Friday, October 24, 2014

Mummies: The Newest, Coolest & Creepiest from Around the World

I picked up Shelley Tanaka's Mummies: The Newest, Coolest & Creepiest from Around the World because it was featured on a "spooky book" shelf and because it looked like a fun, quick read. I wasn't expecting to get completely wrapped up (ha ha) in it, much less to be murmuring "Wow!" every time I turned a page.

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On the fine art (& frustration) of crafting a diverse book list for teenagers

Over the past few years, as I've worked on the wish list for the annual Ballou High School library book fair, I've spent a lot of time thinking about diversity in teen books. In some ways, the process has been like grieving; first there was denial, ("where are all the mysteries and romance and thrillers with African American protagonists?"), then anger, ("I can not believe how hard it is to find books for teenagers with African American kids on the covers!!"), then bargaining, ("what do I have to do to find these dang books?!"), then depression, ("this so unfair and I can't stand it"), and then acceptance ("this is the world we're living in and I just have to work with it").

Talk about a learning experience.

The book list does have a lot of diverse books on it because I spend all year watching for every single title that comes up in Booklist or the catalogs or on twitter or the blogs I follow that includes mention of "strong diverse characters". It never ends, finding these books. I can never stop looking for them or watching for them.

Right now I have about a dozen books in a list that are from the spring 2015 catalogs that won't go on the wish list until next year. I also pull from the ALA Quick Picks list and from the Printz and other awards lists and Ballou's super librarian, Melissa Jackson, always has some books they are looking for that go on the list but mostly, I am on the hunt all the time. I look for adult crossover titles, especially biographies, that will be of interest to high school students at Ballou and any history or science titles that might include have particular interest to African American teens.

There are also general nonfiction titles like cookbooks and wildlife and science (plastic in the ocean! extinction! genealogy! nail art) but give me a novel about a couple of African American teenagers who solve crime or fall in love or, yes, battle vampires, and I AM ALL OVER IT.

Because I want the students at Ballou to read the same kind of fun books I read as a teenager. I want them to see themselves in the books they read; I want them to find themselves in the books they read. I want them to see lives that could be theirs or look like theirs. I don't want them to feel like they are in the outside looking in when they are reading and I think that happens when all the characters are blonde haired and blue-eyed and rich and you are none of those things.

So I look all year long and I add to the list all year long and I hope for the best all year long. Certainly some of the books on the list have mostly (and maybe all) Caucasian characters because they are still good, fun, popular books that I know all teen readers want and will enjoy. But they can't be all the books on the list; they can't be everything. More importantly, they should never be everything.

Take a look at the wish list for Ballou and tell us what you think. If you know of some books that should be on the list next time, let us know. And yeah, if you want to help out a worthy school then please buy a book or two and send them along to Washington DC, where I promise they will be very much appreciated.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Department 19 by Will Hill

I know that this book has been discussed in the past here on this blog, but I just couldn't pass it up!

Dracula, Van Helsing, and Frankenstein - plus some really cool high-tech and futuristic firepower to boot! I plowed through this book in no time as more and more of Jamie Carpenter's story and his family history were revealed. Hill jumped in time filling in the history of the Carpenter family, the origins of Department 19, Frankenstein and Jamie's father, Dracula and the first vampires which all provided the backdrop to the current story of Jamie and his attempt to save his mother from one of the oldest vampires in the world.

Pages filled with non-stop action, thrills, gore and horror!

A must read for any action/horror fan. 

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth

I rarely see juvenile fiction books with young African-American males on the cover so needless to say I was intrigued by this title. The main character Jarrett is a rising seventh grader from Newark, New Jersey who lives with his mom, a Guyanese immigrant. His mom is a foster mom who works with social services to take n kids for varying lengths of time. This is how Kevon and his little sister Treasure come into their lives. Kevon's father went missing and so the two are placed with Jarrett's family for the time being.

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Celebrating Ballou High School's library dynamo

We are often asked why we have chosen to stay with Ballou Senior High School for our annual book fair. Prior to Ballou, Guys Lit Wire worked with a group serving juvenile offenders in Los Angeles and two schools on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. While we certainly were happy to help those folks and felt that our book fairs did a lot of good and were appreciated, when we first teamed up with Ballou we quickly realized we had found a special situation.

