Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thoughts: Falling Out of a Book

It's happened to all of us: you're reading a book. You might be galloping along, or slowly enjoying the story. And suddenly, you read something that makes you come to a screeching halt. That wrong note takes you out of the action--sometimes only for a moment, sometimes irreversibly.

What pulls you out of books? For me, it's factual errors, in particular anachronisms in historical fiction. Perhaps it's my background as a history major; perhaps it's the nitpicky aspect of my nature. But if I come across something that doesn't seem right, it tosses me out of the book right on my ear.

For example, today I was reading a work of historical fiction, set in pre-1066 Ireland. The Vikings are invading the local village, and with invasion comes the possibility of rape, as pointed out by the female protagonist to the male protagonist. And yes, when your village is invaded, and you're female, there's a high probability that you will be sexually assaulted.

However . . . in this period, "rape" wouldn't be the word you'd use for nonconsensual sex. Not in this way. As detailed in this Wikipedia article, rape was originally used in a broad sense to describe any attack on a man's property, of which a woman was included. This is why the kidnapping of the Sabine women is described as rape. Quite possibly, these women were sexually assualted, but the bigger issue was that the men's property had been stolen and trespassed upon.

So, a female of the period in this novel, describing sexual assault as rape, struck a false note to me. And now, although I had liked the story up to this point, I'm looking at the book, feeling a bit disappointed that my pleasure has been muted. I hope to keep reading to see what happens in this novel, but it's just not the same now.

What pulls you out of a book? What makes you stop and not be able to continue?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review: The Pretty One

The Pretty One
Cheryl Klam
2008; Random House; 978-0-385-73373-1 (paperback)

Summary: Megan's always been in the shadows. Overweight and unattractive, she sees her sister Lucy play all the leads in school plays while Megan works on the sets. But Lucy's a good sister, and Megan's got her best friend Simon. But after a horrible accident, Megan is suddenly "the pretty one". What does that mean for Megan? And for the people in her life--her parents, her friend, her crush, and her sister?

Two Things to Know About The Pretty One

#1: Beauty is more than skin-deep.

At first, being "beautiful" is all that Megan thought it would be. She can share clothes with Lucy, she gets attention from people who never noticed her before, and she suddenly is seen as an actress, not a techie. Best of all, it gives her the chance to get closer to Drew, the boy she's had a crush on for years. But at the same time, Megan starts to realize that being pretty leads to different problems. Lucy tells her she has to be extra-nice when she rejects a boy. Simon wants to date her now that she's pretty. And does Drew like her because she's got a new face? As Megan's mom tells her, sudden beauty means that Megan doesn't know how to deal with what comes with being pretty. So it all comes down to Megan figuring out who she is.

#2: Change is just as hard for others as for you.

Megan is faced with different challenges after she gets a new face and loses weight. Perhaps most complex is the way people react to her differently. Acquaintances suddenly want to be friends--or turn their backs on her. Boys notice her for the first time, drawn by her new appearance. Perhaps the biggest change is how her family reacts to her. Her father seems to have more time for her while her mother has less. And Lucy goes through a range of emotions: enthusiasm and support at first, slowly changing to resentment and jealousy. Yet all the while, they're still sisters. Even Megan's new beauty can't change that relationship.

Set in Baltimore, I admit that at first I was drawn to The Pretty One for this local connection. Yet I found an insightful look at sisterhood and beauty, giving full treatment to the impact of a sudden change on a relationship. A more glossy look at this issue was achieved in Fix by Leslie Margolis; you could also read Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata for another perspective on the impact of beauty on a family.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Review: Bewitching Season

Bewitching Season
Marissa Doyle
2008; Henry Holt and Company; 978-0-8050-8251-7 (hardcover)

I had checked this book out once before, but I hadn't been able to start reading before I had to return it. I decided to take a second chance on it, and I'm so pleased I did, because I found an engaging, compelling mix of historical fiction, romance, and fantasy.

Persephone and Penelope Leland are twins that were born on the same day as Princess Victoria. They've always been interested in the princess, and they hope that when they go to London for their first Season that they might get a chance to meet her. Yet Persephone is very nervous about the balls, parties, and dinners that she'll have to attend. She'd much rather study and practice her magical abilities than try to catch a husband. Perhaps that's because she's already found the man of her dreams . . . not that she'll admit that to anyone.

Yet soon after their arrival in London, the twins are worried by the disappearance of their governess, Miss Allardyce. Not only has she been with them for ten years, but Miss Allardyce has taught the girls magic, instructing them in how to use their powers for good, not ill. As the girls receive signs that Miss Allardyce is in danger, they must unravel the plot that wishes to use Miss Allardyce's power to control Princess Victoria as she approaches her eighteenth birthday. Will they succeed? Will Persephone win her true love?

Not unlike Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer's Sorcery and Cecilia, this novel envisions a world where magic does exist. Unlike in that novel, however, magic in Bewitching Season is a secret, hidden from society as a whole. The fantastical elements are nicely woven into the plot, down to magic being a subject that is taught by a governess. Persephone and Penelope are not using magic for everyday actions; it's reserved for more extreme needs. And while magic is seen more as a domain for females, there are males in the novel who have an aptitude for it, including the twins' younger brother, Charles.

In addition, Bewitching Season is set in the period just before Victoria's accession to the throne, an unusual and rewarding choice of time period. Rather than the overused Regency period, Doyle sets her action thirty years later, in a time when many teens know little. This lends an additional freshness to the work for anyone who's read many works of historical fiction or romance. Coupled with the refreshing narration of Persephone and a sweet romance, this novel has something for everyone.

