18 May 2011

Hereville: how Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword
Amulet Books

I swear I did not seek this book out based on my love and adoration for the book Hush.  I swear on everything holy.  It just happens to be another book about an Orthodox Jewish girl.  This one, however, has the imagination that rivals J. K. Rowling.  And it’s an award winning graphic novel (it was named one of the 2011 Great Graphic Novels for Teens).

Mirka lives in Hereville – an Orthodox Jewish community – with her family:  her father, her stepmother and her many siblings.  She has an amazing imagination and has always dreamed of fighting monsters – she even hides a book about monsters under her bed (because they live in an Orthodox community, they aren’t supposed to have or read non-Jewish books).  One day when she gets lost on the way to school, she comes across a peculiar house and sees a witch and angers a very large talking pig.  The pig starts to follow her and steal her homework, knocking her over and creating havoc in her world.  When she continually tells people that it’s the pig’s fault, no one believes her.  She devises a plan to get the pig to leave her alone only to have to save the pig shortly thereafter.  The witch appears and offers her a reward, which sends her on a quest to fight and defeat a troll.  The only person who can help her fight the troll is her stepmother, Fruma, a woman Mirka adores and fears all at once.

While I found the story extremely entertaining, I don’t know that students will be as drawn to it as I was.  I’ve tried finding out as much as I can about the author because I’m curious as to what would make him write a book about Orthodox Jews.  But I couldn’t make the connection – he doesn’t mention being Jewish and doesn’t look Orthodox.  He is, however terribly funny and extremely sarcastic – something that I enjoy, but I’m not sure students will identify with.  I think Deutsch intends to portray Orthodox Jewish customs respectfully, but it comes across as challenging if not a bit judgmental.  Maybe he simply intends to get people thinking about the customs in their own personal “Hereville”.  Whatever his intention, I don’t know that it will come across to middle and high school students.  I think they might miss the subtlety, and I definitely think they will be turned off by all of the un-translated Yiddish phrases.  If he’d included a glossary at the end so that people would know why Zindel says talking to Mirka is like “red tsu der vant” (red’ zu der Wand or talking to the wall).  The only reason I enjoyed some of his jokes is because I speak German and could figure out the Yiddish.

I can see why reviewers loved the book; I’m just not convinced that reviewer enjoyment will translate to student enjoyment.  But that’s the joy of books – ten people read a book and you get ten different opinions!

Here are some other reviews of Hereville:

17 May 2011

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water

In my life I have read many moving books – books that made me reconsider my world view and books that have made me reconsider my view of self.  As a middle school librarian, sometimes the books that move and inspire me are books that I cannot add to my collection because they are inappropriate for the grade level I serve.  But the issues still remain, and because I want to encourage young people to become reflective members of society, I constantly look for books that will help them see the world in a broad, non-egocentric way.  There is a great, big, fascinating world out there, and the sooner we can teach young people to embrace it, the better off our future will be.

Over the past two years, I’ve read several very moving books about the struggles of misplaced natives all over Africa.  But none were middle school appropriate.  Enter Linda Sue Park and her short novel about two young people in Sudan.  A Long Walk to Water many not be the best book I’ve ever read, but it is written in such a way that it will inspire and inform middle school students about the lives of people who live half a world away.  It is a short novel – about 120 pages – and it is mostly the story of Salva and his struggle to survive.  After violence strikes while he’s at school, he is forced to walk to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, and then years later to another in Kenya, all the while not knowing whether his family is alive or dead.  At the beginning of each chapter there is a short narrative from the perspective of young Nya, a girl growing up some twenty years later in southern Sudan, who must walk for eight hours each day to fetch water for her family.

