Category Archives: book thoughts

Summer haze

Moving to Boston has kept me busy as I worked until the end of the school year at Cambridge Friends School as a substitute. Finding that school made this move feel right as I found a community where teachers and students welcomed me and I was able to reconnect to my Quaker background.

After the end of the school year, the majority of my family came to visit me, everyone fitting into my tiny apartment as we spent time together in parks watching little boys run around and seeing my growing nieces take care of them. In Boston, I’m constantly looking at more ways to find my community in terms of theater and other job opportunities as my friends in Boston have welcomed me. My fandom life has been full of Star Wars and Rogue One, where I’ve been writing fanfiction and finding the strength to look for ways to push against the dangerous currents in our government. A major sign for me that this was the right move is how creative I have been feeling, when I’m in a place that I feel I can grow, the words flow.

One of the pieces of writing that I’m happy to share is from the annual Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, RITA Reviewer challenge where I read Lone Heart Pass by Jodi Thomas. I found it to be a pleasant read but it didn’t really stick with me. What I did enjoy was reading the other review of the same book and the conversation in the comments. Communities and people where its possible to talk about the good and bad of the media we’re consuming are places I want to create and love being in. Boston has helped get me closer to people who I can have these discussions with as well as finding schools and libraries to help young people find communities for themselves.

Leave a comment

Filed under book thoughts, goals and career, links, online life, Uncategorized

Talking books online and in person

As part of this gorgeous labor day weekend, I volunteered at the book stall run by the Historic Lewes Farmers Market and sponsored by Daedalus Books. All of the books were connected to the market from cookbooks, books about raising animals, children’s books with plants and grown up coloring books. This year the market’s in a new setting as the park its been on for years on the grounds of the Lewes Historical Society is closed for renovations. Due to being in a park with a pond and paths, new people who might not have found the market were walking through. I love all the various connections that grow up around books as people comment on how they have that one, wondering about age level for others and their laughter as my father called out, “Get your red-hot books!”

Due to the partnership, there’s an element of surprise to which books will be there as the market doesn’t choose instead the bookseller does. As the table with the books was near the main entrance, it was a way to see the diverse community that comes through the market from visiting families to people with houses all drawn by berries, bread and oysters.

This year for the third time in a row, I’ve participated in the RITA Reader Challenge on Smart Bitches Trashy Books a romance website that is a wonderful community to discuss books and media. For the first time this year, the books I reviewed generated conversation in a way they haven’t before. I loved that as part of why I love reading this site is how the comments are always full of thoughtful talks of what people liked and didn’t like. A large number of the books on my phone are pulled from their recommendations and I’ve discovered new genres and authors from these conversations.

Toward the Sunrise by Elizabeth Camden was a novella that I reviewed and I liked it, but the second reviewer detailed major issues of Orientalism and racism within the story. The connection between the hero and the heroine is that both of them read Marco Polo’s adventures as children and it gave them a desire to travel to Asia.  As I’ve often found online, this was a major moment for me to be quiet and listen to someone who felt a personal impact from the writing. This second reviewer showed how context is important as the novella was set in the 1890s when numerous conflicts between Europeans and countries throughout Asia happened creating scars that still remain. The comments were full of thoughtful discussions of how writers of historical fiction can balance the truth of history with an understanding of their readers.

The Marriage Contract by Katee Robert was my second review and this was a book focused on three Irish families involved in organized crime. In the comments of my review, it was interesting to see how others were put off by that aspect as well as the style of writing. I found it a gripping book which took on difficult topics and also had a charming romance, but not one for everyone.

I love how the internet has allowed for book discussions to grow from conversations at a market to online and how they continue and move off in unexpected ways.