A truely enjoyable book, pass this novel along to fans of the "magic in the real world" concept. They might look at you askance because it's historical fiction, but most readers will quickly be sucked in by the well-developed characters, their easy interactions, and the intriguing story.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thoughts: Separated Sisters

Separated Sisters: Kiki Strike and Frankie Landau-Banks

One is a short, skinny girl with white hair. The other is a newly-minted willowy beauty. Yet these two girls have much in common. Both offer us a look at just what girls can achieve--results that greatly exceed society's expectations. Both Kiki Strike and Frankie Landau-Banks, from the eponymous books by Kirsten Miller and E. Lockhart, are much more than meets the eye.

Kiki Strike is described as an elf or a leprechaun. Her small stature packs quite a punch, as several evil-doers find out the hard way. Yet it is Kiki's mind that is the greatest weapon. Calculating, insightful, and cunning, Kiki forms the group of girl adventurers known as the Irregulars, leading them on an exploration of a shadow city beneath Manhattan. But when an accident injures one of the Irregulars, Kiki disappears in the aftermath. Two years later, she returns, leading the Irregulars on another mission that will reveal Kiki's secret past.

Frankie Landau-Banks was unnoticeable; known as Bunny Rabbit to her family, she didn't attract attention. Then she became pretty over the course of one summer and saw how beauty can draw the eye. Either way, however, she discovered that a girl doesn't have much power. And for a smart, observant, thoughtful girl like Frankie, this was a hard realization to make. When she finds out that her boyfriend is the member of a secret male-only society at their boarding school, she decides to infiltrate it. Frankie manages to direct the actions of the group, keeping her true identity a secret. Yet when a prank backfires, Frankie finds out what it's like to have everyone know who you are.

Each of these books explore girls as they enter their teen years and start discovering the power they hold. Part of this power is due to their looks, as they begin to become women. But such power is fleeting, and is too easily confused with popularity. True power is that which comes from the strength of your intelligence. Both Kiki and Frankie have minds that let them strategize and plan, solve problems and direct others. Yet the truly amazing thing is that they choose to hide their abilities, preserving the belief in sweet quiet girls. After all, no one expects a girl to be up to any trouble. Both Frankie and Kiki realize this and exploit this fact fully.

Why do these two young women do this, when they could be capable of so much more? It's not just the dangers each character faces in the course of her story that causes her to work in secret. In fact, it's the very fact that the deck is stacked against them that makes them appear to live up to the stereotype. Society's view of young females becomes rather like the chicken-or-the-egg problem: Kiki and Frankie rebel against being consigned to silent, invisible girlhood, yet that ability to be unnoticed leads them to be even more successful. And neither of these girls are about to forgo such an advantage.

For Frankie, she begins to use her brain, knowing that she's outsmarting a group of boys who are expected to become the male elite in this country. Kiki goes even further: to achieve her goal, she finds other girls who have great but untapped strength, and teaches them how to wield this power while appearing to be ordinary young women.

As the news tells us, being taken advantage of is a common problem for females of any age. Women seem to be held to different standards, whether they're managing companies, performing research, or running for political office. It's hard for any female to figure out what is the right course for her. Yet through books, girls and women can discover different ways to use their power. And while we might not be a martial arts master like Kiki or be a brainy beauty like Frankie, these two characters offer a powerful repudiation of the expectation that girls shouldn't cause trouble, act too smart, or contradict those who know better. Because who knows better how to make your way through life than you?

Crossposted to A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

YA Lit Symposium: The Wrap-up

I'm home, which is truly the best feeling in the world. In the coming days, I'll be cleaning up my posts from the symposium, by formatting them, condensing some of the information, and adding links where appropriate.

If there are any presenters who do not want the very detailed notes I posted, please drop me a comment and I'll remove them immediately, and replace them with a more narrative, less detailed recount of the presentation.

Remember, there's plenty of information available at the YALSA blog or via Twitter, too. Thanks to everyone for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy my posts in the future!

YA Lit Symposium: Hit List or Hot List?

Hit List or Hot List

Speakers: Rosemary Chance, Teri Lesene

We have to remember as librarians that we are charged with selecting the best books as our budgets permit.

be true to yourself
do the right thing

Teens today want to read what is relevant. While teens want to identify with characters, relevance is perhaps even more important.

Thing to remember: you can't go by the Lexile or the reading level on placing a book in the collection. In Texas, the 2007 report on banned books indicated that the largest category of challenges was due to incorrectly placed books.

Barry Lyga
Had been prepared for controversy prior to the publication of Boy Toy. Instead, it got a great critical response. Then was talking to a sales rep, who said that there was a gatekeeper problem with the book. Adults weren't letting the book into the hands of kids. Major bookstore chain wouldn't carry Boy Toy. Got told by a school librarian in the district he went to and said that she couldn't put it on the shelf because people might complain.

Instead of getting challenges and bannings, Boy Toy is not getting recommended, purchased, or publicized. Insidious, quiet, and disturbing. Doesn't care if people don't like it; a healthy debate is good. If the books never get out there, it doesn't matter how many starred reviews, how many awards, how many librarians love them. If the kids don't get them, what's the point?

Julie Anne Peters
I want my books to be banned because that means they got into the library. Librarians are intellectual freedom fighters. I like to make your jobs interesting.

Asked teens what they'd like to tell librarians
--There's going to be books that some people don't like. LGBTQ books are like lifelines to me.
--I think my library is pretty diverse, considering how deep in the Bible Belt it is. But I have pretty low expectations.
--My school promotes diversity left and right. What a wonderful place high school is becoming.
--My school librarian is like, awesome, dude!

