Friday, May 30, 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Delacorte Press, 2013

"Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family.
No one is a criminal.
No one is an addict.
No one is a failure.
The Sinclairs are athletic, tall and handsome.  We are old-money Democrats..."
"We live, at least in the summertime, on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts."

And it's those summers that Cadence looks forward to where she spends the most glorious part of her year with her cousins Mirren and Johnny, and Gat, a friend of Johnny's.  It's always been those four since they were littles.  Now, they're much older and things are getting a little more complicated.

On this private island are four Victorian houses, for three sisters and their children, and head of the family.  Clairmont is where Tipper and Harris live, grandfather to the kids and parents to the sisters.  Cadence loves her grandparents' house, with the goldens Prince Philip and Fatima (Tipper loves dogs, especially these), the old tire swing on the big maple tree, and the sense of family when everyone gathers for dinner.  No cell phones, no television, just time spent on beaches, lobsters under the setting sun, practicing their tennis serves on the court, and the adults drinking wine on the front porch in cashmere sweaters and pearls.

Cadence, Mirren, Johnny and Gat, also known as the Liars, are inseparable during their time together.  One for all and all for one, including an unexpected summer romance, which catches Cadence by surprise.  But during these summers, two tragedies occur.  First, Tipper passes away, which changes the family dynamic, especially Harris.  No one says anything about her when Grandfather is around - the grief is too much to bear.  The other is toward the end of  her 15th summer, Cadence is found on the beach, curled in a ball with no one else around, nearly dead.  She goes home to Vermont to recover with her stifling mother and doesn't remember much except snippets...her migraines are killing her.  What hurts her most, though, is her summer friends have distanced themselves.  No emails, no texts, nothing.

Cadence misses a summer, but two years after the accident she is back on the island, which has changed dramatically.  Clairmont is gone, replaced by a new Clairmont and Harris is slowly dipping into dementia.   Despite all of this, she is thoroughly enjoying four glorious weeks of fun, laughter, secrets and surprises with the Liars once again.  Until her memories start coming back....

Lockhart shows her talent with this poignant novel about family, friends, love, hate, secrets and betrayals.  What happens at the beginning at the novel begins to slip and Lockhart slowly reveals the ugly side to a beautiful family.  The one thing truly grabbing the reader is her use of language in the characters' conversations and thoughts.  The readers feels transported by her use of language to the East Coast, living among the wealthy trust fund babies and families to the point where you can almost hear the characters' voices in your mind instead of just reading it.  Mixing the revelations of the family with the language is powerful, but it's the unspoken elevating Lockhart's book to another level completely, which will leave anyone who reads it taken aback unexpectedly as well as creating imagery continuing even after the last page is turned.  AMAZING book, highly recommended!  Upper JH/HS

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

Wendy Lamb, 2014

She'd always known them as Nellaya.  They'd always been inseparable as sisters no matter the circumstances.  They weathered the storm of getting their own personal bedrooms, to Nell in junior high school while Layla went to high school, to their parents divorce. No matter what happened, they were always sisters, watching each other's backs.

Now, Nell is in high school and instead of dreading being Layla Golden's sister, she looks forward to letting everyone know that they are.  Nell looks forward to Layla seeing her grow up and get involved in everything from playing soccer to being in the school play.  And nothing is more fun than being the freshman going to the parties only juniors and seniors go to.  N. Golden and L. Golden....there's nothing more special, beautiful, smart, or driven.

While both sisters are close, Nell does have a separate life filled with her best friend, Felix.  When Layla isn't available, Felix is there, donut in hand, to take Nell through those rough spots.  So, as far as Nell is concerned, high school is going to be the best experience of her life.  She was even fortunate to get into Mr. B's art class, which is nearly impossible to do because it's by far the most popular one on campus. It also didn't hurt that she made the varsity soccer team.  Now there are two Goldens on the team helping push the team to tournament victory.  Nell has hit her sweet spot in life. And then....

Slowly but surely, something begins to draw Layla away from Nell, and she doesn't like it.  First there were the tiny excuses but those soon turn into monster excuses that makes Layla completely separate herself from not only Nell, but her parents too. She begins unwinding from her relationships and Nell can't quite understand what is pushing her away.  They shared everything..until now.

