Author Rave: Diana Peterfreund

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One of my favorite things to do is to read well-done short story collections and find new authors to explore.  So when a well-read and especially intelligent student recommended Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier and featuring stories by heavy hitters like Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, and Scott Westerfeld (all authors I believe walk around with halos and choral groups singing their praises), I hadn't got to the third story before I ordered the book for my library. (Note to other librarians: Wrapping this book is a royal pain in the unicorn keister, but it's worth it.  Really, publisher?  Really?  I bet it seemed cool in the meeting, but partial covers make librarians crazy.  If you ever get some librarian going postal with an AK-47 in your office, and I hope it never happens, "creative cover design" is going to be the reason.)

When I got to the story by Diana Peterfreund, I paid extra close attention.  I had subscribed to her blog sometime last year, simply because I was impressed by how well she wrote about her writing process, but I shamefully had put her on the back burner when it came to reading any of her books.  I was intrigued by the world she painted in her short story, "The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn" in which a survivor of a unicorn attack actually rescues a newborn unicorn from a freak show and hides it in the woods behind her home, learning to communicate with it and teaching it to not attack humans.  In Peterfreund's world, unicorns were once thought extinct, but instead had merely been in hiding from humans who had hunted them to near extinction.  And how does one hunt highly magical and sometimes stunningly beautiful, powerful creatures?  In a delightful twist (attention, classical history buffs), unicorn hunters are all young women descended from Alexander the Great whose famous white horse, Bucephalus, was, you guessed it, a unicorn.  The short story focuses more on the female protagonist, Wen, whose parents are strong Christians and feel her affinity with the species is indicative of some type of "evil."  Oh, silly parents.

After such a great short story, I was primed to finally take Rampant off my fiction shelves and bring it home (and I grabbed the sequel, which had just appeared in Barnes & Noble, processing it with the speed of light).  I immediately loved the main character, Astrid.  First of all, the name, obviously - Astrid bespeaks nordic power and has a distinctly kick-ass quality necessary for a unicorn hunter.  She also generates sympathy from the get-go.  Astrid's mother is a woman obsessed with the existence of unicorns and geneaology, whose various hobbies negate her ability to parent Astrid or hold down any kind of lucrative job.  Astrid's life consists of living with her eccentric mother over her uncle' garage and limiting social engagements involving her mother lest the u-word crops up and ruins her reputation.   A botched babysitting job ends up with watching her pushy (hanky-panky kind of pushy) boyfriend get gored by a unicorn, much to her surprise as Astrid had never believed in their existence.  Her mother comes to her rescue using a family "remedy" to save her boyfriend's life, but rather than express concern over the near-fatal attack, her mother is ecstatic.  Astrid has managed to attract a unicorn (unicorn hunter requirement #1), not lose her virginity to her pushy boyfriend (requirement #2), and now the mother has discovered online that an ancient convent of unicorn hunters is reopening in Rome (yes, in Italy) and the ticket is bought so Astrid can go live there and be trained. Funded by Gordian Pharmaceuticals who claim to want to understand the potential of the unicorn's healing powers, the girls' lives become increasingly at risk by both expected threats like the unicorns and ones they could not have anticipated.

Unwanted at home, Astrid ships off, quickly joined by her older cousin, Phil, who is appalled at her aunt's behavior and also seems to have the gene (and other requirements) for being a hunter.  Other girls join them in the decaying convent, and with potential romantic entanglements, Astrid must hone her prodigious skill in hunting while reconciling her conflicted emotions about killing creatures that may deserve to live.  Rampant's sequel, Ascendent, takes off right where the first book leaves off, and develops that internal conflict further.  (BTW, Wen from the short story comes into this book with her little trained unicorn in tow, a nice touch.)  More history of the unicorns and their hunters is revealed, helping Astrid understand how complicated her legacy truly is. 

Astrid takes a job with the pharmaceutical company funding the "convent" as a unicorn wrangler for their resident herd, and ends up discovering more about the species than makes her comfortable.  With additional layers revealed about whose interests are really being served by her work and their work of her fellow hunters, Astrid must face grave consequences if her choices do not conform to the expectations of the adults around her. Check out what Peterfreund has to say about the series:

Diana Peterfreund's personal biography is a diverse and interesting one, indicating a variety of jobs held after obtaining an Ivy League education.  Along those lines, I'm interested to also try her well-received series for adults, started off with Secret Society Girl: An Ivy League Novel focusing on a college junior inducted into an exclusive secret society (what else?).  I'm not sure that it will have quite the unique spin as this fantasy fiction series, but if it's half as well-written, I'm going to enjoy it!

Review: The Most Dangerous Book in the Library - Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

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Little Brother (Cory Doctorow novel)
It's only appropriate that with Banned Books Week having begun today, that I should be blogging about "dangerous" books.  Banned Books Week, which always happens in late September, is a joint effort of the American Library Association and other concerned organizations, which come together to heighten public awareness of the regular efforts of some individuals to take books they don't like off the shelf of libraries and bookstores everywhere.  Young adult and children's librarians get particularly hopped up about this as most objections, which when formally filed are known as challenges, are aimed at the removal of books marketed to young people.  I think the majority of librarians, like myself, feel that parents are welcome to choose materials that reflect their families beliefs and values and restrict what their children read (even though we cringe a little when they do it), but that no person has the right to restrict what someone else's child can read.

