Saturday, January 30, 2010

Libraries as "reading apps"

Hector Tobar, a Los Angeles Times columnist who is concerned by that Generation M2 report I mentioned yesterday, gives a shout-out to the Vermont Square Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, and stresses the important role parents play in limiting their child's exposure to screen media in order to carve out more time for family activities (like reading books and going to the library!).

Friday, January 29, 2010

Edible Babar

To find out how to make this (almost but not quite vegetarian) Babar bento box, visit Anna the Red's Bento Factory.

If teens won't come to the library...

...then the library must go to the teens.

Re: The Kaiser Family Foundation's Generation M2 report - Rather than collapse in horror and dismay at the knowledge that kids ages 8 and up are spending only 38 minutes a day reading print compared to 4 1/2 hours watching TV and 1 1/2 hours using the computer, let's think about this.

Okay, TV is definitely The Enemy. Parents need to take TVs out of their kids' bedrooms and make sure that TVs aren't yapping away in the background all day and night. 4 1/2 hours a day, 7 days a week, is too much TV. Period.

But computers, now. Yes, kids watch television shows on their computers, as well as YouTube and much more. But they mostly do social networking, and the older they get, the more they do it. And that's good news for librarians. Not only can we use content-creating and sharing apps with kids who come into our libraries, but we can share information about our services - and books! - with kids who never step foot in our buildings. I want every student in Los Angeles to know about and use our free online Live Homework Help, even if they only come to the library once in order to get a library card (needed in order to have access to the program from home). I want teens to see library-created videos of other teens in their community booktalking or acting out their favorite books. We can reach them through Facebook, YouTube, and other sites.

(Email? Not so much. My own teen daughters rarely use email, relying solely on Facebook and cellphone texts to communicate and receive updates.)

It would be too easy to give up on teen non-readers altogether and just concentrate on those eager library teens. That would be a mistake. To win the hearts and minds of non-readers, especially those who don't come into our libraries at all, let's reach them where they live - online.

More than ever, kids prefer screens to books and mags

The Kaiser Family Foundation has produced Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-year-olds, a study that interprets and presents data from surveys conducted in 1999, 2004, and 2009. Anyone who works with youth - or even with college-aged kids - needs to read this study all the way through, as it gives us some important insight into what kids are doing in their free time.

And it's not reading books and magazines. Of the average 7 hours and 38 minutes kids spend each day (!!) with media (TV, music/audio, computers, video games, print, and movies), only 38 minutes are spent with print media - down from 43 minutes in 2004 and 1999. However, it's mostly magazine and newspaper reading that has declined; time spent reading books has increased from 21 minutes a day in 1999 to 25 minutes a day in 2009.

But they're spending almost 4 1/2 hours a day watching TV shows. Compared to that, 25 minutes with a book is pretty small potatoes.

It's no surprise to us literacy advocates that "youth who spend more time with media report lower grades and lower levels of personal contentment" and there is also proof that parents can have a positive effect on their child's habits - "Children whose parents make an effort to limit media use...spend less time with media than their peers." Set some limits, parents!!

Another no-brainer is that "...young people who are heavy readers (those who spend an hour or more per day with print media) are substantially more likely to say they earn high grades than those who are light readers (those who report no print reading on a typical day)."

Depressingly, "reading for pleasure continues to be the only media activity that decreases as children grow older."

But here is something interesting and maybe even heartening - "It does not appear that time spent using screen media...displaces time spent with print media. Young people classed as heavy screen media users (more than 10 hours daily) and those classed as light screen media users (less than two hours daily) report identical amounts of daily reading (41 minutes)." The only difference is for kids who have TVs in their bedrooms or who live in homes where the TV is left on in the background - they read much less than kids who don't have TVs in their bedrooms and/or whose TVs are often on. Parents - take those TVs out of your kids' bedrooms and keep the TV off during meals and family time!

What that says to me is that books are not competing with non-print media - those who are interested in reading AND computers/TVs/music are going to find time to do both.

It's just that we would like kids to spend more of their time reading books!