It's when Layla reveals the secret that she's hidden for so long to Nell that will either turn the tide for or against the sisters.  Watching each other's back now means more to Nell than ever before.  She wants to keep her sister safe by keeping her secret, but she also knows she's hurting her more by keeping it.
"Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.  Everything we see is a perspective not the truth."

United we stand, divided they fall....

Reinhardt writes a beautiful story about relationships on all levels.  From sisters to parents; from friends to enemies, all of these intertwine to create a story with multiple levels but one very meaningful theme, that of family and love.  The novel is written through the first person perspective of Nell, where she introduces her family and Felix to the reader as she sees them, not necessarily how they see themselves around her, which is another literary device to create another layer in this complex tale.  Reinhardt handles the situation in her book beautifully by diverting against descriptions that tend to take the spotlight in other books with the same dangerous situation.  The reader will root for N. Golden the entire way, not only for her fight to win back her relationship with her sister, but also how she creates and immerses herself in other ones and figures out the meaning of family and love.  I devoured this book - it's that good!

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Rule of Three by Eric Walters

Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2014

It was a typical day at high school for Adam Daley.  Driving his old 70s Omega to school, his thoughts were on trying to get his best friend to pass a class and mindlessly crushing Lori, who barely knows him.  But something that happens today will change his life altogether...

When the electricity goes out, no one really thinks much about it.  It's a little weird their cell phones don't work but everyone excuses it away as a fluke.  When everyone is dismissed for the day, the only person driving out of the parking lot is Adam.  As the day goes on, Adam and his friends notice the little things making it even more complex and not quite right, leaving them with that doubt of fear in their minds.

After getting home with his little brother and sister, his thoughts automatically go to his parents.  His father is in Chicago and Adam isn't sure whether he's alive or dead.  His mother, the chief of police in town, hasn't returned from work yet.  But after getting back to the safety of home, he feels safer.  Everything seems normal with people cooking out and everyone hanging out in their front yards. Adam still feels off-kilter though, especially when his neighbor Herb asks him to take him to the pool supply shop to buy chlorine tabs when he doesn't even own a is also the day when Adam realizes the danger in this whole situation with panic slowly building....

Day Two brings on more chaos with people storming the grocery store and mild chaos beginning to read its ugly head.  Day Three becomes even more dangerous...

Now Adam, his family, Herb and others need to protect their neighborhood in order to survive.  No one knows when the end to this will happen, but they not only need to prepare for the inevitable, but need to keep others from taking it away from them.  It becomes a strategic battle, and Adam becomes not only a player,  but a pawn in this game of survival.  Keeping chaos and bullies out using walls and patrols is's the ones on the inside that may be their downfall...

I'll admit, I picked up this book because the cover and caption drew my eye to it.  After reading the first part of the book, I was hooked.  This isn't Walters first book by any means.  He's a prolific YA author, but this is by far my most favorite.  His characters are the strong point.  The reader gets to know them, but also knows there are things that aren't being shown.  The main characters, Herb and Adam, are ones that Walters deliberately builds slowly, opening layers to create curiosity and keep the pages turning. 

There are several things about this dystopia book that sets it apart from others.  Firstly, the main character is a teen guy who doesn't have a female counterpart to effectively brave the storm, so to speak.  Adam is independent and his focus is on keeping everyone safe, not just his immediate family.  Secondly, the relationships between adults and teens in this novel is what makes the plot fluid, but also thickens it as well.  It shows the strength of teens in a world gone wrong, but also their weaknesses. Adam's evolution into a more mature person is only one of the many we get to know.  Lastly, the reader is invited to the beginning of the end.  While most dystopia take place during or trying to living in a stronghold of a dystopia society, Walters puts his right smack in the front of the entire chaotic world that is slowly falling apart.  I also got confirmation after tweeting with the author...he's working on a sequel!
Perfect for readers of both genders, I highly recommend this for JH/HS.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Take Some Cues from Gilligan: build a nation of readers, not an island