We should all be thanking our lucky stars that more book banning parents haven't read Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, because they would undoubtedly have given birth to several litters of kittens by page 40.  The novel centers on its hip protagonist, Marcus, who cuts school and circumvents the electronic barriers in his way in order to play games and engage in playful hacks with his equally savvy friends.  But one afternoon as he gallivants around San Francisco with his buddies, disaster hits in the form of a terrorist explosion. In the ensuing panic Marcus and his friends are picked up by Homeland Security and taken to an undisclosed location to be questioned.  The kids are treated as dangerous criminals with three of the four released under the threat that they will be watched and are not to tell anyone what transpired.

Each of kids, mourning the loss of their missing friend who they assume has died, deals with the event differently, but Marcus is absolutely enraged at being treated this way and decides to highlight to the world exactly how Homeland Security isn't making anyone safer by the measures imposed after the attack in San Francisco. Hacking his giveaway Xbox, Marcus creates Xnet, a secure community of savvy technology users who are happy to disseminate and share the information he publishes about how to undermine and get around the government's tracking devices and information gathering programs.

This book totally kicked my butt.  The characters are well-drawn and the technology discussed in the most knowledgeable way (if we don't have it already, it's in the works, like ParanoidLinux).  The novel is a manifesto to what can happen when a government abuses the freedom of its citizens, hence the title which makes a direct reference to the "Big Brother" in George Orwell's 1984.  There is a ton of technology details however so that even avid readers of technology-centered nonfiction would find enough to keep them thinking, whether its Bayesian probability to explain arrest methodology or RFID hacking. 

An unexpected but very welcome bonus to this excellent novel is the fountain of informative afterwords that follow the end of the text. Bruce Schneier, a security systems expert, and Andrew Huang, the guy who literally wrote the book on Hacking Your Xbox, both put in their two cents about the technology in the book and encourage readers to experiment with technology and challenge themselves.  If you didn't know any better, you'd swear the book was a brilliant plant for engineering and computer science programs all over the country.  Doctorow offers in his addendum a diverse collection of books, websites, and white papers that bring together many of themes in his book, including copyright and digital rights management issues.  I was so happy to see and Creative Commons since those are both resources we push hard in our information literacy curriculum.  Big surprise Doctorow is always being featured at library conventions.  I used this section to some serious collection development work in my 000s and 600s.  Thanks, Cory!

I guess I'm not that worried about the book banners.  I think the majority of adults would shut the book when Marcus starts in about LARPing and lapses into techspeak while a bunch of other people would totally agree with his message.   After all, Doctorow's message is the same as this year's Banned Books Week - Think for Yourself and Let Others Do the Same.  I'm going to be checking out his other science fiction books.  I think I found myself a new favorite author.

Professional Resource - Merchandising Made Simple by Jenny LaPerriere and Trish Christiansen

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Having crunched most of the data from my spring Recreational Reading survey of my Upper School students (based on the Carol Fitzgerald article I blogged about in the fall), I have a lot of data from kids on how the library could better market to them. The overwhelming consensus from the free responses is that kids want to be advertised and marketed to - there were so many poster/e-newsletter/flyer suggestions from kids that this is undoubtedly what we need to focus on.

Merchandising Made Simple: Using Standards and Dynamite Displays to Boost CirculationEnter a fabulous book every librarian should read, Merchandising Made Simple: Using Standards and Dynamite Displays to Boost Circulation by Jenny LaPerriere and Trish Christiansen.  To be totally honest - I had no idea what to expect from this book so when I finally opened it, I was floored at how readable it was.  I whipped through this puppy in under two hours and at every other page turn had my mind blown.  I always thought the idea of merchandising was a lot more complicated, but LaPerriere, a librarian in the Denver Public Library system, and Christiansen, who had worked in retail for years and years prior to being hired by the DPL to help merchandise their collection and teach the methods to the staff there, make it soooooo easy.

Merchandising, by its very definition, means displaying your product in a way that makes consumers want to "buy it" and take it home with them.  You are creating a need that your customer maybe didn't know they had.  Luckily for librarians, our product is so terrific that we can feel extremely enthusiastic about marketing to our patrons, particularly when the cost is something already covered by their taxes or, in my case, by their tuition.  

So why do librarians break out in hives when we are encouraged to emulate the bookstore model?  When I renovated my library a couple years ago, the students from my Library Advisory Board who met with the architect and interior designer described their ideal library this way, "If an Apple store and Barnes & Noble had a baby, that's we want our library to look like."  Clean lines, modern, technology, but comfortable seating and books were all priorities in these visionary students' minds.  I think you can see from the above picture that our space is extremely well used and it's all of those things (there are comfy armchairs along the sides of the space which aren't really visible in this photo, trust me).  I'm not planning on abandoning the Dewey Decimal system (just because I feel my students are 99% college bound and need to learn to navigate a classification system so they feel comfortable in a college library - I like to delude myself that most of them do know there are print books you should read in addition to my terrific databases.)