What struck me most about the book is that I could not imagine how these two stories would intersect.  I didn’t notice at first that the accounts were over 20 years apart, so I assumed that Nya and Salva would meet, she would save him and they would marry, or something like that.  Having read other novels by Park (A Single Shard is another one that really made me think), I should have known that it would be different.  And I loved it.  Park does an amazing job of creating an inspiring, realistic story (well, it is based on a true story so it should be realistic) that explains the trials occurring in Africa in a way that young people will relate to and possibly be moved to action.  The one thing I would recommend to making this book just a bit better would be a resources list at the end.  Salva’s organization is mentioned, so there’s a possible starting point for those interested in getting involved, and I suppose it wouldn’t be too difficult for students to find information on their own.  But I’ve seen how middle school students conduct research (and I’m working daily to make them better, more saavy researchers) so I feel like a list of trusted organizations might be helpful to them.

All in all the book may not have moved me in the way that other books did, however, I think it is perfectly written for young people, and I hope that it is a catalyst for them to see the world in a different way and to understand that sometimes making a change in the world happens one step at a time.

Salva Dut's Organization - Water For Africa

Other books about the Lost Boys & Girls of Africa

What is the What? by Dave Eggers
A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Other Reviews of A Long Walk to Water

16 May 2011

The Future of Libraries and How Seth Godin Proves He's Never Been In a Library

So honestly, I’m kind of shocked that this is my second non-book post in the last week, but this blog post ticked me smooth off (as my friend MattFrye would say).  Clearly, Seth Godin has not actually visited a public or school library recently, or had a conversation with a librarian.
One of the biggest pains of my job is explaining constantly what I do.  I understand the necessity of explaining myself because the role of librarians has morphed completely in the last decade.  Also, I find that I have to explain my job to people who either don’t use libraries or don’t have school aged children.  People who visit the public library know what my job entails, and so do parents.

So here’s why I take issue with what Godin said.

First, I’m appalled at Godin’s definition of the librarian of the future, not because of what he’s asking of us, but because we already do all that stuff.  We teach people how to use the information they find to create new and innovative products, ideas, you name it.  We teach people how to critically think and how to be information literate – which is a term that means they know how to identify, locate and use the information they need to complete any task.  Again, it is clear to me that Godin has not visited a public or school library recently.

The next library is ...a place where people come together to do co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together. Aided by a librarian who understands the Mesh, a librarian who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to bear.

That’s what I do each and every day, and if you walk into the Mesa County Public Library, you’ll see the same thing.  Just look at their list of events and classes offered, and you'll see that the library is a place where people and information come together to form ideas.  Libraries and librarians bring information and people together constantly.  All. The. Time.  And they do it with a smile on their face and more patience than Mother Teresa (ok, maybe that’s a stretch, but they have lots).
Second, Godin’s reasoning behind not needing a library for research is…well, you decide.

Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically eliminated the library as the best resource for anyone doing amateur research (grade school, middle school, even undergrad). Is there any doubt that online resources will get better and cheaper as the years go by? Kids don't shlep to the library to use an out of date encyclopedia to do a report on FDR. You might want them to, but they won't unless coerced.

 There’s a part of me that doesn’t feel the need to respond to this statement because it’s clearly...uh…uninformed (he must have gotten his information from Wikipedia…).  Wikipedia has eliminated the library as the best resource for research?  Ha.  Double Ha.  In fact, I actually have to fight to get teachers to allow their students to even use Wikipedia as a starting point.  Wikipedia is not considered a valid or reliable resource by most (though it's proving to be more reliable than it used to be) and no one doing any sort of research – amateur or otherwise – should use it as their only source of information.  While he is correct in that most students won’t come to the library to use an out of date encyclopedia, they will come to the library to use an online one, or any other of our many online databases, or to use a web-based tool to present their information (like Glogster, Prezi, Animoto, VoiceThread or Xtranormal – any of those tools ring a bell sir?  No?  Go ask your local librarian, he or she will know).  Unfortunately, many of the free online resources are being overrun with advertising, and other quality online resources – like databases – aren’t getting cheaper.  School districts are being forced to purchase fewer and fewer.  Thank goodness the public library still purchases enough so that patrons can conduct meaningful research.  Also, I’d like to extend a friendly challenge to Mr. Godin.  I’d like for him to come in and teach one of my classes how to use Ebsco or another database.  It’s not that easy.  So the truth of the matter is, using Google or Wikipedia might be easier but definitely not better.

