Monday, October 16, 2017

The Annual Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School Is On!

It's Time to Send More Books to Washington D.C.

Welcome to the annual Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School!

For the 8th year, Guys Lit Wire is delighted to invite readers to help this school fill its library shelves by shopping their Amazon wish list. There are hundreds of books to choose from covering every topic you can think of and we hope you will buy a book or two for this worthy school and help its students and wonderful librarian, Melissa Jackson, gain greater access to more titles. The school depends on this annual book fair and we are happy to host it. This is our chance to help the students obtain books they want to read and we can't do it without your help!

Ballou Sr High School's students face many obstacles; all of the students qualify for free or reduced price lunch and last year its graduation rate was 57%. But in 2017 every member of the senior class applied to college — a first for the school — and we certainly believe that the library was a huge support to them in their efforts.


Our Goal

We hope to send at least 150 books to Ballou this year and there are plenty of titles at a wide variety of prices to choose from. It's important to stress that this is a list that is reviewed and approved by Ballou students and includes many many books that they have requested. There are poetry and novels, biographies and cookbooks, graphic novels, science, travel and more. There is literally something for everyone on this list and we are sure that you will find a book (or more!) that you want to gift to these worthy students. 

We know 2017 has given us all so many things to worry about and, sadly, so many people who are in need of assistance. With Ballou the need is ever present however and, we believe, critically important. Libraries are the heart of every school and every community; they are part of the long game that can positively transform a community and are especially critical to the hearts of young people. Books can be game changers in the life of a teenager — heck, books ARE game changers and we want to get as many as we can into the hands of Ballou's students. 


The Details

The Amazon wish list can be found here. It is also easily searchable at Amazon under "Ballou High School". If you would like to embed a link in a post or tweet (and PLEASE DO!!), use this one: http://tinyurl.com/BookFairBallouHS

And here is the url in case the links are not working for you:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/2CU17Q38C3P68/ref=cm_wl_sortbar_o_page_1?ie=UTF8&sort=universal-title 

The mailing address is already set-up for checkout and there are nearly 500 books to choose from with a wide price range. We do hope you will find a book that you want to send to Ballou and help us make life a little better for a great bunch of a kids.

The Book Fair for Ballou High School Library will stay open for 2 weeks and we will keep you posted here on how things go. Be sure to follow @chasingray (GLW moderator Colleen Mondor's twitter feed) and watch the Ballou Library feed for shoutouts from Melissa (@BallouLibrary) as books show up.


Just one book will make a huge difference.

You can learn a bit more about Ballou by watching this short video from the Washington Post. We certainly hope it will persuade you to support the book fair and all efforts for these most worthy students.



















Friday, October 13, 2017

Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years

Carl Sandburg wrote, in his preface to Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, "For thirty years and more I have planned to make a certain portrait of Abraham Lincoln. It would sketch the country lawyer and prairie politician who was intimate with the settlers of the Knox County neighborhood where I grew up as a boy, and where I heard the talk of men and women who had eaten with Lincoln, given him a bed overnight, heard his jokes and lingo, remembered his silences and his mobile face.

"The Mayor of Galesburg in 1858, Henry Sanderson, is the only individual of casual record who carried warm cistern water to a bathtub for Lincoln and saw Lincoln taking a bath. There in Galesburg Clark E. Carr, author of "The Illini," repeated Bill Green's remark about Lincoln, "He can make a cat laugh." And there Lincoln when bantered about his backwardness with women, answered, "A woman is the only thing I am afraid of that I know will not hurt me."

"The folk-lore Lincoln, the maker of stories, the stalking and elusive Lincoln is a challenge for any artist. He has enough outline and lights and shadows and changing tints to call out portraits of him in his Illinois backgrounds and settings -- even had he never been elected President.

"Perhaps poetry, art, human behavior in this country, which has need to build on its own traditions, would be served by a life of Lincoln stressing the fifty-two years previous to his Presidency. Such a book would imply that if he was what he was during those first fifty-two years of his life it was nearly inevitable that he would be what he proved to be in the last four."

So a challenge: Try it. If you think that a six-volume biography of Lincoln is too much, I understand (The first two volumes are "The Prairie Years," followed by four of "The War Years."). There are shortened versions available, a three-volume paperback set, or a one-volume abridged version. I read the three-volume set many years ago. And I wondered if I would ever try to read the entire six volumes. Well, I am. I got through The Prairie Years pretty easily. Volume 1 of The War Years took a bit longer (I kept getting interrupted.) And I have just started volume 2. I love that Sandburg grew up knowing people who knew Lincoln. And he was a great storyteller. That is what sets his Lincoln biography apart, for me, and why I intend to keep reading.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Freefall by Joshua Bellin





When I give a genre talk about science fiction to my students, my main claim is that all good science fiction, no matter how apparently “alien” (literally and figuratively), is actually saying something important about the world in which we live (or at least the world that existed when the work first appeared). Not necessarily in an allegorical way, but in a way that makes the narrative more than just a story. With Joshua Bellin’s Freefall, I now have another title to share as evidence for this claim.

