Monday, February 28, 2011

I'm being profiled!

Oh hey guess what! I am the featured blogger this month at Annick Press's blog, Tea Time at Annick Press! If you want to get to know me a little bit better, check out the interview here.

I'm kind of excited about it, not gonna lie.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Teen Spaces in Libraries

In my Young Adult Services and Programs class, we recently spoke about teen spaces in libraries. I got to thinking about how controversial it can be. Should we give them their own room, or at least give them some cooler furniture? Should food or beverages be allowed? What does the budget allow? How can we make it so the teen space is clearly designated for them?

In a perfect world, every library would have a space just for teens. It would be comfy, with colorful walls and funky lighting, posters and artwork, and of course, lots of materials that would interest them. This space would be separated from the rest of the library, and everyone would see the importance of and need for this use of space. But we don't live in a perfect world, and in many libraries the only "space" teens have are on the shelves of the young adult section.

In the library where I work, there's no teen room, just a section right next to the quiet reading room (not ideal). There are a few tables and chairs, and a few books on self-help reader's advisory. My hometown's library is a little better, with some more comfortable seating and a space blocked off by the shelves of the teen section. It's slightly cozier. But it's still not a real great "hang out" space, which I think is important. We want teens to spend time in the library. If they have no place to do this, then why would they stay?

What are all your thoughts on this? Do you have an awesome teen room in your local library? (One person in my class described one where the teens themselves helped design it—complete with a glass garage-type door that can be closed and opened whenever they want to play music inside. How incredibly awesome, not to mention functional.) Does your library even have a space for teens, or do you think there isn't a need for one?

Villette Readalong: Week 3

Whew! JUST finished the part assigned for week 3, and all I have to say is I KNEW IT I TOTALLY CALLED THAT IN YOUR FACE.

**WARNING: Spoilers for Villette up to chapter 18 follow.**

Holy crap I TOTALLY called Dr. John being Graham. I super excited that I was totally right. The hair! The name! As to how it all played out, well, I'm glad Lucy FINALLY had a reason to say something to him. Honestly though, how could he have not recognized her? For real. She spent large amounts of time at his house. I know he was all preoccupied with Ginevra being a huge bee-yotch, but come on now. I'd have been upset if he hadn't recognized me too, which is (I'm guessing) the reason Lucy didn't say a damn word. Kids!

And how completely bizarre must it have been for Lucy to wake up with so many familiar objects around her like that? It's like when you wake up and you can't remember where you are, but times 10. She thought she was crazy, she said so herself. I'd have freaked.


As for everything else going on, I'm wanting some more action. I'm starting to lose a little interest in the characters, though the last couple chapters got me into it a little more. Lucy is clearly grappling with the tragedies of her past, and I'm hoping we get to see what that's all about. I want to know what happened.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Top Ten Book-to-Movie Adaptations

Hey all! It's Top Ten Tuesday time again, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and I know you want to know what my top ten favorite book-to-movie adaptations are.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird. If you haven't seen this movie and yet loved the book, you NEED to go watch this now. It's THE BEST adaptation I've ever seen, bar none. So close to the book, with a stellar performance by Gregory Peck as Atticus.

2. Pride and Prejudice. Yeah, sorry, I mean the one with Keira Knightly. I really liked this one, and I don't have the patience to sit through the six-hour BBC one.

3. The Princess Bride. One of the only adaptations where I like the movie better than the book. It ends better! And is so quotable.

4. A Kid in King Arthur's Court. Based on Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Really, I just wanted to remind you all that this movie exists. Remember the '90s??

5. A Christmas Story. This is based on a few essays from Jean Shepherd's In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. I could watch this movie a million times and still find it funny. It's pretty much my favorite.

6. Shrek. Yeah, this is a picture book by William Steig. Surprise! I love the movie way better though.

7. Homeward Bound. How can you not love this movie? The dogs and cat talk! And one of them is Michael J. Fox!

8. Bridget Jones's Diary. Okay, so maybe I like the movie better than the book a little more often than I thought. Movie = awesome, book = pretty good.

9. The Secret Garden. I love this movie. The garden itself is magical, and the young actors excellent. Plus the music is gorgeous.

