A long overdue update…

Well, it certainly has been a while!  This blog is meant to serve as a public space in which I can post my ideas about my profession, about libraries and information centres, about books I’ve read, or movies I’ve viewed, or media I’ve experienced….about anything and everything to do with the field of library science.   Maybe I should be narrowing my focus?  We’ll see how things go.  I’d like to keep myself unrestricted right now.

So, what have I been up to for the past 12 months?  Last September I was hired as a Casual Library Technician with the Niagara Catholic District School Board.  I’ve been getting my feet wet, so to speak, working in school libraries, gaining some real – and much needed – experience.  I have worked as a part of a board-wide weeding team, pulling old books, many of which would make the girls at Awful Library Books cringe.  I completed long-term placements at two very different schools.  This involved such varied activities as reading to kids from Junior Kindergarten up to Grade 8, circulating materials, providing reader’s advisory and reference services to students and teachers, cataloguing materials, conducting a Scholastic Book Fair, restructuring a library after renovations, managing the OLA’s “Forest of Reading” program, and creating displays.  It has been a huge learning curve!  Every single day brought with it new, sometimes exhausting, challenges.  It is not easy providing library services to children – but it is extremely rewarding.  Some days I felt as though my brain would melt just trying to manage all of their varied needs.  Other days everything would run along so smoothly, or I would connect so well with the students, that I would leave work grinning like a kid myself.    Added to all of this was the sometimes difficult task of working as a member of a team of educational professionals.  Yup, I learned just as much this past year – if not more – about libraries and librarianship as I did during my 16 months at UWO.

As for my future….   I’ve been applying for professional librarian positions this summer.  Job searching is no easy task!  I had hoped to have something before the fall.  It all becomes very frustrating after a while, and I have to step back and take very deep breaths.  I will return to my position with the school board in September, and in the meantime continue my search for a permanent, full-time librarian position.  I have been proactive so far, volunteering where I can and keeping up contacts, but I think it is time to step it up a notch.  Overall, I feel very positive about my future.  I look forward to future opportunities to expand my understanding of the field through new volunteer and work experiences, conferences, and additional course work.

Three Great Summer Reads

Summer term has flown by.  With only 2 weeks left, I have a bit of a breather from assignments.  I am taking this opportunity to make a posting.  Below are 3 “great summer reads” booktalks that I put together for my Readers’ Advisory class.  I was quite happy with how they turned out.  Please keep in mind that I presented my booktalks to the class – these are the notes from which I spoke.

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“The terms “summer read” or “beach read” are often applied to books that are “light”, “fluffy”, “short and sweet”, “easy to pick up and put down”.  While the warm weather certainly fits that kind of light reading, the long, hot days of summer can create the perfect atmosphere for another kind of book.  The kind of book in which you fall through the pages and lose yourself for hours…and then regret having to return to the “real world”.  The kind of book that is riveting, spellbinding…and utterly absorbing.  These three books are very different in terms of plot, style of writing, setting, mood, and character types, but they share certain elements that help to make them compelling reads.  First, all 3 are character-driven, with large, well-developed casts.  The stories are told through 3rd person narrators, and the focus shifts from character to character, giving you multiple perspectives on the action and events, and allowing you to get to know all of the character intimately.  Second, settings and plots are vividly, thoroughly described.  The authors draw you into the story – you will feel as though you are participating in the events yourself.  Because this is a mixed group of adult readers (and not necessarily interested in one particular type of story), I chose books from three different genres: fantasy, romance/chicklit & crime/caper.  I’ve also been informed that you are open to books with graphic language, sex and violence.  Just a reminder, then, that these books do include these elements!