2 Comments

Filed under book thoughts, links, online life, Uncategorized

Books, reaching out and learning

Life for me has been full with substituting and fact-checking, both of them are constantly teaching me new information about kids and the world out there. My last fact-checking job ended up being more emotionally draining as I was working on a book about Yemen, which has amazing history and so much turmoil. I’m glad to have learned what I did so I can better understand what’s happening but searching through images for illustrations was difficult. The juxtaposition of beautiful buildings and then rubble of the same area captured the damage being done left me shaken and scared for everyone who lived there. In terms of the substituting, every day is different, which is exciting but tiring as I want to be a good teacher and para for these kids though I’m only there for one or maybe two days. When I connect and see that I’ve helped a student understand is wonderful but other days, I wonder if I made any difference. Most days are a mixture of seeing what’s possible in a great classroom and not knowing all of the context to be as much help as I could be.

I’m also doing what I can to become more involved with ALA by volunteering for some committees. ALA is so important and daunting to me, that I’m trying to put myself out there and do what I can to support all libraries and find where I best fit within ALA.

What I finished reading

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. I love Rowell’s books and Carry On was fantastic as she really understands what it is about the Chosen One stories and fantasy that draw people in and how to turn it all on its head. This is a book about two boys who take control of their story even though the story isn’t encouraging them to and their friends who are along with them. I would recommend this book to everyone who loves Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but wishes for more.

What I’m currently reading

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan. I always enjoy Riordan’s books and this one isn’t disappointing, he’s got a great ear for dialogue, action and how kids behave. I appreciate that he’s gotten much better about putting diversity into his casts and understanding that diversity covers a wide range from being homeless to being Deaf.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo. At this point, I’m not terribly far into this book and I’m not completely sure how I feel about it. I enjoy the setting and the main character has a good voice but so far, she seems fairly passive. I’m hoping more will happen as so far, there’s not much of a conflict or romance, but I like the author’s style.

What I’m reading next

One of the books I’m reading next is for Yuletide so I’m not going to list it but I’m looking forward to it. Yuletide is a wonderful fanfiction exchange that’s tied to small fandoms and is a major part of my holiday season. I love writing for other people and how Yuletide always ends up stretching my sense of what I think I can write. I also have the newest Jonathan Stroud Lockwood and Company book to read, which should be fun and creepy. The Rehoboth Film Festival is coming up next week, so far this year I’m not seeing a huge amount of films, I know there will be one or two that really stick with me.

2 Comments

Filed under ALA, book thoughts, goals and career, online life

ALA Midwinter

Since leaving Chicago, there’s been a great deal of snow in many places. In some ways, that’s been wonderful, as after I left Chicago, I went to visit friends and stayed inside just reading. Sadly though where I live in Delaware, a lot of snow isn’t the norm and its made life a complicated. This has made substituting a little confusing but workable. I’ve been thinking a lot about Midwinter since leaving and now feel ready to write up my thoughts.

My Midwinter this year felt as if it was all about connections across the library world and the various worlds that I inhabit from seeing my childhood on stage with LeVar Burton’s speech to talking classics at an exhibit booth. One of my absolute favorite parts of Midwinter or Annual is the exhibit hall, because its possible to understand how diverse and huge libraries truly are. It feels like every time I go to a conference, the diversity of people and interests is brought more to the fore and it makes me happy. This year it was made explicit in wonderful ways such as the Day of Diversity, I wasn’t able to attend any of the events but followed a number of attendees on Twitter. A favorite panel that I went to combined a lot of my loves and why I enjoy the exhibit hall since I hadn’t planned on going to it but found myself sitting there. This was the Dark Fantasy panel at the Pop Top Stage which featured Fonda Lee, Ken Liu, Auden D. Johnson and Sabaa Tahir, which was thoughtful about why we read fantasy, what makes fantasy dark, how nice it is to have a fandom and how the authors write. It felt hopeful to hear authors comfortably discussing fandom, how its working within their lives and how they hope their works will fit into fandom. Also to hear them talking about the role of diversity especially within fantasy worlds. All of their books are high in my to be read pile.