Truth be told, I wonder if Mr. Godin’s opinion would be the same if he made less money.  I know that sounds a little harsh, but I wonder if it’s true.  Let me put it to you this way.  I read about 2 books per week, that’s 100 books a year (at least).  Many of these books are new releases, so they’re still hardback.  But in order to make a conservative estimate, let’s say I only read paperbacks.  Books alone would cost me about $1000 a year.  I watch fewer movies – about 1 a week.  But at $12 a pop, movies would cost me about $625 a year.  That’s $1600 a year that I save by going to the public library.  That’s about $130 a month I save, and I’m single and childless.  Imagine how much money a family of four would save.

Godin also talks about the Kindle and ebooks.  Quite frankly, this goes back to my thoughts that he’d be singing a different tune if he lived paycheck to paycheck. “An ebook costs about $1.60 in 1962 dollars.”  Uh, $1.60 was a LOT in 1962 – a gallon of regular gas cost a mere $0.31, so an ebook would have cost you the equivalent to 5 gallons of gas.  If I re-figured the amount of money I save by visiting the public library based on this figure (each book would cost me approximately $20), I’d spend over $1900 on books alone.  Now I know lots of people who buy books for $20, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  My whole point in making the comparison is the simple fact that in these economic times not everyone can afford to buy books, ebooks or DVDs.  I feel like the tone of Godin’s article was a little condescending to people who struggle financially.  Luckily for everyone (Mr. Godin included) libraries provide equal access and librarians provide information, assistance and guidance to everyone regardless of the size of your pocketbook.

I know that not all libraries are created equal, and some libraries might not be doing all these things, and some librarians still might be nothing more than shushing book pushers.  So maybe the truth is that I'm offended that Godin didn't research things a bit more.  His library of the future is here - it may not be every library everywhere, but it is here and librarians are already doing all the things he claims we should be doing in the future.  So maybe I feel snubbed that he (and LOADS of others) haven't noticed the advances that we're making in Library Land.  How do we fix that?  We advocate, we keep defending ourselves and show what a benefit we are to students and the community.  And we encourage people who write uninformed blogs that they should come visit us so they can see that the "future" is already here.

Here’s his actual blog post The Future of the Library.  It is very possible that I went on the defensive and missed his point.  I encourage you to read the post, visit your local library and decide for yourselves.

Here are some other reactions to his blog as well

Phil Bradley (the swank UK search guru whose image I borrowed above...)

The Unquiet Librarian (Buffy Hamilton - I'd really like to be her when I grow up)

Happy Reading!

Image above provided by Phil Bradley's Photostream via Flickr
(see what I did just there?  That's called attribution.  Something a librarian can teach you to do in about 3 easy steps...)

13 May 2011

Not That Kind of Girl - Siobhan Vivian

Not That Kind of Girl

Rarely do I review books that I don’t like.  I prefer to just let them be.  Why?  Because the book that I loathe might be your favorite book of all times.  But this book is different for a few reasons.  First of all, I’m quite sure that teenagers will like this book and they’ll get a lot out of it.  Second, it really wasn’t terrible – I just didn’t like one character.  Ironically, when I was going back through my reading list, I noticed the notes I’d taken from the seminar where I’d first heard about Not That Kind of Girl.  The presenter, Karol Sacca of the Parachute Branch of the Garfield Public Libraries (I want to be her when I grow up, btw) had said that the book was worth reading, but that you had to get past the snobbiness of the main character.

Ha.  Understatement.  I’d say you have to get past the…uh…b-word-iness of the main character*.

