How I Live Now

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How I Live Now is Meg Rosoff’s British Guardian Children’s Fiction prize winner about what is, essentially, World War III. I have yet to read the book, but watched the movie last weekend out of curiosity. What I wasn’t expecting was the casual and explicit sexual relationship between cousins and the nonchalance that accompanies it. The book received many rave reviews- did I mention it won the Michael L. Printz Award as well? Obviously, there was incredible backlash against the cousins’ relationship. Should something like this be in a school?

Lately

WELL. School and life got slightly busy after reading week, clearly. That’ll happen when you realize that the first week if March is done and you have EXACTLY 6 weeks left of school before real life starts! Before I start hyperventilating, here are the YA books I’ve been reading lately for school.

(A quick note- I never read the books marketed to teen girls. I just wasn’t interested! When I was in junior high and high school, J.K.Rowling was pumping out a Harry Potter every year and there was no way I was going to stray from those books. Because of this, I decided to focus on books aimed at teen girls for my assignments)

1. The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin

A wilderness school for troubled girls. A main character whose never had friends. A two night solo camping trip. Clearly, this book doesn’t end well. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the true-to-life characters and realistic ending. A win for teen girl fiction!

2. How To Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Well written, with a beautiful portrayal of two girls having to come to terms with terrible events in their lives. That being said, there was something missing from this story. I would still make sure to have a copy on the shelves for girls dealing with teen pregnancy or the death of a parent.

3. If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

There is nothing realistic about this story of sisters who are found in the woods of Tennessee and brought back to civilization. But I couldn’t put it down. A lighter look at parental kidnapping, if there’s such a thing

Book Talks

Well, after a blissfully lazy reading week, it’s back to school and back to homework! Over the break, I read two books for school- Wonder by R.J. Palacio and A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz. Both were recommended to me by my practicum supervisor and I was all to happy to take her advice on what to read. The assignment these books are for involves presenting two book talks. Now, for non-library people, book talks are essentially a 3-5 minute “preview” of the book. Some librarians might read a bit, others might show a book trailer, or simply talk the book up. We’ve had many presented to us in class, so I had a good idea getting into the assignment that it takes a certain book to make a book talk even remotely interesting.

Wonder is the perfect book talk book. Told from the perspective of six different people, the story deals with a boy who has extreme facial deformities and is going to school for the first time (grade 5, the start of middle school). I won’t go into it anymore than that, but there are several elements that I want to pull out of the story to use in my own book talk. First of all, what would it be like to have such a deformed face that you had never been to school? Second, what’s it like for other people, most specifically kids and teenagers, to be presented with a person who has a deformed face? And finally, how the hell do you tell kids that this book is about family and how great parents can be without turning them off the book entirely? The writing is beautiful and rings true to each distinct character. I also love how the book doesn’t skip around; you get one person’s story in several chapters. Did I mention that every single character is interesting? There wasn’t one that i didn’t like or want to skip through. Truly, this is a great book for kids, starting at age 9.

Now, I’ve already talked a little about A Tale Dark and Grimm. After reading the whole thing, I have to say that about halfway through the book I started to feel a little let down. It’s almost like the author used up all the excitement at the beginning. Book talk wise though, it’s golden. Beheadings, evil warlocks that rip out little girl’s throats, a dragon, and parents that are the bad guys- this story has it all. And best of all, you can go back after and read the original Grimm stories that everything is based on! There’s no doubt in my mind what I’ll say about this one.

Splendors and Glooms

2012 Newberry Honor book Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz was latest endeavour for school. After reading about Schlitz’s book in the School Library Journal during my practicum, I had it on my mind as something I wanted to get my hands on. The story tells of orphans Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, charges of the evil (and often described as Dickensian) puppet master Professor Grisini. Parsefall loves working with the fantoccini (marionettes) and is incredibly talented. Lizzie Rose on the other hand misses her recently deceased actor parents and hasn’t learned yet just how awful Grisini is. When wealthy Clara falls in love with the fantoccinis and the orphans who work them, she insists on having Grisini and his charges entertain at her twelfth birthday. Later that night, Clara mysteriously disappears and see after Lizzie Rose and Parsefall find themselves thrown into the mystery of her disappearance and Grisini’s soon afterwards. 

While this story develops, the reader becomes familiar with the witch Cassandra. Cassandra and Grisini are linked, if only through her magical phoenix stone. Cassandra and Grisini’s story begin to merge, bringing Grisini, and in turn his orphan charges, to Cassandra’s mansion in Windermere. Did I mention that the story takes place in 1860 London? Clara, who’s been turned into a puppet (something the orphans don’t really seem to bat an eye at), comes along with them. And from there, things get complicated.

The writing of this novel was beautiful. The descriptions of the setting are full of rich detail and the characters are all wonderfully developed. That being said, too much is going on. The story of just one of the characters would be more than enough. And don’t get me started on the end- everything is wrapped up in a few pages, and although it is neatly done, everything is too easy. The novel is recommended for grades 4-8, and I doubt that any child who’s read Harry Potter (and the children who read Splendors and Glooms will definitely have) would be even remotely satisfied. 

