Finding new perspectives – a podcast edition

One of my favorite things to do on my commute to and from school is to listen to podcasts.   I have been expanding my list that I subscribe to, and I think I will post on a fairly regular basis about various podcasts, because they are another way to get information on a variety of topics.

One of my favorite podcasts last year was the excellent Sampler from Gimlet Media.  The show is over now, but Brittany Luse, the wonderful host, is creating a new show, so I am excited for that.  While the podcast is over, if you are new to the world of podcasting, Sampler is a great place to try. There are only about 31 episodes, and each episode gives people a sampling  of various other podcasts- hence the name.  It helped me find Buzzfeed’s Another Round, which I look forward to weekly.  The show is hosted by Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu, and each week they interview different people, and also offer perspectives on a wide range of topics.  Their interviews with Hilary Clinton and Lin Manual Miranda are excellent, as are most of their other interviews.  They tend to ask questions I do not hear on different shows, and they bring a great joy to their work.

The last podcast I wanted to mention in this context is See Something, Say Something, which is another Buzzfeed podcast, this one hosted by Ahmed Ali Akbar, in which he talks to a variety of Muslims about their faith and experiences.  In a current environment where Muslims are often not well understood, such a show is a valuable addition.

While at this point I have not used a lot of podcasts with students, they are podcasts that help me be a better educator and librarian.  Sometimes book recommendations are shared, sometimes I simply gain a new perspective.

What are podcasts you listen to?  How are you getting information from a variety of viewpoints and perspectives?

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My Top Ten Books from 2016

In a way, most of the books on this list are the ones that stuck with me, or surprised me in some way.  What were your favorite books last year?

  1. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson- This was one I read early on in the year, after the American Library Association Awards were announced.  I was really taken with it – I admit that most of my WWII era reading has focused on the holocaust, or has been somehow centered on the Allied forces, or on Germany.  To read about the horrors that faced the citizens of Leningrad during the war, and also the hope people had in resisting and surviving was highly educational and sometimes inspirational.  Also, using the life of Shostakovich, as well as his work gave a great window into a great deal of Russian history.
  2. Illuminae: The Illuminae Files _01 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristof – This novel was a surprise.  It came in with a Junior Library Guild order, and I just decided to give it a go.  This has a mixed media type of format, and is a sprawling, wonderful science fiction novel.  This starts with the attack of a space colony and sprawls out wonderfully from there – it is the type of novel that has lots of references for fans of science fiction in general – in the same way that Ready Player One has references for gamers and fans of the 80s.  This is one that I keep recommending to students, because I want to talk about it with other people.  If you have read it, what do you think?
  3. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds – This novel was a Coretta Scott King Honor Award book, and has won several other honors and awards since, which is why I bought it for my high school library.  This is a great novel in that it deals with an incident of police brutality, and the various witnesses, and players in the same incident.  There are several vantage points, and in some ways is reminiscent of the also excellent novel How it Went Down, by Kekla Magoon.   In this case, however, both people involved in the incident survive, although one is badly injured.  A great novel both from a writing standpoint, and a current events standpoint.  I think this would be a great choice to add to a curriculum.
  4. My Name is not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson – This novel I read as part of a project for a class, and it has really stuck with me.  In my history classes growing up, the way that Native American’s were treated seemed to be simplified down to – we made treaties, we broke the treaties, the Native Americans live on reservations.  While I need to do a lot more reading to expand on this lack in my knowledge of history and oppression,  this  particular novel deals with one of the more egregious issues that came out of the treatment of Native Americans and Inuit groups, with the establishment of boarding schools that denigrated tribal languages and history, and in some cases led to children being stolen from their families and sent to school, or even being adopted into other families.  My Name is Not Easy is a useful novel to read to introduce junior high and high school students to this history.
  5. Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince – This graphic novel was different from anything else I have read. I read it as a class assignment as well, but have found myself thinking about it often.  While thankfully there are more and more novels from the viewpoints of people who identify as transgender, this was interesting as the exploration of a woman’s life who identified as a tomboy, an identification that led to many questioning those choices more than being actually interested in her as a person.  Instead of capitulating to gender norms, Liz Prince instead stayed true to herself, and her compelling memoir and artwork are an important piece of work for many students that may feel the same, but struggle to articulate their place.
  6. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes – This novel makes the list because it is so well written, and while the events of the novel are shocking, and reminded me of some aspects of Titus Andronicus by Shakespeare, the titular character is so well drawn that nothing is placed for shock value.  At the start of the novel we meet Minnow Bly – we know that her hands have been amputated by the leader of the cult she escaped from, and we know that something  happened on the cult’s compound, but this novel takes the time to unravel the mysteries clearly and well.  A haunting read.
  7. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby – To be honest, I had head a lot of great things about this novel, but the first time I tried to read it this year I could not get into it.  I abandoned it, and then circled back months later. The second time I really enjoyed the fantasy/magical realism concepts that worked in the novel, as well as the mystery sections.  I think what kept me reading the second time was the mythical core of the novel, of people who have struggles, and are tasked with nearly impossible obstacles, and yet manage to find their way.  Students and adults alike that enjoy questing novels should enjoy this novel as well.
  8. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins – This was on a recommended shelf at Prairie Lights Bookstore, and it was an amazing read.  The man that checked me out the day I bought it was the one that recommended it, and he was passionate about it.  I passed it on to my husband after I read it, and he loved it as well.  This novel is complex and sprawling, about a group of people called librarians – each of whom is in charge of a different catalog.  For instance, the narrator, Caroline, is in charge of language, while David is in charge of war and murder, and others are in charge of other information.  There is a lot going on beneath the surface, and the library is not at all what it seems.  This novel has both deep philosophical questions it is pursuing, and creepy moments, as well as a terrifically good story that makes it hard to put down.
  9. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah  – This was actually a Christmas present from my husband, and he is reading it now.  I enjoy memoirs, although they are not my natural first choice.  What I found amazing and wonderful about this book, was that it was extremely educational about apartheid in general – and Noah does a wonderful job of entertaining the reader in often humorous ways, while  explaining the realities of South Africa both under apartheid, and as apartheid was breaking apart.  Also, he has piqued my interest, and I would really like to read more about South Africa more. A great memoir for fans of the Daily Show, and people that would like to begin their journey in understanding what apartheid was like.
  10. Dead Wake by Erik Larson– This was a Christmas gift from my sister, and I really learned a lot.  When I was in school I remember learning about the Lusitania in a vague way – just, the Lusitania sank, and then it was used as a propaganda tool to enter WWI.  That was about the extent of my knowledge. It turns out, even that gloss of information is not really correct.   Erik Larson is so good at weaving complex strands of narrative together – and he does that so well here – drawing together the doomed ship, the uboat that was coming to sink it, and the complex political machinations going on at the same time.  Even though I knew the outcome, I found myself hoping against hope that the boat would make it.

