Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The New Adventures of a Youth Librarian

In two weeks I go from Teen Services to Youth. I'll still get to work with "tweens" so I'll still see alot of my same kids which I'm pleased with.

Wish me luck and I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Good Reads

A friend of mine invited me to this website:

Good Reads

It's a bit like a social networking site in that you can make and invite friends, but cooler because you rate and review books. You can recommend them and see what your friends are reading, have read, and what they recommend.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Grudge match Artemis Fowl Vs. Harry Potter

With the last Harry Potter book coming out, and the Order of Pheonix hitting the big screen next month I've been catching up on the books.

I have to say that I haven't gotten to the 6th one quite yet because I was sidetracked by a series of books about another special youth - who frankly, has blown me away. I'm talking Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer.

I am not ashamed to say that, despite him being half my age, I have a huge crush on Artemis Fowl. I can't wait until somebody wises up and makes a movie version. I think that in alot of ways they are better than Harry Potter and would make better movies (for one thing they're shorter).

So, how can I say that Artemis Fowl is better than Harry Potter? The are very similar in the idea that the main character is a very special teenage boy and a story that takes place both in our world and in a special magical other world. What I think that Artemis has over Harry is: 1) the author has an ability to show everything and 2)over arching character development.

Show don't Tell
J.K. Rowling tells us alot about what is going on - think of the last few chapters of every HP book. They all end with an explination of events. Huge chunks of pages are nothing but one charcter explaining to another what has been happening through the whole book. Think Goblet of Fire - fake Moody is given verita serum and spends a chapter explain his duplicitness. But go back even to the first one - Philosopher's Stone, or the second Chamber of Secrets where Dumbledore sits Harry down and goes through a whole schpeel about what he's been through all year. Order of the Pheonix? Same thing.

Artemis Fowl is boy genius. He's smarter than just about everyone on the planet so yeah, he's got to explain some stuff for the rest of us. But, the difference is that Colfer manages to weave it seamlessly into the narration so that by the end of the book we know everything that has been going on - even the "mystery" parts of it. Sometimes he shows us the same action from multiple vantage points, sometimes it comes through in Artemis' thoughts, and yes sometimes it comes with a bit of the denoumont. The great thing is it is always done naturally and not in huge amounts of one character "telling" another.

Character Development

Harry Potter did change in his books, don't get me wrong. The Order of the Pheonix is proof of that. I don't know a single person who has read this book and thought "Wow, Harry turned into such a prick." As I was reading it the first time I was forcibly reminded of my older brother at that age and I knew, J.K. Rowling has a teenager in her house - or did at one point and remembers what it was like. She captured that turbulant age during puberty like no other writer. But despite his melancholy and turbulant attitude, Harry hasn't really changed as a person. Neither have his friends, neither have any of the characters really.

What I like about Artemis Fowl is that in the fifth book (the latest) he is not the same boy he was in the first book. In book one Artemis Fowl he is the wealthy son of a missing business man and mother who has gone off the deep end, and an evil mastermind genius. His entire goal in life is to make as much money as possible. It is the Fowl family creed in fact and he is trying in his father's absence to carry on that creed. To that end he kidnaps a fairy (well, an elf really) and holds her for ransom. Colfer does an amazing job of creating a whole new world of fairies, sprites, elfs, dwarfs, pixies etc - he even explains the Leprechaun myth in a way that is both entertaining, smart and fits perfectly in this new realm he created. By the fifth book Artemis at 15 is going through puberty, he is noticing girls, but he's also reforming his character. He is no longer the money for money's sake selfish boy he was. We see it with the end of book one in a simple act of choosing family over some money and it subtely grows as Artemis does. He starts to develop a conscience.

Artemis isn't the only character who changes either. Notably it's his body guard Butler, who next to Artemis, does the most in terms of character development. Readers always see the special relationship between guard and boy, and see how Butler does blur the line a bit, but as the two go through these adventures together Butler changes from the stoic "always protect the charge no matter what" to a person wrestling with decisions about trust and letting Artemis go. Some of this comes through events which happen to Butler. Physical changes ultimately take their toll and lead to emotional and mental changes as well.

