Wednesday, July 23, 2014

El Deafo, by Cece Bell

After an illness at age 4, Cece loses her hearing.  She is soon equipped with a hearing aid that involves wearing a pouch around her neck attached to some "ear globs".  Cece is happy to hear again, but now has to learn how to understand once more.  To top things off, Cece now has to go to a new school.

A good thing about the new school is the other kids are wearing hearing aids too, and Cece is learning some useful skills like lip reading and using visual, context and gestural clues to help in understanding.  Cece is just finding her way, when her family decides to leave the city and head to the country, where she will be going to a regular school.

Cece gets a brand-new-BIG-for-school-only-around-the-neck hearing aid (The Phonic Ear) that comes with a microphone for her teacher to wear and is superpowerful.  What nobody expects is that it comes with the added feature of having a super long range, allowing Cece to hear not only her teacher teaching, but whatever her teacher is doing when she is out of the room as well (yes...even *that*!).

Cece has to negotiate the things that all kids go through at school - including navigating a friend who is not-so-nice, and getting her first crush.  Things unique to her situation include dealing with friends who TALK TOO LOUD AND TOO SLOW, and those who refer to her as their "deaf friend".

This is more than a graphic memoir - it is a school and family story for all kids.  Cece is an imaginative and emotional kid with whom readers will identify.  There is an accessibility to Bell's art that immediate draws you in and you can't help but cheer with her successes and cringe with her tears.  Fans of Telgemeier and Varon will readily scoop this up off of the shelves, and it *will* be passed hand to hand.  I am certain I will see many doodles of Cece and her friends in the margins of writer's notebooks this coming school year.  Do yourself a favor...get more than one!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Under the Egg, by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Theodora Tenpenny may live in Manhattan, but it's not a glamorous existence for her.  She lives in a ramshackle house with her absent minded math genius mother and her grandfather Jack.  But right on page 4, Jack is killed and leaves Theo only with the dying message of "Look under the egg."

Not much for a 13 year old who is trying to keep it together to go on.  So between gardening, taking care of her chickens and pickling for food, scanning the streets for useful objects and caring for her mother, Theo needs to unravel what her grandfather's wishes were.

Theo is up in her grandfather's art studio one day trying to figure out the mystery when a mouse runs up her leg and she jumps up and spills some rubbing alcohol on one of Jack's paintings - the painting unlike his other paintings.  The egg.  As Theo desperately tries to clean the rubbing alcohol off, the colors smear and smudge and she is devastated at losing this last bit of Jack.  But when she looks closely she realizes that under the egg, a different painting is revealing itself.  Could this be what Jack's dying words were about?

Theo is at a neighborhood diner owned by a friend of Jack's where she forms an unlikely friendship with Bodhi - another 13 year old who has just moved down the block and happens to have Hollywood parents.  Where Theo's existence is positively Little House on the Prairie, Bodhi's is the Jetsons in comparison.  Theo surprisingly lets Bodhi in on the secret painting, and soon with Theo's art history knowledge and Bodhi's internet skills, they are on the trail to the truth.

Woven into the text are explanations of fine art, as well as bits of history involving WWII.  There are also real life bits of NYC living including the Staten Island Ferry, Grace Church, the Met and the Jefferson Market Library.  All of these true things had me actually google Spinney Lane to see if it was one of those Manhattan streets I've walked by a million times but not walked down.

This is a solid summer mystery with a really fantastic sense of place.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

It's Summer Throwdown Time!

It's year 3 of the #summerthrowdown, y'all!  What is the summer throwdown, you ask? Well, it started as a friendly competition between teachers and librarians to see who could get the most reading done in a month. Over the years it has morphed into a read-o-rama, where we all try to read as much as we can to inform our readers advisory skills.

When I do the #summerthrowdown I tend to read across age groups so that I can recommend books to all constituents in our school - from the 4 year olds to the 15 year olds to parents and care givers.  So while you will be hearing about the tween titles more fully here, I am going to give a couple brief synopses of some of the books I have read and enjoyed that fall out of the tween age group.