10. Coraline. The movie did a great job at translating the creepy factor of the book. The stop-action animation really did the trick. I just wasn't so sure about some character additions... where the heck did that other random kid come from?

There you have it! Top ten that I can think of at the moment. Go to The Broke and the Bookish to list your top ten favorites.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Review: "Saraswati's Way" by Monika Schroeder

Title: Saraswati's Way
Author: Monika Schroeder
Publisher: Frances Foster Books, 2010

Akash is 12 years old, living with his extended family in their Indian village, and dreams of learning more about math and numbers. He is excellent with figures and can mentally solve many math problems—bu he has learned all his teacher has to offer, and his family cannot afford to get him a tutor or send him on to a higher level of school. But then tragedy strikes, and he is forced to work off his family's debt in a quarry. He escapes, but only to become a street child in Delhi, where he starts to understand how hopeless his situation seems. Can he resist the temptations of making quick money through unseemly means, or will he be able to be patient and find the right way to knowledge?

This is a quick read, but full of descriptions of place, Indian culture, street life and Hinduism. I learned a bit about the Hindu religion and how its practitioners worship, at least in the part of India Akash is from, and I learned a lot about the Indian culture, namely life in a traditional household and life for children on the street. It can be gritty, and children have to resort to desperate measures to survive.

Yet Schroeder gives us this picture in a more kid-friendly way. Despite the horror of street life, the phrasing is simple and gentle enough for younger readers to understand it without having nightmares. Her writing is very to the point and frank.

I did have a few problems while I was reading. Some paragraphs are far too long; I think the text could use a bit more editing and breaks in the structure when it comes to that. I found an entire chapter that only had one paragraph. There were also parts of dialogue where there wasn't a new paragraph when a new character spoke, which confused me. And speaking of dialogue, some of it was very stilted and seemed unrealistic, especially a scene with a doctor toward the end of the book. I found the writing tended to be a bit choppy, but for some reason this worked for the most part.

One other thing that confused me was the unfamiliar religious practices described. At one point there is a festival going on and Akash's family is in mourning—certain things happen, and I couldn't tell if it was because of the festival or the mourning period. I could get what was happening most of the time, and eventually I figured out what was going on after I got confused, but I struggled a bit occasionally.

I was sucked into the story, especially once Akash started to be exposed to the darker side of street living. I got worked up at the injustices, worried about the young hero of the story, and was saddened at the circumstances. There are drugs and perverts in the world, and Akash is forced to find this out. Luckily he (somehow) manages to find friends pretty quickly and easily, so he's rarely ever truly alone.

After the novel ends, there is an author's note that explains about street children in India, Vedic math, and the Hindu gods mentioned in the text—I recommend reading this. There's also a glossary for the Indian terms used throughout the book.

Saraswati's Way tells the ultimately hopeful story of a boy who ends up on the street and tries to survive, while always pursuing his goal of getting a good education. Though there were some issues for me, I think this would be a good introduction to Indian custom and religion for a younger reader, plus it gives some nifty math tricks.

Disclosure: The author sent me a copy of this book for review.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Audiobook Review: "Dairy Queen" by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Title: Dairy Queen
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Publisher: Listening Library (paperback Houghton Mifflin), 2006
Narrator: Natalie Moore

D.J. Schwenk has a lot to deal with. Not only is she the only daughter out of four kids, she is pretty much in charge of running the dairy farm her family owns, at least ever since her dad's hip got really bad. Her older brothers (both football stars when they were in high school) aren't talking to the rest of the family because of a fight they had with their dad, her younger brother doesn't talk, and her mother has two jobs that take up all of her time. Her dad is trying to learn how to cook (slow going). She got an F in English last year. And her friend Amber is starting to act really weird. And to top it all off? Brian Nelson, quarterback of her high school's rival's football team, is being forced to work for her family the summer before their senior year, and D.J. has agreed to train him.

D.J. has some major self-esteem issues—she fully believes that she is neither pretty nor smart, yet just accepts this as cold hard fact. It bothers her a little sometimes, but mostly she just does what needs to be done without too much to say about it. In fact, she does a lot of stuff that needs to be done, including the majority of the farm work, which irritates her a little, but again she says nothing (after all, D.J. knows that good, old-fashioned hard work is one of her greatest talents). She does everything that's expected of her, until Brian makes a comment about how she's just like a cow and will do pretty much whatever anyone tells her to do.