The book is now my primer for marketing (combined with my survey results) and I plan on having this be a staff meeting right when school starts.  We were in the process of doing a fiction weed and the face out space will be valuable real estate for promoting the collection, but I have so many other ideas from this book.  Themed displays (the final chapter has some really terrific ideas and I want to try at least half of them) are obviously great, but the authors give direction in terms of getting inexpensive props, how to do an effective tiered display, how to use signage as a draw, etc.  I had no idea of the "crescent" concept (think of a traditional stack and having the face outs on each shelf form a backwards C from top to bottom) and I also didn't know that when customers enter a space they naturally pull to the right, so that's where many stores have key displays when they want to push a product.

There are tons of pictures (which probably is why the reading time is so minimal with this book) but the content is information rich, and there are chapter bibliographies for further reading and a list of questions to ask yourself (or your staff) to see if you fully market your collection.  Two pieces I'm taking to heart (after the themed ideas which I think is great) - to use a calendar (in my case, not just the usual holidays but also coinciding with known extracurriculars like International Food Night or research projects) and also to have a display map, so all staff know what endcaps and windowsills have got which type of books on them. 

Great Displays for Your Library Step by StepLook, It's Books!: Marketing Your Library With Displays and PromotionsTwo other books which I haven't read but also seem like they would have great information are Great Displays for Your Library Step by Step by Susan Phillips and Look, It's Books!: Marketing Your Library With Displays and Promotionsby Gayle Skaggs which look like they might also have good ideas to absorb.  I think display and promotion is one of those topics never taught in library school that really should be (why not teach merchandising concepts?) and one of the main reasons librarians like doing best practice visits to other spaces.  In case you can't leave home for a library road trip to see how the other guy is marketing their materials, pick up this great professional resource and feel truly inspired.

The Dear America series rides again!

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I was elated when I heard that Scholastic was reviving the Dear America series of books.  I only discovered them in library school and remember tearing through the whole lot of them thinking the whole while that I would have loved to have had something like them when I was a young reader, since my genre of choice was historical fiction.  Dear America was my first introduction to such great children's/YA authors as Kathryn Lasky and Walter Dean Myers, and as someone who studied history in college, I have always been impressed with the level of scholarship Scholastic puts behind each book in the series.
Hattie Big Sky

But the series had taken a hiatus for a while, much to the chagrin of librarians everywhere who enjoyed having a new one to promote.  Luckily, with the latest addition, The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis, Seattle, Washington, 1941 by Kirby Larson, we can honestly say the series is back and better than ever.  Librarians know the quality of Kirby Larson's work, as she is the author of the renowned, Hattie Big Sky,which won the Newbery Award in 2007 and was inspired by the experience of Larson's great-grandmother (teachers and librarians should definitely check out Larson's companion website for this novel which has wonderful supplemental information and links).

The Fences Between Us is the story of Piper Davis, an 8th grader and the youngest daughter of a minister who has a congregation in the Japanese American neighborhood of Seattle.  Piper's life is a modest one because of her father's profession.  Her mother died years ago and she is close to her older sister who is studying chemistry in college, and her older brother, the family extrovert.  You can imagine with the time and location that the whole family's life changes drastically with the occasion of Pearl Harbor, particularly because the older brother, Hank, had joined the navy a few months earlier and was stationed on the U.S.S. Arizona.

As America enters the war, Piper watches her sister leave school to work at the local Boeing factory and her father struggle with gas rationing and parishoners in need, all the while worrying about Hank, who survived Pearl Harbor and was now fighting in the South Pacific. But Piper doesn't see coming what her father finds inevitable - the incarceration of the Japanese American families who live in their neighborhood, go to Piper's school, and make up their entire parish.  Because of her life being so entirely enmeshed with these friends, she is shocked and horrified at people's lack of understanding, particularly when it comes from lifelong friends and love interests.  But even her loyalty is put to test when her father makes the ultimate decision - to take Piper and move to the incarceration camp in Montana his parish has been sent to in order to continue to minister to their needs.

This novel provides a much needed addition to the oeuvre of Japanese internment novels for young people.  While previous books in the Dear America series dealt with this issue from the perspective of Japanese American children, Piper's story allows the reader to see not only the conditions inside the camp but the treatment of Piper and her father by the many prejudiced people who truly believed these fellow Americans posed a threat. 

Perhaps most heartening is the fact that Larson actually based this story on the family of a real individual, Pastor Emery "Andy" Andrews, pastor of the Japanese Baptist Church, who actually did move his entire family to the location of one of the internment camps in Idaho in order to minister to his parishioners.  This is a painful but heartfelt topic and one excellently executed by a talented author.