First off we have Noggin, by John Corey Whaley.  Travis Coates opted for a radical treatment to his cancer - having his head removed and placed in a cyrogenics lab to await a possible body donation sometime in the future.  But the future comes sooner than anyone can imagine.  After only 5 years, Travis is still 16 and his best friend and girlfriend seem to have moved on, his parents are off and he feels like a freak.  How will he make it through this transformation?






Next, we have Alex London's follow up to Proxy called Guardian.  The Rebooters have taken over and the Reconciliation has placed Syd (Yovel) at its head, given him a bodyguard and are trying to reform the world.  Power, however, is an interesting thing and perhaps the leanings of those in charge of the Reconciliation aren't where they should be.  Larger than life characters and constant action will keep fans of the first installment wanting more.






A Time to Dance, by Padma Venkatraman is a stunning account of dancer Veda's journey as a dancer.  She has always wanted to dance, has breathed rhythm and feels strongly enough to go against her mother's wishes for her education.  Where a terrible crash leaves her an amputee, Veda has to find a way to dance again. Beautifully written, this story is a must read.







And finally Toms River, by Dan Fagin.  I am still working on this one, but this account of small towns and industrial pollution has this former resident of Niagara captivated.  I keep having to read bits aloud, because I simply cannot believe what was going on unbeknownst to most residents of Toms River in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.  Fascinating and horrifying all at once.







So head on over to the Summer Throwdown and get reading!










Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What's In A Name

creative commons search "name"
As someone who has a background in feminist studies, I know that the naming of things is important.  There is a power in a name, and politics exist within the realm of naming as well.

What does this have to do with libraries and librarianship? Quite a bit.

When I was in library school back in the mid 90s, my graduate school was going through reaccreditation.  One of the issues on the table was renaming the school.  On the table was changing the degree from a Masters in Library and Information Studies to a Masters in Information Studies.  Heated debates ensued, but at the end of it all, the students felt that it was really important to leave the word library in the title of the degree.

In the world of school libraries, after a stint of media centers, it seems that the term of favor now is Information Commons.  My response to this is that I think that the very idea of information commons is implicit in the idea of libraries.  I do understand that the term IC is probably much sexier when it comes to funding. Whenever I tell folks I am a school I usually get a chuckle and nudge and told either I don't look like a librarian, or asked if I still teach Dewey.  I know if I told them I was worked in an information commons in an academic setting I might get a little more respect.  I find myself, however, sticking to the terms library and librarian.

Trust me, I have done plenty of reflection regarding whether or not I am simply becoming one of those "GET OFF MY LAWN" people.  I really don't think that is it.  I don't think that I am clinging to something that is outdated.  Rather, I think that folks really need to broaden their view of what it means to be a librarian and work in a library.

What do you think is in a name?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander

Fast talking basketball kid Josh lives for the game.  It makes sense since his father Chuck "Da Man" Bell was a player in his own right back in the day.  Chuck played the European League, but now stays home to take care of the house while Josh's mom is the Vice Principal at his school.  Josh's twin Jordan (JB) lives for basketball too, but things are starting to shift.

Miss Sweet Tea in her pink Reeboks has caught JB's attention, and Josh isn't quite sure how to be without JB.  He finds himself missing his brother's wisecracks and bets.  He's not used to being one.  Even on the court their flow has changed, and Josh crosses a line in a way that he wouldn't have even considered before.

Girls and basketball aren't the only things that the Bell family is dealing with.  Mrs. Bell is trying, trying, trying to get Chuck to deal with his health issues.  He is a man who likes his treats, he gets fired up over his sons' games, and he simply refuses to see a doctor despite his spells.

This story of the love of the game, shifting allegiances and family will take readers on a journey they are not likely to forget.  There's a rawness and realness to Josh both on and off the court.  Alexander's free verse brings the pace of the story up, but there are moments that give the reader real pause as well. For example in Basketball Rule #3 Alexander writes:" Never let anyone / lower your goals. / Others' expectations / of you are determined / by their limitations / of life. / The sky is your limit, sons. / Always shoot / for the sun / and you will shine."  And the poem Dear Jordan will leave you breathless.

