Friday, July 6, 2007

On Pointe by Lorie Ann Grover

I'm back to books by the Readergirlz Divas. I wasn't sure I would like On Pointe because I don't dance. And then I opened it up and saw that it's a novel in verse. I get distracted by those; I pay too much attention to the line breaks.

Guess what happened... I forgot about the form. I wanted to know what Clare would do after her City Ballet audition. I loved her grandfather along with her. I wished her mom would stop "digging up the dead horse to beat it again," or however Grampa phrased it. My heart leapt when they made the harmonica discovery. I suspected Clare would be the one to push Grampa to church on Sundays.

Overall, I surprised myself by making the leap from Clare's specific goal of being a professional dancer to the more general understanding that the story is about dreams and trying and being happy with who you are (powerful statements on body image and bulimia here) and doing what you love.

Thanks for another good one, Readergirlz!

The Off-Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Sometimes my husband says to me, "You're a little off today." Meaning I am goofy, unfocused, or high-strung. In some way, a little off.

I expected The Off-Season, sequel to Dairy Queen, to be about the months following DJ's first football season. Instead, it's about a season that's "off," in which things don't go as DJ expects. Brian Nelson's still visiting Schwenk Farm just days after the Red Bend/Hawley scrimmage. DJ's season starts well, but she's benched for fighting in school and injures her shoulder during practice. After overhearing her parents' talking about the farm losing money, DJ knows her only hope for college is a basketball scholarship. She must make a difficult decision: continue to play football, which she loves, or save her arm for basketball and the chance for a scholarship.

But we know this isn't the biggest challenge DJ will face in this "off" season. Nor is it her mother's slipped disk or Curtis' cutting class, driving the truck (at age 14), or sleeping over in a girl's basement. During the college football games one Saturday, Win falls down and doesn't get up. DJ's whole life is upended as she travels first to Seattle to act as surrogate mom while her own mother recuperates from her back injury and then to Minnesota for Win's rehab.

DJ uses the voice she found in her English essay last summer to coach her brother to come back to himself and to deal with the realization that she is an embarrassment to Brian--and there's nothing "off" in Murdock's second YA novel.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

23 Things

Maryland Libraries are guiding us through this nifty program called 23 Things, or Learning 2.0. To experiment with some new technology and earn CEUs at work, I set up another blog called Things Worth Doing. This afternoon I accidentally posted something here instead of there. I would have simply deleted it from Reader's Carousel and posted it over at the correct blog, but I was pleased to have a comment from Liz B. So the errant post stays.

And just in case you're interested in knowing more about the 23 Things, go ahead and visit my other blog too. I can't wait to get to work on that carousel mashup (as soon as I retrieve my digital camera from the backseat of my mom's car which is 200 miles away)!

Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Bookmarks: I lose them. They fall out of the book. I forget to use them. Somehow, a napkin ended up as a bookmark in my ARC of Love, Stargirl. I gobbled this book up. I pulled it close and pushed it away as Alvina does the blond-haired boy. I wasn't sure I wanted a sequel, but still I needed that bookmark so that at any spare moment, I could follow the calendar year as Stargirl writes to Leo. Will she still love him at the end of the book? What of this Perry? And how could I not adore Dootsie? ("I'm gonna be a waffle!")

I thought as I came to the final pages that I might need the napkin as a tissue in case of tears. I did not cry. I don't think Stargirl would have wanted me to cry. Her happy wagon's doing OK, thank you very much. She was lonely and vulnerable. But by the end, she is Stargirl. Strong. As we readers are strong enought to hear her point of view. I appreciate this gift from an author who doesn't do sequels. (I hope the published version will contain the same author's note as the ARC.)

Week 4, Thing 8

Bloglines is great--I learned about it last year at MLA and set up my account. You can see my feeds here:

It was fun to meet Mother Reader and A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy while at ALA last weekend.

Having bloglines is as much fun as having email--I can see new posts immediately and stay current with books, reading, and library technology. I edit my feeds often because I find favorites and delete the ones I'm not reading much anymore. I also like the feature that allows me to save posts as new so I can easily go back to a post even months later.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Sometimes I talk to characters in books. I spent a lot of time talking to Lady Saren, her maid Dashti, and her bethrothed Khan Tegus. I really wasn't sure how their tale would unfold. I expected this to be the lady's story, and in a way it is, but the story is told by Dashti in the journal that she keeps while she and her lady are locked in a tower, a 7-year punishment for Saren's refusal to marry the evil Khasar. Dashti is a mucker, one who knows healing songs, in this reimagined Grimm's fairy tale.

I love the imagination Shannon Hale brings to traditional tales and how she makes the characters so real. While Goose Girl remains my favorite of her books, I think this book may serve as an accessible introduction to her novels... The journal style is very readable, and the story moves along with just enough suspense and a little romance as well. Even though betrothal and marriage is central to the plot, the story is really about identity--Dashti's and Lady Saren's.

