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.

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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Title Confusion: These Shallow Graves vs. Shallow Graves

Within the last three months we have had two new additions to the Jr/Sr high collection that have very similar titles. These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, and Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace.  I am planning on recording a book talk to post for my students, and I thought that might make a fun series of book talks, because there are a lot of books with either identical or very similar titles.

Both of these novels have an element of mystery to them, but they are rather different in some elements.

Shallow Graves, by Kali Wallace, starts with Breezy waking up in a shallow grave, with a man standing over her.  She pulls, and suddenly he is dead, and she is walking around.  She realizes she can see who is a killer or not, and that she can kill anyone who is themselves, a killer.  As she travels around the country looking for some answers, she encounters others, and gets some answers.  This is a supernatural thriller, there are plenty of scary moments, and times I was not sure about the outcome.  I think this would be a good pick for students that like books that are scary, and that involve creatures from various traditions.  There is not a lot of background given about those creatures, so they may want other books after that explain some of the creatures in more detail.  That said, there is also quite a bit of humor in the story as well.  For instance, she once introduces herself in the following way, “Hi. I’m Beezy.  I’m the reanimated corpse your brother found in Wyoming”(Wallace 189).  In some regards the humor around supernatural issues reminded me of Gil’s All Fright Diner, which is one of my favorite books.

These Shallow Graves, by Jennifer Donnelly, also follow a young woman on a quest.  In this case, Jo Montfort is trying to figure out what really happened to her father.  His death was ruled  accidental, but it is clear something else happened.  It is 1890s New York City, however, and her family belongs to the privileged elite, which means that she cannot easily investigate without risking her reputation.  This is a great story, with plenty of action, but also the sense of how stifling Jo’s place in society truly is.  There are some great action scenes in this story as well, as her situation becomes more and more perilous.

Both novels feature scary sequences.  Also, the protagonists have some similarities, as Jo longs to be a reporter like Nellie Bly, and Breezy has always dreamed of becoming a Mars astronaut.  These goals and dreams strongly shape both of these characters, as well as societal expectations that they must fight against.

 

On making a book trailer

For one of the classes I am taking this semester, I needed to create a book trailer.  I read a book we had just received from our Junior Library Guild Subscription, These Shallow Graves, by Jennifer Donnelly.  It is a historical fiction mystery, set in New York City in the 1890s – which seems to be a fairly popular setting in YA fiction.  I enjoyed the novel, and thought especially that the depictions of social constraints for all types of people in that setting were well used.  Also, as a Jennifer Donnelly novel, the characters are engaging and rich, and I found myself cringing as the heroine, Jo Montfort, was often in dangerous situations.

I then set about creating my trailer, and I admit, the whole process easily took me more hours than the literature review I had due for my other class did.  I began by using an iMovie template, but found it to be unworkable.  I was not able to modify the template at all, and while it did have great features, I decided to abandon it and go another route.  ( I have subsequently been informed that you can save a template as a project, and then modifications are much more possible).

After a quick internet search, I happened across an article by Richard Byrne called, “Free Technology for Teachers: 5 Free Tools for Creating Book Trailer Videos”.  I had used Animoto in the past, but my free trial had ended, and I was not sure if I could justify the purchase price at this time.  I decided to try Masher, as it offered the tools I needed.

I was able to create a pretty good video between using Masher and music from the Free Music Archive – but then I could not get it to download.  Tech support from Masher was helpful throughout, but we never did fix the issue.  They did suggest next time I sign up as an educator and try it that way, so that might be an avenue I do consider.

At this point I was cursing the entire concept of Book Trailers, and ended up emailing a librarian listserv I belong to.  They were, of course, highly helpful, and one person suggested the Chrome extension WeVideo.  I installed that, and it worked very well.  My video worked, and it was easy to add text to the still images I had found.  I will say the saving grace for me was that as I found images, I copied and pasted their link into a Google Drive document, so I could find the images later and cite them correctly.  Also, I saved the images to my photos and desktop so I could get them again later.

Finally done with that, I spent the next hour or two on my works cited page, thinking perhaps historical fiction, with the difficulties in image finding, was not the best original choice.

I admit my attitude was pretty bad regarding the whole episode, until a couple of days later, when a student came into the library with tech issues of their own.  I worked with them on troubleshooting, and even suggested WeVideo as an alternative to Screencastify.  They decided to stay with the original program, but the interaction made me realize that unless I am willing to try new programs and technology, how will I continue to help my students?  Also, I will not glibly throw off the suggestion to just, “make a book trailer”, without coming up with some appropriate guides and help for my students first.

I am not going to share my finished project here for a couple of reasons.  1 – All I can see are the mistakes on this one. 2. – I have a works cited page, but I lack the rights for a lot of the images, and I don’t want to be a poor steward of copyright law.