A Journey in Screencasting: Comparing Different Screencasting Platforms

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My history with screencasting has been a frustrating one.  A couple years ago I really wanted to have accompanying screencasts archived to the library page that went over the skills we taught in classes.  Obviously students can't remember everything you've just talked about when they are still reeling from the reality of having a large scale project (my dialogue: "The importance of keywords in database searching cannot be overstated..."/simultaneous student thoughts: "How many pages is this paper?  Eleven? I don't even read eleven pages in one sitting, how am I going to....").

But I was doomed.  I paid for a well-reviewed screencast software and then couldn't get it to be large enough that I could use the image (kind of a problem when you are showing all the little details of a database) and I prefer to not clutter up my applications folder.  Then I tried Jing, which was okay, but still suffered from a smallish display.  I never felt like this would actually be helpful, and the fact that I had to upload my screencast to their website and use that as the link was kind of frustrating.  I don't inherently mind it, but the website was slow to load on our school network and since almost half my student population are student boarders living on campus, this was impractical.

So when the much-appreciated Richard Byrnes, author of the Free Technology for Teachers blog (one of my favorites), presented several screencasting tools that educators could use, I thought I'd use the waning days of my summer to see if I could grab the Holy Grail and find a screencasting platform that would work well for my instruction support needs.

First up was Screencastle, which is one of a new breed of screencasting sites which needs no downloading (it uses a little Java code).  There is nothing to their website - it's one page with a big start button and a series of boxes showing you all the various links and code you'll get when you're done.  I pressed the button, gave Firefox permission to accept the Java script and in less than a minute, a little bar was at the bottom of my screen with a button that said "Start recording".  I opened an extra window, pulled up my library page, and began a rough overview of using the library catalog, specifically my Aquabrowser overlay.

When I was finished, I just pressed the "stop recording" button.  A "Preview this Screencast" button appeared on the bar now, as well as a "Save this Screencast".  I previewed it (nice and big, yay!) and while I thought I sounded a little faint, I checked my systems preferences and discovered my mic setting was at the middle point, so that's my fault, not Screencastle's.  Smooth audio and nice clear image and I was super happy.  It took no time at all (versus the hours of staying up until 2 am frustrated with my Jing screencast) and as soon as I hit "Save" I got the above embed code and/or a links to previews or a full screencast.  You obviously would have to copy all this down for yourself since with no user registration, it would be hard to retrieve it from Screencastle.

The other screencasting tool recommended was Screenr.  Designed as a screencast tool to be used with Twitter, you actually sign in with your Twitter account (so you are registered, versus Screencastle's no registration policy).  The site is pretty with more support to make a newer screencaster feel comfortable.  Your finished screencast is iPhone and YouTube compatible and you're prompted at the end to enter your tweet (with less than the 140 character maximum because Screenr saves room for it's abbreviated url for your screencast).  There is a five minute limit on recording, but that would be fine for most information literacy skills, particularly because we often break them down into chunks anyway during instruction.

After signing in with my Twitter account (handle: SassyLibr), I loaded the screen recorder (I had an error the first time, but the second time it loaded like that *snap*).  A ghost frame pops up which you can stretch to cover exactly what you want to show on your screencast, or you can use the window presets available down in the dropdown menu of the screencasting bar which is in the lower left corner of your computer.  This bar is nicer than the Screencastle one in that it shows a coundown timer (remember that 5 minute limit) and also has a sound tool so you can see how sensitive your microphone is before beginning recording.  A "Done" button allows you to indicate when you're finished, but there is a pause button in case you needed to stop and open up something else before resuming recording.

I decided to focus on Noodletools for this screencast, since a couple of our lower school students were getting nervous about its annual revalidation feature and because I am so utterly psyched about the new features it's rolled out (which you can see in the screencast - I mean, Google docs integration?? *geek fist pump*).  When I finished recording, it prompted me to add my Twitter length description, but there was a check box for me to indicate that I didn't want to Tweet it right then (remember since you've got a log on for Screenr, all your screencasts are accessible in one place).  The publishing time took a while - it hung up for about 6 minutes - and then I unsurprisingly got an error message.  The good news is that nothing was lost; I could go back to the publishing page and try again, which I did and it published in about 3 and half minutes.  I was given the option of publishing to YouTube (which I will consider since we do have a Kirby Library account and that could be a good way of reaching students) as well as the link and embed text (used above.)  If you found yourself using Screenr a lot (and I think it would become a frequently used tool to demonstrate skills and sites to students and faculty), there is actually a bookmarklet that you can embed in your browser, so you can just click and start recording.  Pretty convenient.

Last up is Screenjelly, also meant to be integrated with Twitter and Facebook, but a few differences exist.  First, the limit here is 3 minutes (versus Screenr's 5 minutes), and that could make a difference if you're demonstrating something more complicated or with several steps.  I did like that Screenjelly has a check box where you can indicate that you want your screencast to be private, so if you need to include passwords for electronic resources and don't want to have to change them (like I'll need to after my Noodletools screencast above), this could be a good option.  Once again, it's just press an onscreen button and go - no software install or download necessary.  Weirdly, ScreenJelly has a "Help" button on its site, but if you click on it it tells you that feature no longer exists.  Not comforting.

