Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Leave Me and How It Feels to Fly

I just finished Gayle Forman's newest book. Forman is the best-selling author of YA books If I Stay (which was adapted into the 2014 film), Where She Went and I Was Here, among others. This is her first book written for an adult audience. It centers on Maribeth, who is a mother to two young children in her early 40's. The stress of her publishing career and motherhood, and the seeming lack of help from her well-intentioned but clueless husband conspire to land her in the hospital after suffering a heart attack and bypass surgery.

Even after she recovers enough to go back home, she becomes frustrated that she's thrust back into the role of caretaker of her job, husband, and children, and now her mother as well (who moved in "to help") and she yearns for just one person to take care of her. So she leaves.

She leaves behind her cell phone, her laptop, her ATM card, and pretty much any trace of her true identity. She takes a bus to another city and pays in cash for everything so she cannot be tracked down.

I liked this story, and I think pretty much any mother/working woman is guilty of a similar fantasy, and I'm not even going to defend that statement will a follow up. I related to the character of Maribeth and I'd recommend this book for fans of Jodi Picoult because many of the themes are similar, but there were a couple of sub-plots that didn't really resolve so much as fizzle out. 

Next up for me is a YA book titled How It Feels to Fly. Sam is a ballet dancer who has been sent to a camp for highly successful teen athletes and performers who are also struggling with emotional challenges.

I've only just begun reading it, and so far it seems as though her issue is not the typical eating disorder, but it more of a general body acceptance and negative self image monologue combined with anxiety and panic attacks. I generally enjoy books that feature teens struggling with mental and emotional issues but so many of them are interchangeable and fail to really stand apart from the others. I hope that this one will delve a little deeper into the issues that have already been introduced.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Best Surprises Come with Pizza

Being a librarian can be a pretty thankless job much of the time. Administrators might not understand the role the library is supposed to play in the school/community, staff members might not understand what types of tasks we spend our days doing (no- we don't just sit around and read all day) and students struggle to understand the logistics of library relations, like if we requested a book from another library yesterday, it's not going to be here this morning. We don't air-mail books overnight.

We do get some "thank you's" over the course of the day, but they're often the polite automatic responses that we're all programmed with to maintain general social courtesy.

Being an educator of any type- not just a school librarian- is often a thankless job. It's not like the kids are going to thank a teacher for assigning homework. It's not like the parents are going to thank you for making a project deadline the day after spring break ends when they've already planned a family trip to Florida. And it's not like the administrators are going to thank you for requesting more money for supplies.

I've pretty much made my peace with this reality because it's not as though I do my job to get recognition or praise, but it's always welcome.  .  .especially when it comes unexpectedly.

I taught college English classes for years, and I loved it. It was getting the best of both worlds: spending my days in a middle school, talking to kids about the books they love, and then going to a different educational environment where I could talk to adults about the issues that matter to them, and guide them in how to write about the things they love.

Today I made an impromptu stop at a local pizza place for a quick slice, and I recognized the young guy working there. I asked him if he's ever attended classes at Great Bay Community College, and he said that indeed, he'd taken one of my English classes a couple years ago.

He continued by saying what a great class it was, and even though he didn't continue his college career (at least not yet) that he really valued it. And then he gave me my slice of BBQ chicken pizza for free to show his appreciation.

I always enjoy seeing former students (middle school and college) and catching up with them, but his words meant alot to me. I'm not teaching college courses at the moment because I'm quite busy in Toddler Land, but it was nice knowing that my teaching had a positive impact on one of my students.

This has been a very busy and stressful school year already (and it's only the first month!) so I wanted to take a moment and record this nice interaction before it gets lost in the haze of lesson planning, timesheets, and daily commutes.

Friday, September 16, 2016

"Here We are Now- Entertain Us!"

Peter Pan has long been one of my favorite stories, and it's also one of the best stories to analyze and critique, both because of the original text and because of all the slipstream possibilities that have been put forth into print and film. I finally got around to watching the 2015 film Pan and I felt compelled to write down a few thoughts I had while viewing it.  .  .

The best description for this movie I came up with is: A steampunk re-imagining of JM Barrie's characters and Neverland, in the function of a prequel, infused with a Harry Potter theme."

Let's break that down a little now:

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction literature that features steam-powered machinery. Although it often takes place in the future, the cultural norms, language, and fashions are inspired by the Victorian age, so they along with the steam-powered machinery create an interesting tension between the past and the future.

The story does feature a flying ship (which is part of Barrie's classic, but also has a very steampunk feel) as well as cable cars and hot air balloons, and all the portions where the orphans are mining for Pixium.

And the major players like Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Princess Tiger Lily are all there in Neverland to remind us which story we're supposed to be caring about, but the actual story takes place before Pan and Captain Hook are sworn enemies. In fact, they are allies against the infamous Blackbeard. This is a clever insertion, as it is an allusion to Barrie's speech at Eton College, in which he identified James Hook as "Blackbeard's bo'sun" [boat swain=ship officer]. So the story of the characters is a prologue to the one we all know, but it's anachronistic because the setting appears to be World War I, which is a bout a decade after Barrie penned the play.

Aside from the gritty war-torn London setting (instead of the romanticized Edwardian Kensington Gardens version we usually see) is the inclusion of modern rock songs by The Ramones and Nirvana. Obviously those songs didn't exist for another 60 or 80 years, respectively.