Librarian comments
--If you don't have a balanced collection, it's just censorship disguised as collection development.

Coe Booth
Like Boy Toy, Tyrell is being kept away from the teens who want to read it. Wrote the book with reluctant readers--boys--in mind.

A lot of kids tell me Tyrell is the first book they read all the way through. They think the language is real and it reflects their culture. A Gossip Girl for boys. Many readers wanted a more happy, conclusive ending. Even though they're tough boys, they want a happy ending.

Teachers ask if she could write something like Tyrell without the cursing and sex? Another teacher said she wished she could use Tyrell in her classroom, except the n-word. You can't really teach African-American literature without using the n-word, either in the reclaimed sense or in the original derogatory sense.

My goal is to write real stories. I've seen kids who have lived worse than Tyrell--more "yikes!" then Tyrell. Trying to shelter a child with a book that doesn't have the tough situations doesn't help the child.

Not a complete and full record; speakers' remarks are paraphrased. Any errors or typos are my own.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

YA Lit Symposium: Just Keepin' It Real

Just Keepin' It Real: Teens Reading Out of the Mainstream

Speaker: Rollie Welch

Writes a column on street lit for Library Journal; appears also in their online newsletter Book Smack.

Speaking in generalities; the majority of our teens are reading what Rollie will talk about. Population of Cleveland is 65% African-American; 27% poverty rate, 50% dropout rate, high teen pregnancy rate. 28 branches of CPL--Cleveland does not have a chain bookstore in the city. Has been ranked the second poorest city in the US.

Journal article: Limited Options: The Dearth of Books Written for African-American Teens is Glaring, by Denene Millner, published in Publisher's Weekly.

tasks as librarians
--put the right books in teens' hands
--teens want to read about someone who looks like them . . . or someone who has experienced the same situation

what do you read when no teen book speak to you? you read adult books

Hard sells
--historical books: fiction and nonfiction
--science fiction

Plot over Character
--fast pacing
--cliffhanging spaces
--white space

required reading . . . or tired reading?
on a reading list from an inner-city school: The Naked and the Dead, All the King's Men, A Passage to India, Lord of the Flies

Books that should go and don't
Autobiography of My Dead Brother
Copper Sun

Repeated, Repeated, Repeated
Harriet Tubman
To Kill a Mockingbird
Tuskegee Airmen

Possible Alternatives
Sojourner Truth
Day of Tears
Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War

Readable Nonfiction
Far from Home: Latino Baseball Players in America
Ludacris (Hip-Hop Biography Series)

Maybe not a lot of literary value, but kids are reading them

Biographies: Alive and a bit of nastiness in their background
50 Cent
The Vibe Q
Heroin Diaries

Why Manga?
--the stories!
--graphic novels are racially neutral
--adults don't understand them
Full Metal Alchemist
Vampire Knight

had an anime club that went for four years
kids are moving towards manga and not American graphic novels

Fresh titles recently published
Ni-Ni Simone (author)

Five years ago: only series titles with African-American characters, Bluford High and Cheetah Girls. Now Drama High, Kimani Tru

Filling the Void of Teen Books with African-American Characters
Denim Diaries
Work What You Got
Beacon Hills High

It may be trash reading, but it's reading.

Street Lit

Why Street Lit?
exploding genre for urban libraries
demand outdistances supply
it's real

"I'd rather read this stuff than some fantasy book that don't mean nothin' to nobody." Shauna, incarcerated teen

Street Lit characteristics
stories linked to inner city streets
circular storytelling: the story comes full circle

What street lit isn't
any book with African American characters
only an upper-middle class setting
white-collar crime

Many street lit authors are or have been incarcerated

What's inside street lit?
crime & violence (tends to be male protagonists)
hot sex, steamy sex (tends to be female protagonists)
often written by first-time authors
urban settings in major cities
plenty of sex, drug dealing and violence
written in the language of the streets
Brand names throughout especially expensive cars, designer clothing and shoes

Before you make any judgments, read the book

What's under the surface?
--friendships forged during teen years

"Sure that stuff happens all the time, but it don't all happen to one person." Tasha, incarcerated teen, talking about The Coldest Winter Ever website with full listing of upcoming releases; also includes YA lit

Some common criticisms
"Mindless garbage about murder,killer, thuggery"
Portrays the hood as stimulating and glamorous
Reinforces stereotypes and encourages irresponsible behavior

Gateway Reading
50 Cent
Alicia Keys
Stanley "Tookie" Williams
Confessions of a Video Vixen

The Cover Speaks
--street lit covers immediately leave no doubt about the content
--readers know there will be emphasis on sex, crime, or violence
--there is a natural break of street lit. titles are either geared to women or men.

As more books are coming out, quality is starting to become more important

Plenty of teen novels with racy covers
Gossip Girl
The Au Pairs
It Girl
Summer Boys

What's In It for Libraries?
--give 'em what they want
--high circ/high loss
--short shelf life for condition

Tragic morality tales: you can almost tell what's going to happen from the beginning

Popular with urban teens and twentysomethings that might not visit the library otherwise

Evaluate street lit in the context of its genre

Some titles are better than others

Internet is a prime source for authors.

Street lit will continue to explode and demand from patrons will rise, including requests by teens.

In Cleveland, circulation has gone up 10% since street lit has begun to be purchased.

Not a complete and full record; speaker's remarks are paraphrased. Any errors or typos are my own.

YA Lit Symposium: Fans, Fan Life, and Participatory Culture

Fandom, Fan Life, and Participatory Culture

Speakers: Liz Burns and Carlie Webber

PowerPoint slides for this presentation.

