Tuesday, July 28, 2015

This One Summer

Plot Summary
Rose and her family stay at a lakeside cabin every summer, where Rose hangs out with the slightly younger Windy. Together the two girls roam the small town, renting scary movies to appear more mature to the boys who work at the local convenience store. Rose’s crush consumes her, but younger Windy doesn’t understand and wants to still play and be silly, like the kid she is. While Rose struggles with her own feelings, her parents are fighting so much that her father goes home, and only returns to the cabin on weekends. Rose can’t relate to her mother, who seems wrapped up in her own sadness, so she struggles to find her place between the contrasting worlds of childhood and adulthood.

Critical Analysis
The panels in this novel are realistically drawn, so the characters show relatable emotions in their expressions and actions. The whole book is printed in dark blue ink, calling to mind the water of the lake Rose and Windy swim in. The whole approach to the book’s style and layout give it the importance necessary for such a coming of age story.
     The story of the summer is interesting and accessible for teens of all ages and backgrounds, but one is left with a feeling of sadness at the end of the book. Just like in real life, all the loose ends are not neatly tied up. This is a strength AND a weakness, because books that have a happy ending just because don’t seem genuine, and won’t satisfy most teens. Then again, the overall sadness of this story could bring teens down at a time when their emotions are easily influenced. That doesn’t mean that the book should be avoided, but I don’t think it would be as popular as some more light-hearted graphic novels, especially with graphic novels holding so much appeal to reluctant readers.
     Though Rose is going through puberty, and Windy a year behind her, this book seems best for older teens. The underlying stories of Rose’s mother’s sadness and the town’s teens’ drama are better suited for an older audience. All ages of young adults could enjoy the book, however, because the experience of spending summer at the lake with a friend seems timeless and relatable: letting loose with someone you don’t see too often, in a place where no one really knows you and no routine holds you down. Adults and older teens might feel a bit of nostalgia as they read, while younger teens might currently be experiencing a lot that Rose does.

Related Activities
This One Summer focuses on a specific vacation Rose and her family take. Many other graphic novels are about a short period of time as well. Have teens think of an experience in their life that was particularly monumental, difficult, or even funny. Have them tell that story in concise panels that depend more on illustration than narrative or dialogue. If the teens aren’t artistic, offer a selection of magazines they can cut images from to make collage panels. The panels can be pasted on a larger sheet of paper and folded into a book or zine, or if the stories are too personal to share, collect them all about fifteen minutes before the program ends. Shuffle them together, lay them face down on a table, and let teens pick seven to ten frames. See if they can put these assorted panels together into a new story, or let them keep those panels and add more of their own creation to make a cohesive story.

Books about a certain time in a teen’s life are popular because the emotions are so raw, and everyone can relate to these coming-of-age stories. Telling these stories in graphic novel form adds another layer to the story, because the emotions can be clearly expressed in illustration beyond what words alone make us feel.
+       Halliday, Ayun. Peanut. Illus. Paul Hoppe. New York: Schwartz & Wade, 2012. Print.
Sadie is starting a new school, and she’s not sure how she’s going to make friends - so she pretends to have a peanut allergy. This gets her plenty of attention and sympathy from her peers, but when the teachers and nurse get involved, Sadie’s not sure she can keep up her lie.
+       Telgemeier, Raina. Smile. New York: Graphix, 2010. Print.
Raina knocked out her two front teeth, resulting in years of dental experiments and braces during the crucial time of middle and high school.
+       Mucha, Corinne. Freshman: Tales of 9th Grade Obsessions, Revelations, and Other
. San Francisco, CA: Zest Books, 2011. Print.
Annie is a freshman in high school dealing with a crush, delicate friendships, and trying to learn how to act at parties.

Professional Review
Marcus, Leonard S. “Some Vacation: This One Summer.” Horn Book Magazine 91.4 (2015): 61-64. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Jul. 2015.

Read it for yourself!
Tamaki, Mariko. This One Summer. Illus. Jillian Tamaki. New York: First Second, 2014. Print.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

Plot Summary
Maya Van Wagenen isn’t a total loser—she has one best friend. But on the food chain of middle school popularity, she’s only a step above the teachers. After finding an old book called Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide, Maya decides to attempt changing her social standing. Her mother encourages her to tackle a tip of two a month from the book’s table of contents, keeping a journal of the experiment as she does. Maya goes from throwing on whatever clothes she can find in her closet to wearing pressed skirts and a string of pearls. She stops being content at blending in and pushes herself to sit at every table in the lunchroom. Though the memoir is about Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide, Maya adds in elements of her home life, including a sister with autism, and schoolwork, including an ailing beloved teacher, to round out the story.