Natalie is your quintessential good girl.  She keeps herself covered, she isn’t boy crazy and she knows what’s important in life and in high school.  Her best friend Autumn made a huge mistake as a freshman, and has spent the last four years being called “Fish Sticks” – something that Natalie, being the wonderful best friend that she is, has done her best to help her deal with.  Now that Natalie has been voted SBA president, she is determined to make the most of her senior year.  Only not everyone sees things the way she does.  Along comes Sterling, a freshman who is sexified to the max, and who is not afraid of attention.  Natalie, being the wonderful person that she is, decides to take Sterling under her wing and teach her how to “survive” high school.  Only Sterling doesn’t want her help.  And all of a sudden, neither does Autumn.  Natalie is completely confused that these two, clearly misguided young women would want to ignore her advice and chase after boys.  Enter quintessential hunky high school guy, Connor.  After overhearing him defend her to his Neanderthal buddies, Natalie is completely taken with him, and they start meeting in private.  Now Natalie not only has no friends, she has the burden of a secret weighing on her and eventually, everything crashes and burns, and Natalie has to face the web she’s woven for herself and those she cares about.

Could you sense the sarcasm in that review?  Natalie is not just snobby, she’s a downright b…b…brat.  The book is told in first person, so having that direct line into Natalie’s thoughts adds to her holier-than-thou attitude.  In true YA fashion, things turn out fine in the end and Natalie learns her lesson, but even that wasn’t enough to redeem her in my eyes.  I can’t imagine a world where everyone is so quickly forgiving of someone who has acted so stuck-up for four years.  I know if I were in high school, I would have enjoyed seeing a fall like Natalie took (people, I’m human, and honest, go with it).

But on the other hand, the book has some really poignant moments and lessons for teens, like the fact that the confident girls really aren’t as confident as they seem, and that being made fun of is not the end of the world.  Oh, and the fact that the snotty girls are just as unsure of themselves as everyone else.  Let’s all take a moment to remember high school – we thought we knew and that we were cool, but really?  We were WRONG.  And that was the one redeeming quality of the book:  Natalie realizes that she, the know-it-all good girl, actually doesn’t know it all.

*Just realized I’ve never established if this is going to be a PG or a PG-13 blog.  Hm…

Here are some other great reviews of this book:

Korianne Speaks – She actually loved the book!

12 May 2011

Article: The Sad, Beautiful Fact that We're All Going to Miss Almost Everything

I don't write personal posts very often, but I came across this article through my Google Reader today: The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going to Miss Almost Everything by Linda Holmes (and stole the picture from the article too), and made me think about the ideas of being well read and being a librarian.  One of the biggest struggles I have in being a librarian is that I don't know that I'll ever be one of "the Greats" like Joyce Valenza, Buffy Hamilton or even Di Herald and Becky Johnson.  If those names mean nothing to you, let me try to put it in other terms:  I fear that I will be a D list actor.  Someone who tries to make a living doing something well, but just can't make it happen.  I will try my darndest to read all the award winning books (which is not evidenced by my blog, I read lots more books than I take the time to review) and keep up with constantly evolving technology, but how do I find time in the day?  And reading Holmes' article really articulated the conclusion I've come to in the past few weeks.  The simple fact is, I'm not ever going to be one of "the Greats" - in Libraryland or even as a German teacher, if I ever end up back in the classroom again - but I'm not sure I want to be one.  I will, as Holmes said "make a genuine effort to explore thoughtfully", but I don't know that being "great" is so important to me that I'm willing to give up everything else just to get there.  I think, instead I'll strive to be great for my family, my friends, my school community and my church community.  That way I can think I'm great - as long as I stay in my little geographic world.

Another reason this article struck a chord with me today is I recently recieved a comment on one of my older blog posts (uh, YEAY!!!) and because this doesn't happen often, I immediately posted the comment.  Then I realized that I didn't really like or agree with the comment, which thrust me into a conflict of  whether or not I would post all comments or if I would only post comments that added to the blog in some way.  Now, I realize that the person who made the somewhat snarky comment about my enjoyment of the Twilight Series was probably doing lots of culling and might benefit from a little more surrender.  My hero, Di Herald, always tells kids in my book club that no two people ever read the same book.  So to Anonymous from Singapore - first, I doubt you'll read my blog again, so I'm probably wasting my breath here, and second, I'm sure there are books out there that you have read and enjoyed that would make me question your professional judgement as well.

