Friday, October 31, 2014

Peak by Roland Smith

As far as names go, you have to admit that Peak is an unusual one. On the bright side, he knows his name could be worse. His mountain climbing-obsessed parents could have named him Crampon or something. But Peak Marcello inherited his parents’ obsession, so maybe it’s the perfect name for him, after all.

The only problem with this is that Peak lives in New York City, and there aren’t a lot of mountains to climb there. Which is why Peak gets his kicks climbing skyscrapers. From the outside. At the age of 14, Peak has already successfully scaled five skyscrapers. He’s in the middle of climbing his sixth when things go unexpectedly wrong: it’s so cold outside that Peak’s face gets stuck to the outside of the building, witnesses spot him, and Peak is arrested.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

SURROUNDED BY SHARKS by Michael Northrop

Surrounded By SharksDavey and his family just arrived on the tiny island off Florida's Key West.  After spending their first night in the hotel, Davey wakes up early and decides to explore the island.  He grabs his book and heads off to find a quiet place to read. 
After traipsing through the hotel lobby and checking out the dock, Davey finds a tiny, deserted beach that looks interesting.  He notices the faded No Swimming sign, but he puts down his book, slips off his glasses, and wades into the warm ocean water.  The gentle waves gradually lure him  away from the shore until the water is up to his chest.  Before he realizes it, he is being pulled away from the beach by the current.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Creativity and Austin Kleon and YOU

If you are an artist of any kind - a writer, a poet, a singer, a painter, a filmmaker, anything creative - and Austin Kleon is not already on your radar, please tune in:

In his book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, Kleon encourages people to be confident when approaching their projects, even when that voice in the back of your head is telling you, "But someone's already done something like this. Someone's already written a story about this, or make a similar sculpture, or created a collage like this..." Because guess what? Even if that is true, even if there is something similar out there, your creation won't be the same as what came before, because it's coming from you, and your viewpoint and abilities will make it unique. So don't be scared to tackle something that you think has "already been done" - because it hasn't, if you haven't done it yet. 

At the same time, remember to give credit when credit is due. That's mentioned in all of his books: if you're doing something directly based on someone else's work, give that person credit. If you choreographed a dance largely influenced by the life of Martha Graham or inspired by the paintings of Degas, say that. If your research was heavily based on someone or something, cite it. Be grateful for those who paved the way, acknowledge those who helped you, respect others and you'll be respected.

Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered, Kleon's latest book, offers ideas and ways to share your work with the world. As with Steal Like an Artist, each chapter is motivational, brief, and to-the-point. There are those who feel the need to "network" and those who absolutely hate networking, and any number of folks in-between; Show Your Work focuses talks about using the network to help other people find your work, to share what you've done without feeling like you are self-promoting or self-involved.
Kleon's Newspaper Blackout is a collection of poetry he made by taking a permanent marker to newspaper articles and turning them into something new. My favorite piece in his collection is Underdog, as seen here; I am also fond of Enigma, created by Erica Westcott.

You might be wondering why I'm posting this at a blog targeted to teen readers. It's simple: creativity exists in everyone, in people of all ages. Some creative people are very outgoing and outspoken (hello, that's me!) but others aren't as confident in their abilities, especially when they are younger and/or are trying an artistic pursuit for the first time. Some people need a little nudge to write down the story that's been in the back of their mind for years, just as others need a little nudge to try out for the sports team or the school play.

So what are you waiting for? If you've always wanted to play the tuba, go to the local music store and get a recommendation for a good music teacher in your area. Or, to be more specific to the aforementioned books and methods, if you want to be a poet or a songwriter or a hand-lettering artist or a greeting card designer and don't know where to start, look at the things YOU like, and create something inspired by your favorite poems and songs and illustrations. Start with what moves you, and go from there. In time, you'll find your voice, and make something wholly original that will, in turn, inspire someone else. Creativity is a cycle. Pay it forward!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sale books still left on the Ballou Sr HS library book fair wish list

It's pretty hard to let this book fair end with these amazing sale priced books still on the list. If you've been thinking about buying but weren't sure which title to select, how about giving one of these a look?

Amity by Micol Ostow (HC)  $13.29
Applegeeks 1: Freshman Year by Ananth Panagariya and Mohammad F. Haque (PB)  $2.50 (!!!)
A Beautiful Life by Irfan Master (HC)  $7.00
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (HC)  $12.59
Brewster by Mark Slouka (HC)  $10.98
Collage Lab by Bee Shay (PB)  $9.98
Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers (HC)  $8.50
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowells (HC) $10.98
Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake (HC) $7.98
Goddess War #1 by Kendare Blake (HC) $7.98
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (HC) $9.98
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (PB) $10.50
Invincible Microbe by Jim Murphy (HC) $8.98
Lexicon by Max Barry (HC) $10.98
Life (HC) $17.98 (This $20+ off the cover price for this coffee table book!)
The Magician King by Lev Grossman (HC) $10.98
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn West (HC) $10.98
Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool (HC) $7.98
Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher (HC) $7.98
Peanut by Ayun Halliday (HC) $7.98
Rhymes with Witches by Lauren Myracle (HC) $1.75 (!!!)
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson (HC) $7.98
September Girls by Bennett Madison (HC) $10.00
Sophie: The Incredible True Story of a Castaway Dog by Emma Pearse (PB) $7.98
This Wicked Game by Michelle Zink (HC) $7.98
Tune by Derek Kirk Kim (PB) $7.98
Underwater Dogs by Seth Casteel (HC) $10.98
The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman (HC) $12.59

All details on the book fair for Ballou SR High School, including how to order a book, can be found on this earlier post.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mummies: The Newest, Coolest & Creepiest from Around the World

I picked up Shelley Tanaka's Mummies: The Newest, Coolest & Creepiest from Around the World because it was featured on a "spooky book" shelf and because it looked like a fun, quick read. I wasn't expecting to get completely wrapped up (ha ha) in it, much less to be murmuring "Wow!" every time I turned a page.

