Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel

Plot Summary
Sixteen-year-old Leila Azadi likes girls. Really likes girls. But she can’t tell anyone. She’s already struggling to fit in at school due to being an Iranian-American in a sea of white students. And she’s already disappointing her parents by failing science and not becoming a doctor like they want her to; throwing an announcement about her sexuality into the mix would devastate them.
     When an exotic new girl starts at Leila’s private school, Leila feels less alone. Sask. is from Switzerland, and gorgeous, and immediately befriends Leila. But it feels like something more than friendship… Leila has never felt this way before. She ditches soccer to try out for the school play alongside Saskia. But Leila still isn’t ready for anyone to know she’s a lesbian, and she isn’t sure Saskia is the best person to keep her secret…

Critical Analysis
Leila’s voice is honest and true—teens will find comfort in Leila’s world, even as she is experiencing emotional turmoil. The school environment Farizan portrays is equally as relatable, making this a valuable contemporary book for teens. Leila represents two minorities—mixed-race Iranian-American, and lesbian. Elements of Iranian culture that are incorporated into the story in the form of Leila’s father and social events the family attends are shown with respect and intelligence, so the reader comes away learning about the culture. The lesbian culture is also shown, with Leila falling for, and then striking down, stereotypes. None of those elements are heavy-handed, so the reader doesn’t feel like they’re getting hit over the head with political correctness, yet takes away tolerance and acceptance at the end of the book. The enjoyable, realistic depiction of two minorities make this book a necessity for contemporary young adult collections.
     This book will appeal to teens because the story is easy to get caught up in, but to be superficial, I have to say the pink cover might be a turn-off. This book would be great for girls and boys to enjoy, but every edition I could find a photo of had the signature pink cover. When it comes to an attention-grabbing color, pink is it. But when it comes to a book you’d want to be caught reading in high school, regardless of your gender, pink looks fairly immature. If teens can get past the cover and read the jacket copy, however, I think they’ll be hooked.

Related Activities
Much like her character Leila Azadi, author Sara Farizan is the daughter of Iranian immigrants, likes girls, and dislikes science and math. Other authors have also incorporated a lot of themselves into their fiction, like Sherman Alexie in The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian. Invite teens to create a character using aspects of themselves and their personalities that they find unique or are especially proud of. Characters can be sketched, revealed in a short story, or even shown by a list of traits.
     Leila had a secret that she wasn’t ready to share, but found that things weren’t so bad in the end. Have teens write down a secret on a small slip of paper. They can disguise their writing or write with their other hand if they don’t want to be identified. Teens can roll up or fold their secrets and place them in a jar, which will be sealed so not even the librarian can open it! It’s surprising how much lighter you might feel after getting your secret out - even if no one knows it.
     If you’re lucky enough to have an especially open group of teens, share the secrets instead of sealing the jar! Have the teens leave the room and post all of the secrets on a bulletin board. When the teens come back in, they can read all of the secrets—silently! No calling out guesses or accusations of who wrote what.

Iranian immigration to the United States is a relatively new political phenomenon and constitutes one of the highest status foreign-born groups in the United States (Ansari). Encourage teens to read more about this fast-growing population with a variety of fiction and nonfiction books.
     Amirrezvani, Anita and Persis Karim. Tremors: New Fiction by Iranian American Writers.
          Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 2013. Print.
     Ansari, Maboud. The Iranian Americans: A Popular Social History of a New American Ethnic
Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2013. Print.
     Dumas, Firoozeh. Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America. New York:
          Random House, 2004. Print.
     Dumas, Firoozeh. Laughing Without an Accent: Adventures of a Global Citizen. New York:
          Random House, 2009. Print.
     Nafisi, Azar. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. New York: Random House, 2008.

Professional Review
Patten, Amy. “Farzan, Sara: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel.” The Horn Book Guide 26.1
     (2015): 106. Literature Resource Center. Web. 27 June 2015.

