Posts Tagged ‘Readers’ Advisory’

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.


“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!


Review: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist



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.


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. **

Professional Resources

I examined two reader’s advisory guides for my report on professional resources.  The first, Crossing Boundaries with Children’s Books, appealed to me because of its stated goal to “promote international understanding through children’s literature”.  The second, Reality Rules!: A Guide to Teen Nonfiction Reading Interests caught my attention because I know very little about nonfiction for teens beyond our thus far limited discussions in class.

 Crossing Boundaries with Children’s Books. Ed. Doris Gebel. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2006.

 This resource claims that it will serve as “an important tool for exploring stories that will help children understand our differences while demonstrating our common humanity.”  A noble cause, I think.  Aimed at librarians and teachers, the book provides information about international books (read: outside of the United Sates) written for children 0-14.  I was disappointed that there wasn’t a companion volume for young adults/teens.  The book itself is set up like most reader’s advisory resources.  Chapters are broken down according to countries or regions (“700 books representing 73 nations”), entries are annotated with plot summaries, reviews, and recommended audiences, and contact information is supplied for authors and publishers.  “Author Spotlights” highlight significant authors – award winners, those with popular followings, or the editors’ special favourites.  Titles were selected based on “literary and artistic quality, worthy and up-to-date treatment of people and their cultures, interesting presentations of information specific to a country other than the United States, unique quality of illustrations, and appropriateness for readers aged 0-14”.  This criteria seems logical, but I wonder exactly who it is that has the great honour of determining how to measure the literary or artistic quality of these books and their “treatment of people and their cultures”?  Unless the judges are experts on the literature, people, and culture of each country and region, isn’t there a danger that the selections were made based on nationally subjective views of those literatures, peoples and cultures?  To avoid this, I imagine they must have corresponded with “people in the know” (Librarians? Authors? Teachers? Publishers?) from each country and region.  I hope so.  I like the idea of international cooperation for the sake of international literature exchange.  

Overall, this book is a handy resource for locating international children’s literature.  It is a great idea, but I would like to see a companion volume for teen material.  I’d be very interested to know what kind of teen materials are available in different countries and regions around the world.  I think this would be a great idea for a website.  I am imagining some kind of collaborative web resource for use by librarians, teachers, etc. around the world, with a focus on increasing awareness of the global variety of YA materials.  Anyone know if such a thing already exists?

 Fraser, Elizabeth. Reality Rules!: A Guide to Teen Nonfiction Reading Interests. Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

 This reader’s advisory resource is from the same publishing company responsible for the amazing Genreflecting series.  I love the set up of these books.  Everything is so well organized.  Information is easy to locate, the additional materials (such as definitions, history of the genre or theme, critical essays) are insightful, entertaining, and wonderfully helpful for anyone venturing into unfamiliar territory. 

The blurb on the back of this book explains that: “Nonfiction has become the preferred genre for many teen readers, both male and female.”  I’ve heard this elsewhere.  I’m beginning to think I should take a greater interest in nonfiction.  This book would be a great place for me to begin.  It has entries for over 500 titles (for young adults grade 6-12), and it contains notes on classics, award winners, reading levels, read-alikes, and titles that especially appeal to boys and reluctant readers, or are appropriate for book groups.  I was really interested in how the text divides nonfiction.  A diehard fiction reader, “Nonfiction” seemed like one big blob to me – how do you begin separating titles and identifying readers’ particular interests?  This book makes it look rather straightforward.  They divide nonfiction like so:

  • Part 1: Nonfiction Genres – True Adventure; True Crime
  • Part 2: Life Stories – Memoirs and Autobiographies; Biography
  • Part 3: Nonfiction Subject Interests – History; Science, Math, and the Environment; Sports; All About You; How To; The Arts; Understanding and Changing the World

If library school has confirmed anything about my personality, it is that I worship tidy little lists and organized piles.  Everything has its place!  Somehow I doubt that dividing nonfiction material in practice will be quite as simple as it looks on paper.  My point is, this book at least gives me an idea of where to begin! 

Along with the usual suspects (annotated entries, indexes of author and title, additional resources, etc.), the book has two additional sections particularly useful for Nonfiction: “Consider Starting with…” and “Fiction Read-alike”.  These are provided at end of each chapter.  “Consider Starting with…” lists popular and highly accessible titles from the chapter that represent great starting points for people who would like more information about a certain genre.  “Fiction Read-Alikes” offers additional possibilities for readers interested in particular genres, themes, or subjects. 

And finally, if you are concerned about the currency of this book, the Genreflecting series is available online in the form of a subscription to database called “The Reader’s Advisor Online”:  For a price, of course.  And, unfortunately, neither Western Libraries nor the LPL seem to have a subscription.  Has anyone had access to it before?  I’d love to know what it’s like!

