Archive for August, 2011

August 29, 2011

Music Monday: Who Says?

I’ve mostly been posting about YA books here, but I also love a lot of music targeted at tweens. I’ve received a fair amount of flak for my iPod full of Disney Channel stars, but I don’t even care. Tween music is where it’s at, you guys! Well–some of it, anyway. I’ve decided to post a song here every Monday, a hand-picked tween pop hit from me to you. The fact is, the best tween music makes me happy! Really happy! It will probably make you happy too!

Tween pop is primarily differentiated from mainstream pop in two main ways, as far as I can tell. First: age of the artist. Tween pop is generally sung by teens, for tweens. (Mainstream pop is sung by teens and twentysomethings, for teens and adults.) Second: content. Tween pop is generally free of any overtly sexual content and naughty language.

Tween pop songs generally come in three different flavors: love ballads, “partying with your friends” dance music, and “Be Yourself” self-esteem boosters. (Note: “breakup songs” can be subcategories of all three of these types!) I generally steer clear of the ballads, for they are generally too saccharine and slow for any non-tween to tolerate. (Although I did once put “You Are the Music in Me” from High School Musical 2 on a mix CD for my now-ex-boyfriend. I’m pretty sure that’s not the reason we broke up, though.) Party songs and Be Yourself songs, though, are generally awesome for working out, dancing, or just perking yourself up.

I’m starting off Music Mondays with a song by my current favorite tween pop singer, Selena Gomez. At the moment she may be best known as Justin Bieber’s death threat-receiving girlfriend, but she’s definitely a star in her own right. I have all her albums and they are great. Also, Wizards of Waverly Place, the Disney Channel show that started her tween idol career, is actually pretty funny. She played Beezus in the recent Ramona and Beezus movie (which I actually haven’t seen, so I can’t comment on its quality.) Apparently, she’s also slated to star as Hannah in the movie of Jay Asher’s lovely YA novel Thirteen Reasons Why, which I look forward to seeing.

Selena Gomez - When the Sun Goes Down

Love. Her.

I dare you to listen to this song, “Who Says,” without feeling at least a little bit better about your day.

Na na na na na na!

There’s also a Spanish-language version, “Dices.”

PS: For the record, Selena is 19, so you don’t have to feel too sketchy about thinking she’s super hot. Just saying.

August 25, 2011

Little House Fever (Way Better than Scarlet Fever)

So, my new semester of library school is up and running! I’m taking Children’s Literature, which I’m obviously stoked about. Our professor is really enthusiastic and awesome, and on the first day of class she excitedly told us about one of our assignments. It’s called, “I Never Got Around To…” and we are supposed to pick a classic children’s book that we never read as children and report back on it. She offhandedly said, “I do this assignment too. Last year I did Little House on the Prairie for the first time and hated it. I mean, the way she talks about Native Americans… it’s so dated! Why is this still on shelves?!” And I almost had a rage fit, even though she’s right.

I grew up with the Little House books. (Not the show. I’ve actually never seen the show. And I never will.) A family friend gave me a box set of the books, and they looked so grown-up and special on my shelf. I was a little afraid they’d be boring, since they were set in the past, but I was instantly hooked. To this day I have very clear memories of scenes like Laura and Mary roasting the pig’s tail, or Laura and Mary making designs on the frost on the window with Ma’s thimble.

Little House on the Prairie AudiobookSo, I decided to revisit a few of the Little House books on the way to De Smet, South Dakota. From the library, I got Little House on the Prairie and Little Town on the Prairie (that’s #2 and #7 in the Little House series, if you were wondering). On the trip, I learned that my traveling companion Anna had never read the Little House books!! Only watched the show!! It was like I didn’t even know her. Luckily, she was quickly captivated by the books, and so our friendship survived. First, I have to say that Cherry Jones is a great narrator for these books. She sounds both funny and wise. And Paul Woodiel’s fiddle playing is an excellent touch. Pa Ingalls would undoubtedly approve.