2016: A Year in Books

I know that I have not written any posts in awhile, maybe I will do better this year – here’s hoping, but no promises.   Anyway, here is my 2016 list, just the books and authors, in the order I read them.  I apologize for any mistakes in transcription, especially regarding author names.

  1. Girls Like Us by Gail Giles
  2. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  3. The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
  4. The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
  5. The Contender by Robert Lipsyte
  6. These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
  7. Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
  8. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
  9. Saxby Smart Private Detective – In the Treasure of Dead Man’s Lane and Other Case Files by Simon Cheshire
  10. The Cabinet of Curiosities by Stefan Bachman, Katherine Catcall, Emma Travayne, and Claire Legrand
  11. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
  12. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson
  13. Illuminae: The Illuminae Files _01 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristof
  14. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds
  15. First & Then by Emma Mills
  16. The Kind Worth Killing For by Peter Swanson
  17. The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas
  18. The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon
  19. 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
  20. Breakthrough:How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever by Jim Murphy
  21. October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shephard by Leslea Newman
  22. God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant
  23. God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant
  24. My Name is not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson
  25. Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince
  26. How I Became a Ghost:A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story by Tim Tingle
  27. Nightbird by Alice Hoffman
  28. Rhyme Schemer by K.A.Holt
  29. The Shattering by Karen Healey
  30. The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
  31. Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
  32. The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson
  33. Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
  34. Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper
  35. Fake ID by Lamar Giles
  36. The Heir by Kiera Cass
  37. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
  38. The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  39. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
  40. Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
  41. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
  42. Caged Warriors by Alan Lawrence Sitomer
  43. A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
  44. The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
  45. The Story of Owen:Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston
  46. The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Maureen Johnson
  47. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
  48. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
  49. Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Act by Lynda Blackmon Lowery
  50. After the Funeral by Agatha Christie
  51. Masterminds by Gordan Korman
  52. Capital Crimes edited by Martin Edwards
  53. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  54. Nothing Bad is Going to Happen by Kathleen Hale
  55. The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brusker Bradley
  56. Grave Mercy by Robin Lefevers
  57. Miss Marple Stories by Agatha Christie
  58. Kids of Appetite by David Arnold (Advanced Reader’s Copy)
  59. Challenger Deep by Neal Schusterman
  60. The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L.Holm
  61. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
  62. What Light by Jay Asher
  63. Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
  64. The Paper Cowboy by Kristin Levine
  65. The Cursed Child by J.K.Rowling
  66. Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
  67. The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer
  68. The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Stone
  69. The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
  70. Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories by Stephanie Perkins
  71. 99 Days by Katie Cotugno
  72. Something Wicked in These Woods by Marisa Montes
  73. Laughing in my Nightmare by Shane Burcaw
  74. Shelter by Harlan Coben
  75. Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz
  76. All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
  77. Aluta by Adwoa Badoe
  78. The Crown by Kiera Cass
  79. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
  80. Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier
  81. Snow White by Matt Phelan
  82. The Revelation of Louisa May by Michaela MacColl
  83. The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
  84. Burning Midnight by Will Mcintosh
  85. The Wikkling by Steven Arntson
  86. A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb
  87. Streams of Babel by Carol Plum-Ucci
  88. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
  89. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  90. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  91. Dead Wake by Erik Larson
  92. The House Across the Cove by Barbara Hall
  93. The Cat at the Wall by Deborah Ellis

