Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

twoboyskissingcoverIt’s Saturday morning and on the lawn in front of a fairly ordinary high school two boys are kissing.  Their names are Harry and Craig.  They aren’t a couple–although they used to be–and their kiss is no spontaneous expression of affection or lust.  Harry and Craig are trying to break the world record for the longest kiss.  

Peter and Neil are boyfriends, navigating the complexities of being a couple.  When they kiss, it’s a reminder of who they are together.  Avery and Ryan just met.  They haven’t kissed yet but they want to–if only each can get over his fears.  Cooper is alone; he has no one to confide in–let alone someone to kiss.  Worst of all, he doesn’t even care–because he stopped caring about anything quite a while ago.

These boys’ stories are threads, woven together into a tapestry imagining the many forms that love can take–and the power of a single kiss.  

Now, I must put a little disclaimer out there: I am a massive David Levithan fan.  He’s one of the few writers of contemporary YA fiction that I read as a teen–and since I was a selective (and, to be honest, pretty snobby) reader who refused to read fiction set anytime in the last few decades, that’s saying something. So, I might be a little bias in my admiration of this novel.

And for me, this novel is classic David Levithan.  Two Boys Kissing incorporates all the elements integral to Levithan’s best work: poetic prose, a diverse cast of characters, unusual narration, and plot focused on emotional (rather than physical) journeys. And above all, his writing continues to demonstrate respect and care for his teenage readership. This novel in particular feels like a love letter to his readers. It’s a story about being young, about being different, about being LGBTQ-identified–and one told with incredible compassion, sincerity, respect, and love.

As in many of his novels, Levithan juggles a large cast of characters in this novel, shifting between their stories and gently connecting them through shared themes, experiences, and explicit plot events (primarily the record-breaking kiss).  Now, I foresee that some readers might find the large cast of characters and the constant movement between their narratives disconcerting or overwhelming.  However, Levithan takes a premise that could feel sprawling and manages to make the collective narrative feel both seamless and intimate. I love getting to know these characters as we slip in and out of their lives over a two or three day period.  While many of the primary characters appear to fit certain identifiable ‘types’ of gay adolescent males through their situations or relationships, Levithan fleshes each one out into fully formed human characters with unique personalities and motivations, avoiding stale stereotypes.

The unusual narrative voice also sets this novel apart.  The omniscient but still achingly human Greek chorus of gay men who died during the height of the American AIDS epidemic tie the novel’s multiple narratives together while also adding a sense of history and cross-generational connection frequently lacking in YA novels.  Additionally, their narration again demonstrates Levithan’s ability to offer incredible insight on the human experience through deceptively simple statements.

In all, I love following these seeming unconnected characters’ lives as they slowly become intertwined through a single, symbolic kiss.  The story illustrates the very powerful defiance & freedom that kiss represents. Even before reading Levithan’s lovely author’s note and acknowledgements, a reader will sense that this particular novel is incredibly personal–and be grateful that Levithan has chosen to write it. Additionally, it can be no mistake that Two Boys Kissing is being published approximately ten years after the appearance of Levithan’s historic debut novel Boy Meets Boy.  Two Boys Kissing feel like a natural companion to that novel. As a reader, I feel honored to be involved in such a personal and universal story–and as a librarian, I am excited to use my signed ARC as a give-away during a (hopefully) repeated resource share with our school’s queer-straight alliance this fall. Watch for the release of Two Boys Kissing on August 27.

5/5 stars for this lovely and loving novel!

*review written based on an advanced reader’s copy received from the publisher at American Library Association’s Annual Conference. 

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

house girlSeparated by over 150 years, two young women struggle to shape their own futures in very different circumstances.  In 1852, seventeen year old house slave Josephine Bell decides to run away from the deteriorating Virginia farm where she acts as nurse and housekeeper for Lu Anne Bell, a sickly amateur artist.  Over a century and a half later in 2004 New York City, ambitious young lawyer Lina Sparrow is handed the case of a lifetime; her boss asks her to find the ideal plaintiff for a monumental class action lawsuit seeking reparations for modern descendants of American slaves.  As she begins her search, Lina’s famous artist father Oscar Sparrow mentions a scandal rocking the art world; evidence has surfaced that renowned Southern antebellum painter Lu Anne Bell’s sympathetic slave portraits might have actually been the work of her house slave Josephine.  Intrigued, Lina dives into research and as she traces Josephine’s long forgotten story through attics and archives, she begins to questions her own family’s secrets–her mother’s mysterious death and her father’s continued silence on the subject.