Anyway, the books themselves? As a reasonably well-educated adult, yes, they are a little troubling. The way Laura talks about Indians and their “glittering black eyes,” for example. Or her desire to kidnap a papoose. Weird, Laura.  So here’s the thing. If you, as an adult, read this book with a child–talk to that child about Native Americans, and the way they were treated by white settlers. Have a conversation about it.  I don’t hold Laura Ingalls Wilder accountable for the era she grew up in.

What makes these books racially problematic is also what makes them great: the honest, revealing tone. Laura Ingalls Wilder is incredibly frank about her perceived shortcomings, her secret petty desires, and her sheer delight in tiny pleasures. This is what makes her books timeless. These books will also make you feel like a big spoiled baby. When you hear how excited Laura gets about one piece of candy, or how Ma carries on even after getting a huge log dropped on her leg while helping build their cabin. These people are tough mother-effers. Your 12 hour trip from Illinois to South Dakota, from the comfort of a compact SUV with a huge bag full of snacks, will make you feel like the laziest people ever. You will think twice about purchasing a souvenir T-shirt when you hear Ma fretting about the price of calico. (It didn’t stop me from buying a $14 souvenir bonnet, however.)

Anyway, I took a ton of photos on this trip, which you are officially invited to view in this Flickr set. Here are a few highlights:

Can you imagine living in this with four other people?!

The tires make for a much more comfortable ride than wooden wheels.

I look good in a bonnet if I do say so myself.

View of the whole Ingalls Homestead.

August 23, 2011

Review: Sweetly

,Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time! It’s billed as a “companion novel” to Sisters Red, which I thoroughly enjoyed. (See my “fairy tales with a twist” post.) Sisters Red had great, well-developed characters, exciting plot twists, and a very innovative, modern twist on a classic fairy tale. And Sweetly? Well… in my opinion, Sweetly is no Sisters Red.

You can definitely see how the two books are by the same author, and not just because the Fenris reappear. Gretchen, Sweetly’s protagonist, reminded me of Scarlett and Rosie from Sisters Red. She’s been through a lot and she’s a little scarred. She’s torn between wanting a normal life and knowing she can never have one, not since her identical twin was taken by a witch when they were small children. She’s haunted by her sister’s memory, by wondering if she could have saved her sister, by wondering why the witch didn’t take her instead. Very compelling angst.

And Sophia, the beautiful chocolatier that Gretchen and her brother Ansel end up staying with, is another great character. The book builds up a good deal of tension around Sophia, who seems very sweet and lovable, though many of the townspeople suspect her of being a witch. Good stuff, as is Gretchen’s tentative romance with the rugged local Fenris-hunter.

So what’s the problem with Sweetly?For me, the problem with Sweetly is exactly what made Sisters Red so intense: the werewolves. I don’t want to give away too much here, but all werewolf-related elements of this plot made extremely little sense to me. I’m all for re-telling and adapting fairy tales, but the story of Hansel and Gretel originally contained zero werewolves, and perhaps there is a reason for that. And the–okay, again, I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but the wolves don’t act exactly the same way here as they did in Sisters Red, and the reason given for that seemed pretty bogus. So there were a few moments that I believe were supposed to provoke shock, but for me, merely provoked confusion and slanty faces. I simply was unable to suspend my disbelief enough to go along with the second half of the plot.

Mm, chocolates

From Encore Chocolates

Alas! As is so often the case, werewolves have ruined an otherwise good time, and so I am forced to rate Sweetly two and a half hand-crafted chocolates out of five.

August 12, 2011

Little Blog on the Prairie

Little House in the Big Woods was the first chapter book I ever read. I loved it, of course–who didn’t? I have a well-worn box set of the Little House books. I even read Farmer Boy, even though it was about Almanzo and not Laura. (Farmer Boy always made me really hungry–those kids were constantly sitting down to hot doughnuts or homemade taffy or fresh watermelon or something awesome.)

