Saturday, September 22, 2012

October Mourning by Leslea Newman

Leslea Newman's October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shephard is the kind of verse novel that readers would find in the subgenre entitled verse biographies in my books. That is to say that this is a fictionalized account of a life, told entirely in verse. In this case, the 68 poems that make up this book vary widely from a haiku to the villanelle to free verse, and are discussed in an appendix. Additionally, they are told in different points of view  that start and end with the fence and include Matthew's friends, his mother, the policemen who investigate the crime and the two men who committed it. This is a style that will be attractive to readers familiar with Allan Wolf (The Watch that Ends the Night) and will help to create empathy for readers who may not be familiar with Shepard's case, although this is hardly necessary, given the gravity and horrific nature of the crime. This is a book that should be read with kleenex handy.

This is an incredibly powerful book, and one that should be included in public and high school libraries, not only because it is a good book about poetry and poetic forms, as well as a heinous incident that should be remembered for its own sake, a remembrance of a man whose only crime was being part of the LGBTQ community, but also because voices in those communities deserve to know that they are welcome in any community.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pregnancy Project: overlooking expectations about teens.

Gaby Rodriguez took on a rather unusual project in her senior year, which she fully explains in The Pregnancy Project: a memoir. You probably already know about it, as it landed her on Good Morning, America, as well as being covered by a slew of international media. Just what kind of project could have had this impact?

Well, Ms. Rodriguez starts by explaining to her readers that she comes from a family where teen pregnancy is not at all unusual, and the then 17-year-old hoped that by faking her own pregnancy (with her mother's, the school's and her boyfriend's knowledge), she could gauge the honest opinions of the people around her, and so by doing see, and potentially evaluate and change them, as she had grown up with and had a lot of experience with the subject. Her own experiences are painful and enlightening in equal measure, leading to her sudden fame and the relevance of this title, which will appeal to anyone who has found themselves being judged.
Note - any librarians going to the upcoming ALA Annual conference in Anaheim will have the opportunity to hear Ms. Rodriguez read from her book in the Exhibits on Saturday afternoon as part of the Auditorium Speaker series.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Alien Investigation - looking at both sides of an issue

Kelly Milner Halls' Alien investigation : searching for the truth about UFOs and aliens allows that there are people who believe [unconditionally] in life on other planets and Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), and people who do not, and then sets out to look at existing evidence, providing a very balanced view of the subject for readers on either side of the issue.

Among chapters that include dozens of examples of described sightings and encounters are interviews with credible sources that provide readers with information that could add to these debates, such as physicist Stanton Friedman, who believes in the likelihood of long-distance space travel, and government black programs expert Michael Scraft, who would write off many UFO sightings as having been classified tests of advanced military crafts.

The design of the book allows for pictures that illustrate the subject, whether the 'ball lightning' that has been confused for an alien spaceship, or archival photos of places where aliens were seen and the people who saw them. Another clever design feature is the report tab that denotes the interview pages. The end matter is as thorough as Halls' other books, and includes a glossary, source notes, sources, a bibliography, photo acknowledgements and a list of UFO organizations and festivals for readers interested in the subject. 

The even-handedness of the subject makes this a book that will find a home in any library, and one that is a natural draw for reluctant readers.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Piece By Piece, edited by Teresa Toten

Right off the bat, this should probably be two posts; the first to explain why it has been such a long time since I have posted (suffice it to say between I have been busy writing the manuscript for Reality Rules II and not will not blog about books that ALSC's Notable Children's Books committee might discuss.) So, I was delighted to come across a book that I really enjoyed, that I'm really sorry doesn't meet the criteria for Notables. Speaking of which, if anyone (Buehler? Anyone?) is going to ALA Midwinter in Dallas, our meetings are open and we will be discussing lots of great books. There, now I don't have to write the other post.

So, a great book. Teresa Toten has edited (and contributed a stirring opening) to a collection of 14 original stories - which is considered by its publisher, Puffin Canada, as an anthology of biographies, so it will be in my collective biography sub-genre.  The full title of the book is: Piece by Piece: Stories About Fitting into Canada, which is a *much* better description of the contents. The authors' stories vary considerably, although they do share some common themes, which will resonate strongly with immigrants of all ages. The contributors all had difficulties in communicating, from authors who arrived and had to learn to speak english, to Richardo Keens-Douglas, who had to lose the lilt of his accent in order to get work as an actor, to Rachel Manley, whose impeccable English did her no good whatsoever in francophone Quebec.