The Fionavar Tapestry, by Guy Gavriel Kay (1984-1986-1986)Fionavar

The Fionavar Tapestry is actually comprised of 3 books: The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road. They’re still available individually, but this all-in-one edition is convenient, and surprisingly light and comfortable to hold.  G.G. Kay is an acclaimed Canadian fantasy writer.  This book is a “High Fantasy” epic, following in the tradition of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  In fact, Kay helped to edit Tolkien’s Silmarillion and many elements of The Fionavar Tapestry were directly & consciously inspired by Tolkien’s mythology.  Aspects of other works of literature, cultures and folklore are also woven into the story – including Arthurian legend, and British, Scandinavian, and Native American mythology.  He uses these elements in new, creative ways, introducing unique spins on old traditions.  Kay’s world has a rich history & mythology, & it is full of interesting characters and creatures.  Think magic, dwarves, maps, invented languages, swords, perilous quests…!  He writes very dramatically, and the theatrical tone may take some getting used to.  For example, the book begins: “After the war was over, they bound him under the Mountain.  And so that there might be warning if he moved to escape, they crafted then, with magic and with art, the five wardstones, last creation and the finest of Ginserat.”  The plot is gripping: Because Kay takes so much time building the characters and the world, you become much attached to the story.  While slowly paced at first, you reach a certain point when you realize that you are completely hooked!  The story begins at Canada’s very own University of Toronto, where 5 students are gathered to listen to a lecture by a mysterious, reclusive scholar.  At a meeting with this figure later that evening, he reveals to them his true identity.  His name is Loren Silvercloak, and he is a mage from a world called Fionavar.  He explains to the disbelieving students that Earth is only one of many worlds, of which Fionavar is the “first”.  After much debate, he convinces Kim, Paul, Dave, Jennifer and Kevin to travel back with him to Fionavar to attend a festival as guests of honour.  But as they pass between the worlds, Dave has second thoughts.  He attempts to pull free, and when they arrive in Fionavar, Dave is nowhere to be found!  Furthermore, it becomes clear that Silvercloak had other reasons for inviting them to Fionavar.  An ancient evil is rising in the land, and the five U of T students are drawn into the conflict…and what happens in Fionavar ripples through ALL worlds, including our own.  As the characters battle against the dark forces of The Unraveller, they learn that it was more than chance that brought them to Fionavar.  Ultimately, each must follow their own difficult path if the enemy is to be destroyed.  Marion Zimmer Bradley (author of The Mists of Avalon) described The Fionavar Tapestry by saying, “It’s one of those rare books that change your perception of the world forever afterward.”  The book is enormous in scope.  It has violent battles, passionate love affairs, humour, pain, sacrifice, beauty and courage pitted against unimaginable horrors.  It’s definitely worthy of being called an “epic”, and, for those interested in being completely swept away this summer, it’s a great read!

French Relations, by Fiona Walker (1994)FrenchRelations

French Relations belongs to a different genre, but it’s no less captivating than The Fionavar Tapestry. Fiona Walker is a British writer whose work falls under the heading of “chick lit”, but what makes her novels stand out from the mob is the depth of her characterization, the cleverness of her use of language, and the richness of her settings and plots.  To date, she has written 10 novels (the first of which was French Relations).  Characters from previous books often make appearances in later stories.  The novels are full of humour, tears, sex, and (of course) love.  French Relations begins with the heroine, Tash French, unemployed, out of shape, broken-hearted and generally bewildered, en route to France where she’ll be spending the summer with her fabulously rich mother and step-father at their vast, crumbling chateau.  The trouble is, the rest of Tash’s eccentric family & their glamorous lovers will also be there!  As the sultry summer heats up, Tash (lumpy and overlooked for most of her life) suddenly finds herself the centre of everyone’s attention.  In particular, that of rich, arrogant, cruel, but OHHHhh so devastatingly attractive Hugo Beauchamp, and staggeringly gorgeous, tremendously famous…and seriously disturbed Hollywood leading man Niall O’Shaunessy.  It’s a scorching summer in France – there’s no end to the booze, bed-hopping, and bad behaviour.  The novel has an enormous cast of larger-than-life characters, all with intriguing pasts (even the dogs play important roles)!  Fiona Walker is a master of comedy.  The snappy dialogue is full of double entendres, word plays, and clever references to pop culture, and the characters always manage to end up in the most ridiculously funny situations.  French Relations is absolutely riveting.  You’ll grow to love every character, even those whose behaviour has been deliciously naughty.  And when you reach the gratifying conclusion to this great summer read, don’t despair, because the sequel “Well Groomed” is also a great read!