In any case, I have decided to post all comments, and hopefully, as more people read my blog, the will all remember that I am but one person dipping from the ocean of books available to us.  My opinion is about as important as everyone else's, so if you don't like a book I recommend, just remember, this is blog isquasi-pointless.  It says so in the title.

{And Suzanne steps down from her soapbox, waves lovingly at her fans, and exits stage right}.

11 May 2011

Hush by Eishes Chayil

Eishes Chayil

The cover of this book reads “What happens when you are betrayed by those you trust the most?”  Who can pass up a book with a caption like that?  Honestly, usually I can.  Truthfully, the cover of this one didn’t really do it for me, but luckily I’d heard enough buzz about it that I went ahead and requested it through interlibrary loan (greatest system EVER).

Gittel is a young woman who has grown up within the comfort and safety of her Chassidic Jewish community of Borough Park.  She has learned to be pious, and longs for the day she will marry and her soul will find its’ match.  The one dark spot in Gittel’s life is the memory of her best friend, Devory, who died when they were 9.  Gittel knows there is more to what happened to Devory than she was told, but whenever she tries to uncover the truth, she is met with silence, fear and a healthy dose of denial.  The book alternates between present day and Gittel’s memories of Devory and all that happened to her, and her story is heart-wrenching and joyful all at the same time.  The author still lives within the Chassidic community but felt it so important that this story be told, she has chosen the pseudonym Eishes Chayil, meaning Woman of Valor.

What struck me about this book is that it could be a gritty, terrifying book.  What happened to Devory is horrifying and should not go unnoticed.  But Chayil has written an account of violence in such a way that the horror of the actions of a few do not take away from the love, morality and piety of the many.  She balances the heart and soul of the Chassidic community with the unspeakable acts that sometimes occur within their sheltered neighborhoods.  I think it’s important that she maintain this balance because unspeakable acts like domestic abuse, child abuse, etc. happen in every community, and every community values morality, piety and family.  This account does not allow the reader to dismiss the Chassidic community as evil or bad, but forces us to recognize the atrocities that happen everywhere.  By presenting the story in this manner, she has allowed us to see the thorns of the rose.  And the strength of her family and loved ones in the end moved me to tears.  Gittel and her family represent the good of the Chassidic community, and really, any faith community – following God (or whatever deity you worship), loving those around you and doing what is right and good, even if it’s difficult sometimes.

Here are some other great reviews of this book:

Velveteen Rabbi


10 May 2011

The Radleys by Matt Haig

The Radley’s

So I’ll be the first to say, vampire are sooo last week.  Twilight, the Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, and the House of Night are the books that started it all, and now we have TV series like Vampire Diaries and True Blood (does anyone remember the original vampire series – Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  Can I get a heck yeah?).  When I first read about The Radleys on the Alex Award List, I thought “ugh…not again”.  But then I read the jacket and I was intrigued.  Behold, the power of a well written book jacket!

The Radleys is the story of a small town family of vampires, only they aren’t your normal vampires (but when, since Count Dracula, have we had a story of “normal” vampires) because of two things.  The parents are abstaining vampires – they do not drink blood, and the children don’t know they are vampires.  And in classic style, because the children don’t really know what they are, the book opens and both are struggling to figure out who they are.  Rowan has a crush on a local girl, Eve, but lacks the confidence to even speak to her, and Clara is so desperate to get animals to like her that she is attempting to go vegan – a choice that, unbeknownst to her, could ultimately kill her.  When Clara accidentally tastes human blood, her hereditary instincts take over and she accidentally kills someone.  Now that the secret is out, all of the members of the Radley clan feel their lives turn upside down.  Enter Uncle Will – the practicing vampire that can save them all.  But there are more secrets hiding on Orchard Lane than one would expect.

I will not say that this is the greatest book I’ve ever read, but it definitely kept me turning the pages.  And I can completely see why this book was chosen for an Alex Award – an award given to books written for adults that experience wide success as YA books.  Haig created enough suspense that the reader wonders what will come next, and there are just enough plot twists to keep you on the edge of your seat.  I had at least two *Gasp* moments, and I once said “OH NO” aloud – which wasn’t a good idea because I was reading…oops.  Though this book may not make my favorite book list, I will say that Haig has definitely taken a somewhat overused genre – vampires – and taken it to a new place and written a great novel.

