Monday, January 31, 2011

Review of Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem

I wrote the review of this excellent fantasy for the Jan 2011 issue of School Library Journal. Find the rest of the gr. 5 and up fiction reviews here.

BOORAEM, Ellen. Small Persons with Wings. 304p. CIP. Dial. Jan. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3471-5. LC 2010008400.

Gr 5-7When 13-year-old Mellie Turpin was very young, her best friend was a three-inch-tall Small Person with Wings (or Parvi Pennatibut never call them fairies!) named Fidius. She hasn’t seen Fidius since she was in kindergarten, but when her grandfather dies and leaves the family his Parvi-infested inn, she discovers that she’s the latest in a long line of Turpins who provides sanctuary for the creatures in return for getting to keep a magical moonstone. They are having problems with their magic, so they want to release the Turpins from their contract and get the moonstone back but no one knows where it is. Mellie, matter-of-fact and slightly bad-tempered, narrates this hilarious tale of these enchanting, annoying little beings who sprinkle their speech with Latin and French phrases and are obsessed with appearances and enamored with high drama and style. Every character, human or Parvi, is drawn with singular care and humor, from the disgracefully clumsy Inepta to Mellie’s patient, maybe-new-friend Timmo. Spells turn people into drooling frogs and irascible bonging clocks, the truth-seeing magic of the moonstone turns out to be something of a liability, and Mellie “grows into her grandeur” just in time to save the Parvi as well as her entire family. Readers will share the girl’s irritated fondness for the ridiculous and lovable Parvi. A great choice for all who favor funny and intelligent fantasies with quirky characters and an unpredictable, fast-moving plot. –Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sartorial diversion

It's been a long and trying week. First I botched a lecture on collection development to my Library Services and Programs for Children class (a topic I know and love!! It was like one of those nightmares in which you're slogging endlessly through mud, knowing you're asleep but unable to wake up), then there was the whole Newbery situation, and then I got rained on during my run today. Twice!

In response, I've decided not to get dressed today and am lounging about all day in a frayed robe, pink flowered long johns, and ancient orange mukluks, a look that I sport so often at home that my kids both whispered "That's so YOU" during the latest Harry Potter movie - referring to the eccentric (even for a wizard) Xenophilius Lovegood and his limp-cardigan-over-saggy-leggings style.

Comfortable this look may be, but it makes a person feel rather shabby, especially while reading the latest Foundling (previously Monster Blood Tattoo) book by D.M. Cornish, Factotum. The fanciful and ornate clothing of his characters is so lovingly described and illustrated that one can only long for the glory days of vests and jackets and overcoats and buckles and stockings and breeches and scarves and gloves and tricorn hats and about a dozen other articles of clothing (or "halter") - all worn at the same time. This is my heroine Europe, looking fabulous as usual.

Or perhaps those days are here already. In the paper today was a brief description of designer Thom Browne's Fall/Winter 2011 menswear collection, which struck a chord in my fantasy/steampunk soul. Clothing like this would certainly enliven the ol' Central Library...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Heaven must wait

Foiled by bad timing!

A book that I read as a manuscript way back in 2009 (when the 2012 Newbery Committee wasn't even a twinkle in my eye) will be published this year and will be eligible for consideration by - yes - the 2012 Newbery Committee.

After discussing the matter with my Chair Viki Ash and with the ALSC Executive Board, I have voluntarily resigned from the 2012 Newbery Committee.

Phew. I don't know what has been worse - realizing that I had a Serious Problem, screwing up my courage to tell Viki about it, resigning from the committee, or writing this post. Viki, the Board, and my ex-Committee members have all been wonderfully supportive and kind.

It's horribly disappointing and sad. I've been waiting my whole life to be on this committee! But in this situation, there was no way to remain on the committee. I couldn't bear it if there were any taint on the Newbery - especially if I had been the cause of it! So resigning was clearly the right and only thing to do.

Because this is my year of half-full glasses and silver linings, I will try to look at 2011 as a year in which I will unexpectedly be able to read all kinds of YA and adult books and not just Newbery-eligible books, and I will be able to discuss and review them all on this blog. And I will be cheering louder than anyone when the 2012 Newbery is announced next January.

