Thursday, December 20, 2012

Book Nerdiness

Random bookish thoughts for the end of 2012 and the beginning of the holidays for school:

- I ordered a school jacket. On one arm it has my last name. On the other side I had to put my 'team position' - eg, left wing, first flute, etc. I put booknerd. No one could argue it and everyone agreed (one child did want me to put best librarian person but I thought that might be a bit much.

- Read 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' last night. I had seen so many blogs lately comparing it to 'The Fault in our Stars' and had to try it out. Formulating a response to it - I think I need to get someone else to read it. I wish it didn't have so many swear words in it - it would have been a good companion for our level twos in basic when the level twos in academic do 'Fault in our Stars'.

- Also finally picked up 'Going Bovine'. Trying to get a copy of 'Code Name: Verity' to read over the break.

- Students are often mesmerized by my office. I've had people drag their friends to the library, sometimes for the first time ever, to see my office. Full of toys and sparkle, it does make me happy and makes me feel at home. I've since gotten comparisons to a person on a show I don't watch - Garcia on 'Criminal Minds'. Sometimes I think providing a bit of magic and personal sparkle gets kids to buy what you're selling - in my case, web 2.0 applications and YA lit.

Reading top ten (or five or seven) lists of books for the year has been fantastic - and expensive!

Trying to get my mind around a book outline. I have some ideas but need to get it written out.

Must figure out goals for the new year. Personal resolutions, bah! Professional resolutions are the way to go!

Monday, December 17, 2012

My 2012 Favourites

Recently I saw a Wordle on The Hub (why yes, I'm doing some professional reading) which deals with the top YA fiction of this year - 2012. I've been inspired to create my own top ten list of what I've read this year, from this year. I kept it to either the introductions of series or stand alone books, unless the book in the series stood out by itself as opposed to being a continuation of a story.

This is hard!

  1. ’The fault in our stars’ by John Green. Beautiful, smart and funny.
  2. ’Cinder’ by Marissa Meyer. Cinderella with a twist.
  3. ’I hunt killers’ by Barry Lyga. I didn't expect to enjoy a serial killer book so much but the nature vs nurture debate was fantastic.
  4. ’Skinny’ by Donna Cooner. A different Cinderella story as well as a different look at body image.
  5. ’Enchanted’ by Alethea Kontis. Another twisted fairytale (sensing a pattern here).
  6. ’Chopsticks’ by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral. A relationship told in pictures.
  7. ’The List ‘by Siobhan Vivian. Painful look at high school
  8. ’The Diviners’ by Libba Bray. Historical, supernatural, dark and light. I’m still thinking about it.
  9. ‘Friends with Boys’ by Faith Erin Hicks. Graphic novel about fitting into high school – with a spooky element to it.
  10. ’Tempest‘ by Julie Cross. Time travel and love story rolled into one.

Honorable mentions go to ‘The Selection’ by Kiera Cass, ‘Ripper’ by Stefan Petrucha, ’Born Wicked’ by Jessica Spotswood, ‘Masque of the Red Death’ by Bethany Griffin, ‘The way we fall’ by Megan Crewe and ‘Illuminate’ by Aimee Agresti.

Plus, series continuations that I anticipated and enjoyed: ‘Insurgent‘ by Veronica Roth, ‘City of Lost Souls’ by Cassandra Clare, ‘The Golden Lily’ by Richelle Mead, ‘Fever’ by Lauren DeStefano, ‘A Million Suns’ by Beth Revis, ‘Pandemonium’ by Lauren Oliver, ‘Reached’ by Ally Condie, ‘Girl of Nightmares’ by Kendare Blake, ‘Beautiful Redemption’ by Kami Garcia, ‘Such Wicked Intent ‘by Kenneth Oppel, ‘Goddess Interrupted’ by Aimee Carter, ‘Fear’ by Michael Grant, ‘Underworld’ by Meg Cabot, ‘Rise of Nine’ by Pittacus Lore,

This list was made that much more difficult by having to determine what came out in 2012 and what I read in 2012. That list – what I read in 2012 – would be much longer and involve books from the last few years! (‘The Name of the Star’ by Maureen Johnson, ‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness and so on…)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Reading Challenge

YALSA has issued a reading challenge (well, I'm sure they've issued many - this is the first one I've seen as a member). Read the books on the Morris Award and/or the books on the non-fiction award list. No prizes, but they count towards reading the Best of the Best reading challenge for 2013. No sweat. Right? Sure I really did not like one of the books (Half dragon Seraphina I'm looking at you!) but rereading it shouldn't be too bad - at least I know it ends, right? Books are on their way to me, interest peaked... let's see how this goes!