5 Ws of Fandom

What is fandom?
Best friends you've never had. Lets you talk about a book or movie or TV show you enjoy. People might not have met without the fandom experience

Who participates in fandom?
Before 2002, most participants were college-educated women in their late 20s and 30s. With HP, teens got involved in fandom.

When did fandom start?
Most people think fandom starts with Star Trek, but there's a long history of people gathering together to share their love. With the Internet, instead of joining together with one or two people locally, you can share your passion with a larger community.

Where can you participate in fandoms?
Fandom comprises a large range of activities.

Why be a part of fandom?
Fandom is fun! Gives you a chance to meet people you hadn't otherwise met. And it tells you that you're not alone in the world.

Basic fandom terminology
fan: short for fanatic
fandom: the gathering of fans
fanfiction: any stories that is set in the same universe of a book, movie, or TV show
LiveJournal: the blogging platform of choice for fans
LiveJournal community: a group of people with a shared interest
canon: the source material
Con/convention: a gathering of people around a certain theme
zine: collection of printed fan stories or art

Great thing about fandom: you've probably participated already. if you've thrown a party around a teen book, you've participated.

Stephenie Meyer has been brilliant in terms of her relations with her fans. Pictures of proms, music playlists, photos of clothes and cars that she imagined the characters wearing or driving.

Fandom must have participation, community, and dedication.
These all go hand-in-hand.

You don't have to be a fan to have fandom programs; you just have to be open.

Almost every book has a fandom: for example, the works of Megan Whalen-Turner

Share your reading response: Twitter while you're reading a book

Talk with others: you can share a fan activity about anything.

Read or write more about a character: roleplay through Twitter. Mad Men characters on Twitter. Can watch the back-and-forth between the charactes as interpreted by fans.

Find out more: Wikipedia article on Garth Nix's The Keys to the Kingdom.

Essays: loves a topic so much, they have to explore it more.

Research: there are people who have studied fandom topics, like Mary Sues. Fandom can be serious and worthy of study in academia.

Tshirts, buttons, crafts, fan art, cosplay, fan videos: you can have many kinds of activities that relate to fandom.

Fanfic 101: Where "ship" doesn't refer to a boat

What is fanfic? any story that takes place off-stage in a book.

You can be writing fanfic in school without realizing it; any time a teen writes a letter from a character in a book, that's fanfic.

And there's fanfiction that's legitimate books: March by Geraldine Brooks, all the Jane Austen books

Fanfic terminology
archive: a place to post your stories or fan art
beta readers: check your grammar and your canon
Mary Sue: any original character dropped into a fanfic that do not have a link to the canon. Fans create Mary Sues as a way to become part of the story. Usually Mary Sues have one small flaw, like klutziness.
ship: short for relationship, refers to any romantic relationship that occurs in the book, whether it happens on-stage or off-stage.
slash: fanfic written about same-sex couples who do not ordinarily have a romantic relationship in the book. Even though they're not a canonical relationships, publishers are capitalizing on it, like with yaoi manga.

Archives to know about largest fanfic site on the Internet. Thousands and thousands of fics and hundreds of fandom. Anyone can register; it's free. There's no checks for grammar or characterization. It is great for finding which authors will not permit fanfic of their works.

FictionAlley: a Harry Potter fanfic archive. Largest HP-only fan site on the web. Invite-only, so that only certain authors can post fic. Emphasize quality over quantity.

Supernaturalville: representative of many one-fandom archives.

Twilighted: same as Supernaturalville. Sponsoring an original fiction contest. does anime-focused fan art and fanfic.

But isn't this all illegal?

not for profit
Don't charge money for this, like sending it to a POD publisher and selling the book for ten bucks apiece. Don't dress up as a character and then go to kids' parties and charge money. See the WSJ article on handout, "Why Dora the Explorer Can't Come To Your Kid's Party"

copyright infringement
Don't copy a book and resell it. Are you trying to undercut the original author?

fair use
Does it promote the source material? Most times, fanfic helps promote a book or TV show or movie.

J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers vs. RDR Books: Why the ruling works in fans' favor
Steve Vanderark published an online site on HP called the Lexicon. He sold the Lexicon as a print book to the publishers RDR Books. Rowling and WB sued to prevent a print version. RDR argued that it was already online and that it was fair use; no different from an unofficial guide. The ruling was in favor of Rowling & WB, saying that the Lexicon couldn't be printed as it was planned. But it's in support of fan rights, because the ruling doesn't say anything about the website. The online Lexicon is still available; Rowling was just against the book. Rowling proved that in fact, the book wasn't an unofficial guide, but more a book with too much verbatim quotage from Rowling's books.

Fandom outside your library: how publishers are in on the game

--Author fanfiction contests: Meg Cabot, Holly Black
--Interactive websites/games for books: participate in a book's world beyond the book. Helps inspire dedications in readers. Examples like The 39 Clues and The Hunger Games.
--HarperTeen FanLit: encouraging teens to write fanfic and original stories, helping promote interest in their books.
--Nerdfighters: John Green's fandom project. His publisher has realized the power of fans: the discussion guide for his latest book includes questions about Nerdfighters.

Anything goes for fandom . . . so participate, form a community and dedicate yourselves.

Questions from audience

Buffy vs. River?
Buffy would win because River is crazy.

Programming for a book you don't like?
Bring in the kids who like it and let the kids take the lead. Help the teens make it real.

The great thing about fandom is that you can find other sites, once you've found one site.

Is there a list of the top five fanfics, if you haven't ever read fanfic before?
Best way is to find LiveJournal communities that specialize in fanfic recommendations. Look for fans' favorite fanfic lists. Have had good luck with online fanfic writing contests.

