Friday, August 22, 2014

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier

Molly and Kip are trying to find the Windsors, their new home of employment, but the locals are not making it easy for them.  Every time Molly asks, they speak of the sour woods and tell Molly that she should stay away.  But it's not like Molly has a choice - she and her brother are far from home and without parents.  When they encounter Hester Kettle on the road, they seem to have found a piece of luck.  She is willing to tell the children how to get to the Windsors for a promise of future stories. Molly agrees and they are soon on their way.

Molly's introduction to the family is a far cry from welcoming.  Hired by the Windsor's solicitor, Constance has no idea Molly is coming and is less than pleased to find her telling stories to her young daughter Penny in the dusty foyer of the house.  Constance and her son Alistair want Molly and Kip to leave immediately, but Molly is able to use her gift of the gab to convince them that they would much rather live in a well tended house, and that she and Kip can provide it for them.

She will soon live to regret this move, as the family and the house seem to be harboring dark secrets.  While she is able to throw herself into the ample work of cleaning up the household during the day, it is at night when Molly is most afraid.  Every night since she's been sleeping in the house, she has been having terrible nightmares.  And it turns out the darkness isn't just in her mind.  She wakes to find her door open, leaves in her hair and mud on the floor.

As it turns out, the Night Gardener Miss Polly has mentioned is real.  He wanders the house and the grounds at night and has his hand in the nightmares of the household.

And he is not the only dark element at the Windsors' place.  The tree, growing much too close to the house, is more than it seems as well, and will soon ensnare Molly as it has the Windsors.

This is a deliciously scary story that will have readers up into the night to finish. Jonathan Auxier is one of those writers who seems like he's been around forever.  Not because there are a plethora of his books lining the shelves, but because he is a craftsman.  His books have a timeless quality to them and are made of the stuff with staying power.  The Windsor's legacy is slowly revealed piece by piece which helps bring the suspense level to that of a slow burn.  He explores the themes of human weakness and greed, family and loyalty with aplomb.  The setting is expertly laid out and even now as I close my eyes I can see the grounds, the stables and the green door.

Fans of dark fantasy, Victorians, and well crafted stories will be left shivering with delight.




Monday, August 11, 2014

Nest, by Esther Ehrlich

"I should have taken the shortcut home from my bird-watching spot at the salt marsh, because then I wouldn't have to walk past Joey Morell, whipping rocks against the telephone pole in front of his house as the sun goes down." (p. 1)  If you know anything about me, I am a sucker for a good first line, and this one has got the goods.

This is Chirp's (Naomi's) story.  Well, her family's story really.  Her mom is a dancer who has suddenly started to have some problems with her body.  Her leg is dragging around and has been hurting her for a while, but Chirp's somewhat clinical and distant psychiatrist dad isn't really talking about it.  Big sister Rachel is distancing herself as well as she tries on teendom for the first time.

When Chirp's mom is diagnosed with MS the family verily falls apart.  Hannah's existence has always been that of a dancer, and she quickly falls into a deep depression and nobody in the family really knows how to cope.  Chirp finds an ally in a very unexpected person - Joey Morell.

Joey's family is one that Chirp's family looks down on.  They have a 3 sons who run amok, but their problems go deeper than that.  Chirp and Joey find common ground, and as two kids who ultimately are scared and feeling abandoned, they cement their friendship as they slowly reveal the pain inside each of their houses.

I don't want to spoil the plot so I will leave it there, but will also say that Ehrlich is part poet and part magician as she weaves this tale together.  "Ice-blue quiet smacks me when I open the front door after school." (p. 86)  "A little square of my blouse is stuck to my upper arm, like the wrinkly paper on a temporary tattoo before you lift it off and leave a splotchy red heart or yellow smiley face behind." (p. 164)  "The air's already thick and warm, even though the sun's still just a spritz of light in the pitch pines and the scrub oaks and not a hot, round ball bouncing on the top of my head, like it will be soon." (p. 12)  Swoon.