Anyway, there will be other Newbery Committees! And in that light, I plan to sing this song at our next Ladies of the Library karaoke evening, dedicating it to Those Who Appoint Newbery Committee Members:

March Madness

School Library Journal's Battle of the (Kids') Books has announced the list of books that will be contenders, although the brackets have not yet been assigned as of today. As usual, this is a very YA-heavy list, making the name of the contest something of a misnomer. I've read 9 of the 16 titles - luckily there's still time to read them all.

And those of you who read books for grown-ups might want to follow the 2011 Tournament of Books. I've read 3 of the 16 titles (well, those grown-up books are so darned LONG...).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Outreach - how to get it done

There were a number of thoughtful comments to my post a couple days ago on the idea of having "outreach librarians" at the LA Public Library.

Mainly, librarians are leery of the idea, as in some library systems this has led to branch librarians not getting to do outreach in their own communities. And as Martha points out, "I love outreach. If someone from Central would come down here, it would be less contact that I have with the community. When they come in my branch they know me and have worked with me. If it was someone from Central they really have no connection to this community."

I agree that children's and teen librarians should be given ample time to get out of the branch and into their communities in order to visit schools and other institutions and organizations that serve youth. They make connections with the kids that are meaningful - and every librarian has experienced the pleasure of a child who comes into the library for the first time and says excitedly, "You visited my class yesterday! I loved that book you read!" This wouldn't happen if only centralized outreach librarians did all the outreach for the whole library system.

But that's not what I'm envisioning. Los Angeles is a really huge city. Even an army of outreach librarians couldn't get to all the thousands of schools, preschools, recreation centers, etc. - and certainly not the 3, 4, or 5 librarians I imagine would be in our outreach department. And certainly our 72 children's librarians and 72 teen librarians in branches can't get to them all on their own right now, what with also having to staff the information desk, offer programming, and so on.

So I imagine that each branch children's and teen librarian would have priorities and goals. For instance, if I worked at a particular branch, maybe I might try to get to all my schools at least once, plus get out to at least 4 early childhood centers/preschools to do storytimes and early literacy workshops. But there would be all sorts of other organizations I wouldn't have time to visit - and I would tell the outreach department about those, so that hopefully an outreach librarian would visit.

So - just another way to get the word out, not taking anyone's duties away.

Not that there has been ANY talk about this possibly happening at LAPL - this is just me wondering "what if?" That said, this discussion is helpful for identifying concerns and possible pitfalls so that if we do ever contemplate forming an outreach department, I'll be aware of how best to do it right and also what to avoid.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Review of Pegasus by Robin McKinley

McKinley, Robin. Pegasus. Putnam, 2010.

Like many a dragon tale, this is the story of a close mental and emotional bond between a human and a member of another species - in this case, the pegasi. The pegasi - a horse-like people with enormous, gorgeous wings - inhabit a remote land that a group of human explorers settled a thousand years before. At that time, a formal Alliance was struck that the humans would rid the land of the monsters who had been plaguing the pegasi, and in return the humans would get to found their own nation in a prime part of the pegasus lands.

The Alliance still holds, and royal humans are bonded at age 12 to royal pegasi in an elaborate ceremony - but that bonding is just a ritual. Humans and pegasi can't really learn each other's language and must rely on rare human magicians to interpret for them, and the "bonding" seems to be a tradition only and not a true meeting of minds and souls.

That is, until 12-year-old Sylvi is bonded to a male pegasus named Ebon. During the ceremony, Sylvi and Ebon discover they can communicate directly with each other merely by thinking, something unheard of and startling to both kingdoms. The bond of the two is immediate and strong. Ebon flies Sylvi on his back (so taboo that they never tell a soul, human or pegasus), they talk for hours - and when Sylvi is 16 years old, she becomes the first human ever to visit the pegasi nation, where the pegasus king and queen hold court.

This is a tale of the struggle to bridge vast cultural divides and to be a trailblazer in a society that is mired in tradition and under threat from dangers within and without its walls. But more than that, this is a love story. Sylvi's intense feelings for Ebon (she can barely stand to be parted from him) sound just like any teen's first love - and yet, because they belong to utterly different species, there is no hint of any physical aspect to their love. The two young people are so close and connected that they can't imagine existing without the other.

One does have to wonder what will happen when either Ebon or Sylvi finds a love interest of their own species, as one assumes they will someday (although it's very hard to imagine, so intense is their relationship). What if they just cling to each other until old age? It does seem a bit weird - if I were either of their parents, I'd be a trifle concerned.

