Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Programming: Twilight Prom

It's time for a short break from book talk here at Librarian by Day, to talk about a recent program with a literature connection: the Twilight Prom event at my library, part of our Teen Read Week celebration.

I will be the first to say that I don't care for Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. Yet because teens love it, and because it was such a natural fit for this year's TRW theme, I decided that I wanted to offer a Twilight-themed event. I decided to go with a "prom", an event that would offer a few activities but primarily would be about allowing teens to interact together and talk about their favorite books.

The decorations were simple: the library system already owned some spooky trees, and I used them throughout the room, with red and black tulle, red ribbons, or white spiderwebs draped through the branches. Tables were set up with small battery-operated tea lights and different materials tossed on them--more of the tulle and the ribbon that was used in the decorations. The room lights were kept off, to enhance the mood.

For activities, there was a Twilight series trivia contest, one that many of the teens attending thought was very difficult. There was three sheets of poster board, where teens could write what they liked best about the Twilight series, who their favorite character was, and what their favorite moment was. An apple was ready for teens to recreate the cover of Twilight. Door prizes were awarded throughout the evening. Music that had inspired Stephenie Meyer while she wrote the Twilight series played along with different photos that promoted the Twilight movie. Every so often, we watched one of the trailers for the upcoming movie as well. And of course, there was food!

Perhaps most exciting activity was the opportunity for teens to either get shimmery makeup to look like a vampire, or get vampire bites applied to their necks. This was done by future professionals from the local beauty school. My library has a long-standing relationship with this school, so it was easy to arrange this: I just had to email the head of the school and ask if this would be an event that the future professionals would be interested in. And it gave the whole event a great touch.

Three members of the library's TAB helped during the event by passing out door prize tickets, explaining the trivia contest, and keeping an eye on the refreshment table. Staff members were on hand to help with security; this event was held after the library was closed, so they helped ensure that no teens got out of the lobby area and into the actual library itself. The budget for this event came to around $100, which was primarily the decorations and the food. The door prizes were mostly books, ones that I had collected at various conferences. I had been lucky enough to win a copy of Breaking Dawn through YALSA's TRW registration contest, and that was a featured prize, along with a Twilight series bag that was distributed by Little, Brown during ALA Annual.

The best part was that eighteen teens came to this event and enjoyed themselves. I received much positive feedback from the teens in attendance. In addition, a parent left a comment through the library's website comment form, saying how much his teens had enjoyed the event.

Feel free to take a look at the pictures from this event to get ideas. The initial springboard for my planning was a post about vampire parties at Alternative Teen Services, as well as the programming ideas on the YALSA TRW wiki. If you're planning a Twilight event of your own, good luck!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thoughts: Book Covers

During my vacation, I of course made time to visit Waterstone's, the British bookstore chain that's pretty close to nirvana for us book lovers. I was thrilled to score a copy of Tennis Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, a book that's long been out of print here in the US. And after that, I wandered over to teenage fiction section, taking it all in.

I didn't notice that many authors I hadn't heard of, interestingly enough. Whether that means that I know more authors than I thought, or that bookstores are drawing upon a smaller, less diverse pool of authors--well, I can't say. But one thing I did notice was the big difference in book covers.

What I saw first was the different covers for Airhead by Meg Cabot. The American hardback is on the left; the British paperback (yes, paperback!) is on the right.

Quite a difference, I'd say. While I don't think either cover fully reflects the book, I think the American one certainly draws your eye moreso than the British cover.

There's also plenty of covers that are great for their respective book, both in the American and British editions. For example, Rick Riordan's Battle of the Labyrinth, the latest book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series:

Both good, I think. It's interesting that the British edition gives so much prominence to the series title, versus the American cover.

Finally, some books have gotten a lot more prominence in Britian than the US, it would appear. There's at least two different paperback covers of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, as well as a different hardback cover than in the US.

Perhaps the fact that Zusak is Australian has some bearing on this, or the fact that The Book Thief was originally published as an adult title in the UK. But it's interesting to see the different takes on the same book.

If you like these questions about book covers, why not visit Jacket Whys? It's a great blog for comparing and contrasting the ways books are marketed through the book jacket.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Welcome, cynsations readers!

Many thanks to Cynthia Leitich Smith of Cynsations for linking to Librarian by Day! It's such a thrill to have that happen, as any blogger knows. I hope it can happen more--and that I can return the favor for others!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thoughts: Juggling Work and Life

You may have wondered at the relative drop-off in posts here at Librarian by Day. I had managed to get up to a good, consistent schedule of two-three posts a week, and then, bam, two weeks where I barely managed to get one post up. What gives?