Stormy Weather, by Carl Hiaasen (1995)StormyWeather

Stormy Weather is the shortest of the three, but no less compelling.  Carl Hiaasen has written several books, all of which tell darkly funny, twisted stories about Florida and the Everglades, murder, sex, and corruption.  He’s been a columnist for The Miami Herald since 1985, and (quoting from his official website) his column has “at one time or another…pissed off just about everybody in South Florida, including his own bosses.”  The humour in Hiaasen’s novels is sustained by the absolute deadpan tone of the narration.  He writes about absurd characters in positively bizarre situations, and maintains the same dry, prosaic tone throughout.  A word of warning: these novels are stuffed full of graphic language, graphic sex, and graphic (and sometimes truly disturbing) violence.  You will be exposed to the grittiest characters imaginable, partaking in strange, unpardonable criminal acts…..and if you share Carl Hiaasen’s dark, cynical sense of humour, you’ll find yourself laughing out loud.  Stormy Weather is set in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Andrew.  All semblance of law and order has evaporated, and Florida’s criminal underworld, both the clever and the crazy, senses its advantage.  Mixed up in the mayhem are a few ordinary people, although Hiaasen’s depiction of “ordinary” may seem somewhat…extraordinary.  The book features an assorted, motley crew of characters, from all acts of life, demonstrating every kind of corruption and depravity.  There’s a recently married couple on an ill-fated honeymoon, a seductive con artist and her ex-convict partner, a mobile salesman with a shotgun and an eye to make a quick buck, a skull-juggling law school dropout, a band of marauding monkeys gone mad, an escaped lion with a ferocious appetite, two state troopers, and one former governor, no less mad than the monkeys.  As the characters crash and clash in the post hurricane state, violence erupts, hostages are taken, gruesome crimes are committed & grisly “accidents” occur.  The story shifts from character to character, and as the plot progresses their follies are exposed.  Stormy Weather is sardonic, shocking, and outrageously funny in a very dark, off-beat way.  But it isn’t without romance – you’ll find yourself cheering for a few likeable characters before the end!  Will order and justice be restored? Will the lion sate his hunger? Will the mad monkeys and the wild governor be contained?  ….. and….should they be?  Carl Hiaasen’s captivating story will absorb and entertain you, and make you question law, order, and man’s role in the Nature of things.

So, if you’re looking for a book to lose yourself in this summer, The Fionavar Tapestry, French Relations, and Stormy Weather may just be your perfect summer read!

Update

After a fantastic three weeks away from school, summer term has begun!  I’m still adjusting to my new schedule, and trying not to panic about the amount of work I have to wade through over the next ten weeks.  I have decided to keep this blog going, expanding its original focus on YA Materials to include all aspects of librarianship.  Here’s to hoping I find time to post regularly!

While researching information about libraries and Web2.0, I stumbled upon an interesting program created by the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.  The “Learning 2.0 Program” was designed to encourage library staff to learn about web2.0 technologies by completing a list of 23 Things.  I’m going to try to complete the 23 Things myself.  Although I’m familiar with a few of the “things” already, I will definitely benefit from more learning.  Besides, it sounds like a fun project to do on the side.

That’s it for this post.  I spent far too much time reading “A Prayer for Owen Meany” this morning.  If I don’t get back to work, I’ll have accomplished very little by the end of this rather gloomy day.  *sigh!*

YALSA-BK

YALSA-BK, or YALSA Book Discussions, is a moderated mailing list, part of the ALA Mailing List Service.  It is attached to YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association), which is a division of the ALA.  A subscription to the mailing list gives access to an open forum about young adult reading and literature.  The discussion focuses on issues relating to Young Adult Reading, and includes topics such as:

  • Award nominations (Best Books for Young Adults, Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers);
  • Discussions about specific titles;
  • Requests for suggestions;
  • Book recommendations and book lists;
  • News of upcoming events or important happenings in the world of YA reading.

Members include professionals in the field of young adult literature (librarians, teachers, etc.), parents, and young adults themselves.  At the time this post was written, there were 3157 subscribers.  That’s a big conversation!  The archives are available for browsing and date back as far as 1988.  They are handy for those who don’t want to subscribe, or would like to know more about the kind of conversations taking place before subscribing.  For those who would like to read more about mailing lists in general, the ALA Mailing List Service has provided a helpful and readable introduction.  On the YALSA wiki I found an entry titled “Booklists from YALSA-BK”, in which many of the booklists that have appeared on the mailing list have been usefully compiled.  Some examples include: “Body Image Booklist”, “International Books”, “Music Themed Books”, and “Romance for Boys”.  These booklists are put together by subscribers, and reflect the reading interests and habits of individuals across the community.  YALSA-BK is a fantastic resource for librarians.  Subscribing will connect you with others working with or interested in teen reading.  Reading the list will keep you up-to-date and in-the-know, and contributing to the discussions provides you with an opportunity to voice your suggestions, ideas, questions, and enthusiasm for YA literature.