For some insight into just why we need to keep focusing on books and reading, starting at birth, read Jumpstart's America's Early Childhood Literacy Gap. It states in no uncertain terms that:

Most kids who start kindergarten lacking basic early literacy skills do not ever catch up to their peers academically. Poor literacy skills in school are linked to high drop-out rates and even the likelihood of going to prison.

Poverty is the single best predictor of a child's failure to achieve in school, in no small measure because children from low-income homes have limited access to books and early education programs, especially in the home but also in the community.

Early intervention is essential.

And here is a trumpet call to all those who are concerned with the future of our children:

"Simply stated, the most successful way to improve the reading achievement of low-income children is to increase their access to print. Communities ranking high in achievement tests have several factors in common: an abundance of books in public libraries, easy access to books in the community at large and a large number of textbooks per student."

Good libraries and good librarians CAN make a difference in the lives of children and their families. Get to them when they're young, encourage parents to read to kids, and continue to support children's information and pleasure-reading needs all the way through their school years. The goal? Children who can read fluently and effortlessly, whether it's for school or for pleasure.

Sure, kids will continue to watch TV, listen to music, and socialize up a storm on the Internet. But maybe they'll read books more often, too - for the sheer pleasure of it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pithy and punchy

Skipping quickly over the fact that I have not read a single one of these titles, I am wild about the annotations for the YALSA 2010 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Short and to the point. I mean:

Divine, L. Drama High # 6: Courtin' Jayd. 2008. Dafina/Kensington, $9.95 (978-0-7582-2536-8).
Boys, babies and hair.

, Amy. After. 2009. Viking Juvenile, $12.23 (9780670011834).
Baby in the dumpster – why?

Smith, John. Inked: Clever, Odd and Outrageous Tattoos. 2008. teNeues , $19.95 (9783832792800).
What were they thinking?

Now that's the way to write an annotation!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Review of The Wizard of Rondo by Emily Rodda

Rodda, Emily. The Wizard of Rondo. Scholastic, 2009.

Having enjoyed The Key to Rondo, I am happy to report that its sequel, The Wizard of Rondo, does not disappoint. Sensible Leo and tempestuous Mimi again wind the key of Leo's magic box more than three times, which allows them to enter the magical, fairy-tale realm of Rondo. Thanks to Leo's winding of the key several times between the two visits, life in Rondo has moved forward - the nasty Blue Witch is looking for them, while Leo's villainous ancestor Spoiler is on the loose. Leo and Mimi instantly get caught up in a quest led by Conker and tough Freda the duck, and they are also joined by Bertha the pig, now famous as a hero.

As with the first book, the fun lies both in the obvious pleasure the author takes in exploring and describing Rondo and in the interplay between the companions, whose personalities are similar only in that they are all opinionated. I'd love to stay in a Snug, which is a fabulous sort of cabin camping in which the cabins are actually organic parts of huge, sentient trees, who take immense pride in being impeccable, soothing hosts. A new character, a quite young and needy cooking pot who becomes emotionally attached to Conker ("Conkie!"), makes its appearance with wonderfully comical results. Mimi and Leo, who are often at odds, finally learn to give each other not just credit but a little respect.

The pacing is rather leisurely in this installment and the danger never seems extreme, giving the reader plenty of time to enjoy the adventure. I'm looking forward to my next visit to Rondo. Recommended for kids grades 4 - 6.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fantasy is the harshest mistress

Although I read fantasy voraciously, I have never even dreamed of writing it - much too hard! Getting the language alone right is a fearsome challenge.

And Kristin Cashore, author of Graceling and Fire, proves my point in her excellent article Hot Dog, Katsa!, published in the January/February Horn Book Magazine. As she points out, "It's limitless, right, the freedom of the fantasy writer? Except that it's really not. Writing fantasy happens to be all about limitations. It's about keeping to the rules; it's about building a world that's believable to the reader because it's both comprehensive and consistent; it's about assembling a body, a structure, that stands up on its own."

I think she's got it down...