Since I realized poking around it that ScreenJelly was owned by the same company that owns ScreenToaster, another recommended screencasting platform, I decided to use ScreenToaster since I wanted to next compare Ning with my Canvas account (also a Richard Byrnes recommendation) and it was bound to take longer than 3 minutes.  No help button here either and you do register in order to archive your screencasts (you can record without registering).  When I watched the demo video the audio kept cutting out, which I found disturbing, but I still plowed along.  I did enable the beta version which said it was going to produce higher quality video (but that there might be problems), so please keep that in mind.

Similar to our other screencasts, you have to approve an applet to enable the program, and like Screenr, it uses a frame which you can put over what you wish to record.  There is a time counter, but not an audio display, so you are unaware of your level of audio input.  I recorded for a little over 7 minutes and then watched the preview.  I gave up after a while, because of all the buffering, but was a little dismayed - my recording seemed to be oddly letterboxed (which makes me feel like I'm showing The Magnificent Seven on TMC, rather than a screencast) and the print looked REALLY small, which gave me shuddering Jing flashbacks.  After 17 minutes of upload (and 22 indicated to go), I gave up.  No screencast of this length should take that long to upload (my five minute one on Screenr took less than four minutes and was a good quality) and I had been unhappy enough with the other features that I didn't need to torture myself.

So I think the winner for me is Screenr - it was a little more featured than the others and I like the interface.  I can develop the library's YouTube channel and promote that to students and link off the library page.  Having ready access to an easy screencaster will also be useful for capturing computer bugs and showing our IT office so they don't have to necessarily poke around as much to try and figure out the issue, and teaching kids how to do it (perhaps under the guise of recording gaming prowess) would be a good technology literacy and writing skill (to say nothing of public speaking).  I think we'd be hitting several ISTE and AASL standards with that one! 

A Libba Bray Worship Moment

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Libba Bray by David Shankbone, New York City
Image via Wikipedia
Folks, if you don't already know of my writer-crush on Libba Bray (yes, I am, as far as I know it, inventing this term of "writer-crush": (n) when you are insanely in love with the writing of a given author and obsessed with making other people see their genius), you will after this post.  I was pretty smug when Going Bovine won the Printz award because I had been yakking about it for months as I boasted in this blog, so you can imagine how much I was looking forward to watching her speech.  Sadly, I couldn't stay at ALA Annual 2010 for the Printz Award dinner, but I knew my trusty and technologically savvy YALSA wouldn't let me down (hello, AASL?  Why don't we see video of the NSLMPY winners?  Hint, hint).

Going BovineSo I was ready with the popcorn when I saw that YALSA had posted the link to the video of her accepting her award.  Be warned: it is long and it is funny and poignant, a lot like reading Going Bovine, so if you're a crier like me (acid test, do you do a lot sniffing at the new iPhone 4 commercials?) you will need tissues.  Also of note, but not quite as spectacular as hearing Libba, is the excellent School Library Journal article on her, published in the latest issue.  Enjoy!

Can't Get Enough Sexy Fairies? Try These Two Books by Maggie Stiefvater

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Lament: The Faerie Queen's DeceptionI already think highly of Maggie Stiefvater who has a wonderful writing style I fell in love with when I read her novel, Shiver, (reviewed earlier this year), so when I was looking for more fun summer reading, I decided to go to authors I can depend on.  I had two of her books in my reading pile, Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception and Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, but for some reason I had forgotten about them.  In my annual August cleanout, I thankfully uncovered their presence and sat down to see if I was going to like them.  I don't know why I doubted Maggie - I loved them, and in fact read both in about 7 hours, savoring every word.  This author nails romance - real, honest love - and shows how love can not only look different than what you expect, but that true love causes both people to grow as individuals, becoming better people in the process.  Just as with Shiver, Stiefvater's prose can be lyrical at times and particularly in these two novels, her music background comes to the forefront, adding a wonderful dimension.

But let's get down to brass tacks re: the plot.  Here's how the publisher describes Lament:
Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. She's about to find out she's also a cloverhand—one who can see faeries. Deirdre finds herself infatuated with a mysterious boy who enters her ordinary suburban life, seemingly out of thin air. Trouble is, the enigmatic and gorgeous Luke turns out to be a gallowglass—a soulless faerie assassin. An equally hunky—and equally dangerous—dark faerie soldier named Aodhan is also stalking Deirdre. Sworn enemies, Luke and Aodhan each have a deadly assignment from the Faerie Queen. Namely, kill Deirdre before her music captures the attention of the Fae and threatens the Queen's sovereignty. Caught in the crossfire with Deirdre is James, her wisecracking but loyal best friend. Deirdre had been wishing her life weren't so dull, but getting trapped in the middle of a centuries-old faerie war isn't exactly what she had in mind . . .
Deirdre reminds me of a lot of teens I've known, incredibly talented but with overbearing parents attempting to run their lives.  Luckily Deirdre has James, her bagpiping best friend (she's a harpist), but she knows that her anxiety and worry causes her to miss a lot in life.  At a music competition, Luke appears from seemingly nowhere, and when he encourages her to explore her potential and not play if safe she does just that with wonderful results.  But she is a cloverhand, and Luke realizes that he's fallen in love with her, quashing his ability to murder her on behalf of the fairy queen.  He must help her realize the power that has been latent within her while also protecting her from the fairies attracted to her and her music.