There isn't a lot of action or plot in the book, but McKinley is an able enough writer to make that work; Sylvi's perceptions of Ebon's people are fascinating. Also, Ebon is a breath of fresh air, irreverent and unselfconscious - the opposite of solemn Sylvi. However, we do get way too much of Sylvi's thoughts, and when she speaks, she often says things sadly or wistfully. This lack of energy causes a drag on the story that made me impatient more than once. Perk up, Sylvi! Sure, there could be a lot more understanding between your people and Ebon's - but your royal parents are super cool, so are Ebon's, and... you can talk to pegasi!!!!!!!!

The book ends abruptly and is rather a downer, but it's quite obvious that another volume must be on its way. Will Sylvi and Ebon, cruelly separated, ever be allowed to be together again? Will humans ever embrace pegasi for who they really are, not just what humans think they are? Will Sylvi find a human guy to love? Stay tuned!

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Big Ideas

At a meeting yesterday, in addition to the suggestion to remember what excites us about our jobs, we were asked to ponder what about the library we would change or create if we had the chance (meaning the time, the money, the permission, whatever it would take).

I'm sure most of us instantly thought, "Hire more librarians! Go back to 6 and 7 day service! More staff development!" And definitely, we want and need all those things - and will get at least some of them if Measure L passes.

More intriguing is to imagine not just improving what we already have or wrenching our libraries back to the level of service we provided before all the 2010 cuts, but rather doing things differently than we've done them before.

In our system, we have a Youth Services coordinating office (consisting of a skeleton staff of one Acting Principal Librarian - moi, one Librarian III, one Library Assistant, and one clerk-typist), a Children's Literature Room in our Central Library (one Senior Librarian, one LIII, and three Children's Librarians, plus support staff), a Teen'Scape room at Central (one Senior Librarian, one LIII, two Teen Librarians, plus support staff), and 72 branches (one Senior Librarian, one Children's Librarian, one Teen Librarian, plus support staff and in some cases an Adult Librarian).

With such bare-bones staff, outreach is very difficult. Children's and Teen Librarians are finding it very hard to visit any of their local schools, preschools, early childhood centers, and youth organizations, let alone most or all of them. And yet these visits are essential if we are to reach out to our communities and especially to those who don't use our libraries.

Even if we receive additional funding and are able to increase our staff and service hours to their pre-2010 levels, outreach will remain difficult for librarians in branches. So much of their time must be spent simply making sure the information desk is staffed - and then there is programming, collection development, and so much else to consider. And let's face it, not every Children's and Teen Librarian is necessarily great at outreach. We all have our different strengths, after all.

So - I would love to see an Outreach office or department at our library. It might be totally a totally separate department with its own staff, overseeing outreach for all levels and all parts of the Library and the City, or it might be part of the Youth Services office, concentrating on outreach to youth ages 0 to 19 and their families, teachers, and caregivers, as well as the organizations that work with youth.

If a part of Youth Services (which I'd prefer, control freak that I am), a Senior Librarian would coordinate and supervise a staff of 3 (or 4? or more?) librarians - well-trained professionals with an enthusiasm for getting out into the community, a gift of persuasion and communication, and preferably Spanish-language skills - whose mission it would be to visit all those preschools, daycare centers, teen and family homeless shelters, WIC agencies, Head Starts, centers for teen mothers, Boys and Girls Clubs, and all the rest of the organizations that branch staff don't have time to visit.

And these Outreach Librarians would offer storytimes and early literacy workshops and information literacy workshops, and they would offer presentations on all the services and resources the library has to offer, both at branches and online. They would be the ambassadors of our library, bringing essential services directly to the community, but also luring the community to the library.

It would be SO AWESOME!

No, it's not a new idea - plenty of library systems have this kind of outreach department. But we don't. And we need it desperately, because Los Angeles is one huge and needy city.

So that's my Big Idea for LAPL. With some luck and hard work, it might even become a reality some day soonish.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thinking good thoughts

I started this year fully committed to seeing a half-full glass, to accentuating the positive, to not sweating the small stuff, and in general to enjoying my life and my job even when faced with less-than-optimal circumstances.

While I will draw a veil over how well this resolution has served me in my personal life so far, it was working like a charm as far as work was concerned - up until last night, when I lay awake during the wee hours, heart pounding as I obsessed about the monumental tasks in front of me and the gigantic barriers in my path. And that was just the Summer Reading Program I was fretting about, merely one of the programs I am in charge of planning and coordinating for my library system!