Graphic novels, grub, and guys

Librarians know that graphic novels are a wonderful way to entice reluctant readers, especially boys, to crack open a book and get sucked into a story. Keep those graphic novels well stocked in a highly visible spot with plenty of face-out displays and some comfy seating nearby, and They Will Come.

Even better, form a partnership with your local schools and get some volunteers (male, if at all possible) to read cool graphic novels aloud to 4th and 5th grade boys - accompanied by a large projection of each page on a screen or wall - while they're eating lunch at school. Invite the boys to come by your library after school or on the weekend to check out your huge selection of graphic novels. Invite them to a big Guys Read party at the library with plenty of guy games and guy grub. Watch their interest in books - and your circulation - soar! Hopefully, reading scores will rise as well. Dude power!

It can be done, as Alaskan librarian Gary Hill tells us.

Friday, January 22, 2010

As if we didn't already know Neil Gaiman was a rock star

Read about Gaiman's "squeeing" fans in this New Yorker article and check out the ticket prices for Gaiman's appearance at UCLA on February 4 - $24 bucks for the cheapest tix! Jeepers.

Let's hope Bloomsbury has finally learned a lesson...

PW has reported that Bloomsbury is issuing a new jacket for Magic Under Glass. Now it's time for Little Brown to do something about the Mysterious Benedict Society covers (I'll let Bookshelves of Doom fill you in on that, but let's just say that the picture on the left, from the jacket of The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma, is supposed to be a "light-brown" African-American boy named Sticky).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

UX in the library

User Experience (UX - which, if you ask me, is a pretty user-unfriendly term, seeing as how I had no idea what it meant when I first came across it) is cropping up a lot lately. Library Journal has launched a new column called The User Experience (which kicks off with an excellent article by Aaron Schmidt), David Lee King talks about it a lot, as does Brian Herzog (although he often uses the word "service" - which is of course an essential part of the UX in libraries). David Lee King will be presenting at the UGame ULearn symposium in the Netherlands this April, which just sounds so incredibly cool.

Anyone who has walked into a library or department store and been unable to figure out where the bathroom is or even who to ask understands how important UX is. Websites that not only fail to deliver the basic piece of information you require but also don't give you a quick and easy way of requesting that information by phone or email are delivering a terrible UX. Frustration shouldn't be a given part of the user experience.

It's easy to get so accustomed to our daily surroundings that they become virtually invisible to us. I know that I don't notice all the cobwebs in the corners of my ceiling until the hour before guests are expected for dinner. To get an inkling of how others experience your library (or business or home), try walking through the front door as if entering for the first time - or better yet, ask a person who has never visited your library to go with you.

I used to do this on an occasional basis at a library where I used to work, and it was always illuminating. Some things were wonderful and made me sigh with pleasure (a clerk who smiled at every patron who came up to the check-out desk; bright light streaming through the skylights, new books displayed tantalizingly face-out right next to the check-out desk; and much more), but others were more problematic. After mentally discarding the issues I couldn't improve on my own (tiny, cramped parking lot; the confusing physical layout of the library; unfriendly or inflexible library policies), I was left with problems I could actually solve or at least alleviate.

Some were easy (like Aaron Schmidt's stapler story), involving simple changes in signage to find the bathroom more easily or a bit of furniture re-arranging so patrons had a clear path to the information desk or perhaps working with staff to come up with better to greet and help patrons. Some were more arduous, such as shifting parts of the collection to create a better flow. All of them made improvements, mostly small, to our patrons' and/or staff's user experience as they navigate through our physical branch.

Frustratingly, I (and indeed most librarians) have much less control over the digital experiences our patrons have. Our library website's design is well out of my hands - and although it has improved quite a bit recently (reviews! jacket covers!), it still can be frustrating, plus it lacks interactivity. I'm hoping we will soon have a more consistent and well thought out presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other sites, especially since there are many patrons who experience us mostly through our website. We also want to not only attract but keep new patrons through our fabulous digital UX.

Every single branch can be improved by its staff being mindful of UX and being willing to make necessary changes. Every library system can be improved by making UX a part of every decision that is made.