Critical Analysis
Maya’s writing is so honest and open that every teen girl will fall in love with her. Maya’s worries about her appearance, weight, and personality are universal, and are written about with an eloquent yet conversational voice that will draw in readers. The title, cover, and concept are all eye-catching enough to appeal to teen girls, but boys should also be encouraged to read the book. The lessons about fitting in and being popular vs. being well-liked are universal, and Maya interacts with a lot of boys in her school in a way that is enlightening for both genders.
     It can be hard to tell if a social experiment book will have a lasting place in literature, but if any do, Popular should definitely be one of them. Maya’s writing is timeless, and the idea of updating classic advice is something that will never go out of style. Before too long, Maya’s advice might be considered “classic” itself!
Related Activities
It’s time to get fancy! Teens will make pearls and bow ties out of paper. Collect junk mail and paper scraps so everyone can get their pick of paper types and colors. White paper can also be custom-decorated, so include markers and colored pencils as well. You can use glue sticks, or water down some white school glue to be painted on to the beads. Make sure you have plenty of stretchy string so teens can wear their pearl necklaces and bow ties!
     Find how to make different paper beads here:
          “How to Make Paper Beads.” WikiHow. Mediawiki, n.d. Web. 19 Jul. 2015.
     Find how to make a paper bow tie here:
          “How to make origami ties.” Origami-Make.com. N.p., 2015. Web. 19 Jul. 2015.
     Maya Van Wagenen not only experimented with becoming classy by wearing pearls, she turned around and made her own project into a book! Teens can do something similar during this craft program. Let them film short videos explaining how to make the beads and bow ties from start to finish. Upload them on the library’s social media sites so other teens can learn how to do these crafts at home.

Read the book that inspired Maya’s experiment! It’s being republished to meet the demand of Maya’s readers, so get your hands on a copy and see how you can interpret and apply the advice to your own life!
     Cornell, Betty. Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide. New York: Dutton Books for Young
          Readers, 2014. Print.
If you’re not into retro advice or changing your social status, you can spice up your life in other ways, with a variety of social experiments. This book is framed within your high school career, but most of the suggestions will fill your time after school hours.
     Stalder, Erika and Steven Jenkins. 97 Things to Do Before You Finish High School. San
          Francisco, CA: Zest Books, 2008. Print.

Professional Review
Coats, Karen. “Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen (review).”
     Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 67.10 (2014): 546. Project Muse. Web. 19 Jul. 2015.

Read it for yourself!
Van Wagenen, Maya. Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek. New York: Dutton Books,
     2014. Print.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Plot Summary
Blessed is a Scandinavian island where no children are born and people don't age. The year is 2073 and Eric Seven, a reporter, is sent to write a story about the island. Little is known about the land and its inhabitants, which Eric figures is because the island is off the grid, technologically. He finds this out when he arrives and his phone has no signal. But someone still steals his phone charger, and Eric learns the island isn't as friendly as he first thought. Yet he feels comfortable here, and is drawn to a young woman named Merle. He feels like he already knows her, though she's a stranger. Eric is on the verge of discovery when the story ends and the next takes us back to 2011, then 1944, then 1902, 1848, the 10th century, and a timeless period.

Critical Analysis
It is hard to write about Midwinterblood without giving away much of the story, which is actually a great problem to have. It's one of those books that can be recommended to teens by saying "You've got to read this!" That being said, it doesn't seem like a typical young adult book. It's very unique in subject matter and the way it's told, but it doesn't seem expressly written for teens. The subject matter is gruesome in several stories, and none of the major characters are teenagers. The writing style is not too juvenile for adults, but isn't laden with slang or otherwise aimed at teens. Still, it seems like a book that will rarely be on the shelves due to its popularity. Teens will be drawn to the mash-up of historical fiction and supernatural elements. Since the book won the Printz Award in 2014, it is destined to become a classic.
     Sedgwick's seven short stories are tied together with common characters and common themes of love and sacrifice. Each story is written in present tense, drawing in the reader and keeping them in suspense until the final story is told and all the plots are woven together. Until the entire book is finished, some stories, and parts of stories, can be quite confusing. Though this is a short story collection, it's not an easy book to breeze through. Because of the imagery and how much thought it takes to put it all together, this book should be recommended to older teens or those at an advanced reading level.

Related Activities
Midwinterblood is a book that will make you think. It stays with you long after you close the cover, and has your imagination working overtime. Capitalize on this inspiration by hosting a writing workshop. Teens can write their own short story collection in seven stage.
1. Love. Write a love story, but don't be constrained by what is typically thought of as a love story. Write about familial love: that of a mother for her daughter, or between siblings. Write about platonic love one feels for friends and neighbors. Explore romantic love, or the love one feels for the gods of their religion.
2. Moons. Each story in the book is named after the type of moon that occurs during that time of year. Look up different moons and see what they represent. Pick one that inspires you and write a story about it, or set during that time of year, or make up a fable about how it got its name. Find moons by the month here.
     Full Moon Names and Meanings. Moonconnection.com, 2015. Web. 1 Jul. 2015.
3. Reincarnation. Eric and Merle appear throughout the book as different people in different times. What do the teens at your library think of reincarnation? Do they feel like they've lived before? Have they ever gotten a sense of deja vu? Have them write a story about a character who is living a second or third life, or even an essay about what the teen might have been like in a previous life.
4. Historical Times. Piggy-backing off the idea of reincarnation is simply setting a story in a historical time. Teens can pick a time period, research it, and write as if they or their characters lived during that time, or they can create a mash-up. A mash-up is when two different genres are combined; for example, teens can write a romantic story or a science fiction story set in a historical time period.
5. Symbolism. Things aren't always what they seem! Midwinterblood has a lot of symbolism in every story, like the hares, the dragon orchids, the moons, the bonds of love, and more. Have teens write a story where symbolism plays a big part in the plot. Effective symbolism should add depth to stories, not just be extra elements included without reason.
6. Works of Art. Midwinterblood is based on a painting by Carl Larsson entitled "Midvinterblot". Show teens this painting so they can see how it relates to the book. Have them page through coffee table books of artwork until they find a piece that speaks to them. Have them write a story influenced by the art, or about how it was created, or about what is depicted in the art.
7. Sacrifice. This is a major theme in all seven stories. Have teens write about what they would sacrifice to save something, or what has been sacrificed for them. To further the Midwinterblood theme, challenge them to include characters they used in an earlier story, if they haven't been doing that all along.