Not a complete and full record; speakers' remarks are paraphrased. Any errors or typos are my own.

YA Lit Symposium: Books Between Cultures

Books Between Cultures

Speaker: Mitali Perkins

Mitali Perkins opened with asking the audience about their heritage and background. Times are changing, and teen librarians, in Mitali's words, get it when it comes to race and culture. Will have links at for the links and information in her presentation.

Six Ways Teens See Themselves in Stories
These stereotypes are ones that cause teens to turn away from books that feature them.

1) The Noble Savage
2) The Exotic Stranger
3) The Token Sidekick
4) The Accented Alien
5) The Under "Class" Man
6) The "Not-It" Reject

Mitali showed a short film by teenage filmmaker Kiri Davis, called A Girl Like Me. This film explored the beauty standards and self-image issues faced by African-American girls, starting when they are young. The audience was very surprised by the filmmaker's choice to administer the doll test, performed first by Dr. Kenneth Clark in the time of Brown v. Board of Education, and the results that were shown when this test was administered in 2005 to a group of young African-American children. This film prompted many comments and discussion from the audience members about the film and how to work with teens about these issues. The film is available for online viewing at Media Matters Fest.

Six Questions To Ask About Stories: more information at Mitali's blog

1) Are the non-white characters one-dimensional? Are they only good, bad, funny, etc.?
Teens need to see themselves in all kinds of stories--some that explore race, and some that don't. We see this more on TV than in books right now.

2) Are the characters "exoticized" in any way?
Are you aware first and foremost that foreign piece of them, and does it really matter? Keep an eye out for generic vs. specific culture.

3) Who are the people with power to affect change in this story?
It's not always the mainstream white people who save the day.

4) Does a storyteller use accent as a shortcut for characterization?
Are names or accents or other aspects used as a way to characterize someone, without fuller exploration of the character?

5) Does a person have to adopt "main-stream" or "white-collar" behavior to resolve a conflict in this story?

6) How is beauty described? How is race described? Why is race described?
Cover art is very key in this. There are ways to describe race that aren't lazy storytelling. A recent discussion on Mitali's blog with authors about this question came out with an important message: no more food metaphors to describe characters! Try to imagine the hero of your favorite book as a different race. Look at manga/anime, which has racism, too; many Asian cultures are very racist.

Great books are available now for middle readers and teens between cultures. Info about these books are available on Mitali's website.

Issues and Questions
--Stories that need to be told (adoption stories, graphic novels, Arab-American books)
--Sensitivity to both sides of the hyphen/the power of displays
--Authenticity in storytelling (; the; must be especially careful when dealing with periods of oppression/power issues or when discussing Native Americans

Not a complete and full record; speaker's remarks are paraphrased. Any errors or typos are my own.

YA Lit Symposium: Thriling Young Adults

Thrilling Young Adults: How to Keep the Attention of Today's Teens

Speakers: Amy Alessio, Margaret Haddix, Patrick Jones, Deborah Noyes Wayshak

In a full-to-capacity room, Amy Alessio kicked off one of the first presentations of the day by reading from Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Stolen Car by Patrick Jones, and Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes.

As part of their introductions, the panelists talked about the books they had read recently. The books mentioned will be included on the YA Lit Symposium wiki.

What makes a book thrilling?
Margaret: I write what I think is thrilling and I hope kids think it's thrilling. Two directions we're going in: one towards extreme danger where kids have to survive, a la Hunger Games. Other end is this trend towards lives that are fabulous, as in Gossip Girl; lives that most of us are not going to get to live.
Patrick: three things: 1 is that my belief that kids aren't looking for pretty pictures but good mirrors. 2 is relevance; it's about the books that are "real" to a teen. 3 is the beginning; with all the choices available to teens, they have to be hooked right away. Will Weaver: "the first line is as important to a book as the first kiss to a relationship."
Deborah: As an editor, the voice has to grab you immediately. You can see that in the first page of the manuscript. Has to have characters that the reader will identify with. Doesn't have to be a first-person voice; often found in YA because teens are so concerned with identity, but third-person can be one of many ways to reach teens.

How do you write in different genres?
Deborah: it's driven by the research.
Margaret: Not always consciously thinking about shifting focus; it's about being inside the character's shoes and therefore thinking like that character.
Patrick: With every genre, it's about characters that teens can relate to. character, character, character.

Has pace of books for teens changed in the last ten years?
Amy: shift, like SVH to It Girl but then you have books like Fallen Angels as compared to Outsiders.
Patrick: Count the number of pages and the number of chapters. Pace has quickened; James Patterson has played a large part in this, as has R.L. Stine and Gary Paulsen. Books move a lot quicker; they don't have description. It's about dialogue and action. That's why fantasy is so much longer. Then there's books like Crank, which moves so quickly because of the format.
Margaret: Expectation of more thrills per page. Opposite effect going on, too: used to be that publishers thought that teens wouldn't read more than 200 pages, but now there's plenty of books that are long. Pace doesn't equal short.
Deborah: Belief that people won't read short stories; lots of promise in the form, actually. We can also challenge kids by giving them fat, meaty books. We can't make assumptions; there's a book for every kid and a kid won't read every book.

What is it about today's fantasy that makes it so appealing?
Amy: Many trends that are popular with teens started in adult; but now YA trends are going into adults.
Margaret: Good storytelling, creating this world we don't know about. Certain element: escapism. Lots of pressure on teens; fantasy helps escape the pressures of everyday life.
Deborah: Cynthia Leitich Smith: "All teenagers are shape-shifters." These fantasy books are an extension of the identity search that teens do. Non-threatening way to do so; allows humor.