Cybils in a hand-to-patrons format

Kudos to the good folks of the Cybils Awards for creating this flyer. It contains information about Cybils and the shortlists for all Cybils categories - which means this is a darn good source for the best and most kid-friendly 2009 children's and YA titles.

Spread the word!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Business cards 2.0

From the blog The 'M' Word - Marketing Libraries comes this post on Winnetka-Northfield Public Library District's new staff social media cards. On one side are the library's website, Facebook, and Twitter accounts - on the other side is a picture of a librarian, his/her position, and that person's social media accounts - Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, email, blog, and so on. What they want to share with patrons is up to them.

How cool is that? While I personally wouldn't want patrons to be friending me on Facebook right and left, I certainly wouldn't mind them reading my Goodreads reviews and/or my blog - in fact, the more, the merrier!

YALSA top ten graphic novels

While YALSA's 2010 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list was, at 73 titles, a bit intimidating for a neophyte like me, I can certainly wrap my mind around YALSA's top ten list. You have to start somewhere...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dragons and Drama

Being too busy to write a scintillating post today, or even a ho-hum one, I'd like to turn your attention to a couple of excellent posts by one of my favorite bloggers, Charlotte of Charlotte's Library. She focuses purely on children's and YA fantasy and science fiction and is, though it pains me to say it, even more of a committed Fangirl than I am.

If your heart beats faster at the thought of dragons, check out Charlotte's recent round-up of children's dragon books from 2009. You're bound to find a few new titles that spark your interest.

And if you followed or took part in the huge Liar controversy, read Charlotte's look at the newest jacket art scandal - Magic under Glass. Although not quite as egregious as Liar, it's a clear sign that some publishers still Just Don't Get It.

Back soon with some original content. I hope.

Monday, January 18, 2010

An SF book wins the Big One!

ALA announced its youth literary awards today and I am so pleased that Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me won the Newbery! In my review, I praised both her treatment of time-travel and her quirky writing style. That this is a work of innovative science fiction is icing on the cake.

I read three of the four Newbery Honor books (rats, I suspected Hoose's Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice was going to win something but I hadn't gotten to it yet) and am especially happy to see Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (my review) and Kelly's The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (my review). In my review of Philbrick's The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, I compared it to works by Mark Twain and Sid Fleischman in the way it effectively uses an all-American style of folksy humor as a counterpoint to deathly serious subjects like slavery and war.

In other award news, three cheers for Caldecott winner The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, which was a front-runner in all the mock Caldecotts and deservedly so. That Vaunda Nelson's Bad News for Outlaws won the Coretta Scott King Author award probably made me happily yip the loudest this morning (here's my rave review), and thankfully I have not only read the Printz winner - Libba Bray's Going Bovine (my review) - but one of the honors as well - John Barnes' Tales of the Madman Underground, for which I wrote a glowing Goodreads review.

As always, the youth awards have shown me the gaps in my reading - this year, I'll be playing catch-up with most of the Printz honors and many of the Belpre winners, including Julia Alvarez's Return to Sender, and Sibert winners, especially Tanya Lee Stone's Almost Astronauts (nonfiction is NOT my strong point - I suppose I've just added to my growing list of New Year's Resolutions. Read more nonfiction!).

Ah! This is a lovely way to start this rainy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Congratulations to all the winners!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Review of Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur

LaFleur, Suzanne. Love, Aubrey. Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 2009.

I don't cry very often. I don't like it - my throat closes up, my jaws ache, my eyes sting, and my sinuses turn to cement. Luckily, books almost never move me to tears. Love, Aubrey was a notable exception.

Just to warn you, this is One of Those Hideous Books Where a Sibling Dies. (I've been reading a lot of these lately, for some reason). Eleven-year-old Aubrey's dad and seven-year-old sister Savannah died in a car crash several months ago, and now Aubrey's mother has simply vanished. Thankfully, Aubrey's maternal grandma swoops her up and brings her to Vermont, where Aubrey becomes good friends with the girl next door and begins school.

