Thursday, August 29, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi

Eight years ago today, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.  The loss was overwhelming.  Author Paul Volponi clearly captures the story of one young man's fight against not only nature but humanity as well.  Here's a book trailer I made many years ago for his book, still a great read

Rotten by Michael Northrop

Scholastic, 2013

JD is coming home.  After a long summer away from his real life, he's ready to come back.  He just isn't sure if a life is waiting for him.  How will his Mom react to his being home again?  What about his friends?  And very importantly, did Janie forgive him?  Did she wait for him to come home or did she start another life? 

When his mom picks him up, he knows something's up.  She tells him there's a surprise waiting for him at home, and with his sketchy past, he isn't sure if he'll like it or not.  When JD opens the door, he hears it first and then sees this gigantic creature....a Rottweiler, standing in the middle of the room, taking up all the space.  His mother explains that he's a rescue dog, taken from a home of severe abuse.  JD decides he has the perfect name for this dog who doesn't like him:  Johnny Rotten, JR for short.

With only five days before school starts, JD begins to live life again, but slowly.  He dodges the questions his friends ask him by telling them his spent time with his aunt.  Everyone knows it's a lie, but they don't know the truth either, and it's something JD isn't willing to tell.  One trip to Janie's house is all JD needs to know that her parents want him out of her life.  The only relationship that seems to hold promise is with Johnny.  The dog is getting to JD, and trust is slowly starting to build.

But one day can make a big difference.  One bite of a friend's hand can ruin relationships.  And one lie can cost a life.  JD knows the truth, but how can he prove it, especially when his past catches up to him?

Taking cues from real life stories of "bully breeds" like Rottweilers and pit bulls, Northrop weaves a solid story about how stereotypes can lead to devastation.  There is a lot both JD and JR have in common, and it's this relationship that Northrop writes about so clearly.  The parallels are evident and readers will begin to understand the underlying theme that springs from the symbiotic relationship between both guy and dog.  With such a short novel, Northrop packs a punch, leaving the ending up for grabs until the very end.  This is one teens will rush to.  Can't wait to booktalk this one!  Recommended JH/HS

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Razorbill, 2013

Hannah can't seem to get away from the tragedy of losing her best friend, Lillian.  Friends since they were little, Hannah saw what was slowly happening to Lillian, but never tried to help her.  Six months ago she died, and everyday since then, Hannah has to live with the ghost of what was her best friend...literally.At first, it was shocking, but both of them seem to have a symbiotic relationship with their newfound "friendship." 

Now, it's summer and a deathly hot one in the city of Ludlow where Hannah lives with her mother, step-father and sister.  She spends her time working for her aunt Kelly and trying to keep up with her twelve year old sister Ariel.  But it's a strange kind of summer....especially with the chokehold of a horribly hot season ahead of her.

Hannah prefers to spend time alone more than with the group of friends she and Lillian hung around with.  As the alpha in the group, Lillian took control, but with her gone, they've all changed, but not Hannah.  She doesn't take part of the corporate teen look and basicallydoesn't let anything get to her.  It takes a sensational story in the news; a glimpse of hidden photos at work, and a strange boy to change Hannah's summer into one she wasn't ready to have.

A murdered girl is found in Muncy Park, surrounded my cheap plastic toys everywhere.  In her hand is a clumsily made Valentine.  Although this frightens most people in town, it's nothing when compared to their reaction of a second victim, staged the same way.  Then a third....

Hannah is drawn deeper into the murder through coincidence and circumstance, and the more she knows, the closer the killer gets to....

Part supernatural, party mystery, Brenna Yovanoff spins a tale of intrigue set on a foundation of friendships and relationships.  Hannah is definitely the central character, but she wears so many hats (from sister, to daughter; friend to enemy; stranger to family) that what could be a flat plot turns into one with many different paths that will ultimately lead to the unexpected inevitable.  Good girl gone wrong or wrong girl looking for good?  The reader innately knows the outcome, but it will come as a surprise nonetheless.  Great book for readers who enjoy both genres. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

No matter where the setting is or who the main character is, teens will always be teens.  It's not about the accent, the home, the culture, but the psychology and emotional stage teens are in that makes a book not necessarily set in the United States a good read for teens living here.  The problems don't change, and teens will always struggle to find who they are across the globe.  So, let's get started with our travels, shall we?

Alfred A. Knopf, 2012

Amelia isn't lonely.  She has friends, a family, and co-workers at the local grocery store she works at.  At 15 years old, she is more mature than most and unlike other teens her age, she excels in school, reading the classics such as Great Expectations and enjoying the story. 
She's a good daughter too.  She doesn't stay out all night and party, she doesn't do drugs, and she doesn't ask for allowance.  The only thing missing in Amelia's life is more attention from her parents, and most importantly, love.

Chris is lost.  He isn't sure where or what he wants to be or how to get there. Everyone around him seems to be on the right track, but he still lives at home with his parents and works at the local grocery store to make money to go to the university.  His sister just moved out and is on her own and he desperately feels the need to flee, especially at 21 years of age.  But right now, when school is out, Chris is going to enjoy his life in the pubs, at parties, and getting control of himself after a terrible break-up with the love of his life.  The only thing missing from his life is independence, and he isn't quite sure if he's ready for love.