It's a combination of two factors: one is Teen Read Week and all that involves. I had a major program last Saturday night: a Twilight Prom that was held after-hours at my branch. That involved a lot of resources; then, no sooner had I finished that program, I have tonight's program, a teen coffeehouse, to prep for. Programming, as we all know, is a big part of the job for any teen librarian, and with my schedule all over the place, I found that my time for reading got cut into drastically.

The second factor? I'm going on vacation tomorrow! It's my first vacation in several years, and while I am sad that it's only for about five days, I am excited that tomorrow night, I'll be flying to England. I'll be sightseeing, enjoying some theatre productions, and meeting up with various friends. I'm hoping to cram a lot of relaxation into this trip, and try not to think about my job while I'm gone. After all, a vacation is supposed to be time away. If I don't embrace that, what a waste of the time and the money!

There was a recent thread on YALSA-BK, asking how people manage, on top of their regular jobs, to read blogs and participate in social networking and use Twitter. As many people said, it's a balancing act, but it's not one that has to stay at a consistent balance. Some weeks, I'll pay more attention to one or two things; the next week, my priorities shift and I'm focusing on other tasks. Right now, my job and my real life has taken more precedence over reading and my blog. Once I come back from my vacation, I'll be able to adjust and get back to reading and blogging.

I have a few books that I'm halfway through, like Nora Raleigh Baskin's All We Know of Love. There's a planned post where I compare and contrast the female heroines of two YA novels. And I definitely want to comment on the National Book Award nominees. I'm even hoping to take a break from talking about books and discuss the Twilight Prom that I held at my library. So I'm not out of things to say: I'm just lacking the time to say them. I hope that once I'm back to posting more regularly, you'll be reading!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Review: Bliss

Lauren Myracle
2008; Amulet Books (Harry N. Abrams); 978-0-8109-7071-7 (hardcover)

Summary: It's 1969, and after years of living with her free-spirit parents, Bliss has been dumped on her grandmother. Atlanta is very different to life on the commune, and Bliss has to figure out how to navigate through a society that's changing rapidly. Who will guide her through this? Thelma, Dee Dee, and Jolene, typical good girls? Sarah Lynn, the shining star? Or Sandy, the misunderstood outcast? Bliss needs to choose wisely . . . for the wrong choice could end up being very wrong.

Four Things To Know About Bliss

#1: In historical fiction, you want to get the feel of the period right.

Bliss reflects the sense that 1969 was a time of change in America. As hippies, integration, and women's liberation dominated the headlines, the mainstream realized that life was different now. Yet change doesn't happen overnight . . . and sometimes it never happens, as we see in the novel. For example, Crestview Academy has a "token black" student, Lawrence. Bliss and a few other students are able to accept him easily; Thelma and Dee Dee only accept Lawrence because he's "different from other Negroes." And then there are people like Mr. Lancaster, who wants to keep African-Americans "in their place." Such a continuum of opinions are atmosphere, helping bring the reader further into the story and the time period.

#2: In historical fiction, you also have to get the details right.

Not unlike consistency, facts are a hobgoblin of historical fiction. And there are some problems with the facts in this novel, as I discussed with Liz. Many of the characters have names that didn't become common and/or popular until the late 1970s. Considering that the characters would have been born in the mid-1950s, names like Melissa, Heather, and Lacy are rather anachronistic. In addition, Bliss' personal timeline seems to suffer from the same problem. There's a mention of Bliss' parents being involved with SDS--Students for a Democratic Society, but not enough information to help place this involvment when SDS was actually active. These are minor points, I know, but it's just as important to get the facts right as it is for the atmosphere to feel right.

#3: Horror takes many forms.

Lauren Myracle seems to have a real understanding of horror. Various forms are utilized in this book: ghosts and spirits, strange voices that few can hear, blood, psychological cat and mouse games. They're all here. While I admit I'm no horror expert, it seemed like most ways you could be scared, it happened in the course of this novel. Perhaps this dilutes the intensity and the suspense, by having these different forms, but it definitely ensures that if one method doesn't work, another one probably will.

#4: Real life can be scarier than any novel.

The Manson Family and their famous 1969 murders-in particular, the 8 1/2 month pregnant victim Sharon Tate--serves as the inspiration for the events in Bliss. In fact, Myracle even condenses the events of the investigation and the trial to parallel her story. Teens who read up on the Manson Family, whether it's through Wikipedia or books like Helter Skelter, are in for a real surprise. Reality definitely trumps the imaginary horror. When Sandy voyeuristically tells Bliss about some of the Manson murders, your skin crawls. It doesn't seem possible that such horrible things really happened. But they did.