Thursday, December 13, 2012


All year, every year I read and read and read books. I pick up books to read and donate to my little library. I read books that I like, books I don't like and books that are just plain weird (werewolves on the titanic anyone?). I read so I can talk to kids about books and know what I'm saying. Simple librarian math: books + reading = knowing what you're saying.

Due to the fact that my English department is full of rock stars who agree with me that choice is everything, approximately 2/3 of my 700+ student school get to choose one of the books they get credit for in the English curriculum. That's a lot of kids and a lot of book talks - but a lot of kids reading books they want to read, not just books we've told them are good for them. Reading the recent YALSA Blog A Defense of Weak YA Fiction reminded me of the importance of this program. There are people who question this - if they're not reading the classics, is it worth it? YES. YES. YES.

For some kids, having the right to choose gives them a connection to their curriculum. They feel as if they are part of what's happening around them and in their school. They have a sense of participation in their academic destiny and feel that they are willingly participating simply because they can read a book they want to read instead of a book that they have been told to read. And you know what they do? They read it. They participate in the curriculum successfully.

For other kids, having the right to choose means that they get to read something in which they are interested. It means that for once, quite often, they get to read something in their sphere of interest and often, at their reading level. One student could be reading 'The Night Circus', which another is reading 'Cirque du Freak'. One could read 'Twilight' while another could read 'Interview with the Vampire'. It's at their level and it's their choice. Students are, in my opinion, more likely to participate by reading the works if they had a part in choosing the works they're reading.

Doing this program at a high school level presents some difficulties - our Grade Twelve students can't participate because they need to read the same books as the rest of the province. Past that, having enough good books sometimes was hard - I did have to run out and pick up more part way through. The biggest worry was evaluation - how do you run an evaluation when everyone is reading something different? However, the rock stars found a way and the kids did the assignments - some for the first time that year. The assignments received were strong - as we weren't doing the standard curriculum, the kids had to rely on themselves and not spark notes. But they did it! And they prospered. This program was true, student centered 21st century learning and it showed.

This program and giving kids choice had two other benefits - kids fostered a relationship with the library and general circulation went up. They also fostered a relationship with the teachers involved; if they can trust that the teachers are looking out for them and are interested in their interests, they will form a relationship with them when it comes to other curricular issues.

So, choice in literature? Letting "weak" YA lit flourish? It works. The right of choice is one that has so many other benefits that it outweighs any of the detriments someone might suggest. So, next time someone says 'it's only YA lit - when are you going to read something good?', stare them down. Or realize that they obviously don't know what they're talking about and give them your favourite book to read. Reading+books=knowing what you're saying. Those who have read know this.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I've been working at presentations and neglecting my blogging - so often the out of site is out of mind when you're rushing around to do 15 different things at once! I will admit, in the beginning of the year I swore I would do a blog post at least once a week. However, that has not happened. Must reformat my ideas of what to blog....

However, what have I been doing? Presenting to students on how to focus with research:

I've been talking about restorative justice to teachers - a part of 21st century learning, I believe.

I'm on the BYOD committee at my school and using popplet to show issues and solutions for adopting a policy such as that:

Plus, there was the presentation using the popplet I made on YA lit I linked in my last entry. Kids love that and it makes me feel organized!

Plus reading piles and piles of YA lit - I'm currently in the middle of the Chronicles of Nick series. Soon - book reviews!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Testing out popplet and the web

Through twitter I was given a link to Popplet, a webbing software where you can create presentations. As I'm getting ready to present about YA lit, I thought I'd give it a whirl and see if it worked out for me. Unfortunately, you can't see it in presentation mode but here's what I created:

Thanks Ian for the link!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book Review: I Hunt Killers

As I have been known to do, I spent this weekend reading YA lit. Oddly, it took a turn for the macabre. After reading 'Ripper' by Stefan Petrucha, I found myself opening up 'I Hunt Killers' by Barry Lyga. Yes, it was a serial killer kind of weekend. I should note I also read several non-serial killer books, but they also involved death, dying and angst. At some point, YA is going to kill me.

