Friday, October 17, 2014

Caged Warrior

Caged Warrior

CAGED WARRIOR takes the reader to places they had no idea they could even go between the pages of a book. The poorest parts of Detroit, on of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the U.S., is where McCutcheon "M.D." Daniels calls home.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

League of Seven by Alan Gratz

League of Seven, one of the most fun books I've read recently, is chock full of all kinds of cool stuff that I get excited about: Lovecraftian monsters, steampunk, alternate history, mythology, secret societies, ninja robots, and giant city-crushing beasts. Honestly, this book is chock-full of the good stuff! And that's no coincidence-- when Alan Gratz talks about the book, he flat out admits it. "When I set out to write this book, I thought about all the things I thought were cool: monsters, robots, ninjas. And I decided I would just stick them all in one book and have as much fun writing as much awesome stuff as possible."

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Troop by Nick Cutter

The Boy Scout motto is "Be Prepared," but trust me, a team of Samurai-Ninja-Swat Team-Green Berets couldn't be prepared for the horror that is unleashed in Nick Cutter's pedal-to-the-metal shock fest that is The Troop. 

The story takes place on Prince Edward Island, an idyllic province on the east coast of Canada. I've been to Prince Edward Island, I grew up on the province next to it. It's a nice place and I have to say that I'm very glad I didn't read The Troop while I was living anywhere near there because I'd probably never go outside again. 

The Troop hits the ground running and simply doesn't stop. On the first page we are introduced to a news story about an emaciated man who wanders into a diner and begs to be given as much food as possible. He then goes on to eat everything they've got on the menu. When he is finished he walks outside without paying, steals a truck and disappears into the night. The papers dub him "The Hungry Man," but nobody seems to know who he is or where he came from. 

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Success Through Stillness by Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons? you ask. The moving and shaking founder of Def Jam Records, wrote a book called Success Through Stillness?

Yes. Yes, he did. And get this: it's about meditation, and about how devoting twenty minutes to meditation twice a day, each day, will make you more successful at anything you turn your mind to.

Simmons tells stories of how he found his way to meditation, as well as how it benefits other major players he knows, from basketball greats to Oprah and Jay Z. He also talks about how much he enjoys yoga, although that's not a prerequisite to meditating.

The book begins by declaring that meditation is the path to true happiness.

Why should you meditate?
The answer is very simple: to be happy.
Which is the only reason you're here.
This may sound like a very simple take on the meaning of life,
but I believe it with every fiber in my body.
Soon after discussing his own start meditating, Simmons launches into five different chapters designed to shoot holes in any excuses you might have not to do it, including the most common ones like "I Don't Have Time" and "I'm No Good at It", along with some more complicated, in some cases theological, reasons. From there, he moves onto explaining the positive physical reasons you should meditate, which includes improving your brain's health and potential, followed by the very real benefits people find in their lives once they start meditating.

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In Real Life, review and interview with Cory Doctorow

When Anda, a teenage gamer, gets invited to play Coursegold, a massively-multiplayer online role playing game she discovers a place where she can be many things she isn't in real life: a hero, a fighter, a leader, a part of a unified team. Along the way she learns about gold farmers who mine valuable objects within the game to later be sold to players. At first this seems unfair to Anda who recognizes that it gives players with money a chance to buy themselves into a game where others are trying to earn their place, which makes killing off these characters easy. Then she learns the darker truth behind these gold farmers.

Raymond, a gold farmer Anda befriends, turns out to be a teen in China who is hired as a miner. The money he earns for his employer is needed but the exhaustion from long hours is making him sick. Without a union or health care Anda tried to persuade him to get other gamers to collectively bargain but then Raymond's avatar disappears from the game, and Anda's parents cut her off from gaming and she worries about what has happened.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Dig deep guys—it's time for the Book Fair for Ballou High School!


As our regular readers know, Guys Lit Wire annually teams up with Ballou Senior High School librarian Melissa Jackson to host a book fair for this Washington DC high school. Ballou has some big changes on the horizon—a brand new school will be opening in January. This is long overdue (the original school was built in the 1950s) and we are very excited for the Ballou students, teachers and staff. But...even though we were hoping that with the new school and new library/media center there would be an increased budget for books, (and that's what we thought was happening a few months ago), it turns out that is simply not the case.

So, just like in years past, we all need to work together to help these students get the books they want to read. It's important that we buy from the wish list because we want these teens to be excited about the titles. Here's some hard truths about Ballou from the Washington Post:  

Students tend to arrive at Ballou years behind grade level; by 10th grade, about one in five are proficient in reading and math, according to city tests. Fewer than half of students graduate on time and more than 60 percent are considered chronically truant.

Like far too many kids in America, the students at Ballou have some very real struggles. For them a library full of books is not just a treat and a pleasure but a necessity. It's a refuge in the best sense of the word, and we feel that everything we can do to make it a more empowering place is time & money well spent.

We've got all kinds of great books for Ballou on the Powells Books wish list and we do hope you will send a title or two in their direction or, if you can't, please help us spread the word via twitter, facebook and more about the book fair. All the details are behind the cut and if you have any questions, let us know!

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When I Was The Greatest by Jason Reynolds

For many of my predominantly white and predominantly rural students in Iowa, the Brooklyn of Jason Reynold’s When I Was The Greatest might as well be a different planet. And sadly, more of my students have probably read books set on other planets than have read books set in neighborhoods like the Bed-Stuy of narrator Ali and his family.