For sure, this is a story filled with heavy and heady stuff.  But it is through the eyes of Chirp, so while it is indeed sad, it is never too much.  It is gorgeous, quiet and filled with hope.  I fell in love with Chirp and Joey as I read. They simply became real, and I turned the pages late into the night because I could not leave their story unfinished.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

El Deafo, by Cece Bell

After an illness at age 4, Cece loses her hearing.  She is soon equipped with a hearing aid that involves wearing a pouch around her neck attached to some "ear globs".  Cece is happy to hear again, but now has to learn how to understand once more.  To top things off, Cece now has to go to a new school.

A good thing about the new school is the other kids are wearing hearing aids too, and Cece is learning some useful skills like lip reading and using visual, context and gestural clues to help in understanding.  Cece is just finding her way, when her family decides to leave the city and head to the country, where she will be going to a regular school.

Cece gets a brand-new-BIG-for-school-only-around-the-neck hearing aid (The Phonic Ear) that comes with a microphone for her teacher to wear and is superpowerful.  What nobody expects is that it comes with the added feature of having a super long range, allowing Cece to hear not only her teacher teaching, but whatever her teacher is doing when she is out of the room as well (yes...even *that*!).

Cece has to negotiate the things that all kids go through at school - including navigating a friend who is not-so-nice, and getting her first crush.  Things unique to her situation include dealing with friends who TALK TOO LOUD AND TOO SLOW, and those who refer to her as their "deaf friend".

This is more than a graphic memoir - it is a school and family story for all kids.  Cece is an imaginative and emotional kid with whom readers will identify.  There is an accessibility to Bell's art that immediate draws you in and you can't help but cheer with her successes and cringe with her tears.  Fans of Telgemeier and Varon will readily scoop this up off of the shelves, and it *will* be passed hand to hand.  I am certain I will see many doodles of Cece and her friends in the margins of writer's notebooks this coming school year.  Do yourself a favor...get more than one!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Under the Egg, by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Theodora Tenpenny may live in Manhattan, but it's not a glamorous existence for her.  She lives in a ramshackle house with her absent minded math genius mother and her grandfather Jack.  But right on page 4, Jack is killed and leaves Theo only with the dying message of "Look under the egg."

Not much for a 13 year old who is trying to keep it together to go on.  So between gardening, taking care of her chickens and pickling for food, scanning the streets for useful objects and caring for her mother, Theo needs to unravel what her grandfather's wishes were.

Theo is up in her grandfather's art studio one day trying to figure out the mystery when a mouse runs up her leg and she jumps up and spills some rubbing alcohol on one of Jack's paintings - the painting unlike his other paintings.  The egg.  As Theo desperately tries to clean the rubbing alcohol off, the colors smear and smudge and she is devastated at losing this last bit of Jack.  But when she looks closely she realizes that under the egg, a different painting is revealing itself.  Could this be what Jack's dying words were about?

Theo is at a neighborhood diner owned by a friend of Jack's where she forms an unlikely friendship with Bodhi - another 13 year old who has just moved down the block and happens to have Hollywood parents.  Where Theo's existence is positively Little House on the Prairie, Bodhi's is the Jetsons in comparison.  Theo surprisingly lets Bodhi in on the secret painting, and soon with Theo's art history knowledge and Bodhi's internet skills, they are on the trail to the truth.

Woven into the text are explanations of fine art, as well as bits of history involving WWII.  There are also real life bits of NYC living including the Staten Island Ferry, Grace Church, the Met and the Jefferson Market Library.  All of these true things had me actually google Spinney Lane to see if it was one of those Manhattan streets I've walked by a million times but not walked down.

This is a solid summer mystery with a really fantastic sense of place.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

It's Summer Throwdown Time!

It's year 3 of the #summerthrowdown, y'all!  What is the summer throwdown, you ask? Well, it started as a friendly competition between teachers and librarians to see who could get the most reading done in a month. Over the years it has morphed into a read-o-rama, where we all try to read as much as we can to inform our readers advisory skills.

When I do the #summerthrowdown I tend to read across age groups so that I can recommend books to all constituents in our school - from the 4 year olds to the 15 year olds to parents and care givers.  So while you will be hearing about the tween titles more fully here, I am going to give a couple brief synopses of some of the books I have read and enjoyed that fall out of the tween age group.

