Thursday, August 27, 2015

My First Storytime with SRVS!

The backstory behind my library program for adults with disabilities is explained here.

Two weeks ago today, on August 13, 2015, I held my first library program for two classes of adults with disabilities from SRVS! I was pretty nervous because my experience of reading aloud is limited to my one-year-old. I picked two books I really loved because I knew I'd be comfortable reading them aloud. Bonus: both books are really funny, so I knew my audience would be laughing!

I started with The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers, then read Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Jean Jullien. The craft was to make Hoot Owl pencil toppers out of construction paper. I pre-cut all the pieces for the owl because we have a little less than an hour for this program. The individuals glued them together, then taped the owl to their pencil. A SRVS teacher and I took requests from the individuals and we made disguises for each owl! See the super cool spy glasses pictured above.

This program was so much fun to lead, and I'm excited to continue it every month. I can't wait to see how it grows and develops into more!

Adapted Books for Teens with Disabilities

Adapted books are texts that have been modified to make them more accessible for people with different abilities. Making books more physically accessible could mean using fluffers, which are foam stickers or Velcro squares added to the corners of stiff pages to make them easier to grab and turn. Any book can be adapted with these fluffers, but it’s important to make sure the books that are modified can also be independently read by patrons. Turning regular texts into adapted books will not only round out your library’s collection, but it can also be a great makerspace project!
Click to read the full article on YALSAblog.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Are You Seeing Me?

Books are often seen as a respite from everyday life and road trip books can be an even greater escape. They let you travel without having to go through airport security or get stuck in a strange city’s traffic. Darren Groth’s Are You Seeing Me? takes readers from an Australian airport to several stops in Canada and the United States, journeying alongside nineteen-year-old Justine and her twin brother, Perry.

The trip is a big undertaking, but it’s meant to be a send-off, a farewell to the lives the twins have always known. Justine and Perry’s father died a year ago and, since then, Justine has been Perry’s caregiver. Before his death, their father secured Perry, who has autism, a spot at an independent living facility. Justine is conflicted: Perry says he wants to move away; her boyfriend wants to move in; and she can finally live a life without caring for a brother with disabilities.

Check out the full review at Cleaver Magazine.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Flashback Friday - Storytellers Beginnings

Last Thursday I started a new read-aloud program at the local library. I read aloud to adults with disabilities, and then we talk about the stories and do a craft. Last week, 13 of the adults left with applications for library cards! I'm hoping that the program will expand to teach the adults with disabilities how to use the library more independently. Eventually, I'd love to offer this program to all ages of people with disabilities.

In honor of the program kickoff, I wanted to share posts from a previous program I did for adults with disabilities. I started "We Are Storytellers" - a chance for people with disabilities to write and illustrate their own stories. This entry was originally posted on January 8, 2013.

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     A friend and I were on a road trip in August of 2011. We talked about everything under the sun, from personal lives to hopes and dreams for the future. She told me that she wanted to visit terminal children in the hospital and have them tell her a story. She'd write it down and make it into a book, giving them a creative outlet even while their bodies were being ravaged by disease. She wanted to show them they could still make something, they could use their imaginations and escape in some small way.

     Three months later, I started volunteering at SRVS. I helped out with the art program, which meant I distributed paper, paint, and brushes to the plethora of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities lined up at cafeteria tables - we were a little overwhelmed initially, with about 20 clients and three teachers. As time wore on, I stole moments to sit beside them and talk about their paintings.
     We described animals and the individual would paint them; we'd make the animal's noises when the picture was complete. Some clients worked better when given an example; I'd try to paint my own version of whatever they wanted to draw themselves. (Despite being a graphic designer and volunteering with the art program, my drawing skills are somewhat lacking.) Usually, thankfully!, they requested simpler things: animals, fruits, landscapes with birds soaring over the trees.

     I got to know these people as individuals, but I wanted to understand how their minds worked. I wanted to know their stories. My friend's idea had stuck with me since the year before, and I knew I wanted to implement it in this setting, but I had no clue how. I spoke with administrators at the organization, told them what I wanted to do, and they gave me their blessings. But I didn't know what to do - where to start, what the purpose would be, and how I would reach the finish line.