Taking a cue from a popular show in the sixties, Gilligan’s Island, I re-wrote the intro to reflect today’s school libraries (so sing it with the music in mind):
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of some really good reads,
That started on the very first page
Aboard the library.
You really need to integrate
Technology brave and sure
Soon teens will start to pick up books
Fav books won’t be obscure… Fav books won’t be obscure
Trying to get students to look beyond a textbook and read for pleasure is a situation that occurs frequently in high schools. One librarian vs. many teachers on campus isn’t a well-balanced scale, but it’s not so much the tipping point as much as it is the approach.  Understanding the expectations of academics and being able to integrate pleasure reading into this can be the start of a symbiotic reading relationship where both the library and the classroom understand how important both types of reading are to a student. One way to attract both students and teachers alike to build interest in pleasure reading is by integrating technology for a 21st century makeover.
Why use technology in the first place?  There are several reasons why, but the first reason is to create relationships with both students and teachers.  Both of these populations use online resources not only for research and academia, but also to collaborate and most importantly, to communicate.  By using something simple as everyday email, you can create interest and even stimulate conversation.  Here are a few examples how you can use email:
  • Create and email out a survey of what books they’d like to see in the library (creates a sense of ownership so it’s more about THE library instead of MY library)
  • Send out advanced information on author visits, book talks, new books coming in, new programs or collections in the library
  • Send out a weekly book review to share with staff and students.
  • Send out emails to teachers asking if they have time for a genre-based booktalk that goes along with their particular unit they’re studying.

If an email doesn’t catch their eye, perhaps an online poster will.  Create these using any different type of poster creator like Smore or Canva and send out the same information in a more pictographic way.  Embed these onto websites or email out the link (make your message and title catchy!).  This type of technology-laced information is based less on words, more on design, but is used to convey the same meaning.
  • Use this to let students know what hours the library is open
  • Advertise open houses and let everyone know the library will be there, ready to check out books to students while their parents are talking to teachers or even accompanying  them to the library
  • Create a poster of book pairs to send out to educators showing them the correlation between pleasure and academic reading on a visual scale

Nothing attracts more attention than a great book trailer.  These add spice to a book before it may even be picked up, and more often than not, it has been (personally and statistically speaking) the most checked out and popular books. Pictures do tell a thousand words.  Here’s how to use book trailers to stimulate pleasure reading:
  • Put them on a digital picture frame and set it on the circulation desk.  If you don’t have one, try converting an old desktop computer screen into one.
  • Send them to your school’s video announcement system, if you have one.  This will reach the widest audience and all you have to do is sit back and watch them come through the library doors
  • Use them in your booktalks.  Create a 3:1 ratio to not only create interest, but also break up the monotony of a spoken booktalk.

If you don’t try differentiation through various formats, you’re missing the mark and a potential reader, especially in high school, may slip through the net.  Making not only books, but e-books available is becoming a more standard practice in libraries.  Although they may be a little more expensive to buy, a librarian has to personally ask and answer the hard question of price vs. student access.  But there are other alternatives:
  • Let students know about Project Gutenberg.  Most required reading, if it’s a classic, can be found here, or there are books for students who want to lose themselves in the Bronte sisters or a great gothic like Frankenstein.
  • There are apps that also access free e-books.  Free Books – 23,469 Classics to Go is one such app that allows readers to access all types of digital books by genre or author
  • iBooks is a common app for phones or iPads.  The beauty of online reading is that students can find interesting articles online and download them as PDF files to read later.

Sharing booktalks via social media is another way to catch readers, especially those that don’t come often to the library.  It’s a given that most students are on Twitter, Vine, Facebook and Instagram, so grab this opportunity to “talk” to students about great books!
  • Take a picture of the books you may be booktalking and send it out as a picture on all types of social media
  • Take a 15 second video of yourself talking about a great book and put in on the library Instagram page.
  • If you have a PowerPoint, upload it in Google Drive and share it with all the teachers in your building.  Share the link further by posting to Twitter and Facebook.

This isn’t a world of hardcopy vs. technology, but one that accommodates both and creates excitement!  In the library, one of the most important things a young adult librarian can do is think like a teenager.  See how they view the world, how they communicate, and why they read (or don’t) and hone in on those ideas to create a bigger, better and well-grounded library program for teens to enjoy reading for pleasure.

**Republished from  a post I wrote for

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Batman Superman Volume 1 Cross World

DC Comics, 2014

Before reading this graphic novel, you should know that the storyline takes place on two worlds, which are both like each other with small variations.  Earth One is where the novel begins, with Batman and Superman meeting in Gotham City not only as old friends, but also to unite against evil mechanisms invading the city.  As they fight they way through the mayhem, Kaiyo, the Chaos Bringer, enters the scene.