Overall, I was disappointed by the story. While I think that some readers would be taken into the world Schlitz created, there are other stories that do this in a more satisfying way. Sorry, Newberry, but I can’t get behind this one.

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The Fault In Our Stars

Two weekends ago, I downloaded John Green’s widely acclaimed novel with the hopes that it would fit into an assignment for reading week. Why not start early? I had nothing new to read, and it’s only a few hundred pages of young adult fiction. So I sat down at 9pm on a Saturday night (wild, I know) and read. And read. And stopped at some point to let myself breath and take a break from crying and well, feeling. There are few books that I have had the distinct pleasure of reading that really have made me cry. Of course, Dumbledore’s death was tragic, and who can forget the end to My Sister’s Keeper? But this was something completely different.

I am not ashamed (now, two weeks later) to admit that I did not like this book when I first finished it. Yes, I laughed out loud and I sobbed, but there was something that just didn’t sit right with me. After tossing and turning in bed for an hour after I finished the book, I finally came to the conclusion that there was just too much feeling. The characters felt too much and the book made me feel too much. And that was ok. So ok, in fact, that I started rereading the book the very next day, and went out to buy my own copy just a few days later.

I have mixed feelings telling people what The Fault In Our Stars made me feel, how it made me feel, and that I just want to keep rereading it. Funny, the narrator of the story has the exact same experience with a fictional book. The experience I had with this story is distinctly my own and not something that anyone else will ever have. For that reason, I don’t think I’ll be recommending this story. At least not to just anyone. For some high school students, because this book is definitely for no one younger than 15, the story will be tragic, beautiful, heartbreaking, but still just a story. If I had read it in high school, I think I would have had a nervous breakdown (my mom laughed when I told her this). There is something unique about Green’s novel, and it isn’t that the characters are likeable and realistic or that the subject matter is raw and emotional. I don’t even know if I can put it into words.

What I can say, though, is that Green is a superb writer and it should be the privilege of every library to carry his books. So, read it, shake your head and laugh if you come away without feeling quite so much as I did. But I hope that you have an experience with a book like I had with this one.

Bed Time

First week of the last semester of school down- eight more to go. No exclamation point because, really, it’s just plain bizarre to me that I’ll be done school and ready to start an actual career! Adult life should be interesting….

This week, I started what I think will possibly be my favourite course of my schooling- Collection Development for Children and Young Adults (a mouthful). Our first assignment was to bring our favourite children’s book into class to share. I have a lot of loved and cherished children’s books- The Jolly Postman, Grandma and the Pirates, Lily and the Purple Plastic Purse- but Robert Munsch’s Mortimer is the absolute stand out. I don’t remember my parents reading it to me, but I have a hazy memory of going to see Robert Munsch read some of his stories and being enthralled. Later on, when my niece was old enough to enjoy the hilarity of his stories, we had a tape of his readings. Obviously, my love of Mortimer was renewed (The Paper Bag Princess was a close second). A few years later when I was working as a teacher’s aide, I brought in Mortimer to use with one of my students because it’s such an active book. It didn’t take long for this one student to know the story as well as I did. During my practicum it was the first book I did for story time, and most of the kids were able to tell the story along with me.

How powerful is that?! A story that is almost thirty years old and kids (Canadian ones at least) know it by heart. I’m sure the same could be said for The Paper Bag Princess or Stephanie’s Ponytail. Got to hand it to Robert Munsch, he knows how to write for kids. Which is probably why I found it hard to pick a NEW children’s book for assignment number two. Sleep Like a Tiger, while no Mortimer, has lovely illustrations, so I SUPPOSE it could be a new bedtime favourite. But really, nothing can replace your first love.

A Tale Dark and Grimm

As a kid, one of my favourite parts of school was being read to. Sure, my parents read to me at home, but something about having a teacher stop being a teacher for a second and get right down on the floor with us and create another world was completely thrilling. Funny, I don’t remember story time in kindergarten, or grade one, but grade five is what sticks out in my mind. At the school I was doing my practicum at, the librarian didn’t read to the classes past grade three, which I found odd and disappointing. This is the best time to read because you can really get into longer stories- James and the Giant Peach, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. My supervisor was also disappointed that this was policy at the school, but nonetheless kept a few books of her own on hand just in case the opportunity ever arouse to read aloud to these “older” student.

One of the books she particularly loved was A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz. The story tells the classic Grimm Brothers’ tales in all the gory glory- perfect for even the most skeptical sixth grade boy. Beginning with Hansel and Gretel’s origins, the reader follows one beheading and curse after another, and the narrator often pauses to assure the reader that the story is going to just keep getting worse. It’s both comical and classic, a perfect way to retell beloved fairy tales.

Though I’m only twenty-five pages in, I can tell that when/if I’m a school librarian, I’ll make sure to have my own copy on hand to read aloud!

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