 

Thoughts on the new Jay Asher novel, What Light

Yesterday I received my Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) of What Light, by Jay Asher.   I loved Thirteen Reason’s Why  – and both the content and the form of that novel have really stayed with me.  It is a novel that has often been on hold in my library, and students have fallen in love with it year after year, often hearing about it through word of mouth.

What Light, by Jay Asher, is another way for him to explore the ideas of redemption and forgiveness (he says as much in his opening letter to the ARC), but with a much happier construct.  Sierra, the main character in the story, runs a tree farm in Oregon with her parents, and every year they go down to California between Thanksgiving and Christmas to run a tree lot.  Sierra misses her friends from Oregon, and also loves her time in California, with her best friend there, Heather.   The majority of the novel takes place in California – and this might be their last year on the lot there.  They will keep the farm, but the actual business at the lot has been in decline.  Sierra is notoriously picky with her romances, but then one day Caleb catches her eye.

Despite being warned about a terrifying incident in Caleb’s past, Sierra and Caleb start a tentative relationship – one that looks destined for heartbreak.  Will Sierra get a Christmas miracle?  What actually happened in Caleb’s past?  Should everyone be judged by their worst day? These are some of the questions that the novel posits, and the plot does have a nice quick pace to it.

I have been eagerly waiting for my copy, ever since I stumbled across the first Teen Book Festival Event at Barnes and Nobel and won the trivia contest.  I felt guilty and gave half of my swag away, but as a school librarian, I am excited to have access to Advance Reader’s copies this year, both to read and assess for collection development, and to share with students.  I am planning to have students turn in book recommendations this year, and do a drawing each month with the students that participate.  I will give away various prizes, but I am sure the ARC’s will go first.

I did enjoy What Light, although I do think that some additional character development would bolster the story.  Throughout the novel, Sierra is always making coffee with hot chocolate and a peppermint stick, and this novel is the equivalent of that.  Lots of good feeling, warmth and nostalgia, with the hint of something darker underneath.  While I do have some hesitations about this novel, I think it will prove popular with a lot of my high school students, and I also really like the hopeful message of the story.  With so many dystopian novels crowding the scene, I have admitted that there are times I would like more “books about puppies” – and this book fits that desire quite nicely.  While not my favorite by this author, I still finished it pretty quickly, and fell easily into the rhythms of the story.   This will make a good addition, also, as a holiday story – of which there are really not many for the secondary level.

Finally, I am always glad when there is a novel that presents people who are farmers, or live in a more rural area, as regular people – not people defined fully by their geography as backwards, or stupid.  As a teacher/librarian in a rural district, I can say that simply putting teenagers in a rural setting does not change their desire to be the best person they can be, or their need to go through the turmoil of adolescence and find their own ways in life.

 

Highlights of Summer Reading Weeks 4-5

 

IMG_2711.jpgTurning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Act by Lynda Blackmon Lowery.  This nonfiction book is a great way for students to learn about the realities of the Civil Rights Movement.  Lowery speaks of her experiences in several marches, culminating in the march from Selma to Montgomery, on which she was the youngest marcher.  While I had seen the horrible and iconic images of the first Montgomery march, there were a lot of details that I had no awareness of.  This is a clear and straightforward text, with several pictures to illustrate the narrative.

IMG_2810.jpgMasterminds by Gordan Korman is about an idyllic, perfect town, where there is no crime, and no one lies.  However, as the children of the town soon begin to discover, nothing is really as it seems.  This has a lot of action and adventure, and is the first in a series.  I don’t want to spoil what actually happens, but it was different than other books I have read.

Simon vs. The Homo Sapien AgendaIMG_2811.jpg by Becky Albertalli is a charming novel aboutSimon, a closeted junior in high school.  When Martin, who is in the musical with him, finds some emails, he tries to blackmail Simon with the information. Simon has been considering coming out, but he knows there will be struggles, and he hasbeen emailing with another student from his school, and he does not want to risk outing him as well.  A great, romantic, coming of age story.

Nothing Bad is Going to Happen by Kathleen Hale – this is the sequel to No One Else Can IMG_2809.jpgHave You.  It is another story about Kippy Bushman, and this one involves her finding her boyfriend, unconscious, after an apparent suicide attempt – however, just like in the first novel, not everything is at is seems.  An interesting mystery, although not as strong as the first book.