Seeing LeVar Burton on Sunday morning was a powerful reminder of why I’ve chosen to be a librarian as he’s proof of the reach of books and reading. He spoke about his mentors from his mother to Alex Haley to Fred Rogers, through them it was possible to see how he grew and changed through his life and is still learning. Part of his talk was presenting a new book that he’s written called The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. Its an amazing book about dealing with loss and how depression can hit everyone and to hear it read by him was a gift. I found his reading and talk inspiring as he spoke about how he’s still learning and finding ways to make sure that children everywhere have access to books. During the question period, every person spoke about how he inspired them and taught them from helping with a second language to seeing some of their own life reflected up on Reading Rainbow. When I left, it was with the reminder that touching someone’s life can be done in a lot of ways and as a librarian, I can open doors.

It felt like perfect timing that after hearing him speak, I went to the ALA Joblist Open House which was one of the biggest I’ve been to in my three years of conferences. The set up was more relaxed as well since the libraries were at small tables which made it easier to talk and not feel as if there was such a clear line in the form of a large table. That can be intimidating at times as I’ve found myself not always at ease to approach but with this set up, it felt informal and welcoming. I had a great number of wonderful conversations and again was struck by the simple diversity of what a library can mean from academic libraries to independent schools.

Speaking of school libraries, another strange intersection was when Carney Sandoe, the independent school job agency I’m connected to had a booth next to YALSA and there was also a booth of wonderful child friendly furniture. This meant that after I volunteered at the YALSA booth, which is always a pleasure to interact with fellow youth librarians, I could talk to my Carney Sandoe connection. After that I walked one more booth over to pick up a catalog full of furniture possibilities for the new Lewes’ library children’s section. Moments like that are why I adore the exhibit hall, how sometimes just by chance, disparate elements of my library experience are suddenly right next to each other.

I ended Midwinter with the Morris’ awards which were slightly subdued due to weather so only four out of ten authors were actually present. The rest of them had video presentations which were fascinating. A lot of my reading directly after Midwinter on the train to Michigan was from the Morris and Nonfiction awards. I’m going to end by recommending a few of the books that have truly stood out to me of the ones I’ve read so far from my Midwinter haul. All links go to my Goodreads’ reviews.

The Story of Owen and its sequel Prairie Fire. Owen’s world is one of the finest alternate histories that I’ve read with dragons inserted in such a way that the process of history all makes sense. These books remind me of when I read Seraphina and how I wanted to give a copy to everyone I knew. That’s how I feel about these because the characters are complex and real, the setting is fascinating and the language of the writing is beautiful.

Tommy: The Gun that Changed America was an interesting read about gun violence and gun control in American history. Before reading this book, I hadn’t realized how many gun laws were tied to particular issues with gangsters and times of violence. An aspect that impressed me a great deal about this book was how the back was organized to make it easy for the readers to find and understand the sources used. Its something I would like to see done more often as it makes the idea of reading a bibliography less daunting when the author presents the sources under useful headings.

The Port Chicago 50 about a time when racism in the armed forces put a number of men behind bars. This is one of those books that wasn’t easy to read because it deals honestly with the segregation and racism that went on during World War II and the cost of it to America. A cost that we’re still paying the price of and dealing with. An aspect of this book that has stayed with me is how its a reminder that history is never a simple starting point, the discrimination during World War II helped to give tools that made it possible for the Civil Rights Movement to achieve what it did. Also that the tools of change haven’t altered that much through the decades.

Leave a comment

Filed under ALA, book thoughts, goals and career, links

Censorship close to home: Cameron Post and Cape Henlopen School District

Recently I had the odd experience of learning about something occurring in my own neighborhood from the online young adult world and then watching it play out online and in the local paper. I’m referring to the Cape Henlopen School District removing The Miseducation of Cameron Post from a summer reading list. A lot of great posts have been written about how misguided this choice was and I’ve found it inspiring to see how the YA community worked with the local community to get the book into the hands of kids who want it. Here I’m going to speak about the latest development a writing contest that gives teenagers a chance to say their thoughts about the book as well as provide a sense of the local context.