Moving back and forth between Josephine and Lina’s lives, this layered novel explores  truth, storytelling, and justice through a suspenseful historical art mystery intertwined with intense human drama.  This strong genre-bending debut is filled with three dimensional characters, elegant writing, and a complex plot that gains momentum as it unfolds.  I found  Josephine and Lina’s narratives equally compelling and I was particularly impressed by Conklin’s ability to spin their separate stories into a comprehensive whole, bound together by both plot events and themes.  Additionally, Lina’s search for the truth about Josephine becomes a truly page-turning mystery; Conklin’s pacing and careful construction makes a potential dry history into a thrilling, heart-stopping quest.

As a (currently somewhat rusty) painter, I have always been particularly attracted to fiction featuring visual art.  House Girl explores art from a variety of perspectives, investigating both the power of art in an individual’s life and exploring the ways that art history is human history.  Josephine’s and Oscar’s paintings simultaneously hide and reveal secrets;  their art and their identities as artists directly affect the story’s events.  So it’s disappointing that the novel doesn’t include many scenes explicitly exploring Josephine as a painter from her perspective.  It might be my own background as a painter, but I wanted to hear more about Josephine’s experience as an artist–especially since her painting directly contradicts the dehumanization of slaves enforced by slaveholders, the legal system, and society at large. Creating art is an incredibly human act and one that allows stories to be told across many social and cultural barriers–as this novel ultimately demonstrates.

In all, House Girl is a satisfying and thought-provoking novel likely to attract a range of readers.  While it is published as an adult novel, Tara Conklin’s debut will appeal to both adults and older teens–especially those with an interest in historical fiction and/or art history.  Josephine is a teenager herself and Lina is in her mid-twenties & just beginning her adult life after years of schooling.  Their stories of self-discovery and identity development will resonate with young–and old–readers.  I’m adding The House Girl to my informal list of  2014 Alex Award contenders and look forward to seeing more from Tara Conklin in the future!

A definite 4 out of 5 stars for this lovely debut novel!

Multicultural Middle School: Girls In The Middle (Contemporary Fiction)

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 6.09.38 PMSince beginning my job about 2 years ago, I’ve had the privilege to become increasingly involved in the DC-Metro area’s multicultural and equity education work.   Last summer I attended Georgetown Day School’s fabulous Equity Collaborative as part of our school’s team. Since then, I’ve explored how I as a librarian can support our school’s efforts to become a more inclusive and equitable community.

Also, while I work with students in 7-12 grades, I spend a large amount of my time in the middle school (7th & 8th grades for us).  Accordingly, I’ve been working with middle school faculty on a variety of multicultural  initiatives.  In the process, I continue to discover a growing wealth of resources related to multicultural education and equity work with middle schoolers and I decided to begin a reoccurring feature here to share some of my favorites.

In this first edition, I want to share two fairly recent contemporary fiction novels that deal explicitly and sensitively with issues of friendship, family life, ethnic and racial identity, mental health, social class, and middle school social dynamics.  I originally read these two novels while hunting for a single book to be read by our whole middle school community (students and teachers) over the summer.  While that plan didn’t pan out for this summer, I’m still hopeful that we might make it happen next summer–potentially with one of these great novels!  They are excellent examples of multicultural children’s and young adult literature;  both tell stories about the lived experience of a diverse community of people, exploring how that wide-ranging diversity actually feels for the individuals involved.

camo girlCamo Girl by Kekla Magoon

Ella and Z have been friends for years–outsiders connected by their ‘weirdness’ and shared experiences of loss.  Since Z focuses primarily on living out his elaborate knight fantasy, he’s relatively unbothered by their outsider status.  But Ella still  longs to belong–or at least escape the daily bullying.  When new boy Bailey seeks Ella out as the only other black kid at school, she’s faced with a choice: become friends with popular Bailey and find acceptance or stay loyal to Z, her only friend for so long?  Then Ella realizes that Z’s unusual behavior might be growing into a real problem–one too big for the two of them to handle.

whole story of half a girlThe Whole Story of Half A Girl by Veera Hiranandani

When Sonia’s father loses his job, the event starts a chain reaction of changes in their family, throwing her contented and dependable life completely off balance.  Suddenly Sonia must leave her small, warm, and diverse private school and start 6th grade at a public school.  While missing her old friends and trying to navigate the unfamiliar social landscape at her new school, Sonia must also deal with the confusing financial and emotional implications of her father’s unemployment as they reverberate through her family.