Because my hours at work are so filled to the brim, there isn't any time for necessary planning and reflection, so it's natural that there must be some out-of-work-time ruminating; in fact, I get some of my best work-related thinking done while jogging. But when the thinking takes the place of sleeping or is accompanied by cold sweat and a racing pulse - well, that just ain't on.

In fact, I realized I had reached a nadir of Bad Thinking when, during my commute home, I found myself clenching the steering wheel and breathing too rapidly because I was stressing about the tiny details of - a staff karaoke night I've organized for next Wednesday. How ludicrous is that? I'm totally looking forward to yowling Shangri-La songs into a microphone in front of a bug-eyed audience of my colleagues!

Jeez, Eva - LIGHTEN UP!!!!!!!

During one of several meetings today, someone suggested that we "remember what excites us" about our jobs. And while what excites me about my job also stresses me out (because of the lack of time, staff, money; because of the impossibility of ever achieving the perfection I dream about), that is damn good advice nevertheless. Which I will now try to take.

What excites me about my job - the short version:
  • Being in a position to bring about positive change in my library system and by doing so, being able to bring about positive change in my community.
  • Working to strengthen the children's and teen summer reading clubs, improve the quality and quantity of our early literacy storytimes and parent workshops, increase opportunities for teen participation and leadership, offer first-rate children's and teen materials collections, and ensure that kids and teens have access to homework resources at the library and via the Internet.
  • Offering training, resources, information, guidance, good cheer, and moral support to all the children's and teen librarians at our 72 branches and Central.
  • Getting the word out to the community about the Library and its amazing, indispensable services, resources, and staff.
That boils my job down to some basic, very broad strokes - and yet, these are very tangible things that give me great joy. This is the best job in the world. And as I kept repeating to myself last night, "There is plenty of time; there is plenty of time." And as several wise folks have pointed out to me, this is not brain surgery. If I screw up, no one is going to die!

So - time to relish my job's opportunities, not dread the possibility of failure. Time to have fun doing a job I love.

Time to plan what ABBA song to startle my colleagues with this Wednesday!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Giant Trees

Although I spent most of my Saturday in my office at Central Library, butt in chair, eyes squinting at my computer screen as I tried to catch up on work, there was a very pleasant interlude at lunchtime - the 31st Annual FOCAL Award luncheon.

The FOCAL award, which is presented annually to an outstanding book with significant California content, was presented to Jason Chin for his book Redwoods, which is about a boy who finds a book about these California trees while riding in a New York City subway train and is transported to a very different landscape.

One special feature of the FOCAL award luncheon is that it features the kids who win that year's essay contest on why they liked the winning book and why they would like to meet the author. Those kids do get to meet the author - and even sit next to him or her at lunch - and read their essays aloud. I got to sit at the parents' table, where a very proud dad nevertheless confessed his worry at whether kids would still be reading for pleasure 10 or 20 years from now, what with the ubiquity of computers and handheld devices.

When that topic became too fraught, we admired the centerpieces, created by kids at the Palms Middle School. Each featured a redwood tree mounted on a real, hand-tinted page from Mr. Chin's book, with a squirrel and a backpack alongside it - all kid-created and completely amazing. I wish my cell phone photo above did them more justice.

By the way, were you wondering what the difference might be between a sequoia and a redwood? Both live in CA, both grow humongous and are reddish, and in fact they are related - but they are very different in several key ways. Author Caroline Arnold, who wrote a book called The Biggest Living Thing (about sequoias), kindly took the time to explain some differences to me.

A bonus to the luncheon was that it took place at a restaurant just two blocks from Central Library. The short walk to and from the luncheon was utterly blissful, as the temperature had heated up to a glorious 80 degrees. Yes, you read that right! It won't last, but for now we Angelenos are getting plenty of vitamin D and loving every minute of it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

To review or not to review?

So here are my two Newbery Dilemmas:

1. Should I review any Newbery-eligible books on either my blog or in School Library Journal?
We're absolutely allowed to express our own personal opinions about books, so long as we don't disclose any Newbery Committee business. However, I feel uneasy about folks reading a positive or negative review that I have written and thinking something along the lines of "Since Eva's a committee member, I bet she will (or won't) recommend/promote this book to the committee."

To avoid any possible guessing or misinterpretations, for 2011 I will try to stick to reviews of non-eligible books (non-U.S. authors; non-2011 titles; etc) and will also focus more on library services to children and teens. Some of my fellow committee members seem to feel the same, while others don't see a problem - and it's definitely a personal choice. It'll feel strange not writing about all the books I'm reading, that's for sure.