But the absence of Aubrey's dad and sister is almost too painful to endure, and if that weren't enough, Aubrey isn't sure what to think about her mother. Why did she leave? Doesn't she still love Aubrey? Does she want to live with Aubrey again? And how is Aubrey supposed to feel about her mother?

Aubrey's voice feels authentic; her thoughts and ideas about things always come from a child's perspective whether she is thinking about the loss of her family or what she is about to have for dinner. There is a calmness and even simplicity about the narration that makes the soul-wrenching emotions that Aubrey feels all the more moving. Aubrey doesn't talk much with anyone about her loss, even with her Gram, but she does write letters to her sister's imaginary friend Jilly that first circle all around the subject but then begin getting closer and closer to it. By the end, she has finally dared to write to the people she really wishes she could communicate with - her sister, her dad, and her mother.

As a big sister and a mother to two sisters, the loss of Aubrey's little sister hit me hard. Aubrey is torn by all kinds of emotions when she's around her new friend's little sister, and she can hardly bear to think about Savannah. The letter she finally writes Savannah, in which she tells about the things she misses - "Playing. Waking up before Mom and Dad and making them breakfast..." - and explains that after the accident "I used to only be able to think of you one way - and that was missing. I hated that you were that - just gone. If I imagined growing up, you were still there, and I had to erase you" - is heartbreaking.

I haven't suffered the kind of loss that Aubrey has, but it seems to me that this is as real and wrenching a portrayal of grief as I have ever read. But never fear, this book is about more than Aubrey's loss. She gains a friend and a school community and develops a truly special relationship with her Gram. Aubrey's mother? There's plenty of hope for her as well, even if the situation is far from ideal.

This is a terrific book for kids who read realistic fiction. Highly recommended for grades 4 - 6.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I think my mom is Athena

A must-have for all Greek God Geeks! Buy it at Hot Topic.

Catching up on YA

As a fantasy fan, I naturally devour huge amounts of YA fantasy, and I'll read anything by quite a few non-fantasy YA writers, including John Green, E. Lockhart, and Sarah Dessen. Last year, I had actually read the Printz winner and 3 out of 4 of the honor books before the award was announced. And I was a devoted follower of last year's SLJ Battle of the Books in part because I had read so many of the titles, both children's and YA.

That I fell a bit behind on my YA reading in 2009 became clear when the shortlist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award was announced and I hadn't read a single one. Ack! Unless the Printz Award winners are composed mostly of fantasy titles, I'm going to be adding even more titles to my must-read list this Monday when the ALA youth awards are announced.

My upcoming new job will necessitate not just dabbling in YA books but taking an active part in local and national discussions on YA literature and library services. Thank goodness for blog posts like this one from Bookends, which plunged me right in to some controversial proposals to the Best Books for Young Adults list. Why on earth would the YALSA board consider limiting that list to fiction? The Notable Books for children list has plenty of great nonfiction titles and is much stronger for them.

And then there are all the issues concerning social media, gaming, technology, information literacy, and on and on. It makes my head spin, especially at 3 am, but I can't wait to plunge in. And luckily I suspect that the YA librarians in my library system will not be shy about giving me plenty of suggestions, feedback, and advice!

Meanwhile, issues in children's library services - early literacy and information literacy float to the top but there are many, many others - continue to engage my attention. And though I'm more up to speed on children's literature than YA literature at the moment, there are still several excellent children's books I haven't managed to read yet, and therefore those are the ones that are bound to win the Newbery and honors, right?

Piles of books to read and gigabytes of information to ingest - what could be better? I am truly the happiest, if not necessarily the most rested, librarian in the world!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review of Leo and the Lesser Lion by Sandra Forrester

Forrester, Sandra. Leo and the Lesser Lion. Knopf, 2009.

We learn right away in a prologue that something terrible has happened to 12-year-old Bayliss' 14-year-old brother Leo. Argh, another story in which a family member dies! I just finished A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore and have just started Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur and the grief can be hard to take.

