Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Books in the Wild: Twenty Boy Summer

Sarah Ockler, author of Twenty Boy Summer, is offering a contest for those who spot her new book "in the wild." I spotted it today at Barnes and Noble in Portage. I'll be checking my local indie tomorrow. Hope to see lots of pictures on Sarah's map!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"Camp is still torture. Take pity on me. Peace, Love, and Desperation, Laney."

There is nothing I love more than a book about camp. Seriously. As soon as I found out about Slept Away by Julie Kraut, I knew I had to read it as soon as possible. Laney Parker is a true New Yorker who loves the city. She is trying to figure out how to spend her summer and is sure she can come up with a great plan. However, her mother and her mother's boyfriend have a different idea. They decide that Laney should experience a summer at camp, away from the city. They can't be serious, can they?

Yes, they can. Laney is in denial and believes that her mother will change her mind, but she ends up on a bus to camp with a duffel bag full of strange neon outfits (including culottes!) Laney finds herself spending the summer in a bunk with an endlessly cheerful counselor, Mandi, who is enthusiastic about "the rules," and three bunkmates (Hayden, Aiden, and Aidan) who decide immediately that they do not like her. She is thrust into activities that are far out of her comfort zone and cut off from her ever-present forms of electronic communication. Her only hope is Sylvie, the final camper in her bunk. Although Sylvie appears awkward at first, this may be a chance for Laney to get past appearances and see what lies underneath the exterior. Laney also finds that Ryan, one of the outsiders from home, is popular and sought-after at camp, another revelation which may just change how Laney views the world.

I found myself laughing out loud at several points throughout this book. Kraut's snarky sense of humor is very similar to mine and I frequently said to myself, "Oh, yeah, that's so the camp experience." Slept Away, which will be released on May 26, 2009, is a must-read for campers, former campers, and wannabes alike.

ps I owe Julie Kraut a s'more--how do you mail one? Also, her blog is very interesting--she has recently spent time working at an orphanage in Africa and has written about the experience. Enjoy!

"There are days when everything changes, and this was one of those days."

I was intrigued when I read the back cover blurb of Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me and I quickly got into the story of twelve year old Miranda. Then a former co-worker saw it in my car and said "OH I heard about this book, how is it?" I told her honestly that I wasn't very far into it, but I was enjoying it.

It's set in late 1970s New York City and Miranda's mom is preparing as a contestant for the $20,000 Pyramid, a show that my entire family watched when I was a kid. So immediately, I felt connected to this young girl.

But there is much more to Miranda's story. Her favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time and she carries a worn out copy with her. Her best friend Sal suddenly needs a break from their friendship after getting punched by a new boy, who we later learn is Marcus. Miranda makes other friends and learns that maybe Marcus isn't as awful as she thought he must be. Marcus and Miranda end up talking about A Wrinkle in Time and the possibilities of time travel.

Miranda gets 4 mysterious letters that tell her she will save someone's life. But the writer of the letters knows things that no one else knows, in detail. And Miranda doesn't know who she is supposed to save. A lot for a 12 year old to unravel on her own. As she works through her friendships and the mystery of the notes, Miranda starts to grow up and realize what is truly important.

A pleasure to read and to think about . . . this book will be released on July 14, 2009.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"This was my family's story, and there was only one person who could tell me the truth."

I love debut fiction. Sometimes its the best work of that author but I think that it is often an indicator of authors who will be really great. It's almost like a promise. That's how I am feeling about Megan Frazer's debut, Secrets of Truth & Beauty, due out July 7, 2009: a promise of more great stories to come.

Dara Cohen is a junior in high school. It starts with one English assignment: create a multimedia presentation of your autobiography. When Dara uses footage from the pageant she was in (and won) when she was 7 and uses the audio of her mom and other stage parents as the voiceover, her world starts to fall apart. She is kicked out of school; she is fighting with her parents; and she decides to call her long-lost sister Rachel. When Dara leaves Maine to spend the summer with her sister in Vermont, she learns who she really is and what is truly important.