Review: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

 

nicknorah

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

New York: Alfred A. Knopf, c2006

183 p., pbk, $9.99 CAN

ISBN: 978-0-375-84614-4

Broken-hearted Nick can’t believe it when he sees his ex-girlfriend Tris walk into the club with another guy.  Turning to the girl beside him, he does the only thing he can think of to save face.  Norah is preoccupied with her own complicated life, but when Nick turns and asks her to pretend to be his girlfriend for five minutes, she somehow finds herself agreeing.  One electrifying kiss later, Nick and Norah find themselves traveling together through New York, a city sizzling with sexual energy, and alive with the beat of the music that serves as the soundtrack to their experiences.  In one incredible night, they come to terms with past mistakes, confront the realities of unsatisfying relationships, accept the challenges of the unknown future, and discover the exhilarating prospect of real love.  Acclaimed YA authors Rachel Cohn and David Levithan came together to write this trendy novel.  Chapters switch back and forth between Nick’s perspective and Norah’s, an engaging narrative style that is both convincing and funny.  The authors bring the energy, lights, and sounds of New York City to vivid life.  The fast-paced narrative makes this a quick read, but the insightful characterization and themes encourage thoughtful reflection long after the book is finished.  The print is clear and large, and the lightweight paperback is comfortable to handle.  Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist will appeal to teen boys and girls, especially those interested in the contemporary music scene.  However, explicit language and graphic sexuality make this novel more appropriate for older teens.

Recommended with reservations. 4P. 5Q.

Book-Talk

Well, here’s my first book-talk.  I chose to promote L.M. Montgomery’s classic finale to the Anne series, Rilla of Ingleside.  I had a tough time deciding what book to use.  I finally chose Rilla because it meant so much to me growing up – and still does.  I found it very difficult trying to figure out what tone to use.  It’s an older book, romantic, funny in an old-fashioned way, very serious in parts.  I decided to do an audio book-talk instead of a video book-talk.  I thought it might be more powerful to leave the visuals up to the listener’s imagination.  I worry that it’s a bit too slow and, err, “un-hip” to catch teens’ interest.  Despite it’s age, I do believe Rilla will appeal to readers…maybe not universally, but there are those out there who, like me, will fall in love with Ingleside, PEI, Rilla, Walter Blythe, Ken Ford, and (of course!) Little Dog Monday.

Suggestions, comments, questions, etc., are always welcome!

** In all the excitement caused by getting my booktalk finished, I forgot to credit the music!  The song I used is from The Pianist soundtrack, track one:  “Nocturne in C-sharp Minor (1830)”, Composed by Fryderyk Chopin, performed by Janusz Olejnieczak. **

Response: Rats Saw God

The following post is a reflection on Rob Thomas’ Rats Saw God, following the framework established by Aidan Chambers in A Critical Blueprint Summary (Chambers, Aidan. 1983. A critical blueprint. In Introducing books to children, 2d.ed., 174-193. Boston: The Horn Book.) 

 

1. What happened to me as I read?

I really enjoyed this book, but not because I immediately related to the characters’ experiences.  I think what I liked best about it was that it was so different from my own experiences as a teen, and yet the emotions and attitudes Steve York expresses were so familiar.  It is very comforting to read about characters whose stories or personalities echo your own.  But there is something extraordinarily powerful about discovering connections with characters’ that appear at first to be very different from you.  As I read the book, I became increasingly immersed in Steve’s story.  I felt emotionally connected to the characters.  They came to life.  I cared about them and their relationships, and what would happen to them as a result of the choices they made.  When I reached the climax of Steve’s story, I had become so absorbed in the book that I reacted as if the characters and events were actually real.

2. Which features of the book caused my responses? 
a) Book as object:
What first attracted to me to Rats Saw God was its appearance.  The bold red and black cover caught my attention and seemed to suggest a powerful, energetic story.  The book almost seemed to hum beside the other sleepy titles on the shelf; its appearance suggested that there was nothing dull or dreary about it.  (As it turns out, I’m lucky to have this particular cover.  I found other copies on the internet with much less appealing covers.)  The fact that the title of the book made no sense to me encouraged me to pick the book up and turn it over to read the back, seeking an explanation.  I really loved the tagline beneath the title: “Everything doesn’t have to make sense.”  Following the strange title, it’s a pretty witty statement, and having read the back of the book and therefore knowing a bit about the plot, it seemed like a rather sharp observation.  It suggests that the book offers a daringly honest, frank perspective on being a teen and on life in general.  We’re always trying to make sense of things, find meaning…and we’re often frustrated by our inability to do so.