While Leo and the Lesser Lion, set during the Depression, certainly explores the grief felt by Bayliss, it focuses more on the gap left in her life by a brother who was also her best buddy and partner in crime. Was there a reason Leo died but Bayliss was spared, terribly wounded though she was? Bayliss suspects there must be, and tries to find it in doing Good Works for the nuns, as out of character as her friends and family think this is. However, when two young sisters temporarily move into Leo's old room after their father abandons them at an overcrowded children's Home, Bayliss must stop helping the nuns out and help look after the girls instead. Resentful of their intrusion and rubbed the wrong way by the unfriendly pugnacity of the older girl, Bayliss doesn't realize until it's almost too late that these girls have helped to patch a hole in her family and in herself.

Bayliss' relationship with her brother is depicted with finesse; it's clear that, in his affection for his little sis and his warm heart, he is a cut above the average 14-year-old boy, and yet his penchant for mischief makes him seem real. Bayliss idealizes him, and who can blame her? In the blaze of their friendship, their 15-year-old sister, constantly helping around the house, fades into the background - it takes Bayliss a long time to see her as something other than a nagging bother and when she does, it's a sweet little revelation. Bayliss' reaction to the two sisters is also extremely realistic; while she is never rude to them and in fact tries to do the right thing in a lukewarm sort of way, her unwillingness and distress keep showing.

The only false note in the book came at the end, when there is a big emotional family showdown, during which the family's unspoken emotions about Leo's death finally come out. The scene is a bit stagy or artificial - I couldn't believe in it, quite. Oh, and the 5-year-old sister consistently sounded much too old for her years. However, those are small quibbles - I quite enjoyed this slice of Alabama life in the 30s.

Readers who can get past the rather dull and uninspired jacket art (I was certain that the depicted child must be a boy named Leo, not a girl named Bayliss) will find a touching and often funny story. Recommended for grades 4 to 6.

Sydney Taylor Book Awards 2010

Our own Southern California -based April Halprin Wayland has won the Sydney Taylor Award for younger readers with her book New Year at the Pier. Congratulations, April!

For the rest of the winners see the post at Forwords Books (the winners will also be posted at the Sydney Taylor Award website but as of this writing, they aren't there yet).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Were The Animals Vulcans?

Check out the excellent Star Trek shirt my husband got me for Christmas! Doesn't fit as snugly as it should - but this nerd prefers a loose fit anyway. And it goes so well with my cherished Spock plate...

Have you ever noticed that The Animals had a distinct Vulcan look, circa 1964?

Review of A Whole Nother Story by Cuthbert Soup

I wrote the following review for the January issue of School Library Journal. See the rest of the January reviews (grades 5 and up) here.

SOUP, Cuthbert
. A Whole Nother Story. illus. by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins. 272p. CIP. Bloomsbury. Jan. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59990-435-1. LC 2009021998.

Gr 4–7—Ethan Cheeseman, genius scientist, has invented the Luminal Velocity Regulator, a device that supposedly enables travel that is faster than the speed of light. Unfortunately, when spies, corporation thugs, and shady governmental organizations hear about the machine, they try to steal it, killing Ethan's wife in the process. The scientist and his children (ages 8, 12, and 14) have been on the run ever since, relying on their clairvoyant dog, Pinky, to keep them one step ahead of the bad guys. When the family finally finds a town in which they hope to settle, the villains swoop down to steal the LVR, but the kids, their new friends, and a busload of circus sideshow performers save the day. There is plenty of quirky, offbeat humor and little pathos in this tale. However, the narrative bristles with asides and bad jokes, and the author interrupts the story with short chapters giving advice on tattoos, choosing a doctor, and other matters. The inanity can be wearing and the characters (except for the youngest Cheeseman's sock puppet, Steve) don't quite gel into fully realized people. Still, those who enjoyed Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" (HarperCollins) will find some of the same surreal qualities in this first book in a series—and a bit more warmth besides.—Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library

Friday, January 8, 2010

In which my inner Youth Services Geek escapes and flies madly about the room

After a Twin Cities vacation filled with icy streets, single-digit temperatures, holiday-spirited relatives and friends, plenty of food, a fair amount of reading and reviewing, and two hours of Cybil discussion via Internet in a crowded coffeehouse, I came back to 75 degree weather in Venice. Drove up to Davis and Sacramento (weather in the 50s), drove back home (back to warm weather), and went back to work Tuesday after almost 2 weeks off.