The authors came to Canada for different reasons and found varying levels of welcome; Rachna Gilmore grew up enamoured with Anne of Green Gables but found out that even marrying an Islander did not make her a local, and Linda Granfield found the level of anti-Americanism in 1970s Toronto to be almost more than she could bear. Throughout all of the tales runs a current of love for home, and the assurance that becoming comfortable in a new country does not ever mean one stops missing the place that helped shape us. These aspects provide the books with a universal appeal: anybody that has left their home and moved to another province, state, or country will be able to understand just how wrenching it can be to try and fit in, and how difficult homesickness can be.

It is a book that will start discussions and could supplement them. It will also lead readers on to these authors' titles, providing options from nonfiction to literary fiction, historical fiction, readers choice awards and a number of others.

The included authors are: Svetlana Chmakova, Rachna Gilmore, Linda Granfield, Richardo Keens-Douglas, Alice Kuipers, Rachel Manley, Boonaa Mohammed, Mahtab Narsimhan, Dimitri Nasrallah Marina Nemat, Richard Poplak, Rui Umezawa, Eva Wiseman, and Ting-Xing Ye.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Every Bone Tells a Story

Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw's book about archaeologists (and palaeontologists) and all of the other forensic scientists needed to correctly identify and make the scientific discoveries involved with the long dead has a fairly complex name, albeit one that more fully identifies the narrative included: Every Bone Tells a Story: Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and Debates.
The titular "bones" belong to the 1.6M year old Turkana Boy, the Palaeolithic Lapedo Child, the 9,000 year-old bones of the Kennewick Man and the Iceman. While some of the stories have been included in other books or been the subject of books (particularly the Iceman), what makes this book stand out and will appeal to either teens interested in archaeology or science is the information gleaned from the discoveries. Notable examples of this include development of human language from the Turkana chapter and the information scientists gather from sites involving painstaking efforts which then gives them a picture of the existing vegetation, animal life, and evidence of human occupation.
Detailed examinations of each recovery includes reports on illnesses, potential causes of deaths and frequent debates among scientists when these reports did not jibe with the accepted science. Readers are given all sides of the arguments and will be left to make up their own minds. Each section includes photographs, concludes with websites and further readings and will find a home in school and public libraries. This title has been named a finalist for the 2011 YALSA Award of Excellence.
Review copy from publishers.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone

Tanya Lee Stone's The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: a Doll's History and her impact on Us combines several things: a history of one of the most ubiquitous toys in North America; consideration of the sociological implications of this polarizing wasp-wasted vixen; and a biography of the forward-thinking, ahead-of-her-times and incredibly astute business woman who not only came up with the original idea but also created and helmed Mattel with her husband.
I was never big on mutilating my own Barbies, perhaps because I didn't have brothers (although I was bribed at the age of 3 to serve as a flower girl by the promise of a Skipper) and the chapter on mutilation is highly amusing. A thorough history of the development of the company provides readers with a lot of information about Ruth Handler, whose accomplishments in the business world are impressive. Whether you believe that Barbie is evil or merely a toy, this book provides a wealth of remembrances to go along with the history. Readers who had their own barbies will enjoy the pictures: those new(er) to the doll will find her development interesting, and may be amazed to learn how popular she remains today. How big is Barbie? An ad for Toys R Us the other day mentioned that the hottest toys this year included a new Barbie dream house...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing

Ann Angel's Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing was announced this week as one of the five shortlisted titles for the 2011 YALSA Award of Excellence for Nonfiction.
It is a testament to this book that the descriptions of Joplin's singing are particularly well done: Anyone who is not familiar with her voice can see clips of  her singing live on youtube. Angel's biography does not treat Joplin with kid gloves; instead, she presents an honest portrayal of a talented and insecure woman who died by an unfortunate and accidental overdose at the age of 27.
The book should be a strong contender for this year's award: the writing is great, the design is outstanding, the supplementary materials (including a timeline, notes, bibliography, and image credits for the plentiful photographs) are complete and the subject should be appealing to a very wide audience.