30 April 2012

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Veronica Roth
Katherine Tegen Books
Usually, I try to review books within two weeks of reading them.  Though I finished this book back in March, it's so awesome, I'm going to review it anyway.

I know I'm not the first person to make this comparison, but whatever:  Divergent is the next Hunger Games.  Only, in Suzannian (my little made up world), it's just a little bit cooler because 1) it takes place in Chicago and that's my second home and 2) there's a character named Tobias and I heart German names.

Tris (formerly Beatrice) lives in a futuristic world where there are five factions.  Each of the factions lives life based on one single virtue: bravery, peace, selflessness, intelligence or honesty.  At age sixteen, each child takes a test that reveals which faction, or virtue, fits them the best.  Only Tris's test results come back inconclusive, or divergent.  So she must choose which faction she wants to spend the rest of her life with.  She grew up Abnegation (selfless),  but has chosen to switch factions and join Dauntless (bravery).  But life in the world of the brave isn't all it's cut out to be.

I loved this book because Roth has, much like Collins, taken a life theme (virtues) and given it a twist that causes us to see it in a completely different light.  With Hunger Games we looked at reality TV and what it could become.  In Divergent we look at values/virtues and see what they could become.  What would the world really look like if we shaped our lives entirely around one virtue?  And which would be worth shaping our lives around? Honesty? Knowledge? Peace?
Roth also looks at these values/virtues in terms of society and jobs.  The members of the Dauntless faction (bravery) are the ones who guard the city, suggesting that the most important trait/virtue for a soldier/police officer is bravery.  But is that the most important trait? What about intelligence, or selflessness?
In any case, Divergent is a book that will stay with you long after you finish it.  I would highly recommend this book to middle and high school students, their parents, their grandparents, and anyone who loved Katniss, Peeta* and Gale.

*Side note: when the Hunger Games movie came out, people combined the two main characters names to create Peenis (not appropriate, but kind of funny).  If you combined the two characters from Divergent, you'd get Fourtris (fortress).  Freakin' awesome.

25 April 2012

How my high school math teacher made me a better librarian

No, this isn't a book review.  But it is an awesome story followed by a bit of a rant...er clarification about what I do every day.

When I decided to become a librarian a few years ago, I never knew I would need math in order to do my job, and most of the time I don't.  However today, a group of girls today were discussing how to solve a riddle, and I helped them solve it using MATH.  Yep. Math.  More specifically, Algebra...the bane of my high school existence.  And the most amazing part is, I hate math.  In general, math confuses me and if you asked me to add two numbers bigger than 12, I'd probably say 7. 

Here's the riddle: How old would you be if two years from now you will be twice as old as you were five years ago.
The girls were trying to figure out the problem by randomly picking ages and seeing if it worked.  When I walked by, they asked me if I knew the answer and I said "Uh, if it involves math, I have no clue", but as I walked away, I was filled with the spirit of my high school math teacher Mr. Thomas, and I remembered how to figure it out.  Here's what I did...

When I was done, the girls were in awe.  Then they asked me how I had done it so I had to go back and explain it, so I did.  And I was so excited that I'd figured it out and been able to explain it, that I did a happy dance.  Then I went and found some math teachers to show off how smart I am.

I'll bet you're asking yourself why I would blog about my mad math skillz.  Well, it's simple.  People ask me all the time what exactly it is that I do every day, and I would love to educate the world on the fact that librarians are more than just book nerds, and we do more on any given work day than just put away books and shush people.  I've been asked so many times what it is that I do, I'd like to take a minute to tell you what I do every day, and maybe dispell some age old librarian myths.
Let's start with the myths about my job.  Here are some of the most common questions/comments I hear that drive me crazy.
  • "Do you know the Dewey Decimal System by heart?" Heck no.  I don't even think Melvil Dewey knew the whole system.  Actually he couldn't have.  I do know more about the DDS than most people, but it doesn't mean I think in Dewey.
  • "You are too loud to be a librarian." Well, I am loud.  But my library isn't a quiet library either.  I work in a middle school, and ask any parent, 12-14 year olds do not know the meaning of the word "quiet".  The truth is, libraries - at least public and school libraries - really aren't "quiet" places anymore.  They are places people go to find information, and finding information isn't always a quiet endeavor.
  • "You're too young/sarcastic to be a librarian".  Whatever.  This statement means that all librarians are either stuffy old ladies, or Bill Cosby.  Librarians in general are younger, hipper and wittier than Marion the Librarian ever was.
And the last question I get is the one I'd really like to try to explain, though if I answered it completely, this would be the world's longest post.  The question I hear most often is "What do you do all day", and the simple answer is A LOT.  But instead of giving you a rundown of what I do every day, I'll tell you what I spend the majority of my time doing.  It's pretty simple.

I teach kids (and teachers) how to find answers to questions, how to find information, and how to find books they want to read.  I teach kids how to solve problems using their brains, the internet and print materials. I train students to know that the answer to their question or the solution to their problem is out there, and then I give them the tools to find it.

And today, I taught a group of kids how to solve a riddle using algebra.

Who wouldn't want to do my job?

16 April 2012

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Feiwel & Friends
New York

Oh holy lord how I have waited to read this book.  Two of my FAVORITE things are science fiction and fairy tales.  And Cinder is written by a woman who is the melding of the Brothers Grimm and Orson Scott Card*.  Since I read a review in Booklist back in the fall I’ve been DYING to read this book.  It just sounds so good! And it was.  I only have one teeny tiny little qualm with it, but I’ll get to that later.  Let’s talk about it’s awesomeness first, shall we?