b) Responses caused by personal history:
The events of Rats Saw God take place in the mid-90’s.  At one point in the novel, the characters react to the news of Kurt Cobain’s death.  I remember exactly where I was when I heard that news.  We’ve talked about how including events from popular culture can negatively impact a novel, fixing it in time so that future readers are unable to relate.  I don’t think that this novel suffers from being situated in a specific moment, but I’m not sure if this is because I experienced that moment myself.  I don’t think so.  Rob Thomas doesn’t insert pop culture references into the novel in a weak effort to convince readers that it’s “hip”.  The story is established in a particular time period in much the same way that it is set in Texas and California.  These features aren’t carelessly inserted simply to up the “cool” factor.  They are integral parts of the narrative, and they help shape the entire tone of the novel. 

d) Response caused by the text alone:

I loved the narrative style of the novel.  I really enjoyed how we were able to hear Steve York’s private thoughts, as well as read the essay he wrote for his guidance counsellor.  It gives the reader the opportunity to get to know Steve from two perspectives.  The slight differences between the two are very well done. 

I also really enjoyed the story.  I was fascinated by the Steve’s eccentric group of friends.  The characters were well developed, unique and vividly brought to life.  I especially loved the subplot involving Steve’s sister and her boyfriend.  Thomas manages to balance the two storylines.  He gives weight to Sarah York’s character and her relationship with her boyfriend and her family, without taking away from the power of Steve’s account of his life in Texas with his dad and his relationship with Dub.

3. What does this book ask of readers if they are to enjoy what it offers?

Rats Saw God asks that readers be willing to contemplate the events and relationships in the novel and figure out for themselves what these experiences mean to Steve York, to his sister Sarah, to Dub, to Steve’s parents, and to the rest of characters.  In some of the other novels we’ve read, the moral of the story (or the “point”) is made fairly obvious; readers don’t have to work too hard at figuring out what the book is all about.  In Rats Saw God, the answers aren’t handed out to readers.  In fact, there may not be any answers at all.  The book leaves us a lot to think about.         

4. Why is this book worth my own and teenagers’ time and attention?

Rats Saw God gives readers the opportunity to think about the incredible, confusing, frustrating complexity of relationships.  Not just love relationships, but also those between friends, siblings, parents and children, teachers and students, etc.  The characters’ interactions are realistic in the sense that they are anything but simple.  Each person’s unique personality comes into play.  Although we are mostly confined to Steve’s viewpoint, we have glimpses of other characters’ perspectives through their actions and responses.  By the end of the book, Steve recognizes that his observations and his experiences were only one out of many ways of viewing the unfolding events.  Rob Thomas shows us how limited a single person’s perspective can be, and how this limitation affects our relationships with the people around us.  The book invites readers to do some self-reflecting of their own, an activity every person can benefit from.  

5. Which would be the most appropriate way of introducing this book to the young people I have in mind?

I don’t think it would be difficult to catch readers’ interest with this book.  It would be fairly easy to make a book talk for the novel.  The blurb on the back of the book is a bit weak, I think.  It doesn’t convey the depth of the topics covered by the story.  It might be useful to think about novels or movies that have similar themes and use them to help describe the book.  There are a lot of references to music and art in the novel.  If I were setting up a display in the library, I would try to incorporate some of those bands and artists into the presentation. 

6. What do I know of the background of this book – about its author, how it came to be written, or the place where it is set, and so on – that might interest the YA reader and stimulate their desire to read?

In addition to writing novels, Rob Thomas is also a screenwriter and producer for television and movies.  He created the T.V. show Veronica Mars.  He was also a writer for Dawson’s Creek and the new 90210.  Rats Saw God was Thomas’ first novel.  It is set in Texas and California, both places in which Thomas has lived.  It takes place in the mid-90’s, and the music and culture of the time period play interesting roles in setting the tone and establishing the personalities of the characters in the novel.

7. Are there books by the same author, or by other authors, which relate to this one and which the YA readers have already read, or perhaps ought to read before reading this one? And are there books that follow on from this one?

Rob Thomas has written five other books, including Slave Day and Doing Time.  None of his books form a series, and there are no repeating characters or correlations.  His other books have been received very well by critics and they sound equally engaging.  Slave Day is about the common practise in American high-schools of auctioning off teachers and students to the highest bidder for one day to serve as their “slave”.  It uses alternating first-person narratives, including a geek, a popular girl, a football player, and even a teacher.  Thomas’ novels tackle complex issues, usually relating to the challenges of relationships, with a clever mix of humour and gravity.  Reviews of Rob Thomas’s novels by critics and by readers highlight both their entertainment value and their ability to stimulate thoughtful reflection.