At the end, I talked the most to Lady Saren. I didn't like her at first, but I ended up being quite proud of her. Hooray to Shannon Hale for creating more strong female characters! (reviewed from ARC; book release is Oct. 2007)

Monday, June 25, 2007

ALA Day 2

I woke up way too early this morning and found--horror of horrors-bedhead! That's what I get for washing my hair the night before and falling asleep while it's still wet... I tamed it the best I could and met Kristin for a 7am-ish train.

Nancy Pearl knows so much about books! I liked hearing how she had written Book Crush, and after her talk I had a chance to use the microphone to ask her what her life was like while she read 1200+ books. She said that she eats popcorn and squash, has a "wash and wear husband" and a small apartment with no garden. So basically whatever other people do with their time, she doesn't; she just reads. (I might enjoy that life.)

Kristin and I made a mad dash to the exhibit hall to pick up the ARC of Shannon Hale's new book, Book of a Thousand Nights. (I want to stay up reading it but won't.)

Random House kindly hosted a preview of their fall children's books and gave us freebie bags that look like the cover to the Stargirl sequel, Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. The handles are very cool, blue rubber. I was quite taken with those handles.

Some friendly ladies on the escalator gave us a tip that the cafe across the street had good sandwiches at reasonable prices. They were right! And yummy smoothies too.

We heard Judy Blume speak this afternoon. She's an interesting speaker--I thought she would be all tough and spunky, which she was, but she's also emotional when talking about her life story. She teared up and reached for Kleenex a few times. I can't believe she is turning 70 in Feb! (I don't think she can either; she said she's still 12 inside.)

We spent more time at the exhibit hall this afternoon, where I especially enjoyed the AccuCut demo and seeing upcoming children's books. We found Peggy for the book cart drill team championships, sponsored by Demco and hosted by Mo Willems and Jon Sciezska--so amusing! Four teams competed, and the final (and winning) group dressed as Rosie the Riveter and used the slogan "Keep 'em Reading." They had some great swing dance music for their program.

On the shuttle to the Hilton Washington, I met Pat from NJ. On the way into the (packed!!!) Hilton reception area, she spotted Andrew Clements and introduced us! So I shook hands with Andrew Clements and told him I appreciated his books. Then we moved into a swarm of people, and I felt overwhelmed and grateful for having met Pat. Then I saw Lynn whom I'd seen at ALSC in Pittsburgh in Sept. '06 and ran into Lucy from Wisconsin whom I had met at Saturday's Books and Babies program. She introduced me to her friend Jane, who used to work with Dr. Eliza Dresang, who was my beloved FSU advisor whom I have never met (due to online learning). Jane promised to introduce me to Dr. Dresang if she spotted her.

But as it turned out, I found Dr. Dresang first in the hallway on my way to check the Metro schedule. She read my name tag and exclaimed, "Julie!" and I said I'd been waiting years to meet her! We chatted a couple minutes. How great to meet her in person--she is just as kind as I had imagined, and I felt like I had met her before.

The dinner was excellent--tender chicken in a creamy lemon sauce with risotto (I thought of Ruth Reichl) and asparagus. This after a green salad with a ginger dressing, mmm! Dessert was a melt-in-your mouth chocolate pyramid with cream and pistachios inside. Heavenly! And there were some berries and cream on the side. Tesa from Atlanta-Fulton laughed when she saw my delighted face after the first bite.

At the BWI table, I happened to be seated next to two women from Atlanta-Fulton, at least one of whom (Charmaine) had worked with Rachel Vilmar who is now with ESRL. On my other side was Linda from Berkeley, CA who is on the ALSC Board of Directors and attended her first ALA conference in the early 1970s and several years later was appointed to the Newbery/Caldecott committee and has been active with ALSC ever since. We had a nice conversation about waking up every morning and being glad to work as a children's librarian, where some days we do make a difference to some people.

In the line for the restroom, I met a woman from Missouri. I said I had a cousin in Moberley, and I felt dumb saying it because MO is such a big state--what's the chance she even knows where that town is? And she was quiet for a minute, so I figured she was trying to place the town. Instead, she was stunned: she is the director of the library in Moberley!

The acceptance speeches were great. I was so in awe. I was glad that the honorees were recognized also. Jennifer Holm was there for Penny From Heaven even though she just gave birth 2 weeks ago! I have a CD of the two acceptance speeches (David Wiesner and Susan Patron) that anyone who sees me is welcome to borrow, as long as they promise to return it!

I'm tired, and there's more to see and do tomorrow--so goodnight!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Day 1 of ALA

Today began with an early (5:45 alarm) Metro ride to the Washington Convention Center to hear the Babies and Books Beyond the Library Presentation. Susan Straub's ideas to encourage teenage moms and underserved families to read to their babies impressed me--I'd like to learn more and apply her strategies. I came away from the session about using Gardner's multiple intelligences in library programs such as Bookopoly and Book Trek totally energized for school-age programming.