To start, the wonderful coda that is the essay contest. To quote the text of the flyer which is currently hanging over the new young adult books section at the Lewes Library.

The adults have had their say. Now it’s your turn. If you’re a high school student in Delaware, you’re invited to:

  • Get a free copy of The Miseducation of Cameron Post from Browseabout Books (student ID required)

  • Write a 250-500 word essay about what you think board members should know about the book before deciding whether it belongs on a school reading list

  •             Submit your essay to ncac@ncac.org by September 1st

I love the idea of this because one of my main complaints as I read through all of the articles that kept appearing in the Cape Gazette, the local paper, was how there weren’t enough student voices.

Now to get into a little explanation of where all of this happened since Sussex County, Delaware is currently in a great deal of economic and demographic flux. Sussex County and especially the area which Cape Henlopen serves is compromised of a number of different social groups and they don’t all fit together. Along the coast in towns like Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, retirees with liberal backgrounds from major cities such as Philadelphia, Washington DC and Baltimore have second homes and many live year round. Rehoboth Beach is known for being a welcoming place for the LGBTQ population.

A little further inland, farms and developments vie for land with places that conservationists have saved carving out their own spaces. According to the Sussex County Economic Development Office, the three main industries are manufacturing such as PATS Aircraft, Agriculture/Food Processing with the Mountaire Farms, mainly known for poultry the largest and then the three main hospitals; Beebe Medical Center, Bayhealth Medical Center and Nanticoke Health Services. Tourism and educational services also provide jobs through a University of Delaware Campus, Sussex Tech and a branch of Wilmington University. This means that the area can sometimes feel split between those who’ve been here for a while and tend to be more conservative and the newer and older residents that can be more liberal as well as immigrants that move here to work. A good explanation of how this looks politically comes from a write-up of Delaware around the 2012 elections from The New York Times:

“Almost all of Sussex County is rural. It is the top poultry producing county in the country. Along its coast, however, more than two decades of investment has cultivated a string of resorts, Mr. Pika said, and now liberal pockets can be found there. Rehoboth Beach, for example, has a substantial gay community.”

My family came down to this area to retire into one of those liberal pockets and they’re steadily making inroads into changing the political climate but it’s not easy to do.

All of this background is to show how in a place where same-sex couples are common a book can be banned for bad language with underlying homophobia. One aspect that I found fascinating was how little thought apparently went into choosing the list as it was apparently the first year it was done. It’s good that they trusted the Delaware Library Association to make intelligent choices, but the fact that most of the School Board and parents didn’t know much about these books wasn’t. Also none of this went through the normal process for challenging a book, which in the majority of libraries I’m familiar with requires the one challenging to read the book. All of the books were from the Blue Hen list which is selected by the Delaware Library Association, these books were then offered to incoming ninth graders to read. The way it all played out was strange too, the book was banned, then put back on the list and then the entire list was pulled. An interesting aspect was how a major part of rallying around the School Board came not from any thought on the book itself but more supporting the local government.

One letter that stood out for me was from someone who grew up in the area, was proud of not reading the book and fully backed the board; “I would like to commend the board on its decision to remove the above mentioned book from the summer reading list for incoming freshman. I hope that you are able to stand by that decision. I have not read the book.”

In a recent article from July 29th, a number of locals are quoted which gives a good sense of what happened.

“She’s promiscuous, drinks all the time and does drugs,” Hesson said. “Are we pulling students up, or are we just handing them stuff?”

While the Metcalfes and Hesson represented about half of 50 people who attended the meeting, just as many continued to support the book and the message it offers for gay students.

Recent Cape graduate Madison Bacon said gay kids are bullied in school, and “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” could help them handle adversity.

“It is a wonderful book. When I heard you removed it, it made me very sad,” she said.

