Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe

Viking Childrens, 2014

There is no stronger bond than....what?  Daisy isn't sure about her life anymore.  She remembers her family and the memories they shared, the little brother that came into her life, the music, her parents' laughter.  Although those same memories exist today, it's a completely different dynamic, especially when the entire family's loyalties are put to the ultimate test.

Daisy has friends, and she has a boyfriend.  She's musically gifted (more like a prodigy) and has been asked to attend prestigious schools and academies.  Her grades are good and her parents allow her to go out, but it's all dictated by her little brother Steven, who is autistic.  While their mother takes care of him most of the time, she also needs time away.  Their father works long hours and comes home worn out, taking on the night time rituals, including the wrestling match that is more common than showers now. They all walk on eggshells, afraid to make any sudden moves, noises, or modifying a different routine that will spiral Steven into an outburst.  No longer a child, Steven has gotten stronger and while his autism was more controlled when he was little, it has now become dangerous.  When Daisy comes home one day, she sees what Steven's unintentional outbursts did to her mother. It wasn't an easy decision and one that wracked her parents longer than Daisy knew, but it's now come to a point where her mother doesn't feel strong enough to help Steven.  Something had to give, and Steven will be leaving soon. 

A part of Daisy wants to be happy.  She can have her freedom back.  This could mean sleepovers at her house, going out on dates without such stringent time limits, going to music camps, playing her trumpet in the house instead of the basement.  But Daisy is also struggling with the change.  How could her parents want to do this to their only son?  How could she have helped more to prevent this?  What could her parents do more of so Steven can stay home?  It's an emotional battle that only Daisy can fight, and it will be the most difficult one she's ever had to.  Can the family survive this huge change in their lives when Steven has been in their lives creating the familiar habits they are now accustomed to, or will they fall apart over this controversial decision that will make each one of them re-evaluate what their roles in life and family are?

Stasia Ward Kehoe writes a beautiful novel in verse about a topic that seems to only capture lurid headlines without looking at the entire situation a family goes through.  Daisy is the character in limbo throughout the story by trying to have as normal a teen life as possible while also holding the reins of responsibility of taking care of a teenage boy whose autism is creating an unsafe situation he isn't even aware of.  Kehoe writes about this emotional stage of life from all perspectives while being able to fluidly create a centrifugal force that isn't Steven, but is Daisy's life, before, during and after. This is a novel unlike any other and one that should be on YA shelves.  Recommended.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Virtual Tour of Northwest High School Library

Come see what Northwest High School Library offers!  I created this video using a mash-up of the Lapse It! and Photosynth apps, Screencast-o-matic, and Sony Vegas Movie Studio 11 (you can use video creator to create it).  I put in a dash of Digital Juice music and my own voice and voila! A tour every teacher and student has access to!

Monday, August 11, 2014

My Word for the Year: AUDACIOUS!

Either you're already back at school or about to do what you love most.  Professionalism is like relationships - it can be a love/hate (or strong dislike) one.  But also along the same lines, it's something you have to work on constantly in order to make sure you and professionalism stay zen with each other.

Remember the day you decided to be a teacher/librarian/administrator/educator?  Why was that? I hope it wasn't because of the holidays and summers (although that is a most fantastic side benefit!).  I'm willing to guess it was because you either excelled at a certain subject and wanted to share it or you just had that passion to be in the classroom to emulate a role model.  Perhaps it was because you wanted to change the world.  Hopefully, it was something awesome and audacious that made you want to not only pass on knowledge but to learn as well.

Oh, but let's not forget the bumps along the roads that can slow you down. Sometimes we land somewhere at the wrong time and it left a bad taste in your mouth.  It could have been the responsibility may have been too heavy.  More often than not, it's the change that's the biggest bump.  Changes come gradually or be all up in your face, but change itself is a fact of life.  We go through it everyday, so really it shouldn't be a surprise.

What's the most worrisome is slowly but surely, the lack of enthusiasm or even passion begins to wane.  People become entrenched, set in their ways and don't want to conform because they'd rather stand in than stand out.  It could also be the same old same old day in and out that slowly chips away at the passion.  If neither of these fit, it may just be the passage of time.  Whatever it could be, the energy runs low.

I know... I keep saying "you" but really, this is also the story of me too.  I've come against the monsters, bumps, and deficits.  I've been somewhere at the wrong time and have hit the wall full-on to change.  But what I DIDN'T do was refuse to give up.  I am not only the sum of my personal life, but my professional one as well and I wanted to be audacious.  But more than that all is the curiosity I had making me wonder the two biggest words that changed my professional life..."What if"...

Everyday I still face the giants of responsibility, change, and my profession.  But it's also those same days that I continue to work on my audaciousness, my what-if worlds of possibilities, and my wonder to see what's around the corner.  And all of this comes from learning from those I am in awe of, teaching something new that has so much potential, and making my environment (the library!  YES!!!!) as fresh and alive as possible.

I don't think anyone really wants to live in a dark, windowless room.  We didn't start out that way.  So if there is such a thing in your life that is affecting your professionalism, the best place to start is the very first day you fell in love with your job.  Slowly, those dirty panes will slough away, but guess what?  You're the only one that can make that happen.