2. How will I satisfy my YA jones?? Not to mention my penchant for the occasional grown-up book...? And then there are all those 2010 books I never got to! Judging from the experiences of previous committee members, the last 6 months of the year in particular will be all Newbery, all the way, and that's fine with me (it was great not having to load up on middle-grade ARCs, knowing they'd all be coming my way). But maybe during these early months I can squeeze in some of those juicy ARCs I picked up at ALA - Judy Blundell's Strings Attached, Rachel Ward's The Chaos, Alison Goodman's Eona, Catherine Fisher's The Dark City, and many more. There will undoubtedly be guilt and plenty of it, however.

Did any of you ex-Newbery or other award committee members suffer from these dilemmas? If so, how did you solve them?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Did YOU read it?

I've been reading some of the blog posts that have come out since the announcements of the ALA Youth Media Awards, and most folks seem not to have read the Newbery winner Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool. However, there seems to be general happy bemusement at a dark horse winning - it's so much fun to be utterly surprised. I was trying to get my hands on a copy even a couple days before ALA, based on good reviews and several recommendations from librarians in the Children's Literature dept of Central Library, so hopefully there will be a copy on my chair when I get back to the office tomorrow (hint hint).

Oh, what a lovely midwinter ALA it was. My full day of YALSA institute on Friday was topped off by a lovely dinner with, among other luminaries, Joanne Rocklin, whom I invited to give a presentation to kids at the Venice Branch about 10 years or so ago. Maybe even 15 years... She lives in Oakland now and has a new book coming out with Abrams.

Saturday's high point was meeting with my fellow 2o12 Newbery Committee members. I had met Chair Viki Ash once before, but I have followed the blogs of two other members for long before we were all elected - Stacy Dillon of Welcome to My Tweendom and Lynn Rutan of Booklist's Bookends blog. It was lovely finally meeting them face to face, and in fact all the committee members seem, based on the few hours we've been together so far, to be smart and amiable folks. I have a feeling we're going to work well and happily together.

Speaking of bloggers, I met two other folks whose blogs grace my Google Reader. Both Monica Edinger of educating alice and Marge Loch-Wouters of Tiny Tips for Library Fun are as smart, dynamic, and friendly as their blogs, and it was so great to meet them in person. Monica's experience as a classroom teacher gives her a perspective on children's literature that is fascinating to me, and Marge's quest for the answers to "Why do we children's librarians do what we do and how can we do it better?" is one that is very near and dear to my own heart.

I picked up a heck of a lot of truly mouthwatering ARCs and am beginning to stress about exactly how much YA fiction I am going to be able to slip into my reading schedule this year.. More on this and other Newbery-related dilemmas tomorrow.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Review of Mistwood by Leah Cypess

Cypess, Leah. Mistwood. Greenwillow, 2010.

Isabel is a Shifter, a creature of mist and fog whose duty for hundreds of years has been to be the protector of the king and his family. When Prince Rokan comes the Mistwood to find and bind Isabel and bring her back to the castle, Isabel remembers this, and also finds the castle and her role very familiar. Right away, she realizes that her powers, such preternatural quickness, an intuition that is magical, and an ability to know where Prince Rokan is anywhere in the castle, are designed to help her protect him at all times. And she wants to protect him - the idea of harm coming to him is unthinkable.

But there are huge gaps in Isabel's memory and in her abilities. Why can't she shift at will, as all the other Shifters (who were of course only one Shifter - herself) could and did? And why can't she remember why she left the castle for the woods in the first place, 10 years ago? As it turns out, Prince Rokan and his sister Clarisse are not who Isabel first thinks they are - and neither is Isabel herself.

Isabel exhibits plenty of confident hubris (born of her Shifter abilities and memories) but is also often painfully confused and hesitant. She knows there is something unfinished and not quite right about her, and so she is a character to whom many teenagers will relate. Feeling powerful one moment and timid the next, Isabel tries to bluff her way through a tricky and dangerous political situation.

We don't hear very much about the swirl of court intrigue, and what we do hear isn't particularly vivid or convincing. However, it's clear that the emphasis isn't on the court or even necessarily on the greater implications of the legitimacy of Prince Rokan's claim to the throne. Rather, it is Isabel and her own personal dilemma that is the focus. Why is she feeling so many human emotions if she is the Shifter? To whom should she give her loyalty? It is the relationships between Isabel and the other characters (all teenage royalty) that is the main concern.