Looking back over what happened, I think that the entire area has been surprised by how involved the outside world became in the book banning. I know that Browseabout Books is still giving books away as they’re provided for part of the contest and according to a librarian friend, Emily Danforth is going to give a Skype talk to a LGBTQ book group that meets at the library. The entire experience feels like its reflected a lot of the cultural conversations in the country as well as the power of connecting in as many avenues as possible.

I feel proud to be a librarian, a reader of young adult literature and someone who can add a few words to this conversation. For my own part, I read The Miseducation of Cameron Post at the end of 2012 and enjoyed it immensely.

Leave a comment

Filed under book thoughts, links, online life

#Weneeddiversebooks and dangers of genre

Last week the Weneeddiversebooks campaign ran on Twitter, Tumblr and other social media outlets, it was inspiring to read and see all the different voices. For my own small part, I read more diverse books and tried to be more conscious of what I was reading. As a white, privileged youth librarian, its important for me to listen and do all I can to promote authentic voices so that new readers can see themselves in the books that they’re reading. A company that is doing an amazing job of promoting diversity and listening to all the voices is Lee and Low Books who on their blog and other social media highlight other publishers and the discussion around the need for diverse books. One of the interesting side effects of this campaign was that it drew me to a number of thoughtful movies on Netflix that look into how key representation is and I would recommend them. To begin with, a movie about a singing group from Australia called The Sapphires, this movie is a wonderful mix of gorgeous music, the pain of racism and the Vietnam war. A shame of how its been promoted is that Chris O’Dowd, who is the manager in some cover art is highlighted when he’s very much a co-star to the four women.

Then the other two that I want to highlight are documentaries that deal with who is presenting the voice of a marginalized people. Sholem Aleichem: Laughter in the Darkness about the Yiddish author who’s stories inspired Fiddler on the Roof and helped the diaspora of Jews from Eastern Europe see themselves within literature. The documentary is wonderful in its use of archival photographs and footage along with actors reading Sholem Aleichem’s works in character. Watching it happened to coincide with a copy of The Golem and the Jinni finally becoming available at the library and the documentary gave me a greater understanding of the background for the Golem’s world.

Lastly I watched Reel Injun, a film about the harm caused by movie portrayals of Native Americans in film. The director Neil Diamond travels across the United States connecting with places and people to understand what was behind the choices made about Native Americans in film and what’s being done to change the ideas. It’s a clever use of the road trip format to go through history and enlightening.

At the moment all of these movies are available on Netflix Streaming along with other outlets.

Recently a matter of stereotyping in terms of books especially Young Adult novels featuring women happened with my father and I wanted to share it as it shows how books can be lost. When I was at ALA Midwinter, I picked up a copy of Expiration Day at the Tor publishing booth, because I had seen it mentioned on their website. I didn’t read it until I was on a plane and then I blew through it, amazed and fascinated. My review is here.

When I finished it, I knew that I had to recommend it to my father who has been reading science-fiction since he was a boy and this was one of the most thoughtful books about robots and artificial intelligence that I’d encountered in a while. Science fiction is a genre I enjoy but I tend more towards fantasy, but this book completely pulled me with the characters and set up. My parents in the last week had been getting ready for a trip and that means lots of clearing up, so my father has been looking over books and magazines. He saw Expiration Day, skimmed the back and decided it wasn’t for him and I got annoyed, because the cover with the back of a young woman’s head and the description which reads like a different book, he wasn’t convinced. I told him to not judge it on how it looks, gave him a synopsis of the story and then a few days later, I found him sitting and engrossed in Expiration Day. I was glad that I was able to change his mind, but it worries me how many people who consider themselves science fiction readers will pass over a book that has a girl or a YA feel to it.