This gets her thinking. She notices a lot of the people in her town of Red Bend are like cows, going through the motions without deviating from the norm, at least not really. D.J. decides she does not want to be a cow. And so she makes an awesome decision. She is going to try out for the Red Bend high school football team. How great is that? I never get to read about girls trying out for sports dominated by men, and D.J. decides to do it without really worrying about how she'll be treated by other people. In fact, her biggest concerns are a) how her father will take it (hint: not well), and b) how Brian will take it (hint: worse than her dad).

I enjoyed watching (or listening) how Brian and D.J.'s relationship developed over the course of his training and the summer working on the farm. Their hatred grows into a grudging friendship, which, for D.J., eventually turns into a bit more. It's a slow transition, but how refreshing to have a realistic crush in a YA book.

As D.J. starts to work toward goals for herself, she becomes more confident, though it's subtle. She doesn't rag on herself as much as the story progresses. One thing I didn't like at first is how she references to the present (a few months after the action of the story takes place); I like to not know about anything that might happen in the future unless it's through some kind of foreshadowing. But afterward, it made sense to me and I wasn't so annoyed by it anymore.

Murdock lightly touches on heavier issues like sexism and sexuality, along with her main themes of deviating from the norm and what is expected. She handled it all very well, working it into the story without forcing it or making it an issues novel.

I was also a big fan of the language. Typical teen speak, without sounding too forced. This was probably helped by Moore's fantastic narration. She had a slight Wisconsin accent, completely taking me into D.J.'s story. Plus she emphasized and read phrases in certain ways that I might not have necessarily done while reading it, and I think it was for the better. It all sounded completely natural, and I loved it.

And again, I'm going to come back to this: D.J. tries out for football. SO awesome. For some reason I really like football stories or stories with football, despite my lack of interest in the sport itself. Weird. But I totally loved this audio book and highly recommend it, even if you're not a football fan.

Disclosure: I got this audiobook from the library.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Villette Readalong: Week 2

Just to warn you all, if you haven't read through the first 10 chapters of Villette, there might be some minor spoilers following. But nothing too revealing.

All right, so Lucy is proving herself to be pretty awesome by week two. She's begun her journey sans any sort of plan or funding besides her original 15 pounds and has somehow managed to land a teaching job after a few bumps along the way. Sweet stuff.

Let's take a look at the new characters we've come across, shall we? I kind of like Ginevra, despite her complete flakiness and selfishness. Not sure why. I mean, I don't love her and wouldn't want to hang out with her or anything, but I would rather be her superficial friend than someone she targets. I could live with having her as my gossip buddy that I can't trust (we've all had those, amiright?). And Madame Beck is... interesting. Another one I'd keep on my good side. I love how Lucy manages to admire pretty much everyone and know how to work with them, instead of thinking she's better or too good for someone. Even if the person is kind of weird or not someone very likable. Because personally, I don't like Madame Beck, but from Lucy's perspective I can see how she doesn't mind her so much.

Lucy has shown again and again that she can totally take care of herself without too many hitches. She's seen some luck so far, but I think her survival is mostly because of her quick thinking and management of all the resources she's got. Props to her.

And honestly? I think we all know who this Dr. John is. I'm fully expecting my suspicions to be confirmed in the next chapters. Onward!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: "When the Stars Go Blue" by Caridad Ferrer

Author: Caridad Ferrer
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, 2010

Soledad, incredibly talented dancer and recent high school graduate, knows exactly what she wants for her future. The summer after graduation, she plans on teaching at a ballet studio and, come January, will move to NYC to make her dream of dancing professionally a reality. But then an incredible opportunity presents itself: to play Carmen, the passionate gypsy of opera fame, in a drum and bugle corps for the entire summer on a tour of the country. Plus, she'll be spending time with the intoxicating and beautiful Jonathan, her classmate, a corps member, and the one who presented her with the idea in the first place.

Soledad's world is opened by her experiences in the strict corps, and her dancing is all the better for it. But her story doesn't just include a performance as Carmen; it mirrors it. It's clear after a few encounters that another is after her affection, and the results may spell ruin for Soledad and for her future.

