Saturday, November 29, 2014

In Real Life by Lawrence Tabak

   Whenever I think about a gamer kid the image of a socially awkward pimply kid comes to mind. Seth (called ActionSeth online) is a gaming and math prodigy from the Midwest. He loves the game Starfare and spends hours playing in order to achieve his goal of turning pro and living in Korea. For all his mental abilities he is awkward in school and  although he has a crush on a pretty girl called Beth he never does anything to show her how he feels.
 Seth's parents are divorced and his brother is a jock college basketball player. Seth lives with his dad, a travelling salesman who seems to love to berate poor Seth whenever he comes home from one of his business trips. When his dad encourages him to get a job so that he doesn't have to go live with his mom (they have an awkward  relationship) he does so at a local pizza parlor. It is there that he meets Hannah, a girl he develops an instant crush on. Hannah seems intrigued by Seth's gaming prowess and academic talent. Seth for his part admires Hannah for her artsy side and free spirit.
Seth had entered a gaming contest where he was beaten soundly by the Koreans. His play attracted the attention of a top Korean gaming team and before he knows it Seth finds himself overseas. Everything does not end happily ever after however and Seth soon finds that the pace of life, his difficulty adjusting and the fact that he misses people back home interfere with his overall play. He must then make some very adult decisions despite the fact that he is only sixteen.
Tabak's book is an in depth look at the life of a teenager who achieves his life's goal early. Some people don't do so until they are many years older and some don't even know what their goal is in life For that I applaud Seth because he was offered an opportunity and he reached out and grabbed it. He did not neglect is studies though so even when things got rough he knew that he had other options. This, I think is the most important takeaway from the novel.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata

   Jfic books rarely deal with sensitive topics but Kadohata's book Half a World Away deals with something that I have rarely discussed with other adults-adoption.  I do not know how many couples enter into a relationship intending to adopt but I would love to see those stats. In this book, told through the eyes of young Jaden we meet a family that is just now coming to terms with Jaden's behavior. He has hard a hard time adjusting to life and has some weird behavior patterns for which he has seen several therapists.
     Although his parents love him very much they don't feel complete and are determined to go Kazakhstan to adopt a baby. Jaden himself was adopted from Romania as a young child and he vaguely remembers his mother before she abandoned him. He claims not to love his parents and truth be told, his parents, or at least his adopted father may love him but seems not to like him very much.
    Jaden realizes how charmed his life is when he interacts with locals. The driver, Sam is my favorite character in this book and I like his sly digs at American culture. In essence he shows Jaden that for all their wealth Americans sometimes lose sight of the simple things in life.  The family traveled halfway across the world intending to adopt one child but due to the bizarre nature of the process that child ends up going to a German family. As it so happens after the family is shown some babies the parents and Jaden end up liking different babies. Both children seem to have special needs and I applaud Jaden's parents for even considering adopting them as many parents probably would not have done so.
     This book is not a feel good book, it is very moody and deals with some difficult subject matter and emotions. Mature children would probably get into this book but it is so different from a lot of the standard jfic fare that is out there that I would not readily recommend this to patrons.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Death Coming Up The Hill by Chris Crowe


 Those who do not learn from the events of History are doomed to repeat it. I always think of that saying whenever events transpire that give me a sense of deja vu. Those who lived long enough to see the fall out from the Vietnam War may have been saddened by the nation's involvement in two wars we could not win in Iraq and Afghanistan. I remember when the Iraq wars first started how sad it was to see the daily count on the news and see the bodies being brought home. With our twenty four hour news cycle, coverage was much more in depth than it was forty odd years ago yet still I felt a sense of detachment from the events over there.

The book Death Coming Up the Hill by Chris Crowe is a small ode to the soldiers who perished and/or went MIA in Vietnam. Told completely in haiku form the book relates one year in the life of a teenager called Ashe who lives with his parents in Arizona. Theirs is a loveless marriage although they both love Ashe dearly.

Ashe has a vibrant English teacher Mr. Reed who does not shy away from the realities of what is happening to the young men fighting in Vietnam. He gets very emotional about the subject but this is because he has a strong sense of right and wrong and knows that what is going on there could never be right.

Ashe also meets a kindred spirit with whom he can talk about the war as well as his turbulent family life. As his home life unravels Ashe has some tough decisions to make and eventually decides to do what will benefit his mom the most.