I don’t know what the best answer is to this, because the strange aspect is this book was written by a man and its one I’d recommend to teenagers. I thought it did a masterful job covering the complications of growing up, but it doesn’t fit perfectly into either box. So going by the norms of science fiction writing culture, it should do better than a woman writing about robots yet because it’s portrayed as more YA, it won’t be. The best answer I have for now is to promote Expiration Day and link to The Book Smugglers’ review of it and keep pushing against the dangers of judging too much by genre. Genre to me is a place to begin, but shouldn’t be the first and last way of choosing to read a book. I know what I prefer in a book and of late I find it more in YA, fantasy and romance, but I don’t want to miss any book since it doesn’t stay in one of those boxes.

Leave a comment

Filed under book thoughts, goals and career, links, online life

Busy and strange month

January always seems to go by faster than I expect and my 2014 has started quickly and is going to end in a busy way. I’m preparing to go to ALA Midwinter as I’m now living on the East Coast which means I can visit family while getting to spend time with librarians. Before heading north tomorrow, I wanted to recap some of my favorite events that have happened this month, because there’s been a lot of creativity and reminders of how I am a librarian for me.

To start off, I helped run a great celebration on New Year’s Day called Noon Year’s Day. This is an event that was inspired by something that happens at the Delaware Art Museum and was the first time it was run at the Lewes Library. The set up is rather simple, throw a party for the kids in the area and instead of celebrating the New Year at midnight, do it at noon. The big part of the set up was attaching a parachute, a small one to ceiling and filling it with balloons that could be dropped when noon hit.

Noon Year's Day

Noon Year’s Day

Below you can see the wonderful chaos as the balloons dropped when the countdown happened. I found a countdown on timeanddate.com which was projected onto the wall. There were three crafts and food and in the end almost a hundred kids went through, because its been a cold winter and this was a great distraction. I love events like this, that aren’t too hard to pull together, a lot of the craft supplies and set up were based off of what the Children’s Librarian does for Summer Reading. It was simply a matter of altering them for New Year’s. Crowns with 2014 on them, handmade tambourines made out of paper plates and using pipe cleaners to create fake sparklers and string cheerios on to feed the birds plus seats for the adults. Entire families came and enjoyed themselves including making a lot of noise when it was noon. It was one of the best New Year’s parties that I’ve ever been to for the joy going on in it.

A few days later, I was able to revisit a favorite place of my childhood and feel rejuvenated by the presence of art. The Coastal Camera Club is something that both my parents are active with and I’ve been attending meetings. Its a wonderful organization that welcomes all levels of photographers and works to help them be creative and thoughtful. A part of that is they organize trips to places to take photos and there was a trip to , now this is a place that I used to go to as a young girl. The gardens were built by some members of the DuPont family with the idea that they would be open to the public, plant research goes on and in the summer performances. The day we went it was bitter cold so we spent most of our time in the Conservatory, which is a sprawling series of greenhouses containing all types of gardens. Since it was a cold day, there were few other people there and I was able to walk around following my eye. This is how I prefer to look at art and that day, all the plants were art and I found a way to capture some of their beauty with my camera. I’m going to post one of my pictures since a place I’d forgotten is the Children’s Garden that is full of playful fountains and statues that seem to invite you to another world. Below is a picture of one of my favorite places in the Conservatory, the Orchid Room where I was lucky enough to be in on my own for a number of minutes.

Orchid Room at Longwood Gardens

Orchid Room at Longwood Gardens

Also this month, I finally had a chance to read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and it was a book that surprised me in the best way. My review can be read As someone who has been involved in many types of fandom and roleplaying, various activities that made me on the edges, this book clicked with me. Rowell was able to capture how powerful the internet can be for finding your tribe out in the world and also how writing fanfiction provides another way to connect with favorite authors. I would recommend to anyone who is working with teenagers and college students and isn’t sure what they’re doing on Tumblr or what’s so special about Teen Wolf to read this book.

On that note, I need to go and finish getting ready for Midwinter and I hope to meet with one of my groups, the librarians.

Leave a comment

Filed under ALA, book thoughts, links, online life, photographs, programming