenko, Judy Blundell, and Lisa Sandell. Here's the historical panel (left to right - Blundell, Sandell, Madden, and Choldenko):

And then Contemporary Writing with Ellen Hopkins, Jill Wolfson, and Lisa Yee. Here's the contemporary panel (left to right - Wolfson, Yee, and Hopkins):

Next up were talks by Gennifer Choldenko and Libba Bray, both of whom are fabulous. I had previously underappreciated Al Capone Does My Shirts (although I still want to call it Al Capone Does My Shorts) until I "reread" it on CD on the way up to the conference. I think I wanted it to be funny and it wasn't particularly funny. Anyway, this time around I really enjoyed the book and I was excited to hear her talk.

Add to things I didn't know: Gennifer has a sister with autism. She (Gennifer) worked on Alcatraz to get a feel for the setting. And the Al Capone books will be a trilogy and the current working title for the third book is Al Capone is My Librarian (I hope it keeps that title!!!).

Libba Bray is, quite frankly, one of the funniest people I've ever seen. She's very theatrical and wonderfully quirky and I guess I finally understand how she could have written Going Bovine. She talked about being misunderstood when she told fellow parents she was writing a young adult novel (as in, they thought she was writing a young adult novel... as in... porn). And how people reacted when she told them the truth. And how it was more acceptable for her to have been writing porn than for her to write YA novels. And she spoke about why YA lit matters - because we never stop coming of age.

So, after Libba Bray, they wound things down. I won a door prize for the second year in a row (a signed copy of TTYL that is going to my YA librarian for her teens). In general, it was quite an awesome time and I'm already looking forward to next year (and maaaybe the Children's Literature Breakfast depending on who the authors are...).

I was not the only blogger there (though next time I swear I'm wearing some kind of fancy headgear so that y'all can recognize me). Do go over and check out Becky's post about the conference and Kelly's post about the conference. If you get a chance to attend next year, I highly recommend it!

*(Speaking of censorship, librarians, you might want to read this Wall Street Journal article that comes out against the ALA fighting censorship. Oy.)