Melissa Jackson, the Library Media Specialist, loves her job and her enthusiasm is quite infectious. A look at the library's facebook page shows the many events she plans there from poetry slams to club meetings to author readings and tons of visiting speakers. Melissa works tirelessly to get students excited about reading and has been key to the past success of the book fairs. She cares so much about the kids at Ballou and has shown us just how much one dedicated librarian can accomplish for a whole school. Melissa is a powerhouse whose dedication can not be denied. We are thus delighted to work with her, and help her, through the current book fair.

If you want to know how the world can be changed, then Melissa is a shining example of what a force for good looks like. Guys Lit Wire organizes these book fairs each year through her direct coordination and support; Melissa is the one who gets all these books you purchase off the list into the hands of teenagers eager to read them. Please know how much you making her job easier with every title you send to Washington DC and every effort you make to spread the word.

The Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School continues. Please check out the details and shop the Powells wish list. [Post pic of Melissa Jackson with the Ballou mascot, the "Golden Knight".}

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Caged Warrior

Caged Warrior

CAGED WARRIOR takes the reader to places they had no idea they could even go between the pages of a book. The poorest parts of Detroit, on of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the U.S., is where McCutcheon "M.D." Daniels calls home.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

League of Seven by Alan Gratz

League of Seven, one of the most fun books I've read recently, is chock full of all kinds of cool stuff that I get excited about: Lovecraftian monsters, steampunk, alternate history, mythology, secret societies, ninja robots, and giant city-crushing beasts. Honestly, this book is chock-full of the good stuff! And that's no coincidence-- when Alan Gratz talks about the book, he flat out admits it. "When I set out to write this book, I thought about all the things I thought were cool: monsters, robots, ninjas. And I decided I would just stick them all in one book and have as much fun writing as much awesome stuff as possible."

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Troop by Nick Cutter

The Boy Scout motto is "Be Prepared," but trust me, a team of Samurai-Ninja-Swat Team-Green Berets couldn't be prepared for the horror that is unleashed in Nick Cutter's pedal-to-the-metal shock fest that is The Troop. 

The story takes place on Prince Edward Island, an idyllic province on the east coast of Canada. I've been to Prince Edward Island, I grew up on the province next to it. It's a nice place and I have to say that I'm very glad I didn't read The Troop while I was living anywhere near there because I'd probably never go outside again. 

The Troop hits the ground running and simply doesn't stop. On the first page we are introduced to a news story about an emaciated man who wanders into a diner and begs to be given as much food as possible. He then goes on to eat everything they've got on the menu. When he is finished he walks outside without paying, steals a truck and disappears into the night. The papers dub him "The Hungry Man," but nobody seems to know who he is or where he came from. 

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Success Through Stillness by Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons? you ask. The moving and shaking founder of Def Jam Records, wrote a book called Success Through Stillness?

Yes. Yes, he did. And get this: it's about meditation, and about how devoting twenty minutes to meditation twice a day, each day, will make you more successful at anything you turn your mind to.

Simmons tells stories of how he found his way to meditation, as well as how it benefits other major players he knows, from basketball greats to Oprah and Jay Z. He also talks about how much he enjoys yoga, although that's not a prerequisite to meditating.

The book begins by declaring that meditation is the path to true happiness.

Why should you meditate?
The answer is very simple: to be happy.
Which is the only reason you're here.
This may sound like a very simple take on the meaning of life,
but I believe it with every fiber in my body.
Soon after discussing his own start meditating, Simmons launches into five different chapters designed to shoot holes in any excuses you might have not to do it, including the most common ones like "I Don't Have Time" and "I'm No Good at It", along with some more complicated, in some cases theological, reasons. From there, he moves onto explaining the positive physical reasons you should meditate, which includes improving your brain's health and potential, followed by the very real benefits people find in their lives once they start meditating.

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In Real Life, review and interview with Cory Doctorow

When Anda, a teenage gamer, gets invited to play Coursegold, a massively-multiplayer online role playing game she discovers a place where she can be many things she isn't in real life: a hero, a fighter, a leader, a part of a unified team. Along the way she learns about gold farmers who mine valuable objects within the game to later be sold to players. At first this seems unfair to Anda who recognizes that it gives players with money a chance to buy themselves into a game where others are trying to earn their place, which makes killing off these characters easy. Then she learns the darker truth behind these gold farmers.

Raymond, a gold farmer Anda befriends, turns out to be a teen in China who is hired as a miner. The money he earns for his employer is needed but the exhaustion from long hours is making him sick. Without a union or health care Anda tried to persuade him to get other gamers to collectively bargain but then Raymond's avatar disappears from the game, and Anda's parents cut her off from gaming and she worries about what has happened.

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