While Ella and Sonia come from different ethnic, racial, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds, they both experience the pain of being an outsider among their peers and the confusion of shifting friendships and unfamiliar family conflicts.  Each deals with the intense experience of changing relationships with old friends and the disorienting process of making new friends amid the game of middle school politics.  Ella must make difficult decisions about the limits of her loyalty to Z.   Can she remain friends with him while also making new friends–especially among the group of kids who’ve bullied them both for years? Should she keep Z’s secrets–even when they might be hurting him? Meanwhile Sonia struggles to retain connections with her longtime friends while also navigating the unfamiliar dynamics of her new, larger school where friendships seem much more complicated than they ever were in her former tiny, tight knit community.

Additionally, their experiences of alienation are intertwined with their development of personal identities, especially their racial and ethnic identities.  These novels explicitly talk about race, ethnicity, religion, and social class without become simplistic, single-issue stories.  It’s refreshing and significant.  Sonia, who is half Indian and half Jewish American, notices that at her larger new school, black and white kids seems to sit in different groups at lunch and she wonders where she fits.  When she goes to church with a new friend, Sonia begins to ask questions about her own Jewishness: is she really Jewish if she doesn’t follow religious practices or participate in the Jewish community?  Which is she more: Jewish or Indian?  Ella initially notices Bailey because he is the only other black student at their school.  As their friendship develops, Ella and Bailey discover they have even more common than they imagined but there’s no question that Bailey’s role as Ella’s first friend and peer of color is significant.

Ella & Sonia’s first-person narrations are perceptive and authentic.  Sonia’s anger and frustration at her parents when told she will have to change schools is realistic and sympathetic; Ella’s need to belong and conflicted feelings about her friendship with Z will easily resonate with readers.

These novels are well written with strongly developed, sympathetic characters and rich, evocative language.  And while they are sure to attract many individual readers, both Camo Girl and The Whole Story of Half A Girl would work particularly well as book clubs or community reads for 5-8th grade students (and their teachers!).

The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

language insideEmma Karas truly understands the meaning of the word ‘dislocated.’  When her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, the whole family suddenly relocates from Japan to Lowell, Massachusetts. Emma feels as though her body and soul suddenly live on different continents.  Her guilt about leaving behind the country and friends she loves just as they begin to heal from the devastating tsunami is almost overwhelming–especially as she faces the terrifying reality of her mother’s mortality.  She’s become literally homesick as her stress manifests in severe migraines.  However, when her grandmother arranges for her to volunteer at a long-term care home, Emma meets Zena, a poet with locked-in syndrome, and Samnang, a fellow teen volunteer with an unhappy past and a gift for dance.  Through the growth of her delicate new connections with Zena and Samang, Emma taps into her slumbering poetic talent and learns that home can be more than a geographic location.

Since I read this novel as part of the 48 Hour Book Challenge, I was able to simply sit down and read it without interruption, finishing it in an hour flat.   I am very thankful that I was able to read this lovely novel in a single sitting because for that hour, I was utterly transported in the way that only great fiction can achieve.  Novels in verse can be tricky–but when they work, they can really work and The Language Inside is a prime example of a successful novel in verse.  Thompson’s free verse expresses Emma’s voice and situation perfectly as she attempts to navigate her sudden transplant from Japan–her home since infancy– to the United States–her birth country.  The fact that the move has been prompted by her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis has only added to Emma’s sense of loss and isolation.

However, I found Emma’s particular isolation especially relevant for my student population–and for many modern kids.  We have a large number of students at my school who have grown up around the world.  Emma’s experience, as a white American who spent nearly her entire life in Japan, can be very representative of the experiences of many ‘third culture kids’–children and teens who  spent most of their developmental years in a culture different from their parents.  This reality makes her isolation and search for identity particularly complex and poignant.  However, it also leads Emma to seek out connections with a more multicultural group of individuals in her new town than many other recently relocated teens might.