All characters are well-drawn and I'm beginning to think no one does paranormal romance quite like Maggie Stiefvater (that's right, Stephenie Meyer, you heard me - I still heart Twilight, and I really wish you didn't sell the film rights).  That breathless physical contact between two people in love discovering true passion, purrrrr, she manages to get your heart thumping!  The music portion of the book, so often an afterthought for many writers as a way of making their character seem well-rounded, is the central focus here and Stiefvater has the chops to add serious depth.  For those of you who enjoy reading her blog as I do, you know that she has an incredibly strong musical and artistic background and is actually a harpist.  The page on her website devoted to Lament actually has several original songs by her that you can listen to, and I'd strongly recommend it as it helps set the tone of the book.

Ballad: A Gathering of FaerieThe "sequel" to Lament is Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie which actually focuses on James.  He and Deirdre are at Thornking-Ash School of Music, a boarding school that caters to the incredibly talented (and, in turns out, the musicians most likely to draw faerie attention).  I was so glad when I realized that this story would be told from James' point of view - he was a smart, mouthy, loving character in the first book that I wanted to get to know better and that part of me was very satisfied by this novel.  My hat is definitely off to Stiefvater in the characterization department - the two books are totally different in feel as the author truly inhabits her characters.  Here's the publisher teaser:
James Morgan has an almost unearthly gift for music. And it has attracted Nuala, a soul-snatching faerie muse who fosters and then feeds on the creative energies of exceptional humans until they die. James has plenty of reasons to fear the faeries, but as he and Nuala collaborate on an achingly beautiful musical composition, James finds his feelings towards Nuala deepening. But the rest of the fairies are not as harmless. As Halloween—the day of the dead—draws near, James will have to battle the Faerie Queen and the horned king of the dead to save Nuala's life and his soul.
Nuala is the second main character of the book and she can certainly hold her own with the bundle of personality that is James.  In alternating chapters, their story unfolds as Nuala is attracted to James' music and he, unlike any other mark she has known, rejects her offer of divine inspiration as he has more than enough acquaintance with the trouble fairies can bring to one's life.  The more time she spends with him, the more she falls for him, and he for her when he realizes what a bleak and doomed life she has.  Nuala must enter the Halloween bonfire every sixteen years, burning herself in order to be reborn from the ashes, but with no memory of her former lives except the names she has born.  She is an outcast among the other faeries and an easy victim of their cruelty as they consider her, a leanan sidhe, too contaminated by the humans with whom she must associate in order to survive.

Deirdre is a minor character in this novel, although central to the plot, and we see her only through James and Nuala's eyes and the occasional unsent text to James.  If there is any criticism of the book, it's that Deirdre feels a little flat to me, but I could imagine that being from the differing perspectives and the fact that she is devastated by the loss of Luke from her life.  Her grief causes her to be both troubled and selfish, but her absence from James' life turns out to have benefits for him as he begins to heal from his love for her and find his true destiny.

Both books are must-reads for anyone interested in fairy lore, and I put Maggie Stiefvater completely parallel with my other favorite fairy author, Melissa Marr (they are high-fiving each other on tandem clouds) in their commitment to Gaelic folklore and the great combination of sexy menace they give their fairy characters.  I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Linger, the sequel to Shiver, and enjoy this author's unbelievable talent one more time.

Promoting Teen Reading with Web 2.0 Tools - Part IVA: Book Trailers

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I know, I know.  How long was this *&%@! YALSA preconference, you ask?  Don't you remember me saying it should have been a whole day and not an afternoon?  If not, you aren't paying attention.  And I think you'll enjoy this post and the next couple ones rounding out the preconference series.  The last part of the preconference was a "speed dating" segment in which librarian experts went around to different tables and spoke about their work with various strategies using tools that promoted teen reading.  First up for me was Tiffany (who likes to be called "Tiff") Emerick, librarian at Lansdale Catholic High School, who decided to make book trailers a collaborative project (the link is to her Glog which collated all the support materials) with a receptive English teacher. Tiff has a wonderful Google Doc of the project and tips for librarians or English teachers who might want to emulate it.

Her goals were to have the kids get excited and to feel that they had choices in the way they choice to create their trailer.  They watched both publisher and amateur videos, talking about the pros and cons of them, and reviewed Tiff's rubric.  The students received two grades, one from her and one from the English teacher.  In her explanation to us, she said one of the best parts was the opportunity to explain copyright since the students would be using photos and links, and this enabled her to really go to town explaining and promoting Creative Commons, which many students had never heard of.  She used Photostory (a Windows product) with the 11th graders and also taught them folksonomy tagging concepts with the Creative Commons material search.  Obviously you could also use iMovie or even Animoto, since it added the new feature of being able to keep the order of your images under control.