Read it for yourself!
Farizan, Sara. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Young
     Readers, 2014. Print.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Plot Summary
Arnold Spirit, more commonly known as Junior, lives on a Spokane Indian reservation with his parents and a close knit group of friends. Though life on the rez can be hard, Junior makes the best of it by keeping a cartoon diary. “I draw because words are too unpredictable. I draw because words are too limited” (Alexie 5). No subject is off limits, even Junior’s birth defects that resulted in a large head, seizures, a lisp, a stutter, and thick glasses, and get him bullied by other kids on the rez.
     Despite all of his setbacks, Junior is a smart guy, exited to start geometry on his first day of high school. But when he discovers the class textbook is the same one his mom used, Junior knows the reservation is only holding him back. He transfers to Reardon, a school in a nearby rich, white farm town, where he can get the most out of his education despite being the only Indian kid. Junior struggles to fit in and make friends while balancing his life on the reservation, where most people have turned their backs on him. When Junior gets a chance to play his old team on the basketball court, he has to confront his old and new identities and decide who he really is inside.

Critical Analysis
Junior is a realistic, likable character that will draw readers in with his conversational tone. Everything, for example the medical explanations of his disabilities, is explained in simple terms that any reader can understand, yet it does not feel like the writing has been dumbed down. Reluctant readers will especially love the balance of illustrations with the humorous writing style. That being said, the book has been challenged for offensive language and being sexually explicit ("Frequently challenge books of the 21st century"), and seems best suited for teens age 14 and up. In fact, teens will probably relate to Junior’s attempts at fitting in with a new school while still being himself at home, and will be draw to the controversy that is created when he must face both populations at the same time! The story is overall heartwarming and inspirational, and is a good book for any teen who is ready to read about experiences they have faced or will be facing in high school.

Related Activities
Junior keeps a diary by drawing cartoons of his family, friends, and things that happen to him. He says “when you draw a picture, everybody can understand it” (Alexie 5). He says that drawing bridges gaps that languages can’t; that everyone can understand a drawing. Have your teens start a cartoon journal. They can draw a “cast of characters” of their family and friends — real life depictions or caricatures. They can draw things that have happened to them that make them happy, angry, or afraid. If your group is feeling especially open, hang up the drawings at the end of the program (with signatures covered or on the back). Encourage conversation about what they see in others’ drawings: can they tell what is being depicted? How does it make them feel? Have they experienced something similar? This could encourage a sense of community without teens having to raise their hand and speak up with everyone looking at them. Even if the group doesn’t feel like putting their art on display, starting a cartoon journal might really help them get their thoughts and feelings onto paper without the frustration of searching for the exact right word.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a frequently challenged book based on many different criteria, which can be seen on the ALA’s "Frequently challenge books of the 21st century" list. One of the reasons this book is challenged is because of “cultural insensitivity”, probably due to the fairly negative, stereotypical presentation of Native American culture Alexie portrays (though it is fictionalized from his personal experiences). Encourage teens to research Native American culture after they finish this book, and compare and contrast what they learn with what they read in Alexie’s books.
     A great site to learn about Native American legends, like the one Junior’s dad shares about Turtle Lake (Alexie 223), is First People of America and Canada.
     Teachers and librarians can also find great print and online resources on the Native American Children’s and Young Adult Literature page from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Professional Review
Garrett, Emily. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Library Media Connection
     26.4 (2008): 75. EBSCOhost. Web. 21 June 2015.

Read it for yourself!
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Illus. Ellen Forney. New
     York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Print.

Consider listening to this book, narrated by the author, which won the 2009 Odyssey Award!
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Recorded Books, 2008. CD.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I’ll Give You the Sun

Plot Summary
Jude and her twin brother Noah have grown up being NoahandJude, sharing thoughts, souls, and dreams. When the twins turn thirteen, things start changing. Their mother wants them both to attend a prestigious art school, which triggers a competition between the twins. Dynamics within the family and with Jude and Noah’s friends begin to twist, and the twins are keeping secrets from each other. Initially they want to keep each other safe, then they try and hurt the other.
     The story is told in alternating viewpoints across the span of three years. Noah narrates chapters when he and his sister are thirteen years old, just starting to explore their world and what is outside of their insulated twin life. Jude’s chapters are when the twins are sixteen, coming into their sexuality and understanding the world at large. Both characters are drastically different, their voices ringing true and unique with each chapter, though the reader can sense their twin connection. The twists of drama in the story will push the reader to read just one more chapter!, desperate to reach the fantastically satisfying resolution.

