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 blip.tv 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 bookscreening.com, 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 Amazon.com (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!!

Promoting Teen Reading with Web 2.0 Tools - Part III: The Future of Reading With John Green and David Levithan

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Just when I thought the first half of my YALSA Preconference was worth its weight in gold (the academic research presentation and then the author panel on using 2.0 tools), we have a snack break and I get this - an amazing brownie and cookie with free sodas and water.  Hello!  I didn't know we were going to get food to say nothing of kick ass food (thanks, Embassy Suites hotel).  This was extremely well timed considering I had come to the preconference 2 hours early so I could get a front row seat, specifically for this part of the preconference, because I was just so totally psyched to be in the same room as John Green and David Levithan, authors of the recent book, Will Grayson, Will Grayson which I enjoyed tremendously!!  This meant forgoing lunch and simply eating a slightly stale trail mix packet from the hotel gift shop but it was worth it to be up front.  Life does play these funny little tricks on you - I was now in the position of trying to eat oh-so-ladylike my gihugic brownie (it can be a word if I want it to) and every now and then I would wedge too big a piece in my mouth, sort of choke a little and have chocolate crumbs all over my face - which of course my two heroes sitting up front could witness all to easily because I was sitting 10 feet from both of them.

Also new to me on the stalker radar was the delicate art of talking someone's picture (that's my water bottle cap in the front of the picture) so you can text it to a few of your closest teenagers so they can text-shriek, "I'M SO JEALOUS!! HOW CLOSE??!!" back to you.  So I now I had chocolate crumbs and a smug expression on my face; I'm sure it was super attractive.  But it turns out that despite my unbelievably high expectations of my two fave authors, they actually exceeded them.  Their part of the preconference was entitled "The Future of Reading" (John Green's recent School Library Journal article had the same title) and it turns out that these two individuals were more than capable of tackling such a weighty topic.

Both authors just plunged into the topic, demonstrating a comfort with each other while showing the idea of how teens are reading is something they have both mulled over on more than one occasion.  John used David's project of 39 Clues as something revolutionary in the world of reading, albeit for a slightly younger age group.  For those of you without a tween in the house, 39 Clues is a multiplatform reading experience that engages readers and gamers by intertwining book reading and online gaming.  Kids have to read the book to research how to play the game and players are rewarded by seeking out extra information on their own.  The story is essentially no longer limited to a 200 page book, but instead presents thousands of pages of reading to young kids and they swallow it whole.  It is obviously working since the site, sponsored by Scholastic, has over 1 million registered users.  Both John and David emphasized that it was a false distinction to separate readers and gamers, but that's exactly what so many educators have attempted to do.   The negatives are obviously that this is a very expensive project for the publisher and also demanding on authors.  John Green felt that the amount of collaborative writing necessary for this project also makes people uncomfortable as so many readers enjoy buying into the romantic notion of one person writing a fabulous novel by candlelight in a basement, but if it helps kids read and is a compelling story, than obviously we should go for it!

The dynamic shifted into the two men asking each other questions (they were both excellent interviewers).  David asked John to talk about his philosophy of using the web since he's done so much with his social network, Nerdfighters Made of Awesome, and his website which is home to his extremely popular video blog.  Prompted by David, John spoke about how he always though his job was to intellectually engage his viewers and that video was such an accessible medium for anyone and fit his mantra, "Go Where the Readers Are."  John wrote a novella "This Is Not Tom" which combines video clues online and reading in order for searchers to find the next part of the story.  He said that teamwork was an absolute must to solving the story and a goal of his was to inspire collaborative problem solving.  When David asked John if he was ever tempted to do a book combining video and a story since he was so facile in both mediums, John said that he wasn't, simply because he was highly satisfied with the novel as a comfortable and accessible medium for readers.  Both men agreed that paper will be a continued option for some time, but that lots of other options will become available and be highly appealing for readers.

Now the format shifted into them answering audience questions.  Here are my notes about the questions and their answers.  Obviously I'm not a court reporter so my notes might not be totally complete but this is the gist of what they said!

Q:  What do you think of fan fiction?
JG: I like it because those writers are readers and it's inherently non-monetized.
DL: And I've never met an author who had a problem with it.  Publishers have occasionally had a problem, but not authors.
JG: It deepens "fandom" within that community, so there are a lot of good outcomes from it.
Q: What do you think the significance of the recent publisher ebook battle with Amazon.com versus the iBookstore from Apple?

DL: I'm going to have to sit on the fence for this one since I work for a publisher but a lot of the debate reminds me of a crazy Christmas price war on a toy everyone wants.  Books aren't toothpaste.
JG: Ebooks have a lot of advantages, a big problem for publishers is the remainder system with all these books that have been printed and not sold.
DL: Publishers are really still figuring it out.  Ebooks can save costs but there are other costs involved with producing them.
JG: I think we're sitting among an audience who knows the cost of getting books to kids, particularly for libraries and schools. (*smattered applause and head nodding from audience*)
Q: Do you see a time when libraries will be largely electronic?

JG: Digital divide issues will always be an issue; where does the money come from for the readers and computers kids would need for that?  I think we're pretty far off before we are in that place.

Q: How do you use the internet to lure readers?

DL: Social networks are the life's blood of authors and publishers since they can energize communities prior to publication.  It used to be that publishers did some promotion prior to a book but it was inherently limited.  Now you can have millions of people pumped up before a book is released.
JG: I stole this technique from Lauren Conrad from The Hills who had trumped up interest in her books.  (*audience laughter*) We live in a personality driven world.

Q: Are you planning on doing a spin off starring Tiny Cooper? (Note: Tiny is a very memorable character in Will Grayson, Will Grayson)

JG: (smiling) Possibly.
DL: (also smiling) There obviously a musical that needs to be written there.
Q: Do either of you envision something similar to 39 Clues for the YA market?

DL: It would be exponentially harder since the choices are infinite.  39 Clues is largely successful because of the educational buy in from educators and parents - this wouldn't be the case with a YA product.
JG: I can't emphasize enough how insanely expensive this process is.  For someone with an established market - Stephenie Meyer, for example - it could work.  Maybe I should call her?
Q: We are curious about how you co-write a book like Will Grayson, Will Grayson.  Did you send chapters via email or use a special software?

JG: We didn't use anything more comfortable than reading the chapters over the phone to each other and occasionally a piece in email.
DL: Collaborative fiction is so much more popular now since 2.0 tools can make this easier.  We didn't really use any of them, though.
 If this is the future of reading, I'm buying.  Thanks, guys!