Archive for September, 2011

September 30, 2011

Books Behind Bars

This semester, I’ve started volunteering with Extending Library Services to Empower Youth (ELSEY), a program that works in the library of the local juvenile detention center. I’m really excited about it! As an undergrad, I led some literature classes in the local medium-security prison and really enjoyed it. People sometimes ask me if I’m afraid working with incarcerated people, or if it’s hard. It is hard, of course, to see people who are locked away from society, sometimes for very long periods of time. People who often deserve to be locked away for long periods of time.

But the work itself is pretty easy, because here is a secret about incarcerated people: they don’t have much else to do, and so they love reading. Visiting the library is a privilege to them, not something to be taken for granted the way people on the outside do. If you love books, as any good librarian does, there are few things better than a room full of teenagers eagerly asking you if there are any new books in the JDC’s small library.

Here is a conversation I had yesterday:

Guy: Do you guys have the 5th Lemony Snicket book?
Me: All the Lemony Snicket books are in the AR (Accelerated Reader) section.
Guy: I know, I looked, there’s six but not five.
Me: Oh, sorry, somebody else must have it then!
Guy: Do you have anything else like them?
Me: Hm… have you read the Artemis Fowl books?
Guy: What’s that?
Me: They’re about this genius kid who is a criminal mastermind.
Guy: (studies it) But they’re for fun?
Me: Yeah. They’re for fun.

The weirdness of recommending a series about a child criminal mastermind to a teen in a juvenile detention center didn’t strike me until literally right now, by the way. Artemis Fowl: not a “how-to” manual. But I just love that this kid so earnestly described some books as “for fun.” And he’s right! They are for fun.

Tyrell by Coe Booth

I have to say, though, that after a few weeks in the JDC, Tyrell by Coe Booth has jumped right to the top of my to-read list. The way those kids talk about Tyrell… ! It is universally beloved. Whenever it gets reshelved, one of them will take the tattered copy down from the shelf, hand it to another kid, and say in reverent tones, “Have you read Tyrell? You got to read Tyrell! I couldn’t put it down!”

There are two copies of Tyrell, in fact, and though they are each only a few months old they look approximately a thousand years old. They are what you would call “high circulating.”

Every week they ask us, “Do you have any more books by Coe Booth?” Unfortunately, we do not! She has only written three books, one of which just came out last month.

Ms. Booth, please write more books soon! We need them!

Personally, I am still very busy reading Tyra Banks’s book but, like I said, Tyrell is next on my to-read list. I have never heard anyone talk about a book the way these kids talk about Tyrell. It’s a combination of the way one of my college professors used to talk about Moby-Dick and the way that evangelical Christians talk about Jesus.

PS: If any of you have some spare cash and want to significantly enhance the day of a teen in lockup, ELSEY has an Amazon wishlist. I’m just sayin’.

September 26, 2011

Music Monday: Never Say Never

So when people find out that I am an adult lady who enjoys tween and teen pop, I’m often asked, “Well, what do you think about Justin Bieber?” Thank you for asking that question, even if I didn’t appreciate your tone!

Peace, Biebs

I resisted the Bieber for a long time. He was just too… too silly. Too young. Too shiny. Sure, I like pop music, but Justin Bieber? I draw the line there, thank you very much.

Then, summer of 2010, I found myself working at Girl Scout camp. We started the day off with a “morning radio show” where we gave announcements and played some music to start the day while they ate breakfast. I was the DJ, and my number one request was Justin Bieber.

“No, sorry, I don’t have that song. How about… Hannah Montana?”

(Dramatic sigh)

It was clear that I would have to get my hands on some Bieber. For the children. So I downloaded “Baby” and burned it to CD. It very quickly grew on me and most of the other counselors. Our favorite part, though, was Ludacris’s rap in the middle. We all tried our best to learn this rap, but we’re white Girl Scouts and it did not go too well for us. From memory, here is how Ludacris’s rap goes:

When I was 13

I had my first love

There was nobody who could compare to my baby

…. sent from above?

She had me going crazy

Yeah, I was starstruck

She woke me up daily

Don’t need no Starbucks

I see her at school and on the playground

But I really wanna see her on the weekend

I’m pretty sure I missed a few lines. But still, can we just talk about how hilarious it is that Ludacris is rapping about seeing his 13-year-old love on the playground? So good, right?