Lastly, the thread of maternal love isn't exactly new; Barrie's text is wrought with maternal symbolism, obviously reflecting his personal life, but the aspect of Peter's mother being a warrior against the evil Blackbeard and sacrificing herself for the safety of her infant son, and then Peter seeing her spirit and making his peace with her death just reeks of Harry Potter.

I liked the concept of re-imagining Peter's life before Neverland as well as Hook's backstory, but I don't think it was executed very well. Also, there were way too many CG special effects to give the film and kind of soul. In terms of the slipstream, I think that Hook (1991) accomplished its vision better than this one did.

The only really good part was seeing the pirates sing "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Since You've Been Gone book review

First of all, I have to say that it's impossible for me to look at this book cover and not think of the Kelly Clarkson song of the same title. I don't even like that song, but I've heard it enough times on the radio to know the lyrics, and whenever I saw this book in the library or on my nightstand, that earworm would start up.

That aside though, this book was a fun YA read. Emily becomes fast friends with Sloane, whose bohemian parents move around constantly. One summer after returning from a family trip, Emily finds that Sloane's family has moved again, leaving her friendless. No goodbyes or explanations- just gone. Until that is, a mysterious list of tasks arrives in the mail that Emily must complete. Things like Sleep Under the Stars, Kiss a Stranger, Hug a Jamie. Her best friend has assigned these tasks to her not because she will be rewarded with a reunion but because doing those things will lead her to meet new people and conquer fears, so even with the sadness of losing her best friend, Emily will find some happiness.

It's not the most thought-provoking or intellectual YA book I've read, but that's not to say it's not a good book. I enjoyed the story, and it was an easy read- something I could easily slip into when I got into bed and read for a while before I got sleepy. There's a little romance in there, but the meat of the story is about friendship- old ones and the way we all struggle to forge new ones. I'll recommend it to students who like books such as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and others that focus on female friendship.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Raina Telgemeier's newest book Ghosts!

I couldn't wait to read Raina Telgemeier's new book Ghosts. As I've written before, I became a huge fan of hers the first time I read Smile. Ever since then, I've eagerly awaited her books, and since this one was about ghosts, one of my favorite topics to read about, it was a little torturous waiting over a year for it.

I picked up the book this afternoon at B&N so the library can have a copy available ASAP, and I was excited that I'd be the first one to read it. As soon as I got home, I started in on it.

Well, actually, the first thing I did when I got it home was to take a nice long sniff  of it. It had that wonderful new book smell to it. I rarely buy new books because I either borrow them from a library (duh) or purchase used/vintage/antique copies at thrift stores.

My husband took this picture of me while I was busy sniffing the book:

Like Telgemeier's other books, Ghosts is a quick, fun read. I can read her books in about an hour, but most younger readers don't require a whole lot of time to finish them either. It's one of the wonderful things about graphic novels.  Finishing a whole book i a short span of time is really empowering for a kid, especially ones who struggle with reading and comprehension.

While Smile and Sisters are biographical, Drama and Ghosts draw some inspiration from the author's life, but they are fictitious. Ghosts centers on Cat, who is forced to move with her family to Northern California so that her younger sister Maya, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, can reap the benefits of the cooler climate.

They move to a town that prides itself on its ghosts; specifically, the ghosts of long-dead people who return to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, the Mexican holiday that honors family members who have died.

I love reading about ghosts because I love horror, but readers who aren't into horror shouldn't keep away from the book because of that aspect; the ghosts are comical and make the subject of death- realism for families who are forced to deal with cystic fibrosis complications on a daily basis- much more accessible for younger readers and even light-hearted. Telgemeier's story is genuine, and communicates the relatable emotions of all her others, but it's not a somber story. Her familiar style of drawing and the colorful contributions of Mexican imagery give the book more of a celebratory mood rather than a frightening tone.

A graphic novel that includes Spanish dialogue and an introduction to Mexican culture is a welcome addition to pretty much any library collection as we all continue to advocate for diversity in our literary lexicon.

I admit that Smile is, and probably will always be my favorite Telgemeier book, but Ghosts is a unique story, and a worthy contribution to an art form that is so often boiled down into superheroes and manga.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child- no spoilers, so don't worry

I'm only 1/2 through it now, but I just started reading it this morning around 11:00, so I'm sure it won't take too long for me to finish it.

I didn't rush to get this book, as I did the novels, but I'm glad to be reading it now.

I'd forgotten how wonderful it feels to slip into another world. I mean, I'm always reading and slipping into other worlds, but the Wizarding World created by JK Rowling is one that's so familiar to me now that reading another story  about Harry, Ron and Hermione feels so natural. I don't have to sit and think about what things 'might' look like because I know what they look like. I've read the books and seen the films and visited Platform 9 and 3/4 in London and drank butterbeer in Hogsmeade (via Universal Studios). I even created my own magical used bookstore in 1:12 scale. This is a world that I can slip into with very little effort now.

And on a personal note (more personal than usual)- I picked up this book yesterday at my library, and it felt right. Yesterday was the anniversary of my cousin Madeline's death, and Madeline loved the Harry Potter books. She grew up reading the series. She dressed up as Harry Potter one year for Halloween. I remember her posting on Facebook when the second part of the Deathly Hallows movie was released, about how it was the end of an era. After she died, I remember seeing her Harry Potter books neatly lined up on her shelves. I'm glad I didn't rush out to buy the book a couple weeks ago because reading it now is an appropriate way to honor her.