The Crossover is a quick read, but it is a book that should and will be reread. Add this to your TBR pile, asap!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Musings - Gender and Reading - Gendered Reading

By Copyright by Fritz W. Guerin, St. Louis. [Public domain]
Gender seems to be perpetually in the air in the world of librarianship and children's literature.  I have been in this field for a while now and have worked in some different settings, but my setting of well over 10 years now has been in a school.

Over the past month or so I have been paying more attention than usual to our collection, gender and circulation.  I first started off simply with a post-it and two columns.  Each time a student would check out a book, I would mark off the column with the gender identification.  Every day the results would be similar.  The boys and girls in my school check out a similar amount of books.

I then decided to utilize the catalog software. (Anyone who knows me knows that I *love* running statistics!) I started off looking at the top ten patrons (those with the highest number of check outs) for the month, then I ran it back to the last 9 months of the school year.  The results?  Out of the top 10 patrons, 7 of them are boys.  Open the stats up to the top 50 patrons and the gender mix gets closer - 26 girls and 24 boys make up our top 50.

I have many thoughts about the why of this.  We have 4 librarians shepherding our students through their years at school.  Our early childhood librarian is a man, so one of the students first looks at what a reader looks like is Jesse.  We are very mindful about the books we share with our students, and we try incredibly hard to make sure there is a variety with characters who are diverse in all sorts of ways.  When we find stereotypes, we talk about them with the students.  We don't go in for the "Girl's Read" "Guys Read" variety of booklists or book talks.  In fact, two of my favorite anecdotes about assumptions helped make me more aware of my own gender bias after being steeped in this girls vs boys culture my whole life.  We have a boy who is a super reader, and he mostly (to my knowledge) was a reader of graphic novels.  He pretty much read everything we had for his age group by the time he was done with 4th grade.  At the end of the year, I ask the students to reflect and I ask them their favorite title.  His favorite title of all time?  The Penderwicks by Birdsall.  We also had a group of middle school boys who quietly came into the library and methodically checked out every single Clique book.  They didn't hide them, read them out in the open, and felt no shame along the way.

It's really up to the adults in the room to set the tone and fight against the pink and blue tide.  Create a reading culture, make sure you are not perpetuating the stereotype by handing boys sports books and girls friendship books.  Highlight books that get outside of the gender box.  Remember, there are no such thing as boy books and girl books, no matter what some marketing departments might say.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

The Secret Hum of a Daisy, by Tracy Holczer

Grace is used to traveling from place to place with her wandering mom, so when she passes and Grace has to stop, she is worried.  She knows that if she could just stay with Mrs. Greene and Lacey she will be alright.  But that is not the plan.  The plan is that she has to stay with her grandmother.

The problem is, she never met her grandmother before.  In fact, all she knows about her is that she kicked her mom out of the house when she was a teenager and pregnant with Grace.  Grace feels that if her grandmother didn't want her then, how can she possibly want her now?

Once she lands in her mother's hometown, she starts to see signs and find clues that her mother is still with her.  It's just like when she was younger and they would move to a different place -- her mother would send her on a scavenger hunt through the town.  This time, it all starts with an origami crane, stuck in the bushes on Grace's first day of school after the funeral.  "Mama thought birds were signposts sent to let us know we were headed in the right direction.  We'd look for birds on road signs, in murals or billboards, anywhere they might show up.  So I took that bird as a sign of encouragement." (pg. 57)

But is Grace on the right path?  Is trying to make her grandmother angry so she will send her back to Mrs. Greene the right thing to do?  Or should she stay in her mama's town and learn more about her mama, her late father and grandfather and her grandmother as well?  Should Grace give her a chance?

This is less a story of loss than it is a story of finding oneself.  Grace is quiet and thoughtful and is torn apart with her idea of Before mama died and After mama died.  The passing of her mother is fresh (days old at the start) and the reader joins Grace on this journey of trying to do more than simply exist in the After.  The Secret Hum of a Daisy possesses a simplicity that I find refreshing.  There is a poetry to the prose that is as far from flowery as you can get, but manages to land just right.  Several times I had to pause, close the book and just sit in wonder for a moment.  This is one that will simmer with you for a very long time after you read the final words.

Beautiful.