In fact, I particularly enjoy the skillful way that Thompson weaves together so many different topics into a coherent whole through her full-formed cast of characters.  From traditional Cambodian dance to poetry composition to PTSD, Emma and her newly built community of fellow outsiders expose the reader to a range of experiences and topics as the characters’ varied emotional journeys intersect in unexpected ways.

While the story does follow a clear series of concrete events, this is a quieter novel; it focuses on an emotional rather than physical journey.  And while I found the conclusion satisfying, I would guess that some readers who prefer their tales to be more action-packed might feel less fulfilled–or even have difficulty finishing.  But for poetry fans and readers likely to appreciate a quieter but emotionally rewarding novel, this is a surefire winner.

This is a truly multicultural story about the complexity of identity, family, and finding an authentic personal voice.  The Language Inside was an immense pleasure to read and I look forward to sharing it with my students this fall.  A shining 4/5 stars!

A Successful Sophomore Trip To ALA Annual 2013

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Welcome to ALA Annual 2013!

Wow! It’s been just about a week since my thrilling and somewhat overwhelming weekend attending ALA Annual 2013.  So, after spending the last few days sleeping late, reading, and watching British suspense series on Netflix & CrashCourse episodes on YouTube, I feel recovered enough to write up my reflections from the conference.  I went the route of a full, reflective recap of my conference experience–feel free to skip around and just read sections about particular sessions.

Although this was my second time attending ALA Annual, I still felt like a complete newbie–especially since this was my first time attending as a full time,  working librarian.  The fact that I returned from a week-long trip chaperoning 15 fifteen year old girls on an exchange trip to London, England only about 4 days before leaving for ALA also contributed to my slight sense of panic.  However, thanks to social media (like Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook), I was able to pull together more tips about ALA and connect with several grad school friends (and my wonderful high school librarian and mentor) before leaving very early on Friday morning.

And while my delayed flight (and the resulting crazy rush to get on a train, to my hotel, and then to the conference center) made the beginning of my conference experience a bit stressful, everything went beautifully afterwards.

Friday: Practical Tips for Real World School Libraries 

I began ALA Annual at a AASL preconference “Real World, Real Tools” run by three very awesome school librarians: Laura Pearle, Wendy Stephens and Deb Logan.  And while I arrived to this session about an hour late (darn you, United!), I was still able to get a great deal out of it.  Broken down into different sections such as ‘Real World Staffing,’ ‘Real World Administration,’and ‘Real World Technology,’ the session focused on practical tips, resources, and solutions to everyday issues related to school librarianship.  There were so many great, useful tips shared and discussed but I wanted to share a few of my overall take-aways, which can definitely extend beyond school libraries:

  • Document everything!  Track what you do, how you do it, and how your students/patrons responded.
  • Learn how to communicate with non-librarians, especially administrators.  We don’t necessarily speak the same language so librarians need to figure out how to talk to administrators in their language–without using librarian jargon!
  • When approaching administrators with issues or problems, remember to keep people (not things) as the focus and bring potential solutions with you.
  • Be kind to yourself!  Give yourself a break. Take time to relax.  Also, remember that conflict is not always about you; other people bring motivations or issues to the table that might be completely unrelated to you.

After my preconference, I headed up to the area outside the exhibit hall to meet up with some grad school friends (who all have jobs in our preferred areas of library work! Woohoo!).  I did venture into the exhibit hall during its insane, grand opening rush and spent about 20 minutes wandering around the corner containing most of the children’s and young adult publishers.  There I learned that, once again, some people seem to lack manners AND it’s great to actually engage with publishing representatives. The booths where I was able to talk briefly with a representative were some of my most successful in term of ARC acquisition AND learning about upcoming titles new to me.

Saturday: Embracing Leadership Potential, Using ARCs Ethically, Building Info Lit Bridges, Laughing With Graphic Novelists, & Making New Connections

I got up very early on Saturday and headed in on the shuttle to catch Making Your Presence Know–Moving “Outwards” run by Hilda K. Weisburg.  This particular session was very thought-provoking and focused on developing leadership skills.  Some standout pieces of the session included a large section on good leadership qualities and another on emotional intelligence (EI or EQ).  There was a lot of great ideas and research-based tips in this session but one that stood out to me was this statement: Everyone is a leader but not everyone chooses to be a leader.  It’s a powerful reminder that we all have the potential to be leaders in our libraries–and communities–but that potential will be worthless if we don’t think of ourselves as leaders, no matter our title or experience level.  