For Valentine's Day, I wanted to pick a book that dealt with love, but also with passion. I figured a book based on the story of Carmen was a perfect fit, and I was right. Soledad and Jonathan's romance is fast and furious—the attraction is instantaneous, when Soledad notices Jonathan for the first time. Despite his  crush on her for the four years they've been in high school together, he has never gotten the nerve to talk to her before his idea to have her audition as Carmen, and it's immediately clear that his passion has been burning for a long time, all but exploding when Soledad begins to return the affection.

What I love about this book is how real all of the relationship felt to me. In high school, things do happen that fast. "I love yous" are exchanged, and you'll spend as much time as possible together. The interactions are believable, especially Jonathan's jealousy and slight possessiveness. This being their first real relationship, both Soledad and Jonathan are feeling it out and learning what it means to be in a relationship, though not always in a positive way.

Soledad narrates, and her language is spot on. It has just the right amount of cursing, and rarely did I think Ferrer tried too hard with making her sound like a teen. She did a fantastic job with that. My only complaints are the overuse of elipses throughout the text—some places it worked, but I got annoyed with them more often than not—and the chapter titles, which seemed to be all song titles. Again, some worked, but for some I was confused about the link between the title and content.

And let's talk about the corps for a minute. I loved reading about the marching and the performances; I was in marching band in high school and didn't particularly like it, but I had a pride in being a part of it. It's nothing compared to what this corps was like though. The intensity and precision, the descriptions of everything, are fantastic. And Soledad's description of her dancing is thrilling to read.

This is a great story about first love and incredible passion, yet also shows which behaviors can be harmful. Plus, a modernization of Carmen? Awesome. Ferrer does a lovely job at bringing the emotion and power of the opera into a modern teen context. I couldn't have asked for a better Valentine's Day read.

Disclosure: I purchased this book.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My "Love Bites" Contribution

If anyone is interested, Misty of The Book Rat posted a mini review of mine in her "Love Bites" series of posts. Check it out!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Review: "The Red Umbrella" by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Title: The Red Umbrella
Author: Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010

*Note: I apologize for the lack of accent marks in this review. I am computer incompetent sometimes and couldn't figure out how to do it!*

Lucia Alvarez is your typical teenage girl. She loves fashion, is excited to start wearing makeup, dreams over her crush. But she is not a modern teen in America—she lives in Cuba in 1961, the beginning of Castro's revolution. She notices things in her safe community of Puerto Mijares start to change: people are disappearing, losing jobs, and joining brigades supporting the revolution. Even her best friend starts to support it and forget about the things that once meant something to her.

At first Lucia thinks this is all for the best, a good thing. The revolution will make life better and more equal for everyone, or so she is told. But when she begins to see trusted members of her community being taken away and her own home life is drastically changed, she's not so sure. Finally her parents make an incredibly difficult decision: to send her and her little brother, Frankie, to the United States. Alone.

Christina Diaz Gonzalez tells the story of a young teen who goes through complete upheaval, taken away from everything she knows, including her language and family, and is plopped down in a completely foreign environment. What makes this story so incredible is that it's not an isolated incident. In an author's note, Gonzalez tells us about what later became known as Operation Pedro Pan, the largest exodus of unaccompanied children into the United States ever. I had never heard of this before I had the good fortune of hearing Gonzalez speak at the Boston Book Festival back in October and was immediately intrigued.

The story is one of heartache and change, of coming of age in a land not your own and being forced to grow up a little sooner than expected. Lucia witnesses horrific things in the place she's lived her whole life, and not too long after finds out she is leaving her homeland the day before her plane is due to leave—everything happens so quickly that she has trouble processing it all.

The story is told in such a way that it is hard to set it down for a break. I always wanted to find out what was going to happen to Lucia and Frankie; how they were going to adjust to everything, whether or not they would ever be reunited with their parents, what was happening to their friends and family in Cuba.

Lucia is easy to relate to for girls, as she deals with typical teenage problems like wardrobe choices, high school friends and enemies, and changing relationships. Her voice is authentic and easy to listen to (and by listen to I mean read).