Any genres gaining momentum?
Amy: Designer chick lit is still going strong. Devil Wears Prada is not that different from Gossip Girl. Cozy mysteries for teens just starting--Linda Gerber and Peter Anthony. Cross-genres, like paranormal romance.
Patrick: works with kids in juvenile detention, so he cares most about urban fic. Lots of coverage recently in SLJ, PW, VOYA. Not just series, but great books like Tyrell.
Deborah: Cross-genres, like Libba Bray and Anna Godbersen. Tough time to be a purist. Everyone's mixing it, in all media forms. In a way it's rejuvenated YA lit; there's less neat categorization.

Is YA lit more exciting than books for other ages?
Deborah: Don't have a favorite; YA is definitely has the pulse of what's going on in the literary world. Can't write for writing's sake like in adult; there has to be a story. It's an exciting time to be doing this.
Margaret: Exciting time in kids' lives. What makes it an exciting age is that kids have such a capacity for growth and change in such a short time. Quest for identity is fascinating to write about. Young adults get so passionate about their books. Kids will say "this book changed my life" and really mean it.
Patrick: is asked why do you write for teenagers; I love cafeteria french fries. Great thing about teens: most of the big things in your life will happen for the first time in these four years. Romance, loss. Such a transformational age, which is what fiction is about. Difficult to write YA lit is how teenagers really behave. Teens are over-the-top and melodramatic; when it's represented in fiction, people may step back and think it's too much.

What are good ways that schools and libraries can do more to put lesser-known authors in front of teens?
Patrick: Need to find a way to do this; if not in person, virtually, for example. Booktalking is a great way to introduce new authors.
Amy: Lots of librarians don't like booktalking. Can deal with the kid in the stack, but has a hard time in front of groups. Just hired a new librarian who sends messages to kids about books through the Wii. Everyone knows about Twilight; need to bring out the lesser-known.
Deborah: Involve teens in the program; have teens write reviews. More involved they feel in recommending books to their peers, the more excited they are.

New ways for librarians to help adults learn about YA?
Amy: Network at local groups or genre groups. Can hire people from these groups to enhance your programs; cops at a CSI program. Also lets you speak with adults.
Patrick: After I do a school visit, I give my card to the host and ask them to tell two other people. Word of mouth.
Deborah: We welcome feedback from adults at Candlewick. Especially from librarians who hear directly from teens. Whatever way we can.
Margaret: Don't do this very well, but conferences and school visits is the best opportunity to promote my books.

How to influence publishers with young adult input?
Patrick: Has teens read his books before his editor gets it. I can't imagine now writing a novel without having this informal editorial board.
Deborah: I'm a very selfish writer; I just write what I want and hope someone wants to read it. Hoped that Ghosts of Kerfol would inspire some creative writing in connection with the original short story that the book is inspired by--Kerfol by Edith Wharton.
Margaret: Is now finding that teen input does play a role in changing her writing. During work on the Shadow Children series, comments from teens during the school visits helped inspire developments in the next book.
Patrick: This is where technology is wonderful. Gets comments on MySpace on his books, or gets inspired by others' MySpace pages.
Amy: After Jack Gantos wrote Hole in My Life, he got tons of letters from readers.

Do awards have as much impact as teen input?
Deborah: For Candlewick, awards are very important. It's a way to get those writers out there that might otherwise not get to a popular status. Popularity is also very important; as an editor, is looking for intersection of popular and literary.
Patrick: Was reading a blog post about his first book; responded to blogger and then the blogger put the email up. Never going to win an award, but he's found he doesn't care. His award is the kid who says "I never read a book before. I read yours." And award stickers don't reach reluctant readers; it turns them off; "Johnny Tremain had one of those."
Amy: Awards bring in adults. Justifies why we keep books that get challenged.
Margaret: Awards equal exposure which hopefully leads to popularity.
Amy: Brought teens to ALA in Chicago; the only panel they wanted to speak at was Quick Picks.

How has technology changed how authors reach readers?
Amy: gets 150,000 hits a month.
Patrick: Uses Facebook and MySpace to stay in touch with readers.
Margaret: Only got a website this year; seemed self-aggrandizing. Got to the point where it was embarrassing not to have a website. Also really difficult because people were contacting her about information and research into her books. Having the website is so great, so people can be directed there. Didn't put contact link on website, so that she's not disappointing kids by not replying to their email.
Deborah: Question is what kind of site you want to have? Some are basic; some are like Cynthia Letich Smith. Blogging has added another layer of complexity. Some love it; some see it as a marketing task.
Amy: Now publishers want a marketing plan when you submit a fiction manuscript. Get the teens to design your website.
Patrick: Kids love author websites to help with book reports. Has teens help design that content for the website. Teen input upfront, thoroughout and afterwards.
Amy: Technology helps keep the thrill going, if you're doing a series.

Questions from audience

When writing in a genre, do you set restrictions at beginning or do you look at it after-the-fact?
Margaret: Figure out the genre at the end, after done writing. Will change things as the writing happens.
Patrick: Had to figure out mythology while writing his forthcoming vampire book.
Deborah: Depends on who's the most important character to tell the story. Leaves the genre to editor and marketing people.

Who are authors in urban lit who aren't furthering stereotypes?
Patrick: Need to stay out of the adult market, like Triple Crown. The teen stuff, like Kimani Tru, Drama High, Coe Booth, Alan Sitomer. Gigantic issue: even still, if the message is positive, the language is not. We need to get over the language issue; teens use it. If we are going to write books that teens relate to, we have to have books with teens that sound like teens.
Amy: Language is a concern for schools; no way they could carry those books. What I'm hoping will happen is the same as graphic novels: started as adult, and then gradually publishers created ones appropriate for YA market.
Deborah: If I got The Outsiders today, I don't know if I'd publish it. It's not historical and the voice is not contemporary. It's almost quaint, the language.