     It wasn't until January 2013 that I felt ready to start the project. (And I use the term "ready" loosely - I was incredibly nervous, for no real reason.) I now see that was the best possible thing I could do - wait. Get to know the clients, familiarize myself with their personalities, their conditions, their daily lives. Really try to understand where they're coming from and what they're going through before I sit down with them and ask them to write and illustrate a story for me.

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If you're interested, please check out the entire blog at We Are Storytellers!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Since You've Been Gone

Plot Summary
Emily was a nobody until Sloane came along and picked Emily to be her best friend. For two years, Emily was able to be included just by being at Sloane’s side, but when Sloane leaves without a trace, Emily is lost. Until a list arrives in the mail, a list like those Sloane would make before Emily went on a trip. A list of dares, of things to do in a new place. Emily is intimidated by a lot of the items on the list - kiss a stranger? Skinny dip? - but is determined to complete them all, because she’s sure they’ll lead her back to Sloane.

Critical Analysis
Though a lot of young adult books seem to have lists of dares involved, written by a friend who has left or died, this stands out as being very original. Matson has a great voice that makes the scenes seem realistic instead of hokey, and the ending is incredibly satisfying.

Read more by Morgan Matson!
+     Matson, Morgan. Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young
          Readers, 2011. Print.
After her father dies, Amy is moving across the country with her mother. She decides to drive from California to Connecticut, but there’s a hitch - her mother’s friend’s son is coming along. Amy was looking forward to taking a trip by herself - will she be able to drive across the country with a guy she doesn’t even know?
+     Matson, Morgan. Second Chance Summer. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young
          Readers, 2013. Print.
Taylor has always run from her problems, but when her family goes back for a summer at the lake house their haven’t visited for years, she has to face her former best friend and first crush.

Related Activities
Sloane makes Emily lists of things to try when she’s traveling. It’s an attempt to pull Emily out of her shell, to push her beyond her comfort zone. What tasks on the list intimidate your teens the most? What would your teens include on lists for their best friends? Have them write up a list, or take suggestions for a list all the teens who visit the library can do! If you know your teens really well, write personalized lists for them and slip them into a book they check out! Use Sloane’s list for Emily as a jumping-off point, but if you make the tasks more school and library related, you can keep tabs on the teens and they’ll have fun sharing what they’ve accomplished.

Read it for yourself!
Matson, Morgan. Since You’ve Been Gone. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015. Print.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Operation Pucker Up

Plot Summary
Seventh-grader Grace Shaw is ecstatic when she beats out the eighth grade theater girls for lead in the school’s production of Snow White. Things don’t seem so great, however, when she can’t even tell her mom and sister the good news because her dad showed up for dinner after living on his own for months. It only gets worse when Grace realizes she’ll have to kiss one of the most popular boys in school in the final scene of the play - and she’s never been kissed before! Her two best friends get to work developing “Operation Pucker Up” - a detailed plan to get Grace kissed that fills a notebook. But no plan can go off without a hitch, and that includes Grace’s life onstage as well as at home.

Critical Analysis
Alpine’s first middle grade book is very well-written and strong. Her first novel was for young adults and really enjoyable, but it seems she’s found her niche with tween writing! She makes the characters come alive as relatable people, and good role models for tween girls. The family dynamics are perfectly done, handling a sensitive topic like parental separation with ease. The emotions are not overly sentimental, and there is genuine humor in the story, not silly gimmicks aimed too young for the targeted age group. Alpine’s explanation of theater terms are just right - not too long for those who already know the meanings, and just enough to make readers with no theater knowledge feel in-the-know.

+     Lockhart, E. Dramarama. New York: Disney-Hyperion, 2007. Print.
Two friends who try to avoid attention go to a summer theater camp where one becomes a star, and one doesn’t have the talent she originally thought; both are forced to rethink their friendship.
+     Matson, Morgan. Since You’ve Been Gone. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for           Young Readers, 2015. Print.
Emily’s parents are playwrights, and though they’re not the focus of this novel, it’s a great book that has a lot of theater infused into the storyline.

Related Activities
This book will make you want to put on a play! If you have the time and resources, go for it! If this isn’t an option for your class or for a library program, take a shortcut! Ask students to pick a favorite play or fairy tale, and they can read the parts aloud like Grace’s table read. This way, you get the feel of a play without needing costumes or sets. You could even gather other classes or library patrons for an audience!

Read it for yourself!
Alpine, Rachele. Operation Pucker Up. New York: Aladdin, 2015. Print.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

If you liked Popular...