Bellin's young adult science fiction novel begins with Cam waking up from "deepsleep" on a distant planet, confused, alone, and frightened. This is not where he was supposed to wake up, not how the colonization of a new planet was supposed to begin. This is not why he endured a thousand-year induced coma, and this is not why he and the other Upperworlders fled a dying Earth.

Flash back a thousand years, as Bellin's novel does in alternating chapters throughout most of the book, and we discover Cam becoming "woke." A young man waking up to the costs of his privilege, a young man learning to question a world where a minority control nearly all of the wealth and power. A young man who learns some truths about the Lowerworld and about himself, truths tied to his growing devotion and love for a beautiful and mysterious Lowerworld leader named Sofie.


Sofie and her movement want justice for those born in the Lowerworld, a justice denied them by the social stratification the Upperworlders have used to plunder Earth until the planet can no longer sustain human life. Now Sofie and her movement want representation among those privileged enough to be able to flee to a new world and a new life. Cam, raised by Upperworld society and media to believe those in the Lowerworld deserve their fate, rebels against this worldview as the race intensifies to find a world worth viewing.

Bellin leaves plenty of truths for the reader and Cam to discover in the intense action of the final section, as Cam struggles to survive on "Otherworld," truths that reveal the sacrifices necessary for justice. With clear and disturbing parallels to our current political and environmental realities, Freefall uses the darkness of space to do what all good science fiction should: shine a light on what it means to be human.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

I admit, I like it when things fit into nice, neat categories. The satisfaction I get when I can categorize and label things according to how I perceive or interpret them is immense. Well, sometimes, not everything can be sorted out and categorized all nice and neat.

From page one as Riley started to write the initial therapeutic blog post as assigned by Riley's therapist, I wanted to figure it out. I wanted to know what gender Riley was assigned at birth. I felt guilty about trying to use a label, but I wanted to be able to categorize Riley as male or female, cisgender or transgender, homosexual or heterosexual. I get all of those things, they make sense to me - they are categories. I had heard the term gender fluid before but I hadn't really thought about it, at least not in a concrete way - more theoretically. I really appreciate how Garvin described Riley's gender fluidity (AND that this is not how every gender fluid individual experiences it) as a dial from female on one extreme to male on the other. That makes sense to me.

The fact that as Riley meets people both at school and at the LGBTQ support group assumptions are made and genders assigned based on looks and or a few actions without consideration for how an individual might identify their own gender is oddly comforting to me. As I said before, I admit I try to label people I meet. I try not to, but I know I do. So, to see Riley trying as well helps my guilt factor for wanting to label Riley, but also reiterates how deep the gender normative labels run in our society. We can do better, we need to do better. Gender is only a part of who a person is, it doesn't really encompass the depth and breadth of who and/or what an individual is.

I will definitely be recommending this book to my students, AND their parents! There is a lot in here for both age groups to draw on and learn from.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Before and Afterlives by Christopher Barzack and The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

It's my favorite time of year! In celebration of fall, here are a couple of reviews from a few years ago of perfect Halloween season reads.

Christopher Barzak has a riveting take on Alice in Wonderland in his short story collection Before and Afterlives. "The Mad Tea Party" is brief and lacerating, a tale that delivers a clear message on the perils of madness. Grown-up Alice returns to her childhood home after the death of her mother. Upon arriving, she takes on a porcelain Cheshire Cat, recalls a flight attendant dressed in white and sporting a pocket watch who hastened her on her way, craves tea, and dreams of playing cards. This Alice is wounded and angry, destructive and broken. She is the girl who will prompt readers to ask why Carroll's Alice felt compelled to follow the white rabbit in the first place, and what she might have been running from. If Howard writes a fantastical version of Alice's mental health legacy, Barzak plumbs even deeper depths and goes full-on reality. I'm still thinking about the eight pages of "The Mad Tea Party."