This weekend I’m embarking on a summer roadtrip with my friend Anna. We’re going to South Dakota, and our first stop is De Smet, South Dakota… home of the Ingalls Homestead. I visited the Ingalls Homestead with my family, but I was too young to really remember. I’m super, super stoked to visit as an adult. Also, I got Little House on the Prairie and Little Town on the Prairie on CD so we can listen to them on our way. It’s going to be epic, you guys. Rest assured, I will blog photos of Anna and myself wearing bonnets and taking advantage of any other historical photo opportunities available to us.

In the meantime, here’s a review of a book that was clearly written by someone as enamored of Little House on the Prairie as I am.

Little Blog on the Prairie

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell is the story of Gen Walsh and her family. Gen’s mom signs the family up for Camp Frontier, inspired by her own love of Little House on the Prairie and the romantic ideals of frontier life. Gen and her brother are so not thrilled about spending the whole summer doing chores and wearing old-fashioned clothes. Gen manages to smuggle in her cell phone and occasionally sends out hilarious text messages to her best friends about her adventures. Unbeknownst to her, one of her friends has been reposting her messages on a blog. The blog goes viral and Camp Frontier ends up at the center of a media storm, forcing Gen to evaluate her opinions on technology and the camp itself.

I really liked this book. Gen is smart and funny, and I thought her family was very realistic. (They quickly thought of the over-achiever pioneer family as their rivals, simultaneously envious of their abilities and disdainful of their lameness.) I liked that they had believable quarrels but still loved each other and got along. And one of my favorite aspects of the story is one that hasn’t been mentioned often in contemporary literature, at least to my knowledge–the power of technology to make us feel connected. The relief Gen felt after sending out text messages to her friends, even though she couldn’t check for responses very often–that rang very true to me and matched my experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer. It’s nice to feel like you’re communicating with your friends, even by text. Overall, I rate Little Blog on the Prairie three bonnets (out of five).

Next on my to-read list (maybe): The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure.

August 9, 2011

Emerging from the Book Fort

Or something?

Whew! I have fallen behind on blogging. My summer web design class just wrapped up and my final project for that took up a lot of time. Also, I’ve been preparing booklists for the public library TeenSpace as part of my library internship. That has been a really fun project, but also weird! I did research (including asking all my Twitter friends for recommendations) to pick books for different categories, and then the teen librarian wanted me to at least skim every book I recommended. I had already read some of the books I was recommending, but I had at least fifty books stacked up in my living room to skim. It looked like I was building a book fort. (I should have taken a picture–I already returned a lot of the books.)

It was an interesting experience. I almost never quit reading books after I’ve started them, no matter how bad they are. But obviously there was no way I could read every book I wanted to list within the time I had available. And, honestly, there were books that I cast aside after a few pages, having immediately realized that they were not books I wanted to recommend. It was frustrating, though, since most of the books seemed pretty good and I wanted to keep reading!

Here are the lists I made:

(Readers with long memories may have noticed that I am recycling themes I used for projects from YA Lit last semester. I did have to heavily expand on these themes to make the lists long enough, however.)

A few quick picks from all these books I’ve been poring through. (Books that I have set aside to make sure I actually finish reading them.)

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Krug

A super cute, funny book with a diverse cast of characters. My favorite is Augie, a twee little gay boy who loves musical theatre and campy old movies and yet is actually a fully-developed character.

Mercury by Hope Larson

A graphic novel with two coming-of-age stories, one set in the present day and the other in 1859. Funny and poignant, and I learned a few things about Canadian history.

Mare’s War by Tanita Davis

Two black teenage girls reluctantly take a roadtrip with their eccentric grandmother, who tells them stories about her childhood, including how she lied about her age to join the WAC during WWII.

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

The story of a trans boy who decides to transition from Angela to Grady, causing quite a stir at his high school and among his family. It manages to pull of the trick of being informative about gender dysphoria without coming across as too “after school special-ish.” I actually finished reading this one because I got so into it. It’s full of relatable, believable characters.


Anything that made it onto one of my booklists came recommended from somewhere, usually multiple sources, and passed at least a skim from me. Check them out!