Bliss is a slowly-unfolding novel, giving horror a historical setting. While the book might have been improved with a tightened, streamlined story, it will still attract attention thanks to its intriguing cover and enticing description. Once teens start reading, they will find a novel that might call to mind Stephen King's Carrie.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Opinion: That Newbery Discussion Again

I'm perfectly willing to concede when I've gotten the wrong end of the stick. I think my reaction to Anita Silvey's article about the recent Newbery winners reflected my lack of knowledge of the Newbery rules. It's true, the Newbery Award is not about popularity--which wasn't what I interpreted Silvey's article to be stating. And contrary to how Silvey indicated the Newbery is interpreted as, this award is also not about picking a new classic or selecting a book that holds a universality for many children.

Yet . . . isn't that what's happened with the Newbery? Isn't that how us librarians are often interpreting the Newbery? To quote from Liz at A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy, who says it so much better than I could, "If there are that many people out there, including professional librarians, who don't "get" what the Newbery is about, whose fault is it?" I know that I, personally, see the Newbery Award going to a book that is considered so superior to any other book published in that year, a book that is a work of art that will last for decades. Yet the librarians in Silvey's article--and note, she spoke to over a hundred librarians, media specialists, teachers, and other professionals--indicate that the recent winners do not seem to meet that test.

However that's not to say that the argument in Silvey's article is completely valid. As Carlie from Libarilly Blonde pointed out to me, discussion on listservs have commented that comparing Criss Cross to The Giver or Kira-Kira to Holes are false comparisions, since those books were published in different years. It'd be more valid to compare the Newbery winner with other books published in the same calendar year. To use a slightly different example to illustrate this, I'm sure in years to come people will be talking about this year's Printz winner, The White Darkness, and comparing it to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and asking if perhaps the wrong book won the Printz. That's a fair argument, and one that could have strengthened Silvey's position.

However, the essential point still remains, I think. What's wrong with expressing a lack of enthusiasm for recent winners of the Newbery? It's not a slur upon the committees who have selected the books; as I said in my original post, I can appreciate how hard their task is. Perhaps Silvey's article is making the right argument using the wrong reasons, or perhaps this will be forgotten in a few months. Either way, it's provoked a lot of thought on my part, about how I evaluate books and how I want to express my opinions. And that's a good thing! So thank you to those who sent comments either agreeing or disagreeing with my initial post; I hope you out there continue to listen to my thoughts.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Review: Shift

Jennifer Bradbury
2008; Atheneum (Simon & Schuster); 978-1-4169-4732-5 (hardcover)

How far does friendship goes?

That's the central question in Shift, the debut novel by Jennifer Bradbury. The summer between high school and college, Chris and his best friend, Win, decide to take a cross-country bike trip. But a few hundred miles from the West Coast, they have a fight and split up. Chris makes it to the Pacific, then catches a bus for home and starts college.

Win doesn't. And his disappearance sets into motion Chris's reflections on his friendship with Win and how their trip changed both of them.

Alternating chapters tell the story of the bike ride and the present mystery, showcasing the actions and feelings of Chris. Also worth noting is that Chris is solidly middle class--maybe even lower middle class. He worries about money, sometimes feels envious of Win's wealth, and is happy to get a rebuilt bike for a graduation gift. In fact, it's the threat of financial pressure getting put on his family by Win's rich father that compels Chris to discover Win's whereabouts.

Shift is an enjoyable mystery, suitable for older middle schoolers. Bradbury creates an interesting, page-turning read, one that is a great option for reluctant boy readers and the sports fans in your library.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Opinion: Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?

Having served on a YALSA selection committee, I know how hard it is to select a group of books. Selecting the book that makes the greatest contribution to children's literature must, therefore, be an even more difficult task. It's always easy to play Monday morning quarterback, and I don't want to disparage anyone's hard work.

All that being said, however? Amen to Anita Silvey for asking the question, Has the Newbery Lost Its Way? (Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom for the link.) Of the last couple of Newbery winners that I've read--Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, The Higher Power of Lucky, Criss Cross--only Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was memorable and something that could have the broad appeal to all the groups that help create lasting popularity: teachers, librarians, children and parents.

I think all book awards where the major criterion is literary quality walk a fine line in selecting the winner, and in the case of the major awards for youth literature (the Newbery and the Printz), you truly do have to ask if the public might know a bit more about books than us experts. Silvey cites the classic example of how the Newbery has not picked the lasting book: the 1953 winner was not Charlotte's Web, but The Secret of the Andes. Will we look back in fifty years and be able to make the same case? Maybe, maybe not. But I believe Anita Silvey's article should be given to every successive Newbery and Printz committee, as a word from the wise. Because if these committees continue to select books that do not have, in Silvey's words, a kind of universality, the Newbery will start to lose a little of its status. And what a come down that would be.