Short story collections written specifically for teens seem to be overlooked in favor of more attention-grabbing novels. Spotlight these great books that will open teens' eyes to short fiction, and might inspire them to write their own - beyond the Midwinterblood Writing Workshop!
Black, Holly, and Justine Larbalestier, eds. Zombies vs. Unicorns. New York: Margaret K.
     McElderry Books, 2012. Print.
Datlow, Ellen, and Terri Windling, eds. After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia. New
     York: Disney-Hyperion, 2013. Print.
Link, Kelly, ed. Pretty Monsters. New York: Speak, 2010. Print.
Strahan, Jonathan, ed. Life on Mars: Tales from the New Frontier. New York: Viking Books for
     Young Readers, 2011. Print.

Professional Review
Silverman, Karen. "Midwinterblood." School Library Journal. 9 Dec. 2013. Web. 11 Jul. 2015.

Read it for yourself!
Sedgwick, Marcus. Midwinterblood. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2013. Print.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Rain Is Not My Indian Name

Plot Summary
Rain is a photographer who fell in love with her best friend, Galen. When Galen dies in a car accident, Rain loses herself and her creative passion. She skips Galen’s funeral and sinks into a 6-month-long depression. The only thing that makes her come up for air is the chance to photograph an Indian camp for the local paper. Rain is one of the few Indians in her small town, but doesn’t feel connected to the culture since her father is white. After photographing the camp and learning that even her former friend, an African-American, is proud of the Indian blood in her lineage, will Rain find a passion for her people?

Critical Analysis
The themes of the book are photography and Native Americans, but neither topic is explored to its full potential. The storyline of Galen’s death is the only one that is satisfactorily resolved; the others fade out before they’re completed. Rain is a flat character; teens would more than likely find it hard to relate to her. She’s interested in photography, but doesn’t seem passionate about it, and nothing else about her personality sticks out. Rain’s grandfather, who is only present via postcards sent from Vegas, is more interesting than the main character herself. This book is more appropriate for younger readers, probably topping out at age 12, though Rain herself is 14. The book is also only 14 years old, but comes across as extremely dated; the story isn’t strong enough to be classified as timeless. Some of the sentences were awkward and wordy, making it hard to comprehend what was being said, and making the reader very aware that they’re reading a story. Overall, the book wasn’t too engaging, so I wouldn’t recommend it even for younger readers.

Related Activities
Rain is a photographer, using a 35mm camera and developing her own film. If your library has the financial resources, it’d be fun to host a pinhole camera makerspace— find instructions here, from:
          343GUILTYSPARK. How To Make A Pinhole Camera. Instructables, n.d. Web. 5 July 2015.

For those who don’t have the resources, you can still have fun “developing” photos. Have teens use their camera phones and the library’s iPads to take journalistic photos of each other in the stacks and around the building. Print them off and send home copies, hang them up, and post them on social media to show what’s going on at the library. You can even make the photos look like they came from a pinhole camera by using a needle to poke a hole in a small square of cardboard and tape it over the camera lens to let less light in. Teens will have to be more conscious of how they frame photos with these limitations!

Edward Curtis was an early 1900’s photographer who wanted to document American-Indian tribes before they disappeared. See his work here:
          Native Americans: Epic Photojournalism. NetFoxNews.com, 28 Feb. 2013. Web. 5 July
In 2005 Aaron Huey, a modern photojournalist, documented people living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. See his photos here:
          Teicher, Jordan G. A Photographer’s Moving Tribute to the Pine Ridge Reservation.
               Slate.com, 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 5 July 2015.
Aaron Huey created a space for people of the Pine Ridge community to upload their own photos and stories as an interactive storytelling project. View it here:
          Huey, Aaron. Pine Ridge Community Storytelling Project. Cowbird.com, 20 Mar.
               2012. Web. 5 July 2015.
Aaron Huey also gave a 15 minute TED talk, found here:
          Huey, Aaron. America’s native prisoners of war. Ted.com, Sept. 2010. Web. 5 July 2015.

Professional Review
Edwards, Carol A. "Rain Is Not My Indian Name." School Library Journal 47.6 (2001): 156. Business Insights: Essentials. Web. 5 July 2015.

Read it for yourself!
Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Rain Is Not My Indian Name. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. Print.