I was left with plenty of questions that weren't sufficiently answered, even after the (fairly easy to guess) origin of Isabel's problems is revealed. The background (the court, the kingdom) isn't given much shrift, and while it seems to be on purpose, it results in a world that doesn't feel quite real in either complexity or emotions. Isabel - sure, she's very real. But the castle, court, and kingdom are quite generic. Although Isabel's abilities and the situation are reminiscent of Graceling by Kristin Cashore, this book lacks the depth of that world.

A stand-alone companion to Mistwood, called Nightspell, is coming out in late May 2011. It takes place in the same world, so it will be interesting to see if Cypess fills in some of the missing details. Recommended for fantasy fans ages 12 and up.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Teen Services and the Whole Library Experience

This is the view from my hotel room. It's a wonder I ever leave it!

Yesterday was a full day of work and play at ALA. I attended the all-day YALSA institute on Teen Services and the Whole Library Experience. To tell the truth, I wasn't quite sure what this meant, but it sounded great - and lord knows I need all the training and tutorials on YA services that I can get. As it turned out, this was a primer on how to get all the other folks in your library branch and/or system to understand and buy into the idea of giving good service to teens. Although the workshop didn't offer all the features and speakers promised in the link above, it was worthwhile for some good nuggets of information.

There were several enthusiastic speakers, plus a long and wonderfully chatty luncheon at the Old Spaghetti Factory (with wine! but we would have had fun anyway), so some good tips. I was particularly taken with Sara Ryan's remarks on how to talk to non-YA librarians about teens. Here are my notes:

Sara Ryan (author of Empress of Nowhere; Teen Services Specialist at Multnomah) “Make it work”
Multnomah has a mandatory training for all staff on serving teens
Crucial to give other staff tools/resources that will make them feel more able/comfortable to give good service to teens, whether it’s reader’s advisory or homework assistance
Some good exercises to do in meetings/trainings with other departments
  • Remember the teen that you once were
  • Imagine a hypothetical teen and walk with him/her through a typical library experience
  • Ask: Why do teens need libraries? Why do libraries need teens?
  • Who are we trying to convince and what is the crucial info we want them to know about teens?
Strategies for convincing people:
  • Charts (to display stats on everything from circulation to teens in community)
Info about teen brain development
  • Info about adolescent development - ages and stages; no one ever operates at “developmental best” all the time
  • hot vs cold cognition - emotions affect our thought processes
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Surroundings - doing better in familiar, comfy surroundings
  • Practice makes perfect
  • Support - modeling, taking an interest, mentoring, working alongside
  • Info about development assets and how your programs contribute to them
  • Stories and anecdotes - take it from the scary and vague to the real and personal (how to measure the “invisible” work YA librarians do? the mentoring, the supporting)
  • Keep folder on ref desk to write down anecdotes
  • Ask teens to write up what the library means to them or what they like (during summer reading programs; when they ask for a recommendation, etc)
Penny Johnson, teen specialist at the Baraboo Public Library in WI, shared some strategies for effecting change in one's organization, focusing on how to share proposals and say "PLEASE:"
P=Proposals, not problems. L=Liaisons. E=Expertise A=Avoid arguments. S=Share success. E=Exemplary Excellence. My favorite of these are those two "E"s - my goal is not only to continue to grow and learn, but to encourage Children's and YA Librarians to be as fabulous as possible, with the ultimate goal of changing and improving the lives of our kids and teens. And if this makes LAPL shine like a beacon of light... awesome!

The strength of the workshop was that all the attendees came away with a renewed sense of purpose and a strengthened commitment to teen services. I'm lucky in that the Los Angeles Public Library administration, and in particular our director Martin Gomez, is extremely supportive of teen services, and in fact has made "helping students succeed" one of his three main service goals, with an emphasis on teens. But of course there are individuals throughout the library system who are not so wild about teens (including, perhaps, some of the more than 20 former adult librarians/new YA librarians who just began their new positions last week).

Some personal resolutions for 2011:
Be relentness. Never go off-message. Keep advocating for children and teens AND their librarians - within the library system, in our community, and beyond.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Not off to a good start

We're already 6 days into the New Year and I've only written ONE blog post?? It's a good thing that my New Year's Resolutions do NOT include writing regular blog posts but DO include reading my little heart out.