Cinder is a cyborg – she’s part human, part machine, and she also happens to be an orphan.   Her adoptive father has passed away, and she now lives with her adoptive “step”mother, who never wanted her in the first place, and her two stepsisters:  Peony, who loves her dearly, and Pearl, who is repulsed by her cyborg-ness.  Cinder also happens to be an extremely talented mechanic, which comes in handy since her stepmother is more interested in making her daughters look beautiful (and possibly, hopefully, marrying them off to wonderful men who will provide for her).
Cinder’s mechanic skills are what cause her to meet Prince Kai, who, of course, is much more handsome in person.  Prince Kai has an android that recently malfunctioned and needs Cinder to fix it for him.  Cue complicated love story:  Prince Kai doesn’t know Cinder is cyborg, so she’s torn whenever he flirts with her because she’s sure he wouldn’t be interested in her if he knew she wasn’t completely human.
Another plot twist comes along when Peony catches a deadly plague-like disease called Leutmosis.  Cinder’s stepmother blames her and sells her for scientific research.  None of the cyborgs who have volunteered (or been drafted) have survived the testing as of yet, so Cinder goes to the research center, certain she will die.  Enter plot twist #2: Cinder turns out to be immune.
Plot twist #3 arrives in the form of a crazy queen of the moon (I always wanted to be queen of the moon when I was a kid…).  Queen Levana, and most of the people who live on the moon (“Lunars”) have the ability to “glamour” – or mind control anyone in their presence.  It’s possible to resist their control, but it takes lots of practice, and guts – once Levana knows she can’t control you, she has you killed.  Nice lady.  Anyway, Kai basically has to marry Levana or she’s going to wage war on earth, and earth will lose.

What I loved about the book is that it is so creative and ingenious - I truly love it when author’s take ancient tales and retell them.  I think it adds layers to our years of reading experience.  I loved that Cinder was independent, strong willed and smart.  I also loved that she had a freakin’ lie detector embedded in her eye! Talk about handy...

What I did not love was the ending.  You all know how picky I am about endings.  I do not like it when books end clearly needing a sequel.  Cinder doesn’t really have an end.  It’s almost as if Meyer’s editor said “hmm…a 600 page YA novel?  Methinks not, let’s split that bad-boy into a novel or two.”  The next book in the Lunar series will literally have to pick up exactly where Cinder left off.  As I finished all I could think was “this cannot be the last page!” but, it was.

I would still recommend Cinder to any fan of sci-fi or fairytales.  Like I said, it’s a great take on a classic tale, it’s completely middle school appropriate in both content and reading level, and it is a very fun read.  Unfortunately, the ending has turned me off to the rest of the series.
Remember? I'm picky.

*Since she’s female I couldn’t say something catchy like “she’s the love child of the Brothers Grimm and Orson Scott Card”, but that’s definitely what I think.

14 April 2012

Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer

Mirror Mirror
Illustrated by Josée Masse
Dutton Children's Books
New York

Funny story behind me reading this book. See, since last fall I’ve fallen in love with the Cybils awards (mostly because I aspire to be a judge someday...), and I’ve  slooowly been working my way through the winners.  Many of the young adult books I’d read, so I kind of skipped those and headed for the elementary books – they’re the group of books I usually don’t get around to.  So where’s the funny part?  I accidentally bookmarked the 2010 winners in the elementary category.  So I’ve slooooly worked my way through LAST YEAR’S winners.  You’d think someone as “techno-saavy” as me wouldn’t make such a mistake.  But you’d be wrong.  Either that, or I’m not as “techno-saavy” as everyone thinks.  Anyway, I’m especially thankful that I made this mistake because I’ve found some really great early reading books!  One of those books is one that I haven’t been able to get out of my head for weeks.  It’s called Mirror Mirror.  The inside cover reads:
Ther are two sides to every story, from the princess and the frog, to the beauty and the beast, to Sleeping Beauty and that charming prince.
Now in a unique collection of reversible verse, classic fairy tales are turned on their heads.  Literally. Read these clever poems from top to bottom.  Then reverse the lines and read from bottom to top to give these well-loved stories a delicious new spin.

Isn’t that a fantastic idea?  The author calls these reversible verse poems reverso.  I wasn’t sure how it would work, but once I read one, it all made sense.  Here’s what one of the poems looks like:

It may be such
a fairy-tale secret,
this much
I know:
The road leads
you need to go.

When you reverse it, it looks like this:

You need to go
the road leads –
I know
this much.
A fairy-tale secret?
It may be such.

Isn’t that fantastic!?!?  The illustrations are also fantastic – each illustration is split in half and matches each side of the reverso.

Who would I recommend this book to?  Uh, just about anyone.  And I totally understand why it won…last year.  Now I’m off to find this year’s winner!

10 April 2012

MIA but not MOOR

I apologize that I have been MIA.
But I want to assure you that I have not been MOOR (missing out on reading).

In the past two months I have started a new part-time business from my home (it involves shiny stuff...I like shiny stuff almost as much as I like books), survived multiple trips to see my guy, decided on a moving date, and applied for over 20 jobs.  WHEW!

So you can see why I haven't had the time to blog.  Life has gotten in the way.  Hopefully it'll stay calm enough for now that I can get back to blogging!