Then there are the People (as in the Little People - but they're not little to each other). Holly, the elf which Artemis kidnaps in book 1, is a permanent character from then on, and a few others also make repeat apparences, like Mulch the dwarf, and Foley the centaur. None of them are safe from real honest reactions to events that change them, for better or worse, into different people as the books wear on. I can not say that of Harry Potter - despite all he has been through he seems never to learn a lesson.

If all of the Harry Potter books have flown off of your library shelves I recommend you take the hint and pick up Artemis Fowl instead.

Artemis Fowl
Artemis Fowl: the Arctic Incident
Artemis Fowl: the Eternity Code
Artemis Fowl: the Opal Deception
Artemis Fowl: the Lost Colony

I also recommend the audio books. The narrator Nathanial Parker is amazing. Like the narrator of the HP books, he gives voices to all the characters. He does the accents perfectly - Artemis is Irish, there are British and American characters, and each type of fairy is given a different quality of voice. I like Nathanial Parker better too, because he is younger. The Fairies that Colfer has dreampt up are not the old world fairies with flowy dresses and flowers in their hair. They are by far technologicaly superior to humans and ultimately very modern. This is a very different feel from Harry Potter's wizarding world and Hogwarts.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Giver

I enjoyed this book quite alot - again none of my teens came to the book club - perhaps too many have had to read it for school.

Some topics I would have liked to discuss:

The ending. The author claims it's optomistic that Jonah and the baby live. I read it as he was clinging to what was left of the Christmas memory he had been given as he and the baby freeze to death.

The idea of rules and choice. If we let people decide for themselves the may make the "wrong" choice. But at what point does this become over kill? Spouses, children, jobs.

Language. This society talks about the "precision of languages" but then uses a euphamism to describe euthenasia by calling it "being released."


Friday, April 6, 2007

Only You Can Save Mankind

Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett

I thought this was a terrible book. No wonder my teens didn't show up to the book club discussion.

This was my first foray into Terry Prachett. I have heard so many good things about his fantasy novels, and I know they are very popular. Consequently I had high hopes for this book, but it was all I could do to get through it in time for the book club.

I liked the premise. Johnny finds out that the aliens in video games are real. They are really being destroyed by all of the players of that video game and while the players can start a level over again with a new life if they die, the aliens really are dead after being killed by the player.

In the game Johnny is messaged by the captain of the Skree-Wee fleet that they'd like to surrender and would he escort them to safe space. He agrees. In his dreams he helps the aliens escape. In his waking hours he finds that everyone else is having problems with the game - they are no aliens to kill, just miles and miles of empty space.

So what's the problem with the book then? Execution. In such a slim volume - it's only 200 pages long - Pratchett managed to beat a dead horse to with in an inch of it's afterlife. In the introduction Pratchett mentions that he wrote it during the first Gulf War (the one with Bush Sr.). He talks about the war footage that was on TV at the time. I remember this actually. I was 11 at the time, my brother was in high school and he skipped alot of school. I would come home and my "sick" brother would be watching the green night vision footage of bombs being dropped. Pratchett explained that with video games become more and more graphically sophisticated and the war footage not being it can actually confuse the watcher about the severity of war. Which is real the real war that looks like an old video game or the video game that looks realisticly like war?

I think the message is great even if it doesn't apply so much to the Gulf War Part 2, since mainstream TV (we didn't have cable the first time round) doesn't show footage of Iraq.

The problem comes in when the introduction states the intention of the book and then the book states the intention of the book two or three times and when the characters ask themselves this very question in the exact words of the introduction. Only the most brain dead of readers could have missed the half-dozen mention of "is the war on tv a war or a game? is the video game a game or really a war?"

There were a few clever parts, mentioning Space Invaders and showing what happens when nobody plays a game anymore, and the very end leaving it open about whether the Skree-Wee actually make it home or not. And the fact that the dream parts of the game are completely dependent on the impressions of the dreamer so that Johnny's version of the Skree-Wee are different than his friend Kirstin's.

He also did a good job of showcasing some female characters. The Skree-Wee warriors are all women and one of the game's best players is a teen age girl.

Still I think this is much more of kid's book than a YA and I really can't recommend it.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

"From my first breath in the world"

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

From the back of the book:
Enger brings us eleven-year-old Reuben Land, and asthmatic boy in the Midwest who has reason to believe in miracles. Along with his sister and fater, Reuben finds himself on a cross-country search for his outlaw brother who has been controversially charged with murder. Their journey unfolds like a revelation, and its conclusion shows how family, love, and faith can stand up to the most terrifying of enemies, the most tragic of fates.