Moving past that point and into 'I Hunt Killers', I was really impressed. This book, at the basics of it, is a good teen thriller mystery with a suspenseful build to a satisfying conclusion. A lot of words to say, it's a good book.

Imagine your dad is the most prolific serial killer in the United States. He is, infact, considered a new brand of serial killer - a super serial killer, due to his ability to adjust and change his MO and tells.His son, Jazz, was trained from a young age in the art of being a serial killer and lives each day in fear that he will give into his training and cross a line that he does not want to cross. Now that his dad has been caught, Jazz lives with his senile grandmother, fighting against the system that wants to put him in foster care. He's lost his friends - hard to keep your popularity when your dad has killed over a hundred people. His best friend has stuck with him and his girlfriend tries to get him to look past the surface and into his own humanity.

Things are coming together for him until the body shows up. While his dad has been jailed for years, bodies are appearing in their small town, each one copying one of his dads victims. In an effort to show that he isn't a killer, Jazz has joined the police in trying to find the new serial killer. However, the more he helps, the more he tries to fight the thoughts that tell him he is more like his father than anyone would ever know.

The premise of 'I Hunt Killers' was a new twist on a old tale - a child feeling pressured to follow in the footsteps of their parent. Mix in the twist on another old tale - dead parent, parent in jail and living with a family member and you've got a very fresh story. Jazz is fighting against what he has learned from birth - he does not want to be a serial killer. He does not want to know what he knows about the dismemberment and disposal of bodies. He does not want to cause harm. He just wants to be left alone to live with his senile grandmother and hang out with his friends, helping the police when he can (and when they let him). The battle between nature and nurture is fully developed and drives the story.

Jazz is a child of his circumstances and luckily the characters around him were supportive in a realistic fashion. They understood his differences and didn't allow themselves to get either caught up in them or freaked out too much when it wasn't appropriate. However, when it was appropriate, they did note it and make reference to the fact that he was freaking them out. They keep him grounded, which is important when you're dealing with the fact that you've been groomed from birth to be a serial killer and are fighting it as hard as you can. His grandmother is not a support. The character is used to keep 'the system' in Jazzs life - a foster worker insists on visiting and is fighting to get Jazz placed in another home. This all comes together in a morbid and twisted way that I expected - but didn't expect. It also explains why Jazz didn't go into witness protection - he fought hard to be kept in his home town and family. Realizing this cleared up a lot of questions I had and made the book a little more realistic.

This book is gory, descriptive and macabre. It almost dips into the unbelievable until you as the reader remember - chances are you're not the child of the most prolific serial killer around so you would have a little trouble relating at times.  Readers who are fans of 'Dexter' or people who enjoy a gory thriller will appreciate this book. However, this book isn't just for fans of gore or thrillers. The relationships are solid and the characters well developed so as long as you don't mind a little gore in your nature vs nurture debates, you'll find something enjoyable in this book.

Link to this review:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Live tweeting 'The Hunger Games'

As a lark this summer, I decided to 'live tweet' the hunger games. I created an account separate from my personal and professional ones and wrote timed tweets through novel, tweeting as the characters would during the story. It's not very good - but it's an example at least! The URL for the twitter feed is:
You need to scroll down to the very bottom and load all the tweets - twitter shows your latest tweet first.
I used a program that allowed me to write tweets and store them to post at later dates. That way I could write timed tweets for days into the future. The goal was to have a site that teachers could show students as an example if they wanted this as an assignment option.

  1. I really got to know the story and the characters. I knew the Hunger Games but now I really know it. Not sure when I'll ever want to read it again. 
  2. I was able to learn more about the characters and their development as I tried to speak as they would in situations presented.

  1. Writing as a character and nailing their voice can be difficult when you're trying to speak as they would but not as they did (due to copyright issues). Not happy with the voice of a number of characters as I presented them. As well, at times all grammar went out the window. Combo of the format and my laptop being cranky.
  2. Not all novels are compact in timeline as 'The Hunger Games'. Would work for something like 'Lord of the Flies', less for something like 'Night'.
  3. A number of the tributes do not have official names. Found those that I could, had to refer to them by district if I couldn't.