The highlight of the day was definitely Mitali Perkins' book launch party for First Daughter. We enjoyed mango lassi, samosas, and another bite-sized item that looked and tasted somewhat like a pizza pocket. Mitali read from her book, played a Presidential quiz game in which the team of Kristin, "anonymous serial blogger," and me won the new book! Then a dancer taught us bhangra!

At Mitali's book launch and at the KidLit Drink Night following, I met some great people:

(links to come at a later edit of this post)
Fuse #8
Mother Reader
A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy
Zee Says
The Yayaya
2nd Gen Librarian
Wands and Worlds
Sara Holmes
Rebecca Stead
Justina Chen Headley
and a few publishers/editors from Kane/Miller and Little Brown.

I definitely did not drink enough water today, so I'll do better with that tomorrow. And I won't buy another stale sandwich at the lunch kiosk! Looking forward to hearing Nancy Pearl speak and seeing more vendors tomorrow. But now it's time to sleep because that 6 o'clock alarm will ring all too soon...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Monsoon Summer

Hooray! Every now and then I read a book that makes me just want to yell, Hooray!

Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins made me yell Hooray! Jasmine Carol Gardner (Jazz) accepts herself, opens up to others, and finds romantic, familial, and friendly love. It has the elements of YA fiction (independence, identity, intimacy) without angst, thanks in part to the family code: Family Sticks Together. Jazz falls in love but doesn't lose her identity because of it; instead she becomes more comfortable in her own skin and realizes she is valued and loved for being the girl she's always been. Also great: the emphasis on joy through service to/sharing with others.

After finishing the book, I'm extra excited about the book launch this weekend! Also imagine my surprise earlier today when Mitali herself emailed me in response to my RSVP--She said she'd looked at my profile and noticed that we both like Fernando Ortega's music!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

ReaderGirlz books

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Over the past few days, I decided to get to know the ReaderGirlz divas better. I appreciate their mission as well as the fun frippery they sent a few months ago when I added them as MySpace friends.

Because I liked Aria of the Sea by Dia Calhoun so much during the recent 48-Hour Reader's Challenge, I read the companion book The Phoenix Dance, in which the title character struggles with The Illness of the Two Kingdoms (contemporarily known as bipolar disorder). Her slide into the Kingdom of Darkness and the euphoria of the Kingdom of Brilliance are aptly portrayed. While the book didn't draw me in as quickly as did Aria, I nevertheless enjoyed many aspects, including:

  1. The expansion of the Grimms' Fairy Tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" (It put me in mind of Shannon Hale's ability to transform "The Goose Girl" into a novel.)

  2. The appearances of grown-up Cerinthe and Elliana from Aria

  3. Phoenix's absolute delight in shoemaking, from the moment we meet her scavenging ribbon and fabric scraps from the shoemaker's trash

Next I read Janet Lee Carey's Wenny Has Wings. I've read a lot of books that deal with the death of a child, but this one really stands out because of the format; 11-year-old Will's letters to 7 year-old Wenny capture the grief, anger, guilt, and fear that follows a family member's death. Will observes and reports on the changes in his parents. He tries to hold the family together while facing the fear that they wish Wenny had lived and he had died in the accident. Also amazing was the amount of research to back up the near death experiences and the grief counseling knowledge that comes through both Will's character and that of his counselor without ever sounding preachy. The story is told as only an 11-year-old narrator could tell it--with honesty, sorrow, a little humor, and a lot of hope.

Next on my Readergirlz bookshelf: Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies)by Justina Chen Headley; On Pointe by Lorie Ann Grover; Beast of Noor by Janet Lee Carey. I'm on the holds lists for Dragon's Keep by Janet Lee Carey at my local library.

What is Mr. Benedict's First Name?

I finished The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart a day or two after the 48 Hr Challenge ended... I liked it and would recommend it to anyone who liked Blue Balliett's books or The Westing Game, and others.

The brainsweeping concept ceased bothering me around the time I learned that Mr. Curtain (Ledroptha--very clever!) and Mr. Benedict look the same! And how about the surprise with Constance's identity at the end--ha, ha, ha!! (I am phrasing this carefully so as to avoid any spoilers!)

Perhaps my favorite part was Remember the White Knight: trust yourself. Don't doubt and turn back.

Maybe I should add that I was fascinated by Morse code as a child. My dad was an Army codebreaker in the 1960s. As kids in the 80s, my sister and I had a set of walkie-talkies with Morse Code on the plastic. We'd sneak around our yard and beep Morse code messages to one another. (usually followed by pressing the talk button to yell "WHAT??")

Great book. BUT what is Mr. Benedict's first name? (Of course I hadn't even wondered until that note at the end...)