I've been reading so much - and such a variety - that I'm behind in my reviews. Here, therefore, are just a couple super-short blurbs. And then - off to ALA and plenty of fodder for plenty of posts.

Silberberg, Alan. Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze. Aladdin, 2010.

This reminded me a bit of Angleberger's The Strange Case of Origami Yoda but with a more poignant backstory (the death of Milo's mother a few years before and the subsequent dysfunction of his family). There are silly, childlike drawings of middle school kids and plenty of middle school nerdly angst - and also Milo's attempts first to bury and and then to deal with the memories of his mom. The touching elements of this book crept up on me slowly and by surprise - wasn't loving it for the first few chapters but was sold by the end.

Stroud, Jonathan. The Ring of Solomon. Disney Hyperion, 2010.

If the first three Bartimaeus books drove you crazy with their pompous protagonist and their endless footnotes, this will, too. But since, as far as I'm concerned, Bartimaeus is the rockin'est djinni ever (and Stroud can do no wrong), this is one fabulous, satisfying read. 'nuff said.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Review of Sapphique by Catherine Fisher

(Short preamble - skip to the next paragraph to read about Sapphique)
This is my first review of 2011, but I'm not too sure how many more I'll be doing this year. I'm on the Newbery Committee (woooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!) and to judge from my colleague Madeline, who is on the 2011 Committee and has been reading like crazy all year and especially over the past 6 months (and most especially over the last month), there won't be all that much time to read anything but Newbery-qualifying books. And while I'm assuming that reviewing those books on this blog is allowed as long as I make clear that these are all MY opinions and not the committee's, I don't know if I'll feel comfortable with that. So... this blog may have mainly a Children's Library Services focus for a year, or perhaps I'll move to reviewing picture books (which have the benefit of being short). But enough of this rambling - on to the review.

Fisher, Catherine. Sapphique. Dial, 2010.

Those of us who read and loved Incarceron were thrilled to see Sapphique published in the same calendar year. Thank goodness Fisher is such a fast and accomplished writer, because she does like cliffhanger endings.

Finn is now Outside the prison Incarceron, working with Claudia and her tutor/mentor/friend Jared to fix the portal to the prison while also trying to stay alive and well despite all the machinations and plots boiling around them in the Court. The Warden is stuck inside Incarceron, as are Finn's oath-brother Keiro and companion Attia. All three are trying to figure out a way to use a powerful Glove to get out of the prison, without letting the unbalanced and cruel consciousness of Incarceron itself get it first.

Like the first installment, scenes take place alternately in Incarceron, with its strange and eerie artificial landscapes, and Outside, in a world whose archaic perfection is an illusion in almost every way. There aren't many revelations in this installment, as readers already know most of the secrets revealed in the first book, so it's easy to simply jump into the story and become immersed without any confusion or puzzlement. The plot hums along all the faster for this, and by the end, with both worlds literally falling apart around the characters' ears, readers will be reading as fast as they can to see what happens next.

In many of these dystopian books, the society in which the characters find themselves has been created expressly in reaction to a past hideous situation - a nasty, decades-long war, perhaps, or destructive climate change, or something else that led to a decision to cast off all the old ways and start anew. Usually this means a huge loss of freedom and knowledge for the citizens, since the new society's creators figure that humans do stupid and destructive things when allowed to do or know too much; consider The Giver by Lowry, Matched by Condie, the Ugly series by Westerfeld, and many others. But the rub is that there must be a small, elite group in the know, the ones who are "protecting" all the others by squelching all dissent in order to keep society going. These folks, even if well-meaning initially, generally have become downright nasty by the time the story we are reading takes place.

The interesting thing about Sapphique is that, in order for the society to keep running, the entire ruling class that is benefiting from it must buy into the illusion that all is well. This is a particularly fascinating aspect of the novel - I kept wondering how far illusions extended. Is the food Claudia eats actually exquisite, or is it rotting meat and rough barley bread? And if the latter, does the technology that maintains the illusions also ensure that folks don't get tummy aches? The situation of the poor people is also thought-provoking. Presumably they are leading more of a real life, so they may actually be more healthy than their aristocratic neighbors, not to mention better able to survive when the illusions disappear.

Although very few of the main characters remain particularly likable, with the exception of the fabulous Jared, the reader can't help but root for them. This well-written and fast-paced fantasy novel is recommended for those who have read and enjoyed Incarceron.