I loved all of the adults in the book, too. Her parents are parents—they worry about their children and wants what's best for them. Lucia's mother nags her to do what's right, even on a long-distance phone call from Cuba (don't wear makeup, don't date, dress appropriately, don't act like those American teenagers in the movies!). Her father always tries to make the best of things and bring humor into their lives when others might see none. And their foster parents are fantastic, too. Mrs. Baxter is a motormouth and a very motherly woman, who isn't quite sure about Cuban culture, mixing it up with Mexican on one occasion, but who will do her very best to help the Alvarez children and love them like her own. Mr. Baxter is much more quiet and sparing with his affection; Lucia doesn't believe he even likes the two of them, despite Mrs. Baxter's affirmation of the contrary. Eventually we see his hard exterior break down bit by bit. I cared about all of them, and for me that is one of the most crucial things in reading a book.

The only thing I would say is that it might help to know a bit about the history of all this before beginning the story. The author's note is essential for those who know nothing, and I might even suggest reading it before the rest of the book. I was lucky enough to know about it beforehand and I think it aided in my reading of the book. That said, each chapter begins with a real headline from a newspaper in the United States about the Cuban revolution and Castro's rise to power, providing valuable background and insight for the reader. The headlines progress along with the story chronologically.

A fantastic introduction for a little-addressed yet important part of American and Cuban history, this story provides historical knowledge in the form of a page-turning novel from the perspective of a young teen trying to make sense of what her world has become.

Also, I just want to say how much I love this cover art. The images of the two places with the umbrella in the middle and the map in the background? Fantastic.

Disclosure: I purchased this book for review (and got it signed!).

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Villette" Readalong: Week One

Here's my first post for the Villette readalong, hosted by Unputdownables.

After reading the first five chapters, I can tell I will like this book. Though it's not Jane Eyre (one of my favorite books ever), it has a similar tone. I know the story is going to be different and that's fine with me; I'm interested to see what Bronte does with it, and where she will take our heroine, Lucy Snowe.

To me, the beginning is really just setting up Lucy's character in comparison to those around her who have incredibly strong feelings of love and sorrow. We see little Paulina, a girl who has incredible sensibility (I use that term in the 19th-century meaning, or great emotion). She is passionate about nearly everything, and takes everything seriously, especially for such a young girl. Next to her Lucy is practically an automaton; we see nothing of her character here, only her great calm.

Then she is put up against Miss Marchmont, an elderly woman for whom she works for a short while. Miss Marchmont has known great love, and has lost it; thus she has suffered every day since. Lucy hasn't known that sort of love yet, not even love for her family. The family she mentions she seems only fond of.

Finally in the fifth chapter we see some of who Lucy is as a character. She decides to embark upon a new adventure: to London! Without any sort of income and just 15 pounds in her pocket, she goes on a journey to find a means to provide for herself. She shows remarkable courage and strength, especially for the time; not many women traveled alone, and if they did they had a destination and object in mind. I look forward to seeing how she changes, and how she reacts when she falls in love (which we know she will).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Top Ten Debut Books

Hi all, another Tuesday and another top ten list. This week: Top Ten Debut Books!

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: The only novel this author has ever written has become a staple in high school classrooms and a favorite of many, including me.

2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling: Seriously. This book actually changed the world. It revolutionized the children's book market and made it socially acceptable for adults to read children's fiction. And what a great world Rowling created!

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: I love this book immensely and have read it three times. I plan on revisiting it again.

4. The Help by Kathryn Stockett: I don't know anyone who has read this and hasn't liked it. It's fantastic and Stockett's only novel thus far.

5. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley: I love this series and Flavia de Luce, greatest 11-year-old narrator ever. And the mysteries are awesome.

6. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen: Just because I love Jane Austen.

7. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko: I read this in college and might have been the only one in my class who enjoyed it. But I really did like it; and also, how many debuts are read in college-level courses? It's an incredibly rich story. I'm reading her memoir now and I'm loving it.

8. Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley: Another classic that actually came about from a party of sorts, where the guests told ghost stories. Among the guests were Lord Byron, Percy Byce Shelley, and the guy that wrote the first vampire story, John William Polidori.

9. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg: This book made me go through every emotion. Funny and sweet and heartbreaking, it's a wonderful story with wonderful characters.

10. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: The first book written by a writer of classic children's books still beloved today, this is my one of my very favorite books.
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