Dara is believable and likable. Ms. Frazer crafts a story that is not only about Dara but about society's perception and treatment of overweight people and the concept of body image. A quick read that makes you want to know about Dara, her sister and their family, both biological and the one of their own creation.

Monday, May 11, 2009

"Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you. Does that make sense?"

Mia is talented. In fact, she has auditioned to play the cello at Julliard--and she will probably get in. But one day changes everything. Mia and her family go for a drive on a snowy morning to visit some friends. There is an accident. Now Mia is faced with a horrible choice: stay and feel the suffering and pain of deep loss or go and never again experience the wonders of her life.

Told in Mia's voice, If I Stay alternates from the present to flashes of the past where she describes various events such as how she and Kim became best friends, how Adam became her boyfriend, what caused her father to finally grow up, how she came to play the cello, and details about the relationship she has with her little brother. These alternating scenes make this book even more powerful--it's hard to let someone go when you know all the amazing details that make up her life.

When I started to read If I Stay by Gayle Forman, I was immediately sucked into Mia's life. I made the "oh my gosh I can't believe it" noise out loud (and got caught by a kid . . . ) at about page 11 or 12 and then I had to decide what to do: put it down or read until I reached the end. Yes, it's one of those books. I had to put it down because I didn't have enough time to sit still and finish it all at once, but I quickly devoured it later. I even began wondering about Mia's later life in my head. No, I don't imagine that there will be a sequal (or that I could even stand to read it?), but Mia's voice will stick with me and I think people will continue talking about this book.

**ps Gayle Forman's If I Stay has hit the NYT Bestseller List--what a great honor for a fantastic book!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"But things were starting to look up. Funny how, at the time, I really did believe that. As it turned out, however, I couldn't have been more wrong."

As soon as I finished Airhead by Meg Cabot, I started wanting the next book, Being Nikki, to be available. I was going through a series phase and I wanted the next book--which, of course, wasn't due to be published for more than a year! Finally, as of May 5, 2009, Em Watts is officially back (in Nikki Howard's body) to continue the story. (** if you haven't read Airhead, there may be a few spoilers here--you've been warned!**)
At the end of Airhead, Em Watts is just beginning to realize that she is going to have to keep her secret and live Nikki Howard's life or risk the chance that her family will lose everything they have to Stark Enterprises. Being Nikki begins with poor Em at a photo shoot for yet another Stark product. She is cold, wet, and unhappy, but knows she must go along to protect her family. She is also working hard to avoid Brandon Stark, Nikki's ex boyfriend with whom she does not want to have a relationship. While she is at the photo shoot, a mysterious stranger visits her apartment building. Nikki's roommate gives her a physical description and she's sure it's Christopher, her long-time friend. However, upon returning home, she finds out that it's someone else. Someone Nikki would have known, but Em doesn't have a clue who he is.
His appearance drags Em into a mystery which causes her to begin a search for answers to questions that she had not considered. Why is someone getting text messages that she did not send, yet appear to be signed by her? Where is Nikki Howard's family? Why is Stark listening in on all her conversations and watching her every move? What really happened on the day Nikki died and Em was injured? Did Nikki Howard have secrets that may have led to her demise? Em has to try to find answers while continuing Nikki's career, going to high school, spending time with her family, and keeping the biggest secret of her life.
Just when I thought I might find out the answer to Em's questions, one BIG Stark secret was revealed and then the book ended--with a cliffhanger. I felt the same way at the end of Being Nikki as I did at the end of Airhead. I can't wait for the next (final?) installment, Runaway, to be published!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kalamazoo Public Library Millage Renewal Vote Today!

There are lots of issues that are important to people; the library is my cause. The Kalamazoo Public Library is asking for a renewal of its current millage for 20 years. I rely heavily on the public library in both my personal and work lives, but I'm not sure if everyone knows just how amazing KPL is and the services public libraries offer to their communities.