I flipped this book open when it came in and I saw the haiku and assumed it was a poetic ode to the war but only after examining it closely did I discover that it was indeed a novel. The verse form did not impede the narrative and it flowed smoothly. As I reflect on how hard it is to compose haiku, this is some feat.  Despite the fact that the book deals with happenings from the 1960s it is still relevant today due to the fact that many of these same issues are still unresolved and in some cases are even worse today.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Library news November 2014

Russia has been in the news often over the past few months what with their incursions into the eastern part of Ukraine. Now the Russian Presidential Library has been tasked with creating a "Russian-focused alternative to Wikipedia". So far they have collected more than 50,000 books and archive documents from 27 regional libraries. Read more here.

It seems that budget cuts have hit libraries worldwide. I admit that I was not following the goings on closely but as I browsed through the UK's Public Libraries News I noticed the compromises and policy adjustments that were made, among them having libraries taking over by a council and cutting money from other areas to fund libraries. In Southampton there have been protests by residents to save libraries. This article describes how protesters want councillors to go and not the libraries-five city libraries are in danger of being closed.

The BBC is reporting that a court in India has ruled that it is against the country's constitution for female students to be banned from a main university library. This after several thousand female undergrads were banned from the Maulana Azad Library in a university in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

In Canada, a recent report cited urban-rural library technology divide as well as decreased accessibility to archival material. Also Canadians can now search their family's First World War history online. Library and Archives Canada has a Soldiers of the First World War database which is an index to the service files held by LAC for the servicemen and women who served during that era.

It is no secret that today's libraries are community hubs. The Twin Cities' oldest library (in existence since the 19th century) is being reborn as a job skills center for Emerge. The 13,000 square foot building's programs are expected to help make a dent in the region's high unemployment rate.  Read more here.

We are smack dab in the middle of NaNoWriMo and this article talks about the efforts by two librarians to push this program at their library in Oregon. The program was so popular last year that they even published a collection of writings from many of the participants.

Finally, do you want to prove that you are Native American or have Native American ancestry? This blog by the Denver Public Library shows you just how the process goes, and believe me when I say that it is not easy.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fall crafts

I have focused a lot on the books part of the blog of late so let me try to highlight some cool ideas that I intend to submit to my library's craft committee and/or use in my own weekly storytimes.

 Paper plates are so handy, easy to manipulate and cheap and these cute crafts are simple to create with some glue, felt, paint, markers and googly eyes.
Top 10 DIY Thanksgiving Crafts for Kids - Top Inspired

This owl uses a few paper plates as well as some paint. This may be a bit too much for a story time craft but looks ideal for a day care craft for toddlers, for an after school program or even for a rainy/snowy day outside.

I found a  website called Classy Clutter that has a host of crafts for the little ones using a variety of materials such as popsicle sticks, paper and leaves.  I noticed that they had a few crafts on there where the kids traced their hands. That is a well worn craft but they also had a craft where the kids made a handprint turkey hat. I have not seen many of those done and it should be well worth a try for those tired of the same old. Here are the directions and this is what the finished product looks like:

For the Thanksgiving season many people like to have the little ones make things to show how thankful they are. Hand crafts are always in vogue and on this site they give directions to make a nifty hand print wreath full of precious little hands.

Another thankful craft I found on Learn Create Love's site had the kids trace and cut out their hands, write something thankful on them and stick them on a tree template. An excellent way to celebrate the thankful season.

Finally, for someone looking for a craft that could be done at home and would be big enough to decorate a wall, this craft is fantastic for that.  Using construction paper, leaves, string, marshmallows and other materials, you can make a sign that says just how you feel about this time of year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

Sometimes when an incident occurs eyewitnesses have a different take on what exactly occurred. What they see is often colored by their experiences and prejudices. That is the case in Kekla Magoon's fantastic book for teens called How It Went Down which deals with the fall out from the killing of an unarmed black teenager called Tariq by a man named Jack Franklin. As (bad) luck would have it Franklin just happens to be white.

The premise appears ripped from the headlines what with the recent unrest in Florida and in Ferguson, Missouri. One of the better drawn characters is the preacher Pastor Sloan who is conflicted with his role. On one hand he is scoring political points which help bolster his campaign for office, on the other hand he has a son of his own with whom he does not have the best relationship. the Pastor also has to resist the temptations that come with his standing.

Written in small first person vignettes that slowly reveal the characters' relationship if any with the victim, Magloon paints a picture of a neighborhood trying its best to deal with the aftermath of the youth's killing.  This killing is especially hurtful because while Tariq was no angel his death was completely unavoidable. The killing reverberates in several other ways too and causes the beautiful Jennica to examine her relationship with gang member Noodle. At first she is aghast at his callous reaction to the Tariq's death but gradually she begins to examine her life and what she wants out of it.