First on the agenda Tuesday was a workshop for volunteers interested in our GAB program, in which adults read aloud to children at our libraries - we train them on the importance and techniques of reading aloud and share plenty of great books with them.

I got back to my long-neglected office at 2 pm - and shortly thereafter I was asked by our City Librarian Martin Gomez if I would be willing to become Acting Principal Librarian of a new division called Youth Services, to be composed of what is now Young Adult Services and Children's Services, as well as Central Library's Children's Literature department and Teen'scape. This will become effective within the next 6 weeks or so.

Yes! A thousand times yes!!! I tried my best to maintain a calm and professional demeanor, but inside I was bouncing all around the room like Tigger. Happiness! Joy! I believe I may well have interrupted Mr. Gomez before he even finished asking me. Yes! "Of course you have some time to think this over," he said. Didn't need time to think. Yes!

The backstory to this is that, due to an early retirement incentive package passed by the City of Los Angeles to help mitigate a tremendous budget shortfall, the Los Angeles Public Library is losing a bunch of folks to retirement - including the current head of Children's Services, who is my supervisor. Young Adult Services had already lost its Principal Librarian to retirement, and its Acting Principal is set to retire as well. And that's just a few of the more than one hundred library employees who will leave the library over the next few months. Reorganization is a necessity.

My inner Youth Services Geek (which is perhaps not so inner after all - I feel like I wear my dorky passion for it on my sleeve) is a-glow with excitement, hope, and a certain amount of nervousness. Sure, I've been thinking about children's library services nonstop for years - how best to "do it right." But young adult services? I read YA literature (particularly fantasy) with almost as much fervor as I read children's literature, and I do peruse articles and blogs on YA services and so have a basic understanding of issues like gaming, social networking, manga, and so on. I have never been a YA librarian, however - so it's time to study up. I'll be joining YALSA, subscribing to listservs, and most of all, picking the brains of the YA librarians at LAPL.

I envision my basic function to be that of an Enabler. By providing support, leadership, guidance, and top-notch training, I hope to enable our children's and YA librarians at LAPL to do their jobs with expertise and joy. We have a huge and diverse City to serve - and it's not an easy task, even in good times. We've got challenges ahead, but with a clear focus, a united sense of purpose, and unwavering support from the entire library system (top to bottom and bottom to top!), I'm certain that LAPL's youth librarians will achieve great things in Los Angeles.

With a huge grin on my face and plenty of caffeine and adrenalin coursing through my blood, I'm off to work!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Review of Dragon Games by P.W. Catanese

Catanese, P.W. Dragon Games (Books of Umber). Aladdin, 2010.

In Happenstance Found, part 1 of the Books of Umber trilogy, we met Happenstance, a boy who wakes up in a cave with absolutely no memory of his past. His startling green eyes and strange powers (an ability to see in the dark, to run and jump like no other human, no need to sleep, and much more) mark him as a Meddler, an extremely rare and mysterious breed who can learn to alter events and fates. He joins the household of Umber, a charismatic man from another world, in order to learn to harness his powers and rescue Umber's world from its horrible fate.

Despite the its title, part 2 only gets to the dragons towards the very end. The irrepressible Umber has learned that the kingdom of Sarnica, ruled by an upstart dictator and his cruel son, has managed to obtain a large cache of live dragon eggs, and Umber, being eternally and incurably curious, is determined to see the dragons that have hatched. On their sea voyage, Umber and his companions - not just the reluctant Happenstance, who craves safety and security, but also strong, truth-telling Oates - have many strange and dangerous adventures. In Sarnica, the appalling treatment of the dragons forces them to rescue the creatures and make a hasty get-away, aided by the pilot and strange crew of a most unusual airship.