My children (yes, that's them!) love going to the various branches of the library to enjoy not only the special programming, but the unique facilities (their favorite activities include creating puppet shows and completing puzzles!) and kind, caring librarians and staff members who always offer amazing book suggestions and wonderful service. Public libraries often offer author and illustrator visits to their communities. In the picture above, my son is wearing a t-shirt he got during the Nerdfighter Gift Exchange while visiting a stop on John Green and Hank Green's Nerdfighting Tour, an event also sponsored by a public library (Ann Arbor District Library). Thanks to funding and support from KPL, my children met Paul O. Zelinsky and they count Awful Ogre's Awful Day and The Wheels on the Bus amongst their favorite books to read aloud. Each summer, my children participate in KPL's Summer Reading Program and they love getting the opportunity to choose new books and tell the librarians all about what they have been reading.

In my professional life, I know I can count on the KPL librarians to work collaboratively on author visits, programming, and book selection. Sharon Flake and Sharon Draper have visited my students thanks to KPL. Draper's fall visit in 2008, in conjunction with an all-school read, spurred a frenzy of reading which has continued throughout the school year. Students clamour for books both written by Draper and like those she writes. The KPL librarians also spend time promoting the Summer Reading Games to all my students which is so important in order to avoid summer slide. There are frequently books that I am unable to purchase for my students. I know that I can send them to KPL for additional resources that extend beyond my budget. I also check out books from the public library in order to read them before purchasing them for my collection in order to stretch my budget dollars and purchase the most appropriate materials.

Public libraries level the playing field in communities. There are computers with Internet access, allowing job-seekers to find resources they need to empower themselves. Families can enjoy resources and programming selected and planned for their enjoyment. I calculated the cost of the books our family has read in the past year. Without our public library, the cost would have been over $4,000. That is books alone. No programs, concerts, puppets, or professional service. The millage will cost our family about $200 per year, all of which we are already paying since this is a renewal. There is no question that we're getting a bargain. I urge you to support your local public library--and VOTE YES if you live in the Kalamazoo Public Library District. It's amazing what you will find there!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

"Because there's no way on earth she's going to make it through college unless she grows some serious ovaries and turns this wreck around."

In Lisa McMann's Wake, Janie has a problem: since she was eight years old, she has been getting sucked into other people's dreams. Every time someone falls asleep around her, she ends up witnessing their dreams--and their nightmares. It happens in school, at her job, even on bus trips. Sometimes its mild and she can handle it, but sometimes Janie appears to pass out and have seizures, which can be pretty embarrassing. If this isn't enough, Janie is poor and lives with her alcoholic mother who does not seem to notice what is happening to her. Janie wants better for herself, so she works hard at school and her job.

Job? Yes. Janie works as much as she can. It's important for her to earn money for college. Plus, most of the people at the nursing home tend not to dream, but when she is drawn into the dream of one special patient, Miss Stubin, she begins to wonder if she is the only person who can see others' dreams. If other people can do this, is there a way to control it? That would certainly change Janie's life for the better.

Janie's neighbor Cabel also leads a tough life. She knows he must struggle as much as she does because they both live on the South side of town. However, when she accidentally ends up in one of his dreams, Janie finds out some painful truths about Cabel's life. Their friendship turned romance blooms and then breaks apart as Janie struggles with the dreams. Can she trust Cabel with her secret? Can he trust her with his?

Even the possibility that one person can see into another's dreams and nightmares is pretty creepy. I woke up this morning remembering my dream and thinking about what it would be like if I knew someone else had seen it too. Creepy. The sequel to Lisa McCann's Wake, Fade, is now available and the final book in the trilogy, Gone will be available in February, 2010.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Buy Indie Day!

It's Buy Indie Day today, so I celebrated! As a librarian, I often borrow books from the library (shocking, I know) and tend to buy fewer books. However, there is a great children's bookstore in Kalamazoo called Bookbug and I need to read Wake by Lisa McMann (who is originally from Holland, Michigan--just a bit north of Kalamazoo for those keeping track on their hand maps!) for a little project, so today was the perfect day to pick it up. Tonight was Brownies and baseball, so I haven't started it yet, but I'll report back when I'm done. If you didn't do it today, take the opportunity this weekend to check out your local independent bookseller!