Completely ludicrous

Anyway, so that summer, Justin Bieber (and his rapper pals) grew on me to the extent that when his movie Never Say Never came out, I went to see it with my friend Anna. We kind of were expecting to watch it and laugh at it. But the joke was on us, because we both cried at it. It was honestly, truly, a very good and moving film. Interspersed with some great pop music. I swear. Bieber is actually a super talented kid, arguably more talented than most of his singles display.

Check out U Smile, featuring Boyz II Men:

It’s so pretty! I swear.

But probably my favorite part of the Never Say Never movie was his performance of the song Never Say Never, featuring a rap by Jaden Smith, who is like, seven years old or something. (Okay, I just checked: he’s 13, so would have been 11 or 12 in the movie.)

No pun intended, was raised by the power of Will
Like Luke with the Force, when push comes to shove
Like Kobe in the 4th, ice water for blood
I gotta be the best, and yes
We’re the flyest
Like David and Goliath
I conquered the giant
So now I got the world in my hand
I was born from two stars
So the moon’s where I land

Oh Jaden, I see what you did there! Get it? Raised by the power of Will? Amazing. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, too–Jaden is basically rapping about how he can do whatever he wants because his parents are both celebrities. Justin, meanwhile, has a legitimately rags-to-riches story. He’s the son of a low-income teenage single mom. But she NEVER SAID NEVER and now look at him, outshining Will Smith’s son. Well played.

September 23, 2011

Don’t Even Worry About It, I’m Reading Tyra Banks’s Modelland So You Don’t Have To

Yesterday was a great day! I got an email saying that the public library was holding a copy of Tyra Banks’s new YA novel Modelland for me! Today was an even better day! I got an ARC of Modelland from the Center for Children’s Books! (Never mind that it’s not really advance anymore since the final book is already out. It still feels cool and insider-y to have one.)


The first novel from Bankable Books? Will there be more? I'm sure there will!

Much has been made about celebrities writing children’s books. Many have pointed out how offensive it is that celebrities think it is soo easy to write children’s books that they can just waltz in and write one. These people have a point; most books written by celebrities are not good. (Notable exceptions: … none. I can think of no exceptions.) So why do people keep buying them? Because we love celebrities. And celebrities will keep writing books, because we will keep buying them. So it goes!

Hilary Duff's Elixir

Do not read this book.

The last celebrity book I read was Elixir, by Hilary Duff. It was awful. Promise me that you will not read Elixir. If for some reason you feel overcome with the desire to read Elixir, here is how you can simulate the experience: tear a few random pages out of Twilight and a few pages out of The DaVinci Code. Staple them together in no particular order. Read them while drinking heavily, with an episode of Lizzie McGuire on in the background.

So my expectations for Modelland are extremely low. I’m still going to read it, though, because Tyra Banks is one of my all time favorite celebrities. America’s Next Top Model is probably my number one guilty pleasure. Tyra is the perfect combination of self-absorbed, trashy, and insane that makes for excellent television. And if Miss J ever wrote a children’s/YA book, you’d better believe I would read that, too.

Miss J

Anyway, I just started reading Modelland so this isn’t a full review. But I did want to share a tiny excerpt from the book’s prologue, just to give you all a sample of what a delight this book will be:

Nevertheless, you and every young girl in the world vie for an opportunity on the Day of Discovery, which is grander than every global holiday combined. Making the delirium even more intense, the Land sends seven talismans called SMIZEs into the world. (What an arcane word! Who though of such a thing?)

Oh Tyra, I see what you did there. (For those of you who do not watch America’s Next Top Model, why not? Do you think you’re too good for it? You aren’t. Anyway, though, “smize” is a word that Tyra has coined that means “smile with your eyes.” It is very important for models to smize.)



Hope you all have smize-filled weekends!

September 21, 2011

The Power of Maureen Johnson’s Twitter

As I may have mentioned before, I am a fan of Maureen Johnson. She’s smart, funny, and just plain weird. But I was not always a fan!

The first time I heard of her was many years ago, on a musical theatre message board I frequent. If you did not know, Maureen Johnson is the name of a character in the musical Rent, and someone posted an article where Maureen Johnson (the author) mentioned that she was sick of people asking her if she was the “real” Maureen Johnson from Rent. I remember thinking, “God, she must talk to a lot of crazy people” and then forgetting about her.

The Other Maureen Johnson

This is Maureen Johnson from Rent, so I guess you can see where she'd fight the comparison.