Tariq was flirting with joining a gang and the gang's leader Brick feels that he was closer to joining than he really was. Through the eyes of the youngest member of the group, Tyrell we see how he Tariq, Sammy, Junior and youth were close knit but drifted apart as the call of the streets became too strong.  Junior is in jail serving a long sentence for a crime that he took the rap for. Sammy is afull-fledged member of the group and is determined to climb the ranks.

The role of fathers is underscored and by far the most fatherly figure is Steve Conners who seems to care more about his step son than Tyrell's own biological dad. To say the two enjoy a frosty relationship putting it mildly. Tyrell is academically gifted and is determined to go to college and become the first one in his circle and his family to do so. Though it is not overtly stated it seems that his father feels threatened by his son's upward mobility. Besides the father-son dynamic there is also a class divide apparent. Steve implores Will not to return to the hood and his disdain towards the denizens of that part of town is apparent.

This is a fantastic read that rings to light many societal ills and many issues within the African-American community. It is telling that the older African American males who are in a position of power and influence make no attempt to mentor or provide some sort of guidance for these at-risk youth. Also Pastor Sloan himself admits that were the shooter another young black male he most likely would not have been as visible and as vocal in the press and on tv.  This is a timely read and while it does not delve deeply into issues that need to be addressed, it at least starts a discussion.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Ellray Jakes Rocks the Holidays by Sally Warner

I have not seen many books for the 2nd-4th grade set that had an African American main character and is not set in an urban setting. So when I stumbled upon this series I was pleasantly surprised. Lancelot Raymond "EllRay" Jakes lives with his genius dad, mom and younger sister in California. His dad is a professor and his mom is a writer and they live a comfortable middle class life.

In this particular book Ellray is having a normal day until he accidentally offends the other 'brown" kid in class, Kevin. He then must do a set of challenges prescribed by Kevin in order for them to be even.

Although the book is aimed at young readers it still explores themes such as race and class. EllRay's dad for example explicitly tells him that he should make nice with Kevin since in his mind people of color need to stick together especially when they live in communities that are predominantly white. A non POC reader might find this hard to believe but this is completely true. Even EllRay's teacher Ms. Sanchez shares some of her story growing up in a different time.

EllRay is a shy kid and it just so happens that one of Kevin's challenges is to go up in front the school and emcee the winter holiday program. The debate over the name of the program is pretty funny and illustrates how pc life has become. As you would expect things do work out in the end without too much fuss-this is a Christmas adventure after all.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill

 From the title of this book I assumed for some reason that the main character would learn magic at the hand of a good witch to whom he was apprenticed.  I wasn't too far off in my guess as he does end up learning magic but not quite in the way that I imagined. Ned, the aforementioned witch's boy was one half of a twin until one day he and his brother take to sea in a flimsy craft and end up stranded. Ned himself only survived due to his mother's heroic use of magic. Circumstances soon conspire to bring big trouble to his neck of the woods though as the bandit king and his army raid their village and try to steal the magic which Ned's mother has safeguarded.

Set in a time far off when kings and queens ruled we see the level of ignorance and distrust that exists among people in the same town and between peoples of different towns. Ned's people for example don't think that there is anything beyond the mountain. Aine's people think that Ned's people are simpletons. Even Ned's people are afraid of his mother despite the fact that she is called upon to help them when any misfortune occurs.

Another good theme that I found in this work is that of the strong woman. I read something recently about staying away from the damsel in distress trope and  Barnhill does a good job of this. There are three main characters in this book  and non can be classified as "weak": The Queen,  Sister Witch (Ned's mom) and Aine, daughter of a red-haired bandit king whose name we never learn. The Queen, despite her advanced age is in control of her faculties and is a kind and just ruler. Ned's mom exercises her office and uses her power wisely-many times she uses herbal remedies instead of magic-and is a good bridge between Ned and his father. Aine for her part has been taught well by her father and can defend herself if need be. It is she who takes pity on Ned when they first meet because he has no experience living in the wild and is dependent on her for instruction.

Power corrupts is another theme and we see it in the machinations of the Queen's family who try to usurp the throne many times. The boy King is another character who abuses his power and Aine's own father cannot curb his baser instincts and returns to the life that he lived before he met Aine's mother. Aine for her part tries to make sense of the abrupt change her father seems to have undergone. She out of all the characters struggles with some very heavy issues. She is a brave girl indeed. Life must go on and loss is a part of life and I thought that Barnhill did an excellent job with dealing with the loss of loved ones in this book. Older readers aged 10+ would grasp what she is trying to convey.