I recently read and reviewed Popular by Maya Van Wagenen. I loved the book, bought a copy for my thirteen-year-old niece, and have recommended it to countless people. I also picked it as the topic of my final project for my summer class, Advanced Literature for Young Adults. We had to make a virtual book display using a Web 2.0 tool, and I'd love you to check out the one I made for Popular!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Lola Zola, a series for tweens

Plot Summary
Lola Zola and the Lemonade Crush: Lola Zola is understandably upset and confused when both of her parents are laid off from their jobs at the auto plant. She’s only eleven years old, but she feels the fate of her family resting on her shoulders, and she won’t let them drown in debt. Lola decides to start a lemonade stand in front of the house, enlisting her best friend Melanie to help. But after buying all the ingredients and treating her fair-skinned friend to a sun-blocking umbrella, Lola is out of money—and no one seems to like her lemonade that much, anyway. But Lola won’t give up. She finds a secret ingredient and engages in some covert marketing, and her business booms! Then Slime Bucket, an annoying boy from school, starts selling limo-nade from the trunk of his father’s limo, right across the street from Lola! Will her enemy ruin her business before Lola is able to save her family from bankruptcy?

New Girl on Salt Flat Road: Lola Zola begs her mom for a bra, just wanting to be like all the other girls in middle school, but her mom keeps saying Lola doesn’t need a bra yet. She wants her daughter to stay a child, while Lola is really to grow up! Especially when a new girl moves in, a girl that Lola and her best friend Melanie dub “Tween Queen Pauline” due to her gorgeous hair and curvy body. Zola feels like the chosen one when Pauline invites her to the mall to try on bikinis (even though Lola doesn’t fill hers out) and to a makeup party (even though Lola isn’t allowed to wear makeup). Unfortunately, this makes Melanie, Lola’s best friend, feel left out. But when Lola discovers that Pauline shoplifts and likes boys—including Lola’s crush!—she isn’t as sure that she wants to be Ms. Popularity.

Critical Analysis
Lola Zola is a great new series for tween girls. Lola has a huge personality, making the books fun even while they tackle issues like unemployment, alcoholism, and peer pressure. The characters in the books come off the page, even when they play minor roles. The books use a lot of slang, which will appeal to tween readers.
     There are a few sections in New Girl on Salt Flat Road where the timeline jumps a bit from present time to flashbacks (sometimes just an earlier instance in the same day) that is confusingly worded, but overall the books are very accessible for tweens, written in their language—literally, in the case of current slang, but also written for their grade level.
     Lola Zola is published by “Brown Girls Publishing” (which does NOT exclusively print African-American books OR African-American authors) and the character often laments about her wild hair, but otherwise nothing is explicitly stated about Lola’s race. Which doesn’t matter, of course, though the series seems to be about people of color (especially if you judge both books by their covers). This doesn’t detract from the story at all, but I think it would be a great opportunity to highlight a strong, bold girl of color - IF that is what the authors intended. Melanie, Lola’s best friend, is frequently mentioned as being pale and freckling in the sun, so it would be just as easy to slip in a few phrases about Lola’s race.

Personal Response
Growing up, I was a big fan of the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. It follows Alice from elementary school, and just ended with a book catching us up to Alice’s 60th birthday! I can see the Lola Zola series stretching out like that, growing up with the girls who read it and acting as a guide and inspiration as they do. I was a shy kid so I loved reading about characters that were bolder than me, and Lola is definitely that girl! She’s very sassy, but at the same time she is relatable and faces issues that most girls face, so it’s inspiring that she deals with real issues while still being true to her personality. I would really like to see this turned into a TV series, or even made-for-TV movies, because the stories are so vivid that I think they could translate really well to screen, and reach even more girls in the process.

Related Links
Keep up with Lola Zola on the blog: and on Twitter: @tweenorama. Get your own copies of the books from Amazon: Lola Zola and the Lemonade Crush and New Girl on Salt Flat Road.

Read them for yourself!
Winograd, Marcy and Jackie Hirtz. Lola Zola and the Lemonade Crush. Houston, TX: Brown Girls Publishing, 2014. Print.

Winograd, Marcy and Jackie Hirtz. New Girl on Salt Flat Road. Houston, TX: Brown Girls Books, 2015. Print.

*Disclaimer: I was sent free copies of these books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.