Let's make it an audacious year, day by day!!  Happy 2014-2015 school year!!!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

High can a time filled with memory or horror.  These two books really hit home about teens navigating through the shark infested waters of high school trying to find a lifeboat to help them.  Alice and Leonard are clinging to hope, but don't think these two characters aren't tough as nails either.  They are fighters but in their own ways.  These novels have a dark slice of life outlook but  couple it with variations of redemption, and the novels become powerful...

It's Leonard's birthday, and no one knows it. So today, he has some presents he's giving away to everyone who's made an impact on his life. One is to Linda, his mother, who is never home and takes care of her life more than her son's. Another is for Walt, an elderly neighbor in love with cigarettes and Humphrey Bogart and quite possibly is Leonard's best friend.
He also has a present for the most brilliant violinist Leonard's ever heard, an Iranian student named Baback, who allows Leonard in when he practices. He plans on giving one to Lauren, the girl who stole his heart while handing out religious tracts near the subway.
Herr Silverman, Leonard's favorite teacher who stymies him with the reason why he dresses the way he does and is the one encourager in his life, will also get a present But it's Asher Beal, Leonard's once best friend, who will get the biggest and baddest present...he deserves it for how he treats Leonard every day at school. It's what's in those presents, both bad and good, reflecting why Leonard is making this his last day on earth.
Matthew Quick writes a powerful novel of the conflicting mind of
teenager with brilliance, bringing into light his main character's life through various literary devices, including verse, letters from a dystopian future, and footnotes giving insight into  Leonard's psyche which runs deeper than anyone could possibly imagine.  This is a MUST read!  Highly recommended for high school.  Hatchette, 2013 (on YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults; TAYSHAS list, 2014)

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  This can be farther than the truth for Alice, especially after a party she attends.  Elaine begins the story, telling everyone who will listen to her what she KNOWS Alice did in a bedroom that night.  And once the news gets out, it goes viral, sending Alice from someone everyone knew and liked to the pariah of high school.  Kelsie also tells her story about her move from Michigan and how she became best friends with Alice but is now conflicted between defending Alice's reputation or being part of the machine.  Josh is dealing with how he became a part of this ugly situation the night his best friend Brandon died.  He knows the truth, and it's eating him up from the inside out.  Then there's Kurt, who is highly intelligent but lacks social graces.  He sees Alice crying on the bleachers and slowly and tentatively reaches out to her, but with all that has happened, is he being true or wanting what others have talked about her doing? 
Jennifer Mathieu does two things in the novel creating a powerful story.  Not only does she weave four voices to paint a picture with different perspectives, but she also subtly inserts Alice into the entire story, showing her strengths and weaknesses and how this entire thing affects her life.  You can't get any closer to a real life scenario about high school and how ugly it can be than you can with this book which shows how words can make or break a teen.  Highly recommended for high school Roaring Brook Press, 2014

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Clockwork Scarab and Half Bad: Book Reviews

Victorian England is experiencing some strange coincidences.  Two young women from society have disappeared and one has turned up dead in the museum. In turn, two other young women from famous lineage are asked to help solve this murder and the disappearance of the other in the name of the crown, and this is how Mina Holmes and Evaline Stoker meet each other.  Mina is methodical and perspicacious like her uncle Sherlock.  She also loves the new gadgetry being invented, such as a steam gun and other mechanical devices.  Evaline, on the other hand jumps right into the situation.  She possesses athletic abilities beyond mere humanity and recognizes her abilities to discern the whereabouts of the undead are a part of her, which her broth Bram writes about.  In another coincidence of pairs, two young men hiding their true identity are slowly becoming a part of the mystery as well.  Who is the killer?  Egyptology and secret societies are only part of the screen veiling the truth.
Colleen Gleason writes an intriguing novel that is the perfect blend of historical fiction and steampunk that will hook readers into this series.  You can't help but love the main characters and how their entire personality works so well with their famous families.  YA steampunk is hard to find, and this is definitely one to purchase! 2013 Chronicle Books

In the world of White and Black Witches, Nathan doesn't quite fit into either.  His mother, a white witch, was known for her kindness and her amazing healing powers.  His father, a black witch, was known to cut out of the hearts of white witches and steal their powers.  Nathan tries his hardest to be what others want him to, but can't seem to get a break.  With orders coming down from the Council, his life is closely monitored.  His grandmother loves him beyond doubt and tries to shield him, while his birth sister blames him for the death of their mother and wants to kill him.  It doesn't get easier either. Picked on at school for his small stature and inability to read and write, Nathan's life becomes painful socially and physically. The older Nathan becomes, the more curious his life becomes.  He now cannot stand to be indoors or he becomes deathly ill, a trait of a black witch.  Now, locked up in a cage, he must find a way to have a family member bestow his two gifts onto him, or his life will end. His only hope is to find Mercury, another black witch, who could harm him or help him, but is her help only another painful disguise?
Green creates a dark and ugly side of magic that weaves itself together with the dark and ugly side of bullying, prejudice, and conformity to society.  Although I found it slow to start, the story line picked up and quickly wound itself around me to keep me turning the pages to find out what would ultimately happen to Nathan. Viking, 2014