After a quick dash through the exhibit hall to pick up an ARC or two (and get a fresh copy of Emily M. Danforth’s brilliant debut The Miseducation of Cameron Post signed), I headed over the the awesome All About ARCs: The Ins and Outs of Requesting, Using, and Abusing Advanced Readers Copies, run by great librarians Elizabeth Burns, Kelly Jensen, and Kristi Chadwick along with publishing house reps Jen Childs (Random House) and Victoria Stapleton (Little, Brown).  As a new librarian, my first experience with ARCs was the exhibit hall at my first ALA conference in New Orleans two years ago and while it was exciting, it was not very informative professionally.  I’ve learned more about ARCs since and become a fairly regular user of NetGalley but this session was incredibly helpful in clarifying the real purpose of ARCs–their production and use from a publisher’s perspective and their proper use as a professional tool for librarians and educators.   The session included a presentation of the results from a large online survey the librarians ran earlier this year; to see graphs and read summaries of these results, check out this great post by Kelly Jensen at Stacked.  The biggest takeaway was simply that ARCs are 1.) NOT books (i.e. they are not the finished, published books) and 2.) meant to be used as professional tools (for collection development, review writing, recommendations, etc.).  I was also excited to learn further about title discovery resources such as NetGalley, Edelweiss, Penguin First To Read, and Library Reads; it was especially helpful to learn the kind of information publishers are looking for in your profiles or requests on these tools.  As someone who sometimes gets behind on writing up reviews but uses ARCs to inform collection development and title recommending, it was so encouraging to hear that simply writing out a comment describing my professional use of the print or digital galley was as useful and legitimate in the publishers’ eyes as a review.  This session was a great example of publishers and librarians working together to maintain ethical and productive practices surrounding a shared goal: getting great books into the hands of readers.

Afterwards I wandered back to the exhibit hall where I met up with my high school librarian  and mentor Courtney Lewis (AKA The Sassy Librarian).  Together we attended a great ACRL session, Crossing The K-20 Continuum: Are Librarians Bridging Information Literacy and 21st Century Skills?.  As a librarian working with high school students, this session was incredibly interesting and provided some great, concrete ideas & resources.   The panelists Ken Burhanna (Kent State) and Tasha Bergson-Michelson (Search Educator at Google) made fascinating presentations focused on the realities of modern information literacy education–and on the gaps between the skills students acquire in high school and the tasks asked of them at the college level.  Ken Burhanna’s entertainingly titled presentation “Battling the Unready: Zombies, Einstein, & Librarians” can be found here on Slideshare; he made excellent points about the need for strong collaboration and communication between youth services & high school librarians and academic librarians and provided examples of information literacy transition programs currently in use around the country.  Tasha Bergson-Michelson shared great information about Google Search Education (which I was woefully ignorant of!) and one statement  stood out to me especially: “we talk to students about advanced search but we forget that they don’t really know the basics.”  It reminded me that in my quest to redesign our 7th grade library/research skills intro unit (hopefully into a game-based/gamified unit), the biggest skills to emphasize are the development of solid search terms, the analysis of a URL, and other basic transferable skills.

I closed up my day at McCormick Place by attending the packed Krosoczka, Telgemeier, and TenNapel: Graphic Novels Your Kids Love By Names You Can’t Pronounce.    Moderated by the hilarious Jon Scieszcha, graphic novelists Jarret Krosoczka, Raina Telgemeier, and Doug TenNapel bantered, teased, and earnestly discussed their individual work processes, their feelings about the frequent challenges to graphic novels as a legitimate form of reading material, and their favorite graphic novels at the moment.  It was an entertaining and encouraging panel by author-artists who truly love their craft–and their young audience.  Since I’m working to bulk up our graphic novel collection, I gained some new title suggestions AND great ideas to draw on when asked to explain why graphic novels are important for our students’ reading lives.

I spent the evening socializing with some great librarians, first at the Independent School Section of AASL Social  and later at The 8th ALA Annual Newbie/Veteran Librarian Tweet-Up and (briefly) the Librarian Wardrobe After Party.  And it was especially entertaining to see that the latter party became so crowded that there was a line down the block for entry;  I wonder if the bar owners were surprised that the librarians overflowed their space!