 The Process:

  1. Created an account. 
  2. Read and reread the book. Decided on what was important to tweet. Five pages of her discussing how hard it is to live in a cave might merit one tweet, one page of battle might merit 10 tweets from several characters.
  3. Wrote with #character at the start but did add some hashtags as they are generally used at the end (eg. #cato That boy from 12 was playing us!!! he's with the girl!! #killpeeta #CATOROCKS). For those unfamiliar, hashtags are used to either link to other tweets on a topic or to express a quick thought on a topic, minus spaces. (sample tweet : "Allowed the child to eat staples #theregoesparentoftheyear). Many of the tweets from Cato ended with #CATOROCKS. Many from Haymitch ended with #ineedadrink or #stayalive.
  4. Tried to ensure that characters were represented in the feed, even if they didn't have dialog in the book at that section. One example would be near the end when Katniss is waking in her room and hears yelling. That yelling is quite possibly Haymitch talking about how she's not to get cosmetic surgery. Included a tweet from him in that instance. 
  5. Used twuffer (another website) to write tweets to post at certain times. I could write days and days and days of tweets in one sitting, making sure to chose what time they posted. 
  6. Started to hate the process 
  7. Continued through the story, breaking character at the end to put any references and thanks I needed to put there.

What I like about what I've done is that I have a definite example of how to use twitter for a project such as this. Now, instead of just stating 'you can use twitter' blah, blah, blah, I can show them how I did it. Always useful!

Banned Books Display

The most talked about - ever - display I have ever done in the library is the one currently running. I decided to do a display on 'Banned Books'. After extensive searching, I found lists of books that have been banned in various places for one reason or another. I found out why they're banned, found them in my library and boop! Display. Sort of.

I first did an information board. This board is near the door as well as the circulation desk. I purchased book envelopes, hallowe'en ribbon and chose a black and navy colour background scheme. The background is a tablecloth from the dollarstore (all plastic, $1). The ribbons I purchased are the borders. I decided on a 'Here we read Banned Books' title, partly to emphasise that we do read these books here and partly as an intro to the library and school in general (just to set the tone for the year). Each of the little envelopes lists on it the reason a book is banned. Then, inside is a card saying the title of the book.
Students can lift out the card and see what book is banned. Then, the table. I kept with the same colour (and cost) scheme and had a black tablecloth with a blue skirt. I used the leftover ends from the ribbons to decorate the skirt a little and tie the theme together a bit. Then I added the books that were banned that I have in the library.
Each book has a note on it saying why it's banned. Several of the books are ones we study or the students have studied in previous grades. I tried to include as much current, popular fiction as possible. I made the choice to put the info over the cover/title of the book to make the book seem a little more remote or hidden. A number of the books aren't in that picture as they've been checked out already.
Students have really caught on to this idea of books being banned. They can't believe that titles they grew up with like Harry Potter are banned. Nor can they believe that books they study, like 'Speak' or 'To Kill a Mockingbird' could ever be banned. It's garnered a lot of discussion and has garnered a lot of interaction between them and me but also between students discussing books that are banned that they love. I make the point that here, we encourage people to read as much as possible, even if in other places they ban it. They appreciate that.
I have NO clue what I'm going to do next!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Review - 'The Fault in our Stars'

I always keep a list of books that I've been told I should buy for the library. All of a sudden, out of the blue, students came to me asking if I had any John Green novels. Not just one, but several students came and upon hearing that I didn't, implored me to buy some. As luck would have it, that evening on a (personal) trip to the bookstore, I saw a copy of 'The Fault in our Stars' by the much lauded John Green and picked it up.

I picked it up and fell in love.

Ok, that might be an overstatement. But it was, in my mind, a perfect little book. 'The Fault in our Stars' is a story of snarky kids with cancer. Hazel, who has terminal cancer which has been distracted (but not deterred) by a miracle medicine enjoys watching marathons of 'America's Next Top Model' and rolling her eyes at her cancer support group which takes place in the literal heart of Jesus. However, when Augustus Waters and his one leg enter the support group, Hazel gets a chance to enjoy parts of her life in a way she and her family had never anticipated. When she shares her favorite book with Augustus, he joins her in her pursuit of finding out what happened - the book ends in the middle of a sentence. This pursuit takes them around the world and back again, as they try finding out the ending of that story before they have to confront the ending of their own.