With pacing getting so fast, how do you help kids read the classics and the assigned reading that is much slower? And how do we get schools to assign more modern books?
Patrick: Book--From Hinton to Hamlet. Show the teacher the theme that they're teaching with the classics, and have them read a YA book. Article by Don Gallo about aliteracy is linked to English teachers. Experience of Patrick's: what turned kids off reading is what they read in school. Alternatively, teens don't have time to read, even if they want to.
Amy: Maybe come up with the modern themes that go along with the classics.
Deborah: What will teachers do with the book I'm editing, a prose version of Hamlet written by John Marsden? How honest can we be in our representations?

Do we find that kids, especially in troubled areas, like being read to? Does that help connect them with books? Or what about other formats?
Margaret: Trend towards having the kids read to them, listening on CD, is wonderful because it exposes kids to books that they may not be capable of reading or resistant to reading.

How do we encourage teens to keep reading as adults?
Patrick: Sounds pretentious, but I write all my books as if a kid will have read only his book. Write books that work on different levels. Books as entertainment are discounted; but those books are hard work!
Margaret: One of the nicest things someone has said about my books is that they see them as a gateway drug. If a kid enjoys a book and that makes them read another book, that's important. Sometimes have to give kids books they like, not necessarily books that are good for them.

When you write series books, do you plan ahead or are you surprised?
Deborah: Agents plan ahead. Way too many series proposals, especially from new authors. Dangerous thing to force a writer into that pattern.
Margaret: Thought of herself as one-off writer; then she wrote Among the Hidden. Everyone demanded a sequel and she resisted, but then wrote on a book-by-book basis. Now is working on a second series, and has done some more planning.

Not a complete and full record; speakers' remarks are paraphrased. Any errors or typos are my own.

YA Lit Symposium: Networking Reception

Friday's Networking Reception was a fantastic way to kick off the symposium. A packed room listened to introductory remarks from YALSA President Sarah Cornish Debraski. The crowd responded positively to YALSA Board member Kim Patton's appeal for support of the Spectrum program. And everyone vigorously applauded Victoria Stapleton of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Yen Press, the sponsor of the reception.

Then, attendees could mix and mingle with their fellow colleagues, enjoying drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Around the room, discussions ranged from the symposium, challenges faced in day-to-day work life, or what you had read recently. Two Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Yen Press authors were present, signing books and interacting with fans: Julie Anne Peters and Svetlana Chmkova. In addition, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers made available their popular "galleys by mail" program, where you could request advanced readers copies to be mailed to you.

It was truly a wonderful evening and left everyone charged up about the symposium and Saturday's slate of programs. Many thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Yen Press for sponsoring the reception!

Friday, November 07, 2008

YA Lit Symposium: Here I Come!

I'm so excited to be attending the first-ever YA Lit Symposium. Considering that I became a librarian, and then a teen librarian, because of my love of reading and my interest in teen literature, an event dedicated to the best research, practices, and ideas in young adult reading.

At this point, I'm most excited about the presentation by Carlie Webber and Liz Burns, "Fandom, Fan Life, and Participatory Culture." I spoke on this topic at this year's Maryland Library Association's annual conference, and I'm eager to see what Liz and Carlie discuss. The fact that they're some of my closest friends also helps.

I'm also intrigued by presentations such as "Books Between Cultures" and "Just Keepin' It Real: Teens Reading Out of the Mainstream." There's also all the great opportunities for networking, thanks to tonight's Networking Reception and tomorrow night's Authors' Happy Hour.

I'll be semi-live blogging the presentations I attend and the ideas I discover during this weekend. By semi-live, I mean that I'll be writing posts during or immediately after the presentation, and then posting to Blogger. Many thanks to YALSA for arranging complimentary wireless access in the Internet Lounge!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Thoughts: The National Book Awards

This post also appeared at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy.

I'm a bit late to the party in talking about the nominees for the National Book Award, but here's some thoughts I had in looking over the 2008 nominees for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

Does buzz work against a book?

There's been a lot of discussion around The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks when awards are talked about, and I think few people were surprised when it was one of the five nominees. But will that work against it? I can remember several cases where there was pre-award buzz around a book that ended up not winning the big prize. Just when it comes to the Printz Award, for example, I had heard mention of Saving Francesca, Octavian Nothing Vol. 1 The Pox Party, The Book Thief, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian as a winner. None of these books won the Printz; two were shut out entirely, not even meriting an honor award. Yet in the same breath, it's not that these books went completely unrecognized. Both The Book Thief and Octavian Nothing merited Printz Honor Awards; Octavian Nothing and Absolutely True Diary were the National Book Award winners in their respective years. It's perhaps too soon to tell if buzz will hurt Frankie Landau-Banks, but I think just getting recognized as a nominee is a validation of the importance of this book.

The esteemed members of the panel

I didn't realize this, but the National Book Award is determined by a panel of authors from the same field. Not just any authors, either--these are major players in the field. The 2008 panel is headed by Daniel Handler, with Holly Black, Angela Johnson, Carolyn Mackler, and Cynthia Voigt. That's some panel! In the past few years, the National Book Award panels have included such authors as Elizabeth Partridge, Pete Hautman, Scott Westerfeld, Linda Sue Park and Patricia McKissack. It's very gratifying to know that not only is this award granted by an author's peers, but that authors are giving back by serving on panels such as these.