First off we have Noggin, by John Corey Whaley.  Travis Coates opted for a radical treatment to his cancer - having his head removed and placed in a cyrogenics lab to await a possible body donation sometime in the future.  But the future comes sooner than anyone can imagine.  After only 5 years, Travis is still 16 and his best friend and girlfriend seem to have moved on, his parents are off and he feels like a freak.  How will he make it through this transformation?






Next, we have Alex London's follow up to Proxy called Guardian.  The Rebooters have taken over and the Reconciliation has placed Syd (Yovel) at its head, given him a bodyguard and are trying to reform the world.  Power, however, is an interesting thing and perhaps the leanings of those in charge of the Reconciliation aren't where they should be.  Larger than life characters and constant action will keep fans of the first installment wanting more.






A Time to Dance, by Padma Venkatraman is a stunning account of dancer Veda's journey as a dancer.  She has always wanted to dance, has breathed rhythm and feels strongly enough to go against her mother's wishes for her education.  Where a terrible crash leaves her an amputee, Veda has to find a way to dance again. Beautifully written, this story is a must read.







And finally Toms River, by Dan Fagin.  I am still working on this one, but this account of small towns and industrial pollution has this former resident of Niagara captivated.  I keep having to read bits aloud, because I simply cannot believe what was going on unbeknownst to most residents of Toms River in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.  Fascinating and horrifying all at once.







So head on over to the Summer Throwdown and get reading!










Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What's In A Name

creative commons search "name"
As someone who has a background in feminist studies, I know that the naming of things is important.  There is a power in a name, and politics exist within the realm of naming as well.

What does this have to do with libraries and librarianship? Quite a bit.

When I was in library school back in the mid 90s, my graduate school was going through reaccreditation.  One of the issues on the table was renaming the school.  On the table was changing the degree from a Masters in Library and Information Studies to a Masters in Information Studies.  Heated debates ensued, but at the end of it all, the students felt that it was really important to leave the word library in the title of the degree.

In the world of school libraries, after a stint of media centers, it seems that the term of favor now is Information Commons.  My response to this is that I think that the very idea of information commons is implicit in the idea of libraries.  I do understand that the term IC is probably much sexier when it comes to funding. Whenever I tell folks I am a school librarian I usually get a chuckle and nudge and told either I don't look like a librarian, or asked if I still teach Dewey.  I know if I told them I was worked in an information commons in an academic setting I might get a little more respect.  I find myself, however, sticking to the terms library and librarian.

Trust me, I have done plenty of reflection regarding whether or not I am simply becoming one of those "GET OFF MY LAWN" people.  I really don't think that is it.  I don't think that I am clinging to something that is outdated.  Rather, I think that folks really need to broaden their view of what it means to be a librarian and work in a library.

What do you think is in a name?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander

Fast talking basketball kid Josh lives for the game.  It makes sense since his father Chuck "Da Man" Bell was a player in his own right back in the day.  Chuck played the European League, but now stays home to take care of the house while Josh's mom is the Vice Principal at his school.  Josh's twin Jordan (JB) lives for basketball too, but things are starting to shift.

Miss Sweet Tea in her pink Reeboks has caught JB's attention, and Josh isn't quite sure how to be without JB.  He finds himself missing his brother's wisecracks and bets.  He's not used to being one.  Even on the court their flow has changed, and Josh crosses a line in a way that he wouldn't have even considered before.

Girls and basketball aren't the only things that the Bell family is dealing with.  Mrs. Bell is trying, trying, trying to get Chuck to deal with his health issues.  He is a man who likes his treats, he gets fired up over his sons' games, and he simply refuses to see a doctor despite his spells.

This story of the love of the game, shifting allegiances and family will take readers on a journey they are not likely to forget.  There's a rawness and realness to Josh both on and off the court.  Alexander's free verse brings the pace of the story up, but there are moments that give the reader real pause as well. For example in Basketball Rule #3 Alexander writes:" Never let anyone / lower your goals. / Others' expectations / of you are determined / by their limitations / of life. / The sky is your limit, sons. / Always shoot / for the sun / and you will shine."  And the poem Dear Jordan will leave you breathless.

The Crossover is a quick read, but it is a book that should and will be reread. Add this to your TBR pile, asap!