On the fine art (& frustration) of crafting a diverse book list for teenagers

Over the past few years, as I've worked on the wish list for the annual Ballou High School library book fair, I've spent a lot of time thinking about diversity in teen books. In some ways, the process has been like grieving; first there was denial, ("where are all the mysteries and romance and thrillers with African American protagonists?"), then anger, ("I can not believe how hard it is to find books for teenagers with African American kids on the covers!!"), then bargaining, ("what do I have to do to find these dang books?!"), then depression, ("this so unfair and I can't stand it"), and then acceptance ("this is the world we're living in and I just have to work with it").

Talk about a learning experience.

The book list does have a lot of diverse books on it because I spend all year watching for every single title that comes up in Booklist or the catalogs or on twitter or the blogs I follow that includes mention of "strong diverse characters". It never ends, finding these books. I can never stop looking for them or watching for them.

Right now I have about a dozen books in a list that are from the spring 2015 catalogs that won't go on the wish list until next year. I also pull from the ALA Quick Picks list and from the Printz and other awards lists and Ballou's super librarian, Melissa Jackson, always has some books they are looking for that go on the list but mostly, I am on the hunt all the time. I look for adult crossover titles, especially biographies, that will be of interest to high school students at Ballou and any history or science titles that might include have particular interest to African American teens.

There are also general nonfiction titles like cookbooks and wildlife and science (plastic in the ocean! extinction! genealogy! nail art) but give me a novel about a couple of African American teenagers who solve crime or fall in love or, yes, battle vampires, and I AM ALL OVER IT.

Because I want the students at Ballou to read the same kind of fun books I read as a teenager. I want them to see themselves in the books they read; I want them to find themselves in the books they read. I want them to see lives that could be theirs or look like theirs. I don't want them to feel like they are in the outside looking in when they are reading and I think that happens when all the characters are blonde haired and blue-eyed and rich and you are none of those things.

So I look all year long and I add to the list all year long and I hope for the best all year long. Certainly some of the books on the list have mostly (and maybe all) Caucasian characters because they are still good, fun, popular books that I know all teen readers want and will enjoy. But they can't be all the books on the list; they can't be everything. More importantly, they should never be everything.

Take a look at the wish list for Ballou and tell us what you think. If you know of some books that should be on the list next time, let us know. And yeah, if you want to help out a worthy school then please buy a book or two and send them along to Washington DC, where I promise they will be very much appreciated.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Department 19 by Will Hill

I know that this book has been discussed in the past here on this blog, but I just couldn't pass it up!

Dracula, Van Helsing, and Frankenstein - plus some really cool high-tech and futuristic firepower to boot! I plowed through this book in no time as more and more of Jamie Carpenter's story and his family history were revealed. Hill jumped in time filling in the history of the Carpenter family, the origins of Department 19, Frankenstein and Jamie's father, Dracula and the first vampires which all provided the backdrop to the current story of Jamie and his attempt to save his mother from one of the oldest vampires in the world.

Pages filled with non-stop action, thrills, gore and horror!

A must read for any action/horror fan. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth

I rarely see juvenile fiction books with young African-American males on the cover so needless to say I was intrigued by this title. The main character Jarrett is a rising seventh grader from Newark, New Jersey who lives with his mom, a Guyanese immigrant. His mom is a foster mom who works with social services to take n kids for varying lengths of time. This is how Kevon and his little sister Treasure come into their lives. Kevon's father went missing and so the two are placed with Jarrett's family for the time being.

Celebrating Ballou High School's library dynamo

We are often asked why we have chosen to stay with Ballou Senior High School for our annual book fair. Prior to Ballou, Guys Lit Wire worked with a group serving juvenile offenders in Los Angeles and two schools on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. While we certainly were happy to help those folks and felt that our book fairs did a lot of good and were appreciated, when we first teamed up with Ballou we quickly realized we had found a special situation.

Melissa Jackson, the Library Media Specialist, loves her job and her enthusiasm is quite infectious. A look at the library's facebook page shows the many events she plans there from poetry slams to club meetings to author readings and tons of visiting speakers. Melissa works tirelessly to get students excited about reading and has been key to the past success of the book fairs. She cares so much about the kids at Ballou and has shown us just how much one dedicated librarian can accomplish for a whole school. Melissa is a powerhouse whose dedication can not be denied. We are thus delighted to work with her, and help her, through the current book fair.

If you want to know how the world can be changed, then Melissa is a shining example of what a force for good looks like. Guys Lit Wire organizes these book fairs each year through her direct coordination and support; Melissa is the one who gets all these books you purchase off the list into the hands of teenagers eager to read them. Please know how much you making her job easier with every title you send to Washington DC and every effort you make to spread the word.

The Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School continues. Please check out the details and shop the Powells wish list. [Post pic of Melissa Jackson with the Ballou mascot, the "Golden Knight".}

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.

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."

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. 

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.

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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

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.

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!

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.