Years later, I started using Twitter a lot. I noticed that many people I followed were frequently retweeting things from @maureenjohnson, so I checked her out. “Oh, it’s that author,” I thought. “She’s pretty funny, I guess I’ll follow her too.” I followed her for awhile and enjoyed her tweets so much that I thought I had better read one of her books.

I went to the library and picked one more or less randomly. I chose Devilish.

Devilish by Maureen Johnson

I chose poorly. Devilish was fine, or whatever, but it didn’t really grab me. I didn’t like it nearly as much as I liked her Twitter. So I moved on. I kept reading MJ’s tweets, but none of her books. Then this summer I went to the ALA conference and got a signed ARC of The Name of the Star, which I reviewed here, but in a nutshell: I adored it. Then I went back and read Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes: also great. I was on the library waiting list for The Last Little Blue Envelope all summer and just got it last week. I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked it even more than I liked Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes.

MJ has also been tweeting a lot to promote The Name of the Star, which comes out soon. Everyone who pre-orders it from Books of Wonder gets a signed copy, a personal thank-you tweet, and these custom refrigerator poetry magnets:

Maureen Johnson Twitter magnets

Click to view the larger version. So cool!

So she’s been tweeting about this a ton, and I’ve been hemming and hawing. I mean, I already own a signed copy of this book. But I really wanted those fridge magnets. So cool! And I can always give my second copy of Name of the Star to someone else, since it was a really great book. Yesterday I broke down and pre-ordered it.

You're welcome, Maureen

You're welcome, Maureen

And Maureen Johnson thanked me on Twitter!

Anyway, I guess the point of this entry is: if you are good at Twitter, I will probably buy your book.

September 19, 2011

Music Monday: Eenie Meenie

This summer, Sean Kingston made the news by getting into a Jet-Ski accident in Miami. Don’t even worry about it, he has made a full recovery. But I remember clearly hearing this news with some friends, and they all said “Who?”

Um, duh, the “Eenie Meenie” guy. You know. With Justin Bieber? Oh, sorry, I forgot you guys all think you are too old to listen to Justin Bieber. Whatever.

This particular video has over 48 million views on YouTube, so somebody is listening to it.

By the way, I should warn you–if you click that link, here is what will be in your head for at least the next three days:

You can’t make up your mind, mind, mind, mind, mind
Please don’t waste my time, time, time, time, time

This is fine. Embrace it.

September 16, 2011

Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

I’m in my library school’s YA book club, where a bunch of overwhelmingly female library students (and a few actual librarians) get together and overanalyze YA books. YA book club is where I go to realize that all of my opinions about Katniss Everdeen are minority opinions.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Anyway, this month we read Delirium by Lauren Oliver. I was tentatively interested in this–I had loved Oliver’s first book, Before I Fall, which is a really well done Mean Girls/Groundhog Day kind of thing. It’s good. If you like realistic contemporary fiction, go read Before I Fall. Read it quick, before technology changes and makes it outdated. Go!

But Delirium, a dystopia where love is classified as an illness and “cured” with mandatory brain surgery, is not like Before I Fall, which is okay–authors shouldn’t write the same kind of books over and over. But part of why I liked Before I Fall is because the high school felt very real to me. I had no trouble buying into the world, even with its Groundhog Day scenario. Unfortunately, Delirium‘s world is not quite so well defined.

I kept comparing it unfavorably to Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy–unfairly, too, since I’ve read all three Uglies (but not the fourth one, Extras, I’ll get around to it, okay?) and Delirium is book one of an eventual trilogy. She has two more books to flesh out this dystopia. But on book one alone, I just didn’t buy it. Scott Westerfeld did a masterful job of researching and creating the Uglies world, even if its concept (a world where ugliness is cured by mandatory plastic surgery) is basically as weird as a world where love is cured by brain surgery. There are too many inconsistencies in Oliver’s world and I never fully bought into it.

My favorite Delirium

My favorite Delirium

Also, when I see a book called Delirium, I really want it to be about Neil Gaiman’s Delirium.

But nevermind that. Delirium isn’t all bad. The protagonist, Lena, felt very real and likeable. Her reactions to the world felt real, even if the world itself did not.