This book has everything that I look for in a book - strong characters, compelling story, believable plot lines. It also has dry wit, humour, realistic situations and some great people. Green makes me believe in these characters and does a great job in showing their divide between those with and those without cancer. However, they are, to quote Jonathan Larson, living with disease, not dying. It is this distinction that makes Hazel and Augustus - two children with old people names who will never be old - real to me.

And obviously, these characters are real to many, not just mid-thirties librarians. When I mention this book to students (having bought a copy for the library as I didn't want to donate the one I bought for me) they, or the friend they were with exclaim how much they loved the book. How they loved the characters. It works for them and they love that.

I am now reading 'An Abundance of Katherines' by Green. I like it, just not as much as 'The Fault in our Stars'. 'Looking for Alaska' has been checked out of the library by two or three people in a row and I've had no chance to get it myself. Thank you Mr. Green for these books. It's fantastic to get realistic fiction that's funny.

This is a bit of a love letter rather than a review. I will admit, I just really liked this book. It's nice, writing about something I really enjoyed. I have also recommended it for our Provincial High School reading list. It was that solid.

To link to this review:


Monday, April 23, 2012

Why libraries? Why librarians?

So often, I find myself defending explaining my position in a school and what I do. At times, this explanation is interrupted by kids checking out books, asking if I have a specific book, getting e-mails from teachers who I work with wondering when they can start their research units and others asking for specific links. This post has been interrupted twice in the past half an hour by different requests, such as finding working computers for students (and making computers work) and finding resource videos to help teachers with topics they are presenting. One thing my position is not is focused.


As a TL within a high school, I get asked many questions and for many resources. Many of the answers to these questions come from my connection with my computer, as I sit here and go from program to program and find the answers they seek. The 'ding' of my e-mail and the results of my Google search often bring a new challenge as I absorb the new information that has been presented to me. I find myself having to keep current with social media and it's uses in the classroom, at times to a point where I am the only one in my professional sphere that knows what I'm talking about! However, knowing that twitter is a resource, that wordle can make even the darkest novel look pretty, that prezi is powerpoints glittery cousin - that's my job.


At times, I find myself looking up from a book to answer a question, as I try to keep up with the YA fiction that I bring into the library - it's not uncommon for me to read several books in a day to keep up with the demand. This reading takes place both in and out of school, with my family very used to me walking around the house, stirring supper and drying my hair with one hand as a book is in the other. I read with pleasure, but much of my reading for pleasure has been displaced by my reading for work. It's my homework, my equivalent to bags of marking, my professional obligations.


Sometimes, simply because I am so distracted and pulled in so many directions it takes a while to answer the question 'Why library? Why librarians?', yet it is a question I still need to answer.


Libraries can be anything. They are the spot that can house the computers and the (sometimes) dusty reference tomes. They are the spot that houses meetings, guest speakers, university interviews, extra time tests, exams, study hall. They are also the spot where anything can happen - teachers can bring a class and test something fantastical with the resources there. Students can come and check out a book that they can't wait to read. Activities can span the space, making it not a room in a school but a cafe, a social justice experiment, a music hall, a laboratory. That's why libraries.


Librarians are often the quiet force in a school. They are more than a babysitter or someone to clean up the mess left behind in the library. They are the ones who can answer questions quickly, being used to doing so for countless patrons. They are able to provide alternate reading for a student from the simple question 'what are you interested in' and they can find a resource that is hidden from the view of everyone else. They work in a school community, trying to make connections between the unconnected and making sure it is all tied to the curriculum. They find safe ways to search, find online resources and activities and teach others how to use them. They match kids to the right book for them. And then sometimes they do it again. That's why librarians.


Libraries are a repository of knowledge. They have a person who can find information with the click of a button working there. They have books, computers, boards and other resources available and someone to let you know how to use it. Whether it's the lyrics to the song that's going through your head to the quadratic formula, someone can help you find it and it's a room you know you can always go to to ask questions. That's why libraries.


Librarians are a connection to the world. That connection is then taken and shared with others, showing them how to do it too.Our students are connected pretty much 24/7. They carry around technology that is, at times, much better than that which we can provide. We need to know how to harness it, use it and teach them to use it. And who better than the person who traditionally has been the resource to access the world? That's why librarians.