As co-workers, Amelia and Chris spend a lot of time together working side by side, taking breaks together, and talking about the finer points of literature and life.  But how they react to each other is very different.  Chris's feelings for Amelia are out in the open - he dubs her Young One and looks after her like an older brother would. 
Amelia, on the other hand, keeps her feelings for Chris inside.  So what if there's a six year age difference?  Amelia is quite sure how Chris feels about her.  Why else would he give her so much attention and confide in her more than any of the others they work with? 

But love is fragile for anyone at anytime, and both of them will find the different types of loves in life as they discover themselves along the way.

Set in Australia, Buzo writes with realism, plain and simple.  She captures the main characters in her book not only by their age and actions, but also by contrasting them with other characters that create a juxtaposition readers will understand in order to see the characters become more transparent.  This book has the same theme as so many others, and while that may make it a typical read, what does stand out is how close to home Buzo gets when it comes to teens and relationships.  Her writing style includes different voices as well as journal and letter entries that allow readers to read "differently" and learn the intricacies that create the whole picture.  Is this a book about romance?  Hmmmmm....that's where you get to decide.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

It's That Time of Year!

When the world falls in love. Every song you hear. Seems to say. Merry Christmas May your New Year dreams come true....

It's what I instantly think when I hear those five words, but it's not Christmas yet.  It's the season of school bells ringing and keyboards tinkling and all the kids come back from summer. The big question is the recurring one of how or where do I start?
Think globally - even if it's in your own "backyard."  See if there are colleagues new to your school and take time to sit and collaborate with them.  You may be new to the profession (I see these names and faces popping up on listservs right now) and will need a mentor to help guide you.  Collaboration doesn't stop there though.  As librarians, look at those people you've worked with for awhile and create a profession learning community in your district to share ideas, work through problems, and create a bank of projects or lessons that can be used by everyone. 

Forward thinking for your library - Any school is run by bells, but more than that, they are run by schedules and calendars, which fill up quickly.  Take time now to look at the district and campus calendar and find time to schedule ahead to make the library stand out.  This is the perfect time to put down potential dates for authors, speakers, Skype visits, special projects, lesson collaboration with teachers, quick PD for teachers, conferences, and anything else that may come up.  Between state tests, local benchmarks, student programs and more, you'll need time to showcase, participate and collaborate. 

Leftovers from last year - When I mention this word to my family, a quiet groan fills the room.  They'll eat it, but prefer fresh.  It's the same way with our professional life.  There are those things that are left undone and we need to take time and create goals to finish them.  I know there is no way I'm going to sit down the week I go back to school and catalog all of the books I had left from last semester, but I know I'll eventually have to do it. Sometimes small bites are better than large ones (at least in this case) but there are some I'll "eat" whole.  But like edible leftovers, if they sit too long...well, you know what happens.  If this happens, re-evaluate the importance of them to see if they need to be rehashed (a little food humor there) or need to be done away with to make room for other things.

Oh, the joy of lists! - Even in the age of technology, I still keep a running list on paper, sticky notes and in notebooks.  Looking at the lists, I have great satisfaction of running a line through the ones I have fulfilled.  Sometimes, those lists get looooong, so I try to make it a habit to only make a list with five things on them.  Each week I find time to finish them, whether they be presentations, book trailers or contacting people; sitting down for meetings, collaborations or teaching a lesson; learning  new technology, finding new sites and apps, or reading for my profession. 

Create a booklist - This is by far the hardest one for me.  I can have a stack I'm going to read, then see 10 more that just came in that I want to add!  By then, I'm knee deep and desperately trying to keep up.  I've found what works best is to find five from different genres and read those.  It's a catch and release type of reading I do now.  Once I'm finished, I get let it go and fish for another good read.  The titles add up but more than that, I'm adding to the walking repository in my head that I can use to put teens into books they'll enjoy.  That is the concept and the glue which is most important to a library - making connections with your students.

My Golden Rule of Technology - there is just TOO MUCH out there to know everything!  You may have heard of something fabulous in a workshop, read about it online through a PLN, discovered one on your own, but everywhere you turn these days, there is always a "Top 25" list of best apps or sites.  Throughout the years, I've adopted this rule that has slowly added up to a powerful and useful compendium of tech sites and apps I know today.  If anything, learn just TWO THINGS and learn them well.  Become an expert at them.  See how they can be used in different areas.  Demonstrate them to the teachers on your campus.  Think beyond the box.  Put effort into learning two things and passing them around to teachers and it will make a difference.  Of course, this number isn't a limit.  You can go beyond two things, but what matters is the depth of knowledge you know and can share.  Don't make it surface material, but ingrain its potential into the library and classrooms.  This year my focus will be infographics in all curricular content :)

Lastly, always remember why you chose being a librarian as your profession. As with all things, there will be staff, in attitude, in responsibilities, but if you have the passion, it makes everything else so much nicer regardless of any negativity you may run into. Yeah, kind of syrupy, right?  But I'd rather have sugar than vinegar.  And in reality, vinegar by itself is very sharp and acidic.  But add sugar to it and it makes it so much more savory, especially when mixed with other great ingredients.  

 It's an exciting time of year, but it never has to be a season.  It can last so much longer.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!