This was a difficult book for me to get through. While very well written the book moves slowly.

It has some great opportunites for discussion however. A number of miracles take place in the book performed by the father. At times the miracles seem to come without the father's awareness of them, but Reuben (his very life a micacle) acts as a witness to them.

The "controversial" nature of Davy's crime could also open up many avenues of disccussion.

One can also debate the novel whether the novel should be considered "Christian" or "magical realism."

Interview with Leif Enger

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"All Clones go to Pieces in the End"

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Winner of the 2002 National Book Award, Young People's Literature
A 2003 Newbery Honor Book
A 2003 Michael L. Printz Honor Book

Mateo Alacran isn't like other boys his age. Because he was "harvested" from a cow. Because he's a clone. But Matt isn't just any one's clone, he's the clone of El Patron, dictator of Opium, the country that lies between the United States and Aztlan (formerly Mexico). Growing up in the "Big House" reviled by almost everyone around him, Matt grows up unaware of his true purpose in life.

This was a long read, but well worth the time involved. I would definitely recommend it for older teens and up (adults can gain alot from reading the book, despite the adolescent protagonist).

Nancy Farmer
brings up remarkable questions of ethics and morality. In the future society that this book takes place clones are reviled as being inhuman. Legally they must be incubated in a cow and "harvested" so that they can be classified as live stock and not as people. Most clones (all except the clone of El Patron, because he is above the law in his own country) are given an injection which blunts their intelligence, making them little more than vegetables, which further lowers their value in the mind of others. Despite having all of his intelligence (and an amazing musical talent) Matt is still treated as sub-human. Wonderful discussions can be had about the meaning of being human. Particularly after Matt's beloved bodyguard reveals the secret "Do you know what the difference between a clone a human is? Nothing."

All of the work in Opium (the harvesting of poppy plants and other drug plants) is done by "eejits." That is workers who have an implant in their brains turning them into zombies that can only act on orders. An eejit will die of thirst standing in front of a glass of water if no one gives him the order to drink.

El Viejo (the Old One, and El Patron's grandson) dies of natural causes while El Patron has lived to the ripe old age of 143 due to fetal implants in his brain and other procedures which keep him alive. El Patron and other aristocrats like him see nothing wrong with using science, technology, and other living creatures to this end. El Viejo is called "the only good man in this family. He took what God gave him, and when God told him it was time to go, he did it." El Patron considers his grandson a fool.

When Matt finally sees the outside of the Big House and Opium that world is not much better. Indoctrination takes the place of brain implants to create docile workers who will follow orders and never complain.

Farmer's narration is rife with wonderful descriptions that bring the countries of Opium and Azatlan to startling reality. She relies heavily on word-for-word repetition of earlier portions of the book. This may be good for younger readers who may not remember particular conversations and passages, but for older readers it was a bit too much.

Characters like Tam Lin, Matt's bodyguard; Celia, Matt's foster mother; Jorge, an Aztlan Keeper; Tom, Maria, and other members of the Alacran family will spur many more discussions.

Highly recommended.

Other Books by Nancy Farmer:

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm
The Sea of Trolls
A Girl Named Disaster

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Even My Life So Far Has Been Plain"

How I live Now

Daisy is sent to live with her aunt and cousins in England though she has never met them before. At first she thinks it will be horrible being on a farm after growing up in a New York City apartment. But she feels an instant connection with her cousin Piper and even deeper feelings for Edmund. Shortly after her aunt leaves on business, terrorists invade England and war breaks out. Alone on the farm the children are able to live how they want with no rules and no adults telling them what to do. What could be better? Their Eden-like existence is interrupted when the army takes over their farm.

Meg Rosoff, doesn't pull any punches in showing the horrors of living through a war, with famine and death all around, but because Daisy herself is telling the story everything is kept very age appropriate to the older teen readers. The relationship that develops between Daisy and Edmond might be hard for some readers to grasp, especially younger ones, but as one teen said "you can't help who you fall in love with."

I liked the style of narration because it captures the voice of a fifteen year-old and the reader can see how the voice changes as Daisy does. Particularly at the end (I won't spoil it for you) when Daisy grows up there is a distinct difference in the writing style.