All kinds of kids need all kinds of stories. Stories where they can see themselves, yes, but also stories where they can see our country and our world in all its diversity while understanding the common humanity that binds us. We need books that are both mirrors and windows. This summer, the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign exploded on social media in response to the growing awareness of the LACK of diversity in the publishing world in general and the children and young adult markets in particular. One of the books I learned about through this campaign is When I Was The Greatest, and I urge all who serve teens, whether in the classroom or in a library, to add this book to your collection. 

Teenage Ali and his sister Jazz live in Brooklyn with their mother Doris. Though their father John does not live with the family, and has not for some time, he still has a role to play in their lives, a role that grows as the story progresses. Ali long ago made friends with the neighborhood's new kid, dubbed “Noodles” by little sister Jazz, who is also responsible for creating the nickname “Ali” for her brother Allen. Noodles has his own sibling, a brother nicknamed “Needles” by Jazz for the knitting he does. Yes, knitting. Needles has Tourette’s syndrome, and Doris taught him to knit as a way to ease the physical tics that accompany it.

Noodles reads and draws comics, showing a softer side that few other than Ali witness. To most, especially Needles, Noodles flashes a temper, a tongue, and the ‘tough” face he feels his neighborhood demands. Ali remains loyal to his long-time friend, despite his doubts about Noodles’ treatment of his brother and Noodles’ actions toward others. This loyalty faces its ultimate test when Needles is put in physical danger.

When I Was The Greatest, nominated for this year’s Cybils Award in the Young Adult Fiction category, exudes a sense of place, the rhythms of daily life in Bed-Stuy, the sounds of the city. The title is a reference to Muhammad Ali, fitting as young Ali in the book is learning to box and both Alis refuse to let the rest of the world box them into any stereotype of African-American existence.

But like all good stories, Reynold’s novel also resonates in broader themes: The importance of family, what we sacrifice for friends, and how we decide who we want to be. These themes are as real in rural Iowa as they are in Brooklyn, even for some of my students who equate darker skin and “strange” names with being foreign. Not “foreign” as in unknown, but “foreign” as in not American. We need diverse books because students need to know that their America is not all of America (and America is not all of the world), and you need to read When I Was The Greatest because it, too, sings America, and sings it ever so well.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The annual Book Fair for Ballou returns on Monday!

Just wanted to give everyone a heads-up that we will be again hosting a book fair starting Monday, October 13th for Ballou Sr. High School in Washington DC. Regular readers know already that is an annual thing for us (the photo above is from spring 2013 when the books arrived for that book fair), although it is a little late this year. Ballou is moving into a new school in January after 50+ years in their current building however, so we wanted to give them a few more boxes to take along to the new digs. (So exciting!!!)

Unfortunately, as wonderful as the new library & media center is, as it turns out, there will be no increase in the budget for books. So now there is all this gorgeous space but far too few titles to fill it up with.

Along with Melissa Jackson, the tireless Ballou librarian, and her faithful book clubbers, we have built a list at Powells Books that will be open for business on Monday. I'll have all the ordering information posted here, so you can select a title or two (or more!) and send them on their way direct to Ballou. If you can't buy books, we would very much appreciate any efforts you make to help spread the word on what we're doing.

There are fewer things we can do in this world that matter as much as sharing the written word. Guys Lit Wire continues to assist Ballou Sr High School because we think this library is home to a lot of great kids who deserve access to a lot more books then they currently have. Catch you back here Monday with all the details!

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Santa's Existence Studied, Revealed

Eric Kaplan, one of the writers for television show The Big Bang Theory, has planned a playdate between his son, Ari, and his son's classmate, Schuyler. At the last second, Schuyler's mother cancels. The issue? It is near Christmas and Ari doesn't believe in Santa Claus while Schuyler does. Schuyler's mother, Tammi, does not want her son's belief in Santa Claus threatened by Ari's non-belief, so the playdate is off.

This gets Kaplan thinking. What does it mean to "believe" in Santa Claus? Does Tammi believe in Santa Claus? If she doesn't then is she just lying to her son? Does she both believe and not believe? Is that possible? If someone believes in something that obviously doesn't exist, wouldn't that make them, well, insane? What does it mean to exist anyway? Is there some sense in which Santa Clause really does exist? Kaplan realizes he doesn't really know, and sets about trying to figure it out. The result is Does Santa Exist: A Philosophical Investigation.

This is a nice holiday book. It makes references to a lot of your favorite Christmas stories. It has--spoiler alert--a feel good ending. It's also very funny, though not quiet as funny as the movie Elf, the funniest Christmas tale of all time.

That said, it is probably unlike any other holiday book you'll ever read.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014


There Will Be BearsTyson is a crack shot when it involves hunting in video games, and he'd love to try it in real life.  For as long as he can remember, Gramps has promised to take him on his first elk hunt, and the time has finally come.  Or has it?

Several events are threatening to derail the promised hunting trip.  #1 - Attacks by a grizzly bear are popping up all over the news.  One victim lost an arm, and worse yet, an Ohio couple was killed.  Tyson's parents aren't thrilled about the idea of sending their son into the claws or jaws of a grizzly.  #2 - Something is up with Gramps.  Tyson's parents are keeping a secret about why Gramps has to leave their home and move hours away to live in a nursing home.  They are insisting that Gramps is in no condition to go on horseback into the wilderness to hunt anything.

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