Now, if you will excuse me, my to-do list has grown dramatically while writing this....

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review - Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson

As a teacher librarian with a penchant for reality novels and a focus on Social Justice, I'm familiar with Laurie Halse Anderson and her novels. 'Speak' is a fantastic view of how a traumatic event can impact and change you, 'Wintergirls' is beautiful and tragic in it's portrayal of eating disorders. When doing a search of books about prom for a display, I found that Anderson had published one called 'Prom'. Intrigued, as most of the books about prom I'd found previously were very bubbly and her writing to me thus far was anything but bubbly, I decided to pick it up.

'Prom' is the story of Ashley Hannigan, a graduating student who does not care about prom in any way, shape or form. She does not begrudge her friends for being excited, but it's not for her. School isn't really her thing either - she's close to dropping out, has no college plans and has more detentions than she has days left in school to serve them. Her boyfriend TJ has been kicked out of school already and says he's saving money for them to have an apartment together. Then, the worst happens: the teacher-adviser has taken the money that had been paid by students for prom which means it can't happen. Ashley's best friend, Natalia, the head of the prom committee is devastated. Through her own special charms, a wish to help her friend and a deal with the principal to take care of some of those detentions, Ashley finds herself in the middle of the prom whirlwind and an active - and leading - member of the prom committee. Will it work out? Will Ashley lose the chip on her shoulder and find school spirit? Will the students have a prom to remember? And, if they do, what role will Ashley have played in it?

I had expected the novel to be a little cheesy, even though it was written by Anderson. From the first page I learned that no, it's not going to be cheesy. It was a strong story told around the occasion of prom. The story of a 'normal' teenager and her life and how this event happened upon it. At the end Anderson thanks 'normal kids' who said to her that their story is never told. Which is true - we learn of kids going through situations, kids who are going through supernatural situations, kids going through dystopian situations and kids who think a pimple is a situation. This was a refreshing view on prom and how for some people, it's not that important. That sometimes, crappy boyfriends and humiliating after school jobs is the best that it can be. And that sometimes, it takes a major kick from an unexpected place to make your life find the right path.

'Prom' is a fairy tale. It's not your standard tale, but it is a fairy tale, none the less. You have Cinderella in the character of Ashley (even her name evokes the ashes of her allegorical match), the Fairy Godmother in the character of Natalias eccentric grandmother and the evil stepmother in the form of the Vice-Principal. You have her helper mice appear as her family and friends, all supporting her through her endeavors. Ashley happens to be on a quest and the discovery of that means she begins to grow into her ambitions. At the end, the reader is left with the feeling that she might just get her happy ending.

Link to this review:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Hunger Games movie

And why it's important to me.

There will be spoilers. For that, I apologize. 

I am a huge fan of the Hunger Games as a book series. Strong characters, both male and female, noticeable growth in characters and their ability to act and react to different situations, compelling plot and more. What else could you ask for? Then, throw in that the love triangle isn't in the mind of the main character but the guys who think they're part of it and you've got a great novel. When I heard they were making a movie, I knew I would have to see it as soon as possible. Or sooner. (side note, I am also trying to hunt down the nail polish for district 12 locally. I am a sucker for nail polish).

After a eureka moment when I realized the birthday party my son was at was the same time as a showing of 'The Hunger Games', I went the Sunday it after it came out. My parents were with me, as they usually are for these movies - they've sat through all but one of the Twilight movies. Popcorn in hand, we took our seats and were prepared to be disappointed.

We weren't. At all. I read a review that said it cuts parts more than it edits, and I agree. 'The Hunger Games' movie had to cut parts and they picked the right parts. The book is so much in the mind of Katniss, so much about her role in life, including the games. The movie was in the mind of the games and the role that Katniss played in it. We saw the games and how they were planned and how Katniss survived. How she lived. District 12 was stark and lovely, the Capitol was opulent and terrifying.

A few scenes stood out. A scene of two children from the Capitol celebrating the Games with a fake spear. The scenes in the cave. The absurdity of Effie in District 12. The 'moment a tribute becomes a victor' video. The reaping. The return. All beautifully done and with tenderness and care. The echoing of the children from 12 on the chariot near the beginning with the adults in district 12 as they stand before the crowd at the end. So many, many more. Bravo production team. Bravo actors.

