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.


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


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.


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.


Some thoughts on weeding

This fall I have been working on weeding all of the collections in my district.  I actually find weeding to be a great exercise in reflection.  While I am going through the collections book by book, I realize that eventually every book I purchase for the collections will, in turn, one day be weeded.  While I thought that would bother me, I found it actually soothing that librarians that followed me would one day follow the same process – sitting in relative silence, pondering whether each book should remain in the collection.  In some ways, it makes me feel connected to a long line of librarians, all of whom both purchased and purged books from the collections.  Being a district librarian can sometimes feel very solitary, and such a reflective process helps me to feel part of a long  tradition.

Part of my ease with this might come from the fact that we let teachers and students take the discarded books – I know that there is some opposition to this, but especially with fiction I do not have an issue with it. It also makes it feel more that the books are finding their new home with one family, instead of being shared with all of the children.   Also, I find it encouraging that some students are so excited to take a book home – and find that they really like it when it is their own.

Some of my ease with the process might also be that it is only my second year in the library, so these are not purchases I made.  I do think that taking the time to reflect on the collection in this way is important, and I am encouraged by the fact that weeding is meant to be ongoing.  It means that reflection is built into the very nature of being a librarian.  Taking the time to weed has also allowed me to be in all the buildings more, and observe what students and teachers need – allowing me to gain insight into the future of the library.

Summer Reading – Week Seven – Makerspace Research

So, last week I read exactly one book. I did a lot of reading on makerspaces, and watched some video as well, but only finished the one book.


It was Laura Fleming’s great, short text on makerspaces, and how to establish them in your building.  If anyone is thinking of starting a makerspace, this is a great one to read, and at 65 pages, it is a text you can get through easily.  This was a well – written, very practical guide, that helped me get excited about the potential of makerspaces.

I would love to hear from people about their experiences with establishing makerspaces in their own libraries, or museums, or other public spaces.

Summer reading – Week one

My last day of work for the school year was June 5, and I have had the pleasure to read a wide and varied assortment of books this first week off.

IMG_1386The first book I read was Countdown, the first of a planned trilogy on the 1960s.  For those that are interested in paired texts, this novel has non-fiction throughout, which give the readers the context they need to understand the time period.  The novel itself is a coming – of – age story, told by misunderstood middle child Fanny Chapman.  It is set during the Cuban missile crisis, and sets up the Civil Rights Movement as well.  In order for middle school students to understand the historical context, there are frequent breaks where historical nonfiction  is included.  An interesting novel in a mixed medium format.  I did enjoy it, although I admit that sometimes the story felt contrived in order to explain the history of the time.


The second novel I read was also the first book in a series.  Some of this comes from the fact that I have been pulling series books in the junior/senior high school library, and putting external labels on them so the order is clear.  As a result, several interesting books have come to my attention.  This one caught my attention because of the cover text that said, “Chocolate is contraband. Caffeine is illegal.”  It is set in the near future, about 2 -3 generations away from our present time.  There are shortages in several ways, and Anya, the protagonist of the novel, is the daughter of an infamous crime boss, the leader of the Balanchine family.  This was a fascinating story, full of intrigue, star – crossed lovers, and difficult choices.  I really enjoyed this one, and it was set in a slightly dystopian future, but the focus was really on the characters and their lives.

IMG_1389Novel number three was the fascinating start to the Iron Trial Series.  I am a fan of both Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, and this did not disappoint.  I am really excited to see where the rest of the series goes.  While the premise of a magical test and magical school might appear to have similarities to other series, and I was reminded of A Wizard of Earthsea and Harry Potter, I did not see the end reveals coming – and I will leave it at that.

IMG_1390Counting by 7s was the fourth book of the week, and I found it to be rather interesting, although I found some of this to be a re-tread of common ground, in that the gifted child in the book, Willow Chance,  seemed almost to have magical powers.  The characters she encounters after a terrible tragedy are interesting, and interconnect in great ways, but I did find myself wondering about  Roberta and Jimmy Chance on more than one occasion.

IMG_1393 This was the book I was able to take from my local public library after I signed up for the adult reading program.  It was a very interesting tale that alternated between the current time with the quest of Tristan to find out about his ancestors, and the story of Ashley Walsingham and Imogen Soames – Andersson, star crossed lovers from the past.  I really enjoyed the sections from WWI and an early Everest expedition, but I did feel that some parts of Tristan’s story could have been a bit clearer, and I am glad to have the novel, because I think I need to re-read the ending a couple of times. IMG_1392

Finally, I ended the week with a personal indulgence.  I love Agatha Christie novels, and I have a small collection of them.  This was my newest addition, and it is an early Hercule Poirot story.  They mystery was great, as usual, and I even figured out part of it! That is always a triumph for me with a Christie novel.  My favorite part of this was Poirot’s delicious rivalry with a French detective.

What is everyone reading this summer?  I had some extra time on my hands this week, as my car was in the shop on some rainy days, but we shall see how the rest of the summer goes.