In Happenstance Found, I was entranced by the intriguing mystery of Happenstance's origins and by Umber's charisma and charm. In Dragon Games, we learn a bit more about Happenstance's past, but we are left with more questions than ever. Umber's forceful personality, while still fascinating, comes across as almost pathological when his risk-taking puts everyone around him in danger over and over - his charm isn't enough anymore to excuse such behavior, and even his most loyal friends must occasionally rein him in. Luckily, they often fail, and the adventures that ensue reminded me of Gulliver's Travels, with exotic islands and bizarre creatures galore.

Happenstance comes into his own in this book. Despite his longing for a quiet life, he sheds his passivity and takes matters into his own hands several times, culminating in the rescue not just of a baby dragon and dozens of eggs but also of a dungeon full of prisoners. He also begins to explore his powers a bit more, but they remain shadowy and uncertain still.

There are so many unanswered questions, not only about Happenstance but about Umber and his doomed world (which we assume to be our own Earth) that it's hard to imagine that they will all be cleared up in the third and last book. I'm looking forward to learning more about not just those two characters but about Balfour, Oates, and Sophie (who doesn't appear in this book at all, although we learn a bit about her past). That baby dragon and all its unhatched kin will surely play a larger role. And what of the fate of Umber's adopted kingdom, which is wracked by deadly political intrigue? It's going to be hard to wait for the final installment of this creative and unusual series.

Recommended for ages 10 to 13.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Review of Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Fisher, Catherine. Incarceron. Dial, February 2010.

Living in a world made of metal, where there is no sunlight and not enough food, where ignorance, illness, and violence are the norm - these things would be bad enough if its citizens didn't realize that this was a prison from which there is no escape, and they were born its inmates.

One inmate, Finn, is quite certain he wasn't born in Incarceron but rather Outside. His proof for this is tenuous, consisting of a mysterious tattoo and no memory of his origins beyond some dreamlike images of places that couldn't exist in the prison. Finn is determined to escape, accompanied by an odd assortment of companions.

Meanwhile, Claudia lives on the Outside in a society that, though extremely technologically advanced, is forced to mimic a pre-technological era, perhaps the early 19th century. Claudia has been brought up in luxury, groomed by her father - the Warden of Incarceron - to marry a prince and rule the realm. Claudia struggles against the limits placed upon her, and she learns of Finn's existence while spying on her father's secrets.

The horror of Incarceron lies not only in the miserable, trapped existence lived by its inmates but also in the fact that the prison is alive. Over the 150 years of its existence, the complex systems that were created to keep the prison functioning have achieved a consciousness that is not so much cruel as amoral and uncaring. It has a keen, bemused, but detached interest in all the thousands or even millions of prisoners and watches them through its thousands of electronic eyes - and arbitrarily creates havoc simply to keep its own boredom at bay. Like the prisoners, the consciousness of Incarceron is trapped within its own walls.

Like The Hunger Games, this is a fast-paced and enthralling read, full of danger, intrigue, and truly fascinating characters and settings. The premise is incredibly enticing and the secret of Incarceron's location and nature is truly horrifying. The stultifying and dangerous metallic world of the prison and the gilded, sunlit, but false society Outside are equally compelling. I didn't want this book to end, but luckily there will be at least one sequel - though how I'll bear the wait until it's published, I can't imagine.

Highly recommended for grades 6 to 12.

Cybils finalists posted!

My four fellow middle-grade science fiction and fantasy panelists and I, after spending several months reading up a storm, finally got together in a Wands and Worlds chatroom and spent 2 hilarious, probing, insightful hours honing our shortlist. The 7 titles we decided on are terrific - we are very proud indeed.

Here are the rest of the Cybils finalists in all categories.

What a wonderful experience! Not did I read a bunch of books that I might not have otherwise, but I got to meet and talk about books with a knowledgeable, witty, and warm bunch of folks. Hopefully we'll all meet face-to-face at some future Kidlitosphere conference, but in the meantime I'll keep up with their reading habits via their blogs:

Anamarie Anderson
Cindy Hannikman
Brian Jung
Charlotte Taylor

You guys are fantasy-reading royalty!