Critical Analysis
The characters in I’ll Give You the Sun are very unique, but in an approachable way. The reader is immediately immersed in Jude and Noah’s worlds, seeing things through their eyes, needing to read both sides of the story to learn what is really going on. Changing narrators, especially across the span of years, can sometimes be difficult to pull off, but Nelson has done this flawlessly, and teens will not feel lost in the story as the voices and times change. In fact, using both twins to tell the story is the book’s major strength. Getting into both Jude and Noah’s heads rounds out the action, and the span of three years switching back and forth each chapter keeps the reader in the dark about interesting things happening in the twins’ lives. While the story is strong enough to work even in a straightforward narrative format, the alternating viewpoints makes the book very alluring for teens.
     This book is great for the typical Young Adult reader, aged 12 to 18—and beyond! The depth of emotion in the story makes it easy to relate to whether the reader has experienced events from the book, or is living vicariously through the characters. Jude is a great role model for girls as she regrets past decisions that once made her proud, and strives to change herself for the better. Noah is struggling with his sexuality, trying to decide if he should be true to himself, or try to avoid bullying and disappointing his father. Regardless of teens’ sexuality, this book is a great way to show different sides of a situation that often gets overlooked in fiction.

Related Activities
I’ll Give You the Sun is a beautiful book that tackles a lot of complicated issues. As a librarian, I would have a program about the book in general, with activity stations teens could explore according to their interests.
     The Art Station. Noah and Jude are both artistic in different ways—Noah creates gorgeously realistic sketches and paintings, while Jude prefers to work with her hands in sand, clay, and stone. The Art Station has sketch pads, pencils, pastels, and paints for teens to draw whatever’s on their mind. There are also lumps of clay and kinetic sand they can use to sculpt. If no inspiration strikes, there is also a jar of prompts from the book teens can pick from. The slips of paper have scenes and topics from the book, as well as the titles of Noah’s art that could serve as a great jumping-off point to creating some beautiful works of art.
     The Twin Tank. Jude and Noah had a lot in common, but they are drastically different people. The Twin Tank is a creative writing station for teens to write about an event—real or fictional—from their point of view, then rewrite it as their twin might have seen it. Their twin doesn’t have to be the opposite of the teen, but they definitely won’t be the same! This gives teens a chance to step out of their own lives and see things from a slightly different view.
     Rule the World. Throughout their lives, Jude and Noah have been trying to rule the world. They barter with the sun, moon, sky, grass, flowers, trees, and other elements of earth to get small gifts of favors from each other. Break teens into partners or small groups and give them small symbols of the earth to barter with (either paper cutouts of each element, or scale model figures). Put a topic or item up for grabs and let them get to it! After ten or fifteen minutes, ask each teen or group to talk about what they traded and why.

Noah is a young teenager when he realizes he’s gay. He struggles with his identity, wanting to keep a secret to avoid teasing and to keep from disappointing his father. It takes time, and many mistakes, before Noah feels comfortable with who he is—but things don’t have to be that way. Teens have many resources at their fingertips, like:
- Gay-Straight Alliance
- It Gets Better Project
- StopBullying.gov
- Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network: Student Action

Professional Review
Devore, Linda. “I’ll Give You the Sun.” Library Media Connection 33.6 (2015): 66. EBSCOhost.
     Web. 14 June 2015.

Read it for yourself!
Nelson, Jandy. I’ll Give You the Sun. New York: Dial Books, 2014. Print.

Monday, June 8, 2015


Plot Summary
Brian Robeson is flying on a small plane to visit his father in Canada. This is his first time visiting his dad since his parents split up, and Brian hates that he knows why his mom wanted to divorce. He's battling with himself over whether he should tell his dad that secret when the pilot of his plane has a heart attack. The pilot had just shown Brian how to steer the plane, but of course that isn’t enough to ensure Brian gets to his father safely. He radios in for help, but is left on his own to try and land the plane. After crashing, Brian is wounded but still alive. He is left in the Canadian wilderness to forage for provisions and build a shelter, not knowing how long he’ll be on his own before he’s found.