The book trailers that passed muster with her (and she said that was most of them) she embedded into the library catalog, so if a student searching for reading brought up a specific record, the book trailer would be a link that could be clicked on and played.  Great idea, right?  I was floored by the quality of the trailers (do yourself a favor and check out the Beautiful Creatures trailer, it's amazing) and Tiff had a great energy and enthusiasm so it's easy to see how she brings out the best in her students.

I'm really impressed with many of the sources Tiff found to promote this idea (book trailers are something I've toyed with for a long time).  This one above for Give Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe came from, which bills itself a clearinghouse for publishers and authors to put up their booktrailers and promote their latest publication.  You get the sense that they used to accept amateur video, but now are sticking to the slicker stuff from publishing houses.  Which is fine, since the quality seems to be quite good, and a good trailer means more people are going to read it, right?

Review: Virals by Kathy Reichs

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ViralsI got a few good ARCs from the exhibit hall at ALA Annual in Washington, D.C. and Virals by Kathy Reichs, the new YA tie-in novel to her Temperance Brennan series due to be published on November 2nd, was among my swag.  Needing bath reading tonight, and knowing the latest issue of Country Living magazine wasn't going to last the requisite amount of time, I brought the book in just in case.  Two and half hours and a serious case of prune feet later, I was finished.

I'll admit I was a little nervous.  The first 30-40 pages felt like Reichs was struggling to find the voice of her protagonist but by page 70 or so (I use the 80 page rule for my book reading - if I don't find myself into it by page 80, I put it aside and move on), enough science had kicked in that it all clicked, because let's face it, that's what Reichs does incredibly well.

From a librarian standpoint, Reichs is a good sell to teen readers, many of whom who are vigilant watchers of Bones and other crime lab dramas involving forensic anthropology.  Most high schools and public libraries know that she is a proven author with her Temperance Brennan series (which begins with Deja Dead, a book that became a New York Times bestseller upon its debut in 1997 and won numerous awards).  Here's the promotion copy for Virals, as shown on (the book isn't up yet on the Penguin/Razorbill website yet):
Tory Brennan, niece of acclaimed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (of the Bones novels and hit TV show), is the leader of a ragtag band of teenage "sci-philes" who live on a secluded island off the coast of South Carolina. When the group rescues a dog caged for medical testing on a nearby island, they are exposed to an experimental strain of canine parvovirus that changes their lives forever.
As the friends discover their heightened senses and animal-quick reflexes, they must combine their scientific curiosity with their newfound physical gifts to solve a cold-case murder that has suddenly become very hot - if they can stay alive long enough to catch the killer's scent.
Fortunately, they are now more than friends - they're a pack. They are Virals.
Chilling copy, eh? Tory is a young protagonist but brilliant.  She's fourteen but, when we meet her at the end of her freshman year of high school, she's busy taking AP Biology and AP British Literature.  Her three closest friends, all boys, live in the same isolated area of Morris Island, off Charleston, South Carolina where families associated with the University of Charleston get housing near the old Civil War forts.  This group of friends commutes by ferry to a very elite and pricey private school where they are seen as charity cases since they don't have to pay full-tuition as university faculty kids.  Add to this popularity blow their high I.Q. and you can see that the four of them jumped pretty quickly from outsider to pariah.

As mentioned, the text seemed to suffer in the beginning of the book.  It was rather staccato in nature so it felt a little herky-jerky to me and the level of teen snark was rather high.  The reader is introduced to Tory from a first person point of view and we quickly learn that her hard working mother died in a car accident only six months ago and she has been sent to live with her father, who she didn't know and if fact was unaware of her existence, Dr. Kit Howard. Kit happens to be Temperance Brennan's nephew, hence the tie-in to Kathy Reichs' other books, and there are plenty of references to Tempe for readers who've enjoyed the series.  Both father and daughter are struggling with the adjustment to one another, and Dr. Howard, a marine biologist, is occupied with his research on a nearby island.  Tory and her friends are fascinated with that island too, and when a wolf-dog puppy they named Cooper goes missing, they won't rest until they get to the bottom of what's going on.

The friends are pretty well-drawn and the writing improves as soon as Tory's fascination with science comes into the picture.  The bad guys are for the most part just shy of cartoon villains but the book is strong in describing the sense of isolation and awkwardness a rather pretty Tory feels from her peers, both due to her intelligence and her socioeconomic status compared to the other students at school.  The bond she feels to the wolf-dog pup is extremely strong and the enthusiasm and intensity of her interest in science and her worship of Temperance Brennan comes across as very genuine.  The slight paranormal twist of the virus altering the kids' DNA is a great plot device since so many questions arise from it - what else will they discover they can do? Are they in danger from it? Will they be discovered? Are they in danger?  Will their families find out?  A sequel is due out Summer 2011 to begin to answer some of those questions. The reader ends up suspending disbelief on more than one occasion (okay, a lot of occasions) but it's an page turning adventure once you're 70 pages in and probably very appropriate for the middle school age group who finds themselves fascinated with forensic anthropology topics.