Kaiyo is from another universe altogether and she loves to dabble with unexpected outcomes.  She does this well when she takes both Batman and Superman to another world where they meet their younger selves.  Enter Earth Two.

In this world, Batman and Superman are younger versions on themselves, not quite up to speed with their older, newly transported counterparts.  On Earth Two, Superman hasn't yet learned to fly or fall in love and Batman is young and arrogant, thinking himself above any one and any fray.  It's here they meet Kaiyo and find out the chaos she brings is  far bigger and badder than they expected.  Darkseid is coming....

The novel then leaps into another story altogether, giving background into who Darkseid was as a person and how he became an ultimate destroyer with the power of gods.  He rules with an iron fist, leaving no human alive and destroying any worlds he comes into contact with.  Darkseid, taunted and teased for the first time by Kaiyo, is out to kill her, and with this knowledge, Kaiyo is willing to introduce him to opponents worthy of his strength and might.

Can Batman and Superman join forces in both worlds to stave off destruction or can they even begin to see eye-to-eye as they fight to find equal footing, friendship and trust in a completely different world? 

I admit, I haven't read a graphic novel in a long time, and this was a great introduction back into the world of GN and superheroes.  The author and illustrator lead the reader down a rabbit hole of chaos that may not make sense until later in the novel and may require double reading.  But when the reader finally understands the plot...that's when it thickens and begins to mold into the bigger story that continues in three other volumes.  Not only are Superman and Batman present, but Catwoman and Wonder Woman also make their debut.  Filled with larger-than-life characters in situations worthy of them, Greg Pak and Jae Lee write and illustrate an outstanding novel readers will want to continue in the other GNs that follow.  Excellent addition to any graphic novel collection! Recommended upper JH/HS and beyond.
ADDED BONUS:  There's a great addendum that goes through the artwork of this graphic novel from idea to sketch to full image that's AMAZING!!  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat by Gail Jarrow

2014, Calkins Creek Books

 In 1902, something deadly was happening to Americans living in the South.  A strange malady began affecting them, causing a horrible rash on the face, chest, hands and feet.  For most, it was cyclical, beginning in the spring and going away in the summer but for others, it killed. This illness affected young and old, sick and healthy, rich and poor.  No one understood where it came from or how to get rid of it, but it had a name...pellagra...

Was it a disease or an infection?  No one knew and pellagra became a mystery illness that would kill thousands of Americans.  Of course, there were several theories.  Scientists and doctors blamed it on moldy corn, while other believed it was contagious. Medicines of all types were sold by quacks and doctors alike to no avail.  Soon, sanitariums across the South began to fill up with those diagnosed with pellagra.  

The symptoms were noticeable and recognizable.  Pellagra was defined as the  4-D Disease: dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia, death.  It affected those that had it physically and mentally, and if the dementia stage became apparent, death was not far along.  

It took a maverick who wouldn't give up to find a cure.  Starting in these sanitariums, Joseph Golderberger was able to identify the main cause of pellagra.  Those on the 3-M Diet (meal (cornmeal); meat (usually fatback) and molasses) were most prevalent of having pellagra.  In a time when money was tight, these three foods were cheap, easily available, and delicious. Golderberger began his research and ultimately found the cure that would change the face of food and nutrition that continues to impact us today.  

I always tell students that non-fiction books are the most interesting stories not told in a history textbook, and this is one of them.  For 200 years, no one understood or could explain how pellagra came to be.  This is a fascinating non-fiction book that will open the eyes of readers from caused pellagra to how it hasn't been seen since 1955.  Intriguing and fascinating, Jarrow seams together stories, facts and images to create a book that goes to the heart of the matter and leaves readers more informed and very aware of cause and effect in the history of the United States.  HIGHLY recommended for JH/HS.

Fiction book pair:
Streams of Babel and sequel Fire Will Fall by Carol Plum-Ucci: Six teens face a bioterrorist attack on American soil as four are infected with a mysterious disease affecting their small New Jersey neighborhood and two others, both brilliant computer hackers, assist the United States Intelligence Coalition in tracking the perpetrators.