But what does it mean to me? What's the point of having a movie like this? What makes this so special? I was struck by this question as I posted on Facebook how much I'd liked it. A friend, a teacher at another school, said they were taking all of their grade nines there. I then found myself chaperoning a field trip with a group of our students. These students had either studied the book or would be studying it in a future year. They were not a group of readers. At all. They were kids that generally needed extra help in their English studies. And they were clamoring to go to this movie. Some of them were kids that have checked in with me several times over the past few years about the movie and how excited they were because they had read the book. They were excited about seeing the movie, not because it was a movie, not because it was gory or violent or had a hot chick in it. They were excited because they had read the book.

Now, I read, on average, a book a day. Some days I just read part of one, other days I get through several. I reread 'Hunger Games' and 'Catching Fire' on Saturday and was halfway through a reread of 'Mockingjay' when I first saw the movie. Having a book in my hand is like having a hand. But for some people, reading is not as natural. But these kids read. They read the book and they liked it enough to pay their money and go to the movie. They wanted to see their friends from the page come to life and see how their favourite scenes were played out. They wanted to see their imaginings and compare how they stood up to the imaginings of the production team. They wanted to see if the effects were good, the story was better and if Katniss could be in real life the kickass person she was in the book. They wanted to belong to the culture of kids who the movie was targeted towards. because they are that target and it thrills them.

That's what 'The Hunger Games' movie means to me. Inclusion. Opportunity. And giving hope to kids. Not bad for a 2 hour and 22 minute offering.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Joy of Reading

When I was a kid, years and years and years (and years) ago, I loved to read. I started with the classics - Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Heidi. I remember winning an award in Grade two - I hadn't read the most books for our competition but I had read the most. The books I picked were two and three (and four) times larger than the choices of my peers.
Whatever I could find, I read. I remember reading an Alice Munroe book while in elementary school, not understanding a number of the references but making it my favorite, devouring it time after time. Almost completely opposite that, I discovered the baby sitters club through my scholastic book club in grade five, ordering 'Kristy's Big Idea' and falling for these plucky entrepreneurs. Sweet Valley High came next, with the identical but different twins and their adventures. There were a few others series at that point - books based on kids in the same class, books that were obviously copying the formulaic success of BSC and SVH. I needed more.
I found VC Andrews and she taught me that there were people in the world that were messed up, many of which were living in an attic. I found Agatha Christie and she taught me that a murder could be solved as long as you had a egg shaped head and a great mustache. I found Judith Krantz and she taught me... well, um... read 'Scruples' and you'll find out what she taught me. I found back copies, old copies, damaged and loved copies at second hand book stores and tried to find more like it. I read indiscriminately from my mothers book shelf and found that the books you mean to send back as part of your 'book of the month club' are ones that your daughter will devour later in life.
Then I discovered the Margarets - Atwood because she was on my mothers book shelf and I had to check her out, Laurence because of a High School English course and those second hand bookstores. I read of old ladies, young bullies, plaid pins, cat's eyes and dreams. They, and the AP English exam I was challenging, brought me to 1984, Of Mice and Men and other books published by other Dead White Males. High School was a time of what literature classes felt I should read (Shakespeare, Lord of the Flies, 1984 and of course Lure of the Labrador Wild) and books that I could find to fill my need to read - Atwood, Laurence, Andrews, Krantz, Fast and others. I needed books.
Because I loved to read I did an English degree. Loving to read is the WORST reason to do an English degree. I found more books, more authors, took more trips to the second hand bookstore to find more authors. I discovered Maeve Binchey and other writers like her. I graduated and spent as much time as I could reading outside while my then boyfriend, now husband, skateboarded (one of the best skate spots was across from one of the best second hand book stores).
And so it progressed, me and my love for reading. There are few books I have not finished (Old Man and the Sea was one, Fellowship of the Rings another). I find new authors all the time - some serious, others less so - and I buy from major chains, small stores and second hand stores. I don't use the public library now, an irony, given my profession. I read, and read, and read, adult and ya fiction. And I watch.
What do I watch? I watch kids take out books that are written for them. I see formulaic being a specialized genre with so many other books taking over. I see choice! Dystopian, supernatural, realistic, science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels - and on and on. I see English classes learning they need to take out the books that I studied (because, yes,they are still on the roster) and bring in choice and independent learning. For fear of sounding very 'kids today don't know how lucky they have it', kids today don't know how lucky they have it. There is stuff written for them that doesn't (just) include perfect blonde twins. They see teens their age fighting, learning, living and dreaming. And the kids are doing it along with them.
And now it is going full circle. I see my son becoming the reader I was at his age. I hope that when he is my age he can look back on his thirty years of reading and say the same thing as me. That he has had a life full of joy, with one of the greatest joys being reading.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reading "Deal Breakers"