Interesting facts

--Apparently, publishers have to submit books for consideration for the National Book Award. While my friends and I have jokingly called the ALA Youth Awards press conference "the Oscars", it could be that the National Book Award's announcement deserves that nickname more.
--In 2008, submissions for Young's People Literature just edged out Fiction as the second-most submitted work. Nonfiction is the big winner in this category.
--I'm very envious of those who live close to New York City and can attend the National Book Award Teen Press Conference. What a wonderful way to publicize and celebrate the National Book Award--not to mention the fact that this event is just for teens!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Crosspost: Watching TV Without the TV

Watching TV without the TV
This post originally appeared on Pop Goes the Library.

I was on vacation for part of last week, and once I got home and started to get back in the swing of things, I thought to myself, "I missed seeing Countdown a few days . . . thank God for the Internet." Because MSNBC has the last few aired shows available to watch--in easy-to-watch clips rather than the whole show--on their website. Thus, I was easily able to get my Keith Olbermann fix.

And that made me start thinking: are we at a point now where you don't even really need a physical TV anymore? Sure, there's still events that you're not willing to wait for the show to be available online, and Internet watching removes some of the community feel of TV watching. Yet for the most part, I think we're getting close to a tipping point. Between sites like Hulu and individual network websites, I think a large portion of the mainstream TV audience could let their TV sets gather dust while their broadband Internet connection gets a real workout.

However, there's a few caveats to this, and if you read that last sentence, you should be able to see the big two: "mainstream TV audience" and "broadband Internet". If you live in part of the US that doesn't have broadband access, and there's still a lot of places like that, you'll probably going to be using your TV still. And for those people who don't just watch CSI and Lost and 24, the restricted access to more unusual shows would probably be a deal-breaker.

Since I fall into the latter group, while I don't think I'm ready to give up my TV set quite yet, I have to say that I'm using the Internet more and more to watch TV. And in tough economic times, if I can find a way to live with waiting to see shows once they're online, I'd definitely dump my cable TV and use my TV to watch DVDs.

How about you? Do you think TV on the Internet is only going to keep growing, or will this be a flash in the pan? And what does this mean for our library services?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Review: Child of Dandelions

Child of Dandelions
Shenaaz Nanji
2008; Front Street; 978-1-932425-93-2 (hardcover)

Summary: Sabine is Ugandan. She's also Indian and Muslim. She's happiest when she's with her best friend, Zena, or dancing, or hiding in the mango tree by her house. All in all, she's a typical teenager. But it is 1972, and President Idi Amin has just announced that all Indians must leave Uganda--and they have ninety days. Sabine's father insists they're Ugandan citizens and should stay; her mother is scared and wants to leave. And Sabine is caught between these two sides that are battling for her beloved Uganda.

Four Things to Know About Child of Dandelions

#1: Some things are universal.

Prior to reading this novel, the most I knew about Uganda was that it is an African country formerly ruled by Idi Amin, the site of events like Operation Entebbe and films like The Last King of Scotland. It was eye-opening to read this novel and see concerns similar to other novels I've read. As is remarked in the novel, the choice of whether to stay or leave echoes the European Jewish mindset prior to World War II. Questions of class warfare and the mixing of the races calls to mind concerns from early twentieth century America. There are some aspects of being human--both for good and for bad--that are repeated over and over throughout the world. The more chances we have to see these similarities, the more we realize how little we are different. And novels such as Child of Dandelions gives us a unique way of making this realization.

#2: Identity is woven from many threads.

Learning more about the cultural background of eastern Africa, in particular Uganda, reminded me of how there are many factors that shape us. Sabine is a Muslim Indian Ugandan; she knows English, Swahili and Gujarati, among other languages. She shops in Little India, has an English headmaster at her school, and her best friend, Zena, is African. Yet for all this, the ethnic groups in Uganda don't mix. After decades of being servants and laborers, the Africans want more, and Idi Amin will give it to them--regardless of the impact on the whole country. But it's only as she's faced with her world ending that Sabine looks at her world and sees how unequal is is. She makes changes, reaching out beyond her class, and while the results are mixed, it could have heralded just one small beginning for Uganda. But instead, Sabine's family ends up leaving Uganda behind and adding a new thread to their identities.

#3: Handicaps are not always limiting.

Sabine is often treated as her father's heir, to the point that he calls her "my brave boy." This isn't because she's the oldest; it's because her little brother, Minaz, has Down Syndrome. Yet just because he has this disability doesn't mean he is ostracized or kept apart. Minaz, or Munchkin as Sabine calls him, is cared for by the whole family with love and devotion. By caring for Minaz, others' true natures are often revealed. Sabine doesn't like Lalita, her mother's friend--she doesn't like Lalita's perfume or the way Lalita talks about Africans. But when disaster strikes Sabine's family, Lalita stands by Sabine and Minaz, caring for him with great dedication. Sabine herself only shows occasionally mild annoyance with her brother, much less than is normally shown between siblings. For a character who can't speak, Minaz helps shape the story as much as Amin or Uganda itself.

#4: There are different ways to create atmosphere.

Often writing is described as sensual or evocative in describing another place and time. While this novel is not as descriptive as ones that receive such adjectives, it does fully transport the reader into this world. I felt that I could really see Uganda--not smell it or taste it, but see it. The fruit trees, the tin-roofed shacks, the play of sun and shade: that's what I took away from this novel. And such mental pictures, in combination with a moving story and well-developed charcters, keeps the reader turning the pages.

Child of Dandelions offers a positive look at a difficult period in the life of a girl, a family, and a country. This is an intriguing novel, one that could be paired with other culture-clash or immigration novels, to offer an example from the recent past.