Musings on Baseball and trying something new

This year my son played baseball for the first time.   Neither my husband nor I ever played organized sports, so it was a new experience for the entire family.  The season had its ups and downs – it was clear that most of the other parents had more background knowledge, and some knew each other from t-ball.  My son really struggled at first, not only had he never played, he had never even seen a baseball game before.  We were lucky and had great coaches, that really worked with all of the kids.  Also, in the first round of games, they were allowed to use the tee, but then transitioned away from that.  This led to my son striking out several times in a row, but when he finally did hit it, the parents on our team reacted like he had won the entire game.   It was really fun to watch my son start to consistently hit the ball, and awesome to watch his entire team really improve and start playing as a team over the course of the season.

There were plenty of moments of high drama during the season, and one team that I dreaded playing, because things always seemed to get heated, but yesterday was our last game – and I realized I will miss it.  We only missed one game the entire season, and that was because I read the schedule wrong once, and we missed the second game.  There were several games that no one wanted to go to, my son wanted to quit, and we were tired from our lives.  Also, like I said, neither my husband nor I are very into sports.

This morning, I realized that after the intensity of the final tournament this weekend, I was actually sad to see the season end.  My son is sad too – his team won the tournament, and he is excited to wear his medal around – but I don’t think I would have predicted this outcome when we all started this season.

It made me think that there are a lot of things that I have just dismissed, because I know I don’t like them – and that maybe I am wrong about some of those.  Also, it made me think I need to keep trying new approaches with those students that don’t want to read – I need to keep striving to find ways to help them through their struggle.  If we always quit when something gets too hard, we might cheat ourselves of an experience we might really enjoy.

 

Summer Reading 2016- Week one

IMG_2688.jpg This summer I hope to keep up with posting about my reading, but I am taking my last two grad classes, so I will do my best.

The first book, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, is the debut novel of Stephanie Oakes.   I am excited for any further books she writes – this was a complex and tense novel that hooked me in from the start.  After talking to him about it, my husband also read it in about a day.  The writer’s MFA in poetry is highly evident in this novel, in that the writing style and metaphors are fantastic and useful.  That being said, this is a novel for high school students, as it deals with some exceptional levels of violence and cruelty, which Minnow recounts, both to her FBI psychologist, and to her roommate in juvenile detention.  While we know from the very beginning that Minnow no longer has her hands, how that happened is revealed over time.  While the main character that belonged to a cult could become a truly sensational story, the author here carefully crafts a protagonist that the reader responds to – and roots for, through all of the flashback reveals.

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I admittedly do not read a lot of series to completion.  I will often read the first book in a series, but often I don’t finish the rest of the books.  The Shadowhunter books are a definite exception to this tendency.  I tend to consume these as quickly as I can, and I enjoyed this first book in her new, connected series.  Fans of the previous two Shadowhunter series will see some of their favorite characters in this, but there is a new cast, and a new take on a love story here as well.  I feel that Clare does a great job of integrating action, adventure, supernatural forces, and love stories that are a bit different from the expectation.  The love interests always face a major obstacle – but often in an unexpected way.  I look forward to the rest of this series as well.

Through the Woods is a collection of graphic novel short stories.  Some are takes on fairy tale – like stories, all of them are unsettling, and leave some interprative choices up to the reader.  This is not a great collection to read right before bed, but I think it is a great addition to my high school library collection, and a great one to give students that enjoy a good creepy read.  IMG_2685.jpg

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A Time to Dance is a novel in verse. It tells the story of Veda, a rising star in Bharatanatyam dance.  She lives with her parents and her grandmother, and her mother does not really support her dancing.  She would prefer for Veda to become a doctor someday.  However, when Veda is badly injured in an accident, and has to have one of her legs amputated, she has to find new ways to reach her dreams.  This reminded me a great deal of The Running Dream, by Van Draanen,   Veda’s quest to dance again is inspiring, and the plot does not fall into melodrama, but does a great job of exploring Veda’s quest back to dance in a realistic manner.  The fact that it is a novel in verse also makes this one a quick read.

The final book for the first week was Caged Warrior, by Alan Lawrence Sitomer.   This novel tells the story of Mccutcheon Daniel, or Bam Bam, as he is known in the underground illegal world of cage fighting.  His dad has been training him since he was three, so that he could eventually become an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter, when he turns eighteen.  The family lives in Detroit’s 7 mile neighborhood, and has a lot of fight action, which will appeal to fans of mixed martial arts.  It also has a young man who wants to get out of the fighting lifestyle, but is trapped by his love for his sister, and his abusive, addict father.  This is an interesting work, with a memorable protagonist, and some unexpected twists along the way.

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