 Elsewhere in Before and Afterlives, Barzak shares the history of the scariest haunted house ever in "What We Know About the Lost Families of -- House," reveals a bitter emotional legacy for the parents of a runaway teenager in "The Drowned Mermaid," and reaches deep into the heart of a living boy who finds solace in the resting place of a dead one in "Dead Boy Found." Throughout this collection, Barzak effectively writes people contending with their fears and doubts but most especially he writes about loneliness, and it is this writerly radar for alienation that perhaps makes him so perceptive when it comes to his teen characters. The boy in "Dead Boy Found" is like any other, but Barzak teases out his sorrow page by page, paragraph by paragraph, giving readers a peek at teen humanity that will ring all too true for many high schoolers. He achieves similar results with a sister coming to turns with her older brother's sexuality and unorthodox romance in "Map of Seventeen" (this has to include one of the best portrayals of truly great parents I have read in ages), and further with a daughter forced to confront her father over the effect of his paranormal profession in "The Ghost Hunter's Beautiful Daughter."

The tour-de-force, however, is "The Language of Moths," in which a brother learns to appreciate his autistic sister and together they weather a challenging summer and come to an unexpected understanding that, really, makes everything all better. Barzak makes it all seem so easy, these gentle glimpses into his characters' lives, and even though these lives might include mermaids or ghostly parents or talking fireflies, the extraordinary aspects are not what make his tales so magical. It's the way he sees plain ordinary people that gives his stories such power; the way he sees us and yet loves us anyway. Bravo.

Margo Lanagan wanders yet again into the territory of dark myth she travels so well with her multi-generational look at seal wives (selkies) and the land men who claim them in The Brides of Rollrock Island. From the young girl with a stark and frightening seal kinship whose unforgiving childhood leads her down a path to cold and cruel witchery to the boy who challenges a lifetime's worth of social mores to save his mother, Rollrock takes readers into the hearts of its island residents and the subtle way in which rape can affect a society.

Generations of disappointment weigh down Rollrock Island, and even those who are bewitched cannot deny their own responsibility in the sorrow of others (or that they sought out the bewitching in the first place). As one seal wife is driven by abject despair to suicide, the families gather to witness her sad end and know that the same possibility haunts each of their homes as well. Real love -- honest love -- is not easy, but at least it is true and fair, something the men of Rollrock have willfully forgotten and the women are lost without. Lanagan is a master at sparing her characters no quarter, at forcing readers to recognize every moment of weakness that propels her narratives. But with Rollrock, she shows how complicated love and longing can be, how emotions can be manipulated and harsh family dynamics can destroy far easier than love can mend. By every measure, this novel is the very definition of tortured romance and the author never lets you forget that.

Margo Lanagan has rightfully received praise for her previous titles and The Brides of Rollrock Island is worthy of equal measure. I was struck while reading it, however, by how adult it is. This is a novel for teens, and many of the characters in the shifting points of view are quite young, but it has an adult sensibility and awareness of the serious choices we make in the world. Margo Lanagan understands teens like few other authors today; she grants her audience a literary respect more often seen in the pages of The New Yorker than the exhaustive paranormal section of the local bookstore. Kidlit, my ass. Read her pages and see yourself as the serious reader Lanagan knows you to be while gaining a newfound respect for the always complicated world of teenagers.

These reviews were previously published (several years ago) in my column for Bookslut.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Miles Morales: Spider Man by Jason Reynolds

51+N5foXMFL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (331×499)I was browsing School Library Journal's site under the Diversity tab and I came across an interview with Jason Reynolds in which he talked about how pleasantly surprised he was when he was approached by Marvel to write a yfic adaptation of the new incarnation of Spiderman, Miles Morales. This fact alone made me search out this book.

In case you hadn't heard about this new reboot. Miles is half African-American, half Puerto Rican and lives in Brooklyn. He is still coming to terms with his powers and whether or not he should use them. He has more pressing concerns namely trying to keep his grades up at school, the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy.

He and his father are close-his dad is the only other person besides his best friend Ganke who knows about Miles' alter ego-so father son talks between the two are interesting to say the least. Miles' father is intent on seeing his son do well and to avoid the many pitfalls that could befall him. Miles' dad wasn't exactly an angel in his younger days.

Miles' financial situation at home is precarious at best which is why when a silly lapse in judgment leads to serious consequences at school he finds himself having to make some hard decisions.
Miles is a teenager after all and peer pressure is a huge part of a teen's existence. In a few scenes Miles succumbs to peer pressure and uses his powers to get the upper hand on unsuspecting folks. One scene in particular seems like it could have occurred in any one of those old hip-hop movies from the 80s.

The villain in this book isn't exactly like the Vulture, Green Goblin or Doc Ock in terms of costumes and over the top garb. Reynolds puts a great spin on the teacher student dynamic and the power dynamic that exists in the classroom.  This was a great read, highly recommended, hopefully there are a few more books in the works. This would be an awesome series.



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

We See Everything by William Sutcliffe

The future sound of London is an air raid siren.
Lex lives on The Strip. No not the area of Las Vegas which according to everyone who goes there "has been ruined since the mob left".