I should also report that just about everyone else at YA book club liked this book more than I did–though when I went through and pointed out all the ways in which the dystopia makes no sense, pretty much everyone agreed. (For example: their symptoms of love-as-illness all pretty clearly describe romantic love. So why does their cure also destroy parental love? Why would you do that? Or if there is some kind of purpose, why then wouldn’t the children be raised collectively in a commune or something, so fewer adults would have to interact with these children they don’t care about? And also, Oliver, your two-sentence dismissal of the gays really doesn’t work for me. And also… well, never mind.) Everyone else just cared less about the inconsistencies. Sorry guys! I like my dystopias like I like my coffee: coherent. But still, when the second book comes out, I’ll probably read it, if only to see if Oliver explains more about how this world actually works.

Also to see what happens with Lena and her ~*true love*~ Alex. (Because, sorry, I forgot to say that she fell in love with a boy mere weeks before she was scheduled to be cured! But also I kind of thought it went without saying that of course she did.) The book ends on a very dramatic note for the two of them, and I’m sure the next book will pick up on that.

Delirium + fish balloon = love

Overall, I rate Delirium three fish balloons out of a possible five.

September 15, 2011

Kids These Days: Technology in YA

This summer I listened to the audiobook of So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld. I really enjoyed it, but was also surprised by how dated it has already become since its publication in 2005. The datedness is accelerated because of the book’s concept, about a teenager who works for different marketing companies as a “cool-hunter.” And, unfortunately, what was cool in 2005 is different from what was cool in 2011. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you heard anybody bragging about a cell phone with a camera? For me, it was when I read So Yesterday. And before that, it was when I lived in a developing country. And before that, well, it was probably 2005.

So Yesterday

So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld

I think the book’s anti-establishment concept is still cool enough to endure, despite some slightly dated references. (I think it probably would have been mindblowing when it came out.) But, unfortunately, I do think that contemporary fiction has a bit of a shelf life. This is something we talked about in my children’s literature class–how classics like the Ramona books just aren’t as appealing to kids anymore. I’ll buy it. As a kid I remember reading it and being like “Their teacher does what? Why are they acting like a dollar is a lot of money? They’re eating what for dinner?” It wasn’t enough to keep me from enjoying the books, but it did give me several pauses. By contrast, when I read books like the Animorphs series, I remember thinking how cool it was that these kids had AOL and went to a mall that was recognizably like my own mall. I feel you, kids who transform into animals to fight aliens. I feel you.

Of course, kids today would read those books and go “AOL? LOL!” (I talked awhile ago about how they are re-releasing Animorphs and Babysitter’s Club books in a “time neutral” format.) Technology is changing so fast these days; it really impacts the realism of children’s and YA novels. Now if you read a contemporary novel and it doesn’t allude to cell phones and texting, it almost takes you out of it. “What do you mean, you don’t know where your mom is? You didn’t even try her cell!”

So yesterday!

So yesterday!

This is partly why fantasy is so enduring. You don’t have to explain why there are no cell phones in Narnia. It’s because it’s magic there, duh. And they don’t have 4G so why bother? (Sci-fi can sometimes feel dated, if the things that the author has imagined as being very futuristic has already come to pass by the time you’re reading it. Or if the book has chosen 2001 to represent the future, for example.)

And certainly, contemporary fiction can endure even as it grows dated. Look at Little Women. I loved that book as a kid, even though it was written for an audience of children who grew up during the Civil War. I did not understand a lot of it, but I understood enough to be able to fall in love with the Marches. But other books, books whose characters and plot aren’t quite enough to keep them in print forever, those books will fall to the wayside like a Nokia flip phone. And that’s okay. Not every book is or should be Little Women. Sometimes teens (and kids and adults and every age of reader) just want to read something fun and timely, something that feels just like their school with its stupid no-texting rules and its totally low-bandwidth Wi-Fi connection. Something that will feel totally foreign to their children, who will all have routers installed directly into their brainstems and will have no need for external internet connections or text messaging.

September 13, 2011

Music Tuesday: See You Again

Oh no! I forgot about Music Monday yesterday! EVERYTHING IS RUINED

Just kidding, welcome to Music Tuesday. Everything’s fine. Unless you’re Miley Cyrus in this song, that is.

It comes off of the second Hannah Montana soundtrack, which was a 2-disc album. The first disc was called Hannah Montana 2. The second disc was Meet Miley Cyrus, and it turns out that Miley Cyrus is mentally unstable. Listen to this song and consider that it was on the soundtrack of a Disney show.