The Practical Librarian asks - what are your reading dealbreakers? I've had to think about this and have realized that while I try to read everything, I do have a couple deal breakers.
  1. Werewolves. Sort of. I don't mind them mixed into other groups. I don't like Jacob in the 'Twilight Series', but part of that is because he's a jerk. I like the werewolves in 'The Mortal Instruments' - they can be sassy and strong. Professor Lupin was fantastic and I cried in the last book and movie.  But base a book around a werewolf? So far, no dice. I'm trying to read 'Shiver' by Maggie Stiefvater and I can't do it. Perhaps it's linked to my dislike of being woodsy - I like the outdoors, like hiking and all but I'll never camp if I can avoid it. Or perhaps I need consistency in my life. Maybe I don't like the moon being blamed for everything. Either way. Werewolves. Boo.
  2. Dialect. Yes, books need dialect. Characters need to have a dialect and a regional accent. So often it can mark differences, bring out character flaws and bright spots and teach us about the history of the character and the place that they are representing. But keep it to the dialogue! The narrator does not always have to have that accent in their thoughts. The story does not have to be told in that dialect. 'Blood Red Road' annoyed me. I could not stand it simply because it was narrated in the accent of the main character. It was tiring and I couldn't connect. Maybe that makes me a snob, maybe that makes me a bad person, but I kept thinking 'What if Harry Potter was narrated in Hagrids voice - how popular would it have been?'. Think about it.
The book has to seem to have a point, it shouldn't just ramble and ramble, it shouldn't moralize from the beginning. However, I'll read almost anything. However, since I started 'Shiver' I've read about ten other books, if not fifteen. And every time I get a review package I worry it will have another book like 'Blood Red Road'. Dealbreakers. I have them.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I first heard of 'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' when I started reading top ten book lists for 2011. In them, praises were sung, readers were encouraged and generally it was made out to be a very good thing. As I was doing ordering at the time, I added it to the list, along with 'Beauty Queens', 'Anna Dressed in Blood' and 'The Scorpio Races'. I've finally had a chance to read it and I have to say, it was worth the hype.

'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' is the story of Karou. She draws monsters that are dismissed by her art teacher as fantasy drawings, yet she knows they are real. She has been gifted - literally - several languages. Her hair is naturally a bright blue and remains that way. She is everything she wishes she could be -yet she does not know who she is. Suddenly, black handprints appear on doorways, burned there by winged strangers who have appeared. Karou finds her job - collecting teeth for her foster father- threatened by an otherworldly war, a war where some will learn who they are and others will learn who they can trust.

'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' is a gripping read. Karou is so very cool the reader, like her fellow art students, wants to continue to see her life. Her errands, which she accomplishes by traveling through portals, seem fantastical, even with the realization that she is gathering teeth from around the world. Her life, made better by a series of wishes that is her pay, seems perfect, if it were not for the sometimes abrupt times she is contacted to go on errands. Yet, her world begins to crumble, leaving her with a lack of self understanding and a lack of trust. While she is fantastically rich and able to provide all she wants, she still does not know anything about her self. She is alone and must learn who she is to be able to decide who she can trust.

At times the story is a little muddled. Part of that has to do with the fast pace of sections of the novel, which are imperative in maintaining the plot. To read this novel, one has to buy into the fantastical world completely - there is no relief from it, nor many characters who are not involved in it. The reader must also be able to comprehend the enormity of the world and the history that is presented by the characters. However, if the reader can cope with these points, they will find this novel  a fantastic read. My only major issue was that I did not know it was the start of a series and was looking forward to a resolution. Now, I'm looking forward to the next book!

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