Professional Resource - Risky Business: Taking and Managing Risks in Library Services for Teens

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Risky Business: Taking and Managing Risks in Library Services for TeensSometimes it's great to read a professional book and realize you don't need it.  It's not to say that I didn't get plenty out of my recent read of Risky Business: Taking and Managing Risks in Library Services for Teens by Linda W. Braun, Hillias J. Martin, and Connie Urquhart, but I also spent a lot of time thanking my lucky stars that I work at a school that supports libraries and understands the role they play in the lives of teens. 

I wish I could say I understood what people where so afraid of - I've often sat next to another librarian on the Gale bus at ALA Midwinter or Annual and when you get around to the "so, what kind of library do you work in?" one in a dozen will be some academic or reference librarian working with a more mature population who gasps upon the news that I work primarily with teens, "Oh!  I could NEVER do that.  I can barely handle one at home!"

My first thought is what fly wing-pulling, future serial killer do they have at home?  It's rare I meet a teenager that I can't talk to or be willing to at least be in the same room assisting them for an extended period of time.  Most of them I truly love and I want to create collections, give instruction, and do programming that makes them happy and healthy and more successful at what they try and do each day.  But for those librarians who find there is a difference between what they know they should be doing versus what they are currently doing, this book will definitely help with strategies and ideas to align those two concepts together.

Covering a nice spectrum, chapters include general ones about risk taking and teens in general, collection development, author perspectives on risk (one of my favorite chapters), programming, technology, dealing with administrators and colleagues, career advice, and teen risky behavior (with a terrific focus on the SADD study from 2004 and positive risk taking).  These chapters are written in a forthright, comfortable style and unlike so many professional books where you feel you might be give a pop quiz later because they are so academic and dense, I whipped through this volume in a couple of hours and enjoyed every minute.

Can I also give a shout out to the long neglected and never appreciated appendix?  I find some of my favorite professional books are the ones where I drool a little over the supplemental material, whether it's a beefy bibliography or some great additional essay and Risky Business does not disappoint.  The bibliography is good, but the real value added comes from the two questionnaires librarians can use to determine their library's risk history and also to figure out if a certain risk might be worth taking.  My hands-down favorite section though was undoubtedly Appendix F which has the collection of YALSA white papers.  Where have these been hiding?  There are some really great manifestos on various topics, from YA Literature to LIS education, that have really got my brain cogs turning.

Teens, Technology, and Literacy; Or, Why Bad Grammar Isn't Always BadLast but not least, we can wallow in the credentials of our authors.  Linda Braun, technology goddess and YALSA-past president, actually came and did a wonderful training at my high school despite cranky weather gods and I've always enjoyed many of her books - Teens, Technology, and Literacy; Or, Why Bad Grammar Isn't Always Bad, Introducing the Internet to Young Learners: Ready-To-Go Activities and Lesson Plans, Hooking Teens With the Net,  and Listen Up! Podcasting for Schools and Libraries

Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens: A How-To-Do-It Manual for LibrariansHillias J. Martin, an adjunct professor at Queens College and Pratt Institute, wrote a recent "must-read" for every librarian - Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teens: A How-to-Do-It Manual for Libraries.  Obviously many librarians are in a position of feeling that promoting GLBTQ literature (which make great endcap displays - I'm just saying) is a road to a parent challenge or administrator heart attack so the chapter on collection development and risk taking might give a few much-needed strategies in this area.  Librarians are currently dealing with the aftermath of the the librarian in New Jersey who ordered the removal of a queer youth anthology after calling it "porn".  It's a good reminder for me that librarians aren't all the same in terms of our progressive and vigilant attitude toward serving all our patrons but that we are often as different in belief and perspective as the rest of America.  It's doesn't make me less disappointed and angry, but it's quite a wake-up call.  Kudos to the many teens and adults who have been vocal in their objection to this face slap to teen librarians everywhere who recognize that censorship is often the symptom of the disease of discrimination and should be fought whenever possible.

Connie Urquhart, teen services coordinator for the Fresno County Public Library System, is known to many active members of YALSA since she's been on lots of committees and crops up with happy regularity as an author on the YALSA blog.  This is her first book, but hopefully not her last.

Any criticisms of the book?  The only thing I wish I had seen (maybe in another wonderful appendix!) would have been a bibliography of more general books on risk, both from a psychological and a business perspective.  I often think that as librarians we don't tap into literature from other disciplines that would help inform us of different lenses through which we can view (and hopefully solve) our challenges.  But that's pretty nitpicky.  I would recommend this book to any teen librarian and definitely for inclusion in the library science curricula - let's get the conversation about risk started BEFORE librarians have to face it!!