Here are some other reviews of this book:

04 May 2011

Recommended Reads - an update

It was pointed out to me twice today that 1) I haven't updated my blog in awhile (one more semester of grad school and I'm DONE!!!) and 2) I recommend books all the time, but could I please just come up with a list?!?  So here's what I have for you for right now.  I do plan to blog about all of these books (if I haven't already), but for my faithful fans (apparently now there are like seven of you...yeay!) here are the books I've been talking about for months now and some that I haven't mentioned yet.

Normally I would hyperlink all these titles, but it's late, so you'll have to google them yourselves!

Hush by Eishes Chayil - written by a Chassidic Jewish woman about the suicide of her childhood best friend.  Openly wept.  Not snotty hyperventillating wept, but I wept.  Beautifully told story that somehow is able to respect the Chassidic community while exposing a weakness.  Loved loved loved it.  Go get it. NOW.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly - already reviewed this one in March.  Can't get over how awesome this book is.  And yes, I will take the 30 seconds necessary to link to my own post.  Why, because I'm a little selfish.

Unwind by Neil Shusterman - amazing sci-fi story of a society where unwinding, or retroactive abortion, is the "solution" to the abortion debate.  Definitely an action packed book, but it also really makes you think about the right to life and what "life" is.  Wonderfully done, could NOT put it down (but really, when can I put books down?)

Graceling by Kristin Cashore - fantasy novel about a world where people are "graced" - have special abilities to do various things.  Katsa's grace is killing, something that until now, her uncle has used to his advantage.  But when the king from another kingdom is kidnapped, Katsa must learn to trust Prince Po, who - it turns out - has a very interesting grace of his own.  Started out listening to the audiobook and HATED it, but my bff Sarah convinced me to finish the book, and she was right - it's fantastically written.  Looking forward to a long weekend where I can dive into the companion novel Fire.

Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock - speaking of audiobooks, this one is fantastic.  The Wisconsin accent makes the reading of this book fantastic.  The entire trilogy is worth reading, though Dairy Queen is my favorite.  And yes, I took the time to link my own review.  It's how I roll.

When I was Joe by Keren David - teenage kid living in London witnesses a murder and he and his mother must enter the witness protection plan.  Tyler (I think that's his original name) now has a chance to reinvent himself - something all teenagers wish they could do.  Love the suspense in the story of the murder.  The sequel, Almost True is sitting on my bedside table right now.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine - story of a little girl with Asberger's (I think) whose brother died in a school shooting.  It's supposed to be a novel for young people (middle school-ish), but it's definitely an adult book.  I think middle school kids will get something out of it, but I think some of the nuiances will be missed by young readers.  Tissues are a necessity for this one.

White Cat by Holly Black - Cassel is the only member of his family that isn't a "worker".  "Workers" all have the ability to do something - erase memory, impose luck, inflict pain, even kill - with a simple touch of skin on skin. Cassel also happens to have killed his childhood best friend in cold blood when they were much younger, only he has no idea why and can hardly remember the event.  When he gets kicked out of boarding school, he slowly starts to figure out what happened so long ago. Truth be told I'm a little torn about this book.  I really enjoyed it, but I figured it out pretty early.  I will say that Black's writing is AWESOME, and that the writing kept me reading.  But the sequel Red Glove isn't high on my reading list simply because I'm afraid I'll figure it out just as quick.

There are more, but I'm sleepy.  That and I'd like to read a little before I go to bed.  I'm currently reading The Radley's by Matt Haig.  This book is pretty darn good so far, and it won an Alex Award (books written for adults that cross over into YA stardom).  The Radley's are a normal family, except that they're vampires.  Oh, and the parents have never told their kids that they're blood sucking night fliers.  Yep, it's pretty good.

Ok, sweet dreams, and happy reading!