The Strip is what's left of London after a series of brutal wars between the government and an organisation known as The Corps.

To the government, The Corps are terrorists, plain and simple. To those in The Corps, the government's 24-hour drone surveillance, lies and disorder has left them no choice but to fight back.

Lex's father is a member of The Corps, and therefore a target. Their family does their best to survive in an anxious, bombed-out reality

Friday, September 15, 2017

Midnighters trilogy by Scott Westerfeld

When Jessica Day moves to the seemingly sleepy town of Bixby, Oklahoma, she has no inkling that she'll learn the town's supernatural secrets one sleepy night. When she wakes up at exactly midnight, she sees raindrops outside which appear to be frozen - not made of ice, but rather, suspended in mid-air. She cautiously, carefully treads outside and takes in all of the quiet beauty of the night. She thinks it's all a dream . . .

. . . until her new classmates tell her otherwise. Dess, Rex, Melissa, and Jonathan are connected by the time they were born: the stroke of midnight. This is a stroke of luck, for better or for worse, for it permits them to move around the town during the Secret Hour that starts at midnight, when everyone and everything else freezes. Each teenager has a cool ability which is truly unique. Thanks to Scott Westerfeld's creative mind, even those powers you may think are typical of sci-fi stories, such as flying, have a new spin. He also makes math a superpower. Woo hoo! These powers are tested when the group has to fight the Darklings, creepy creatures literally from another time, creatures that can ONLY move around during the Secret Hour. Research, plans, patterns, steel, and thirteen-letter words must be prepared, and sacrifices must be made.

Read the Midnighters trilogy
in order:
The Secret Hour
Touching Darkness
Blue Noon

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

To read or not to read: Hamlet, illustrated three ways

I'm not certain that anyone reads Hamlet in high school anymore (at least as an assignment). I can think of many reasons why they should, including it being, hands-down, one of the best pieces of work written in the English language. Moody Danish Prince comes home from college because his father died, only to find out that his mom has married his dad's brother. I mean, that set-up alone is full of drama. But when Hamlet meets his father's ghost, and the ghost tells him that he didn't die of natural causes, but was murdered by the same dude who married his widow and took his throne? Well.

Throw in some additional plots - the uncle scheming to get rid of Hamlet, Hamlet meeting up with his girlfriend, whose father is a counselor to the king, a few additional murders (SO MANY MURDERS), and the plot is crazy good. As are so very many of the lines in the play. It's not limited to Hamlet's most famous soliloquy, which begins "To be or not to be, that is the question."

Now, I get that Shakespearean texts aren't always super easy to understand. And hey, these were supposed to be plays, acted out on stage in front of live audiences. Sure, you can watch movie versions -- the most faithful is probably Kenneth Branagh's version, which includes pretty much the full text, where other versions edit a bit, though my daughter especially likes the versions with David Tennant or Ethan Hawke, both of which are set in modern times (the latter being in New York City).

But if you need to read the play and think you might like some help in understanding it, may I recommend reading either the No Fear Shakespeare graphic novel or the Manga Shakespeare edition?

I'll explain the pros and cons of each version in the remainder of this post.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller





For Matt, eating is about control. And not eating is the ultimate exercise of that control. Because if you can control this elemental need, you might be able to control other elements of your life as well, including the disappearance of your older sister, the economic and emotional traumas affecting your mother, and your sexual attraction to the boy you are convinced is involved in your sister’s disappearance. An eating disorder as the means of creating order in a disordered universe.

You might even be able to control your very senses. Like a fasting anchorite using his hunger to fuel an insight into God, Matt believes his hunger can heighten his sense of smell, his hearing, even his physical dexterity. His mind can become a weapon against the bullies who plague his high school existence and the doubts that lurk in every silence within his home and his mind. He can be the one in control. He hungers for it.

Sam J. Miller’s debut novel The Art of Starving structures its story to reflect The Art of War, Sun-Tzu’s famed Chinese guide to fighting. Each chapter presents another “rule” about survival. Surviving not eating, surviving bullying, surviving poverty, surviving emotional isolation. What begins as a mystery involving what role sometime bully and full-time soccer star Tariq plays in the disappearance of Matt's sister Maya evolves into a moving presentation of Matt’s struggle to have others accept his sexual identity and his own struggle to accept his physical identity.


The Art of Starving challenges the reader with its raw portrayal of Matt’s eating disorder and its steadfast refusal to acknowledge whether Matt’s “powers” serve as powerful metaphor or supernatural manifestation. With its aching honesty and elegant writing, The Art of Starving makes me wish this book had existed for former students and glad that it does for current and future ones.