Sunday: YA Lit Love All Day Long

 Even my sleepiness couldn’t stop me from getting down to the conference bright and early on Sunday morning to attend the YALSA Young Adult Authors Coffee Klatch.   I thoroughly enjoy this event;  it’s such a treat to meet a bunch of great YA lit authors and I really like that it’s usually a mix of well-known or recently award winning authors AND brand-new writers with their first or second books coming out in the fall.  I got to hear from some great authors (including several graphic novelists this year) and jotted down several new names and titles to put on my radar.  I followed this delightful kick-off to the day with a dash over to the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association President’s program, presented jointly with the GLBT round table.  The program was a very thought-provoking panel of writers (including Malinda Lo!) who all spoke about the challenges involved in creating a strong range of representation of APA LGBTQ in contemporary literature.  It was an interesting panel presented by passionate and thoughtful authors and I’m so glad to have found it on the Annual Scheduler–and in the labyrinthine conference center  I slipped out a few minutes early to get back to the exhibit hall and get in line to meet Malinda Lo during her signing.

I spent the rest of Sunday afternoon in the exhibit hall.  It was only time I waited in any substantial lines for ARCs or some specific author signings.  I felt really good about this choice–and about my use of the exhibit hall’s offerings over the weekend as a whole.  Since I attended the conference with two years at my current job under my belt, I had a much clearer picture of my students’ reading interests and needs;  I was selective in picking up ARCs that had real potential with my population and I was able to engage with publishers’ representatives in a real and substantial way.  I was very excited to get to meet a few of my favorite authors and gained some signed books and ARCS to use as give away prizes during Teen Read Week and other events this fall.  I’m also excited to share all my ARCs with my Student Library Advisory Board in September as we (finally) get their book review blog kicked off.  

Monday: Tumblarians & YALSA Rockstars

For my final day at the conference, I planned a morning and early afternoon packed with exciting sessions–and happily they all turned out to be worth the price of getting up early enough to mail out a massive box of ARCs & books before heading down  to the conference center.   I was lucky  to grab a seat at the crowded Tumblarian 101: Tumblr for Libraries and Librarians session, run by Rachel Fershleiser (of Tumblr itself), Molly McArdle, Erin Shea, & Kate Tkacik. This was a fun and practical session that offered great tips.  For example, the panel shared which tags are best to use on Tumblr when talking about library work and life (#tumblarians, #librarians,#libraries,#lit,#education,#tech) and how to utilize Tumblr’s features to create an effective and exciting personal and/or library web presence.  For a great summary of these tips, check out the Tumblarian 101: A Starter Kit pulled together by Molly McArdle; this post also includes a link to the recent LJ article about Tumblr & to the powerpoint used in the session.  This session was a great, energizing way to start the day!

I stayed in the same room to attend an equally exciting session right afterwards: New Adult Fiction: What Is It And Is It Really Happening?, run by Elizabeth Burns, Kelly Jensen, and Sophie Brookover.  Now both Liz Burns and my friend & mentor Courtney Lewis have written up great recaps of this fabulous session so I won’t try; you should just go read both of those posts!  However, I will note that this session was particularly interesting–and it definitely fit into the “Conversation Starter” category wonderfully.  The panelists offered smart, witty, and open-minded opinions (and questions) about this nebulous new fiction category that currently consists of contemporary romance featuring characters in the 18-24 age group.  The session led to great discussions of contemporary romance (and how it is frequently looked down upon by the general public), the recent uptick in self-publishing, and the wider concept of ‘coming of age’ stories.   To check out their wonderful resource collection for this session, simply go to this post on their shared blog.  My thoughts on New Adult as a truly effective category of fiction are still a bit unformed but I agree that the recent trends and conversation surrounding this topic indicate that there is an audience seeking fiction that speaks to their age, experiences, and desires.  So let’s keep the conversation going!  It’s definitely got me thinking about crossover titles and coming of age titles–as well as the larger topic of self-published ebooks.

I finished the morning by attending Maintaining Teen E-Collections,  arranged by Linda Braun and set up as a series of roundtable discussions with several experts on different topics related to teen e-collections.  Attendees were able to spend about 8 minutes (or longer if they choose) at each table, moving between conversations as they wish.  It was wonderful to participate in such a variety of conversations about this valuable and varied topic and I gained some great ideas and resources to use as our library continues to look into expanding our e-collections.