Critical Analysis
Hatchet is a really interesting story that will draw in a lot of teen readers; who doesn’t secretly love the idea of trying to make it on their own? The book is a little slow to start, with too much time spent with Brian and the pilot in the loud cockpit and not much story being developed. The flashbacks to Brian learning his mother’s secret were also a little tough to follow. They were spaced from the action of the story, but might be more accessible for reluctant readers if they were their own chapters with the timing clearly noted as a flashback.
     Learning how to survive alongside Brian makes for an adventurous read, but a lot of the writing seems a bit too poetic to keep the attention of reluctant readers. Paulsen employs a lot of repetition which makes the story sound nice, but the fragments make it a little hard to follow the story, and teens who aren’t avid readers will likely get frustrated. This is unfortunate, because the book could be edited down to be very concise and readable for different reading levels. Even so, it could still be a suitable book for middle grade children, especially if they are more advanced readers. The book doesn’t have explicit language or scenes; though Brian does learn to survive by killing fish and small animals, the visuals aren’t gruesome.
     This book deserves to be a young adult classic because the struggle is timeless: being stranded in the wild with nothing to help you except your own skills. Even with today’s plethora of technology, teens could equate being in Brian’s shoes to being without their phone! Books that have such a timeless theme will always be relevant for readers.

Related Activities
Teens are very dependent on technology these days, which can be great! It’s a necessary skill in most job fields, and it’s easy to create images, videos, and audio files on a variety of devices. When Hatchet was written, Brian didn’t have any of today’s technology—and even if he did, it probably wouldn’t have worked in such an isolated location.
     Host a “Survival” program for teens. Assign each patron or small groups a task, like: how to collect rainwater and make it safe to drink; how to identify poisonous berries and plants; how to start a fire. The possibilities are endless! Give teens time to research their subject, either in the stacks or online. Give time for the solutions to be shared. Then, have everyone turn in (or off) their device. Pass out good old fashioned paper maps, and give each teen a route to trace. Start in your city and send them to the other side of the country, or to a little-known city hidden in the middle of your state. See how well teens do when they have to read a map themselves, without the help of Google or MapQuest! Whoever makes it to their destination first (and on real roads!) wins a prize!

Related Resources
What if Brian hadn’t been rescued at the end of Hatchet? Feel free to use your imagination, but Gary Paulsen wrote his version of what might happen in the alternate ending called Brian’s Winter. There are three more books documenting Brian’s struggle to live in the “normal” world and his return to the wild. Read them all:
     Paulsen, Gary. Brian’s Winter. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 1996. Print.
     Paulsen, Gary. The River. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 1991. Print.
     Paulsen, Gary. Brian’s Return. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 1999. Print.
     Paulsen, Gary. Brian’s Hunt. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2003. Print.

My Side of the Mountain is a novel of survival written in 1959. Readers who liked Hatchet and its follow-up books would love the My Side of the Mountain trilogy!
     George, Jean Craighead. My Side of the Mountain Trilogy (My Side of the Mountain / On the
          Far Side of the Mountain / Frightful’s Mountain)
. New York: Dutton Books for Young
          Readers, 2000. Print.

Professional Review
Reutter, Vicki. “Hatchet (Book).” School Library Journal 50.5 (2004): 64. EBSCOhost. Web.
     6 June 2015.

Read it for yourself!
Paulsen, Gary. Hatchet. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1987. Print.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Inclusive Summer Reading Programs - YALSAblog

I was recently accepted to write for YALSAblog, and I couldn't be more thrilled! Most of my posts will focus on providing services to teens with disabilities. The first one has tips on making your library's summer reading program inclusive.

Whether you know the teens that frequent your library or not, disabilities can be hard to see. If you’re lucky, teens and their parents may be open about disabilities and how you can help them get the most out of their library experience. And if you’re not lucky, well, sometimes you'll deal with behaviors or unsatisfying encounters that make you wonder if you helped the patron at all. Thankfully, making your summer reading activities seem inviting to teens with disabilities is easy to do. With just a few tweaks to what you already have in place, your program can be inclusive! This way, it doesn’t matter if you know what disabilities you’re dealing with, or if you’re just taking a wild guess.

Read the whole article here!