There are great discussions to be had with this book and teen readers. It is a thin volume and a quick, engaging read.

The paperback version also has a sample chapter of her next book Just in Case.

Monday, March 12, 2007


How do you catch a serial killer?

Go to the Library.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Twilight and New Moon by Stephanie Meyer

Twilight: Isabella Swan (Bella)leaves sunny Arizona and moves to the most dreary place on earth: Forks, Seattle. Little does she know that she's moved to a town full of mythical creatures and lands herself in the middle of a romance with sexy vampire Edward Cullen.

New Moon: Fighting off despair and reaching for any connection to the now absent Edward, Bella renews her friendship with Jacob Black at the nearby Quileute reservation, La Push. When Jacob starts to push Bella away in favor of the local La Push gang of boys will she be able to uncover what hold they have over him? And who will she choose she do when the Cullens' unexpectedly return to Forks, Edward or Jacob?

The middle schoolers I read Uglies with mentioned this book and I devoured it. I read both in a matter of a week and a half.

Twilight The first four or five chapters were slow going, but then the pace picks up and is a very fast read. The star-crossed lovers element is very heavy in this book and my one complaint is that too much time was spent building the relationship between Bella and Edward. It was just more of the same in each new situation only the place changed. The pages would have been better spent building up to the major plot action of James (I won't spoil it). While it explained very concisely I think the suspense would have been greater if James just doesn't drop in on one page and the next page the action part of the plot kicks in.
A minor complaint, after reading on Stephanie Meyer's website about the prom dresses the girls wear at the end of the book: What high school kid in their right mind would wear these dresses? What high school girl outside of Hollywood has access to couture?

New Moon: I'm on team Jake. That's all I can say. Edward left Bella with some nonsense about "I don't really love you. I don't really want you." I understand why Bella believes him, but why she would pine for him for months when they only went out for about 6 months as it was? Jake on the other hand makes no bones about liking Bella, wanting her as a girlfriend and being there for her.

It's only when she picks Edward over him that Jacob breaks his promise to Bella about always being there for her. It also annoys me that Bella runs off to save Edward and then forgives him so quickly. I just wish she'd be a little stronger.

End ****spoiler****

The romantic nature of the book will appeal more to girls than boys. The violence is very mild, no language, only sexual tension, and Bella's only drug use is superfluous cough syrup which she feels guilty for taking. 7th grade and up.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld

When everyone is super model pretty, anyone normal is ugly.
Tally Youngblood is about to turn 16. She's missing her best friend Peris, who has already turned 16 and moved out to New Pretty Town. Where Tally is from your 16th birthday doesn't bring the excitement of a brand new driver's licence, but an extreme operation that turns you from a young "ugly" to a stunning "pretty." Once pretty your only job is to go to parties and have fun. But before Tally gets her operation she meets Shay. Shay has startling ideas about conforming to one standard of beauty and decides to run away from the operation and the society that claims she's ugly.

On the day of her 16th birthday Tally is whisked off, not to have her operation, but to be given an ultimatum. Find her friend Shay with all other run aways and betray them or she'll never be pretty. Tally sets out on an adventure that takes her outside of the protections of "civilized" society and reveals the ugly truth behind the pretty operation.

It was a very exciting book with lots of action and some sci-fi elements like hoverboards and interface rings. Westerfeld does a fantastic job of creating a new society set 300 years in the future without over explination and dropping clues about what has driven humanity to this state. Westerfeld leaves us with a rather large cliffhanger at the end of Uglies compelling us to check out Pretties and Specials which round out the Trilogy and show the whole progression of Tally Youngblood.

I just finished this book with a group of 8th graders at a local middle school. The idea was to read the book in 6 parts discussing one section per week. Well, the book was a hit and most of "my kids" ended up finishing the book with in the first couple of weeks. The book has been a bigger hit with the girls than boys and has not gone over well with the younger groups (6th/7th graders).

There is plenty to discuss in this novel from self image and plastic surgery, to conformity and even ecology.

Other Books by Scott Westerfeld:
Last Days
So Yesterday

If you like Uglies you might like:
Twilight and New Moon by Stephanie Meyer
Elswhere by Gabrielle Zevin
Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels by Libba Bray