Eragon, by Christopher Paolini


Christopher Paolini

New York: Laurel-Leaf, 2007, c2003

754 p., pbk, $9.99

ISBN: 978-0-440-24073-0

When Eragon discovers the mysterious blue stone in the mountains, the teenager has no idea how it will change his life.  But when the stone hatches to reveal a dragon, Eragon is pushed from his simple farm life into a world of magic, adventure, and danger.  Book One of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Trilogy introduces readers to Algaesia, a magical world populated with fascinating characters and creatures, and ruled by an evil king who reigns with violence and terror.  Only fifteen when he began Eragon, the author demonstrates surprising skill and maturity.  The plot borrows heavily from the heroic fantasy tradition, but Paolini’s fluid narrative is brought to life by dynamic characters and imaginative settings.  Paolini deftly unfolds Algaesia’s history, using it to add depth to the plot and to create a background for the novel’s thrilling action.  Much of the 754 pages are taken up by descriptions of the land through which Eragon travels.  While this attention to detail will appeal to readers who enjoy having the story fleshed out, it may be tiresome for those more focused on plot movement.  Names and phrases from an imagined language add richness to the novel.  The print is clear and large enough to allow for comfortable reading.  Despite the book’s length the paperback is manageable.  Eragon will appeal to all fantasy readers.  However, frightening themes and violent action scenes may make Eragon inappropriate for younger readers.

 Recommended. 4P. 4Q.

David Macauley’s TEDTalk

In class last week, Erin presented her seminar on Picture Books for Teens.  One of the books she brought in was David Macauley’s Rome Antics.  I was so excited to see the book because I watched a TEDTalk last year with David Macauley in which he explained the process of creating the book.  (From the TED website: “David Macaulay relives the winding and sometimes surreal journey toward the completion of Rome Antics, his illustrated homage to the historic city.”)  The talk is incredibly interesting and quite funny.  He doesn’t talk about the book in terms of its audience, so the video doesn’t directly relate to our discussion about teen reading material, but I think you will find it appealing nonetheless.  Here’s the link to David Macauley’s TEDTalk:

For those who haven’t come across TED before, it is amazing!  TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, is an annual conference held in California.  It’s all about encouraging great ideas, and showcasing the creativity and enthusiasm of “thinkers and doers” from around the world.  TED’s tagline is “Ideas worth spreading”.  TEDTalks are lectures given by these thinkers and doers on every topic imaginable.  You can watch them online, or download them onto your iPod (I love watching TEDTalks on the bus).    

Here’s a link to TED’s website:

And one to TEDTalks:


This is my first post!  I am excited to have this space in which to voice my ideas and opinions about libraries and young adult/teen materials.  And, admittedly, I am a bit nervous as well.  It’s a daunting task, preparing one’s thoughts for public view.  I am sure I’ll have no difficulty, however, forming ideas about the course material.  The topics of discussion sound very promising.

A note on the name and look of my blog.  I took the picture that I’ve used as my header this afternoon.  This is how my clever brain works.  It convinced me that it was absolutely all-important to pull off of my shelves as many YA books and movies that moved with me to grad school, line them up, and take photos for use on my blog – all this instead of getting down to the gnitty-gritty & often excrutiatingly uninspiring work of writing papers (you know, the kind of thing that actually earns you your masters?).  As for the name of my blog, well, it’s lame, I know.  I confess, I am having trouble thinking of something.  It shouldn’t be this difficult.  I don’t want it to be something boring (“Holly’s YA Materials Blog”), but at the same time I really don’t want anything forced – the ghost of teen-Holly writhes with embarrassment everytime adult-Holly thinks of something she thinks might be clever and appealing to “young adults”.  So, for now, I’m stuck with quotation marks dot-dot-dot.  Nameless Blog.  The Blog with an uncertain identity.  Now that’s something teen-Holly and adult-Holly can somehow grin at each other about.  Sigh. 

I finished reading one of the assigned books: Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.  It is actually our read for Week 5 (“Misfits, Outcasts and Criminals”).  I happened to open it first, and didn’t end up putting it down until I’d finished it.  What a fantastic book!  As I read it, I found myself wishing that I’d had it to read when I was a teen.  Melinda, the novel’s heroine, was touched by a personal tragedy I am thankful to have never suffered, but she expresses feelings I think most (if not all) of us experience to some degree as we struggle through highschool.  Terrible anxiety, fear, self-loathing, the desire to fit in, the desire to stand out, moments of joy and humour, hopefulness for our future, and a constant battle to “find” ourselves, to define our character and to speak with our own voice.  The book manages to tackle profound, dark, scary issues without sinking into off-putting morbidity.  Melinda’s opinions of her teachers, peers, parents, and the world around her are downright funny at times, so much so that I found myself laughing out loud!  I look forward to the opportunity to pass this fantastic read on.  I’ll be adding to my Reader’s Advisory arsenal.

Very soon I will be posting my first “official” report (the Library/Bookstore Visit).  An inspirational quote, then, to tide you over (bless the powers of internet reference):

[L]earn as much by writing as by reading; be not content with the best book; seek sidelights from the others.” ~ Lord Acton