After a lunch break, I finished my time at ALA Annual by attending the YALSA President’s Program & Membership Meeting.  I put this event on my schedule originally because Courtney Lewis was one of  this year’s winners for Excellence in Library Service for Young Adults and I wanted to see her poster session 🙂  However, the program turned out to be even more meaningful to me personally.  Although I’ve been a member of YALSA (as well as ALA & AASL) since I began my graduate program a few years, I’ve never attended a membership meeting.  While I’ve used and promoted YALSA’s wonderful resources on a weekly basis, I’ve been shy about becoming more actively involved.  I’ve assumed that my youth and inexperience barred me from taking a more active role in the association but attending the membership meeting reminded me that there is only one thing preventing me from giving back to a community that has already given me so much: my own fears of rejection or inadequacy.    So this session proved the ideal way to conclude the conference:  it pulled together all the picture book takeaways from the weekend and clarified them for me.

Closing Thoughts: Librarians Thrive When We Work Together! 

friendsformingacircle

image by savit keawtavee from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Even when we are the only librarians at our schools or we feel like the embattled minority in our library, our professional life cannot be a solitary one.   No matter our differences of workplace, position, or focus, we hold certain goals and values in common and we will have to collaborate in order for those goals to be accomplished.  I think this is especially true among librarians working in the varied areas of youth services.  Whether we work at an independent, urban school or a rural public library, we are all serving children and teens;  we are all passionate youth advocates.

Personally, I’m hoping to use the next year to find multiple ways to become more involved in YALSA and to find or create a group  of librarians serving teens in the DC Metro area.  I would really like to connect with other librarians (from public libraries, public schools, charter schools, independent schools, etc.) serving youth in our area.  If you have any suggestions or you are such a librarian, comment here or connect with me on Twitter or Tumblr!

I look forward to continue reading the many great recaps of ALA 2013–and to keep the conversations going in the community, including all our members (especially those who weren’t able to join us at ALA this year!).

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

three times luckyEleven years ago, a hurricane blew through the small town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina.  However, the storm brought with it more than the usual high speed winds and raging tides: during this particular hurricane a baby girl lashed to a broken signboard washed ashore.  But since her unusual entrance, Moses ‘Mo’ LeBeau has lived a fairly uneventful life under the care of the eccentric Colonel–who has no memory before the night Mo washed ashore– and the dramatic Miss Lana in their cafe.  However, when murder and a visit from a out of town lawman disrupt the predictable pattern of life in Tupelo Landing, Mo and her best friend Dale are on the case.  However, her amateur detecting will push Mo to investigate the mysteries of her past –and to join in a deadly race to discover the truth in time to save her family.    

As I wrote when I sped through this novel during the 48 Hour Book Challenge last month, Three Times Lucky is a perfect example of a middle grade gem!

The story is a balanced combination of exciting mystery, quirky small town tale, and a classic search for identity.  I’m always on the look out for new mysteries–especially mysteries with smart, young investigators like Mo.   And while this might be a little on the young side for my older middle schoolers demanding new mysteries, I would definitely hand it off to a few of my incoming seventh graders this fall and highly recommend it for fifth and sixth graders.   And while the traditional mystery (a highly thrilling combination murder-kidnapping-robbery caper) is full of satisfying twists and turns, it is Mo’s determination to solve the mystery of her past and identity that makes this novel stand out. The two investigations intertwine and overlap in exciting and surprising ways before leading to shared, satisfying conclusions.

Of course, a mystery with such focus on the protagonist’s personal journey could not succeed without a compelling lead character and Mo LeBeau fulfills that requirement with ease.  I absolutely adored Mo from the very first page; she is a whip-smart, hilarious, and incredibly sympathetic narrator & protagonist.  Her voice is fresh and authentic, capable of making you burst into laughter one moment and become choked up with emotion the next.  Additionally, the supporting cast of characters could easily have become flat stereotypes of the traditional ‘quirky Southern townspeople’ but Turnage carefully reveals their human complexity as events unfold.

Overall, Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage is an utter delight to read and in Mo LeBeau, Turnage has created a character that will live in readers’ memories and hearts for years to come.

5/5 STARS for excellent character development, a strong & unique narrative voice, and an engaging plot!