The last time I freaked out
I just kept looking down
I st-st-stuttered when you asked me what I’m thinking about
Felt like I couldn’t breathe
You asked what’s wrong with me
My best friend Leslie said “Oh she’s just being Miley”

Did you get that? Miley is having some kind of panic attack and the object of her affections asked what’s wrong with her. Her alleged best friend said “Oh she’s just being Miley.”

Girl! Get Miley some help!

Anyway, I love this song for how bizarre and creepy it is. But also, of course, it’s very catchy, just as the Disney robots programmed it to be.

I have been trying for awhile to get “She’s just being Miley” to work as some kind of catchphrase, but it hasn’t caught on yet. Probably I need to hang out with more tweens. Still, I encourage you all to try it. Consider the following scenarios:

“Didn’t Jill say she was going to come out with us tonight?”
“You know how she is… she’s probably just being Miley.”

“I can’t believe he broke up with me!”
“Oh, he is crazy. He is just being Miley.”

“Oh my God, is that girl having a seizure?”
“Oh, she’s just being Miley.”

In the comments, I urge you all to come up with possible scenarios for this great new catchphrase.

September 9, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

OK, so I know this has been out for a few years and it’s already hugely popular. But I totally missed out on this phenomenon until recently. When I went to see the last Harry Potter movie, I saw a preview for Hugo, the movie based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. I wasn’t super impressed by the trailer and I didn’t think much about it. I’d come across the book earlier this summer when I was researching popular graphic novels, but I didn’t look into it because my library puts Hugo Cabret in children’s. (This is kind of arbitrary and some other libraries keep it in teen, or copies in both sections.)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

But then it was assigned reading for my Children’s Lit class, and I read it and was utterly captivated. It’s a completely one-of-a-kind book, part novel, part comics, part silent movie. It’s not a traditional graphic novel, but it’s more than just a novel with illustrations. Every so often the text gives way and the story is completely told through wordless images. Striking, soft, black and white images.

Hugo Cabret

It won the Caldecott Medal in 2008, and apparently it was a very controversial choice in the library world. No one (really) disagrees that it’s a wonderful book, but the Caldecott Medal is for picture books, and not everyone agrees that Hugo Cabret is a picture book. I don’t even know if I agree that it’s a picture book, but I’m not on the Caldecott committee and I don’t care whether or not it’s a picture book. Whatever it is, it’s a work of art and you should absolutely read it, whatever section of the library might be lucky enough to house it.

The book tells the story of a young boy who lives in a train station alone. He’s a skilled clockmaker, having learned from his late father, and he’s trying to reconstruct an automaton. (Which I looked up on Wikipedia after reading the book and could not believe that they are real! They are basically extremely complicated clockwork robots!) It’s part mystery, part… historical techno-thriller, part coming of age story, part thrilling chase scene… it has everything!

Having read and loved the book, I’m a little hesitant about the movie. Part of what made me enjoy the book so much was how astonishing the experience of reading the book was, and how cleverly Selznick made the book mimic a movie. I think that will be lost when it actually is a movie. Anyone can make a movie mimic a movie, after all.


I rate the Invention of Hugo Cabret five automata out of a possible five.

September 5, 2011

Music Monday: Who Said

For this Music Monday, I bring you one of my favorite Hannah Montana songs. (Yes, I have multiple favorite Hannah Montana songs.) Plus, it has a title very similar to the Selena Gomez song I posted last week! How clever I am.

Hannah vs Miley

Oh my, how different these two are in appearance!

For those of you desperately far from the tween music scene–Hannah Montana is the alter ego of Miley Cyrus on the show Hannah Montana. The premise of the show was that young Miley went to a normal high school and had normal teen girl problems, but also she was secretly a very famous pop star called Hannah Montana. Miley is a brunette and Hannah wears a blonde wig.

The best part of the show, of course, was that Miley’s dad Billy Ray Cyrus played her dad, Robbie Ray Stewart.

Billy Ray

ILU Billy Ray

The show is no longer on the air, but it did give the world the Hannah Montana movie. And the Hannah Montana movie gave us Tyra Banks having a shoe fight with Hannah Montana.

It also gave us some pretty fun pop songs, like this one:

I looked hard on YouTube for a video that didn’t start off with “I’m more than just you’re average girl” but they all appear to have it. (Or are live performances, which I didn’t want to use.) Whatever, who said I need to know how apostrophes work?

It’s a good song to workout or dance to. Or to fly to. I mean, who said you can’t be Superman? Besides DC’s lawyers I suppose.