Monday, July 4, 2016

Rare experience

ALA Annual was an energizing blur of celebrations... but one experience was so extraordinary I can't not write about it. We all have our pet topics, things we particularly enjoy reading about. My own include Anne Frank, New Orleans, and North Korea. So the opportunity to chat with debut author Sungju Lee, whose memoir about leaving North Korea, Every Falling Star, will be published by Abrams' Amulet this September, was especially thrilling.

In South Korea, there are only 30,000 people who have escaped North Korea, so Sungju is one of a small coterie able to talk about life in the closed society. Funny and thoughtful, Sungju is professionally determined to work towards reunification of Korea through diplomatic channels, and his book for young people sets out his dramatic backstory.

Sungju's book focuses on his experience as a relatively pampered child of privilege who is forced to fend for himself after his family leaves the capital city of Pyongyang. When famine forces his parents to leave to seek food, he takes to the streets, where he and his band of brothers develop their own society and moral code. It concludes when, at long last, Sungju finds his grandfather and eventually, his father, joining him in South Korea.

We spent so much of the evening in Orlando talking about Sungju's experience after leaving North Korea, living in Canada and studying at Warwick, but after reading his book -- it was the first I grabbed after reading nineteen YA novels over the past six days -- has left me wishing I'd ask more about his leaving home. I almost asked him about whether he had to change all his clothes, since that seemed such a part of other accounts I'd read, but it seemed too intimate. It turned out to be a component of his journey, too.

A fascinating read!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Election time!

No, not that election, silly. A much more civilized and less contentious one, the American Library Association, our beloved professional organization. Those ballots open today!

I happen to be on that ballot twice -- once for the 2018 YALSA Nonfiction Award, once for AASL's Regional Director. If you are reading this, you probably know my raison d'etre happens to be reading, books, libraries, literacy. If you are a member of those divisions, I would appreciate your vote(s).

But I also have some recommendations.

President-elect: Steven Yates. Steven is a fellow Alabamian, a fellow school librarian, a solid fellow full of graciousness and responsibility. He also can have hard conversations. Excited to see where he takes AASL...

President-elect: Ernie Cox. Smart guy, has done the hard work to get here. And if that's not enough, Ernie chaired the Newbery that picked Last Stop on Market Street, so he thinks out of the box.
Board of directors:
Amy Koester You can't get more dedicated to children's services.
Sarah Wethern Sarah is a voracious reader, watcher, thinker with very good taste. I trust her implicitly.
Angie Manfredi Whip-smart social justice warrior, perhaps the smartest person on the front lines today.
Sylvia Vardell USBBY stalwart, promoter of poetry in this age of ours.
Katie Salo One of those twitter friends who constantly impressed you with her enthusiasm and smarts.

Board of Directors:
Robin Kurz When you work on a committee with someone, you can tell if they are conscientious, and Robin most certainly is.
Kafi Kumasi I met Kafi at an IMLS seminar at Indiana in 2006 and have been following her solid work over the last decade.
Kathy Burnette Someone I just know from online, but Kathy's thoughtful presence there bodes well.
Edi Campbell One of the absolute best kidlit bloggers out there.
Margaret A. Edwards:
Jennifer Anne Rothschild  Somehow, Jen manages to be quick, deep, and connected, all at the same time.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Long time, no blog

Three months? Been gone for a minute, but now I’m back with the jump-off, as Lil’ Kim once said so pithily.

Wow, January and February were rough. There was that too-early Midwinter with some super-charged Batchelder Award conversations, the anointing of our glorious winner The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy, then some life and death family drama, too … too little time to think, let alone write down thoughts ex post facto...

But some positives, too:

And just when I was sort of over Twitter, taken over as it has been by amateur marketers, but Lauren Laverne reels me back in… but, no, seriously, I'm checking out (if not posting) to insta & tumblr much more often these days.

Looking back on the eight-year cycle of my mental health, I can’t be the only person who gets the presidential election blues. I basically have to avoid the mainstream media to function AT ALL. How DO you cope?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Best Books of 2015

It's that time of year again...this year's personal best list might be a little lop-sided with backlist, but I excluded anything I read for committee work.

Adult and Literary


Petropolis by Anya Ulinich

Some really robust writing that spans continents and eras as witness to the dissolution of the Soviet regime. Ulinich is a talented graphic novelist as well (Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel).

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If you have older relatives, you can’t help but laugh. And cry. And laugh some more. Chast gets it right.

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The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

For some reason, I had an entirely wrong idea about what this novel was about. Tartt shows her Mississippi roots by depicting a wide range of far-from-stock Southern types in a show-stopper of a novel. I should have picked it up earlier.


Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford

It’s like The House of Mirth, but in the heady days of the oughts. Start up sensibilities, old money mores, and the corrupt Wall Street culture collide.

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This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

It’s about baseball, the Home Run Derby of 1998 as backdrop for a former minor league standout trying to liberate his daughters from the foster care system after his ex-wife's overdose. I had been disappointed by Cash's ballyhooed debut, but I loved this one.


The Foolish Gentlewoman by Marjorie Sharp

Marjorie Sharp wrote The Rescuers, and some surprisingly deft mid-century fiction for grown-ups. This one opens with the titular heroine cowering in the bath while the bailiffs come to re-posses her furniture.

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Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor

This pairs nicely with the Chast -- an elderly woman goes to live in a residential hotel filled with her contemporaries in decline. The loneliness resonates in Mrs. Palfrey's concoction of a loving grandson.



Glory glimpses a frightening future and rises to meet it in this exhilarating tour-de-force that manages to be about everything, but mostly about the way politicians can frame the most evil things as for the common good.


Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

It's not just about pageants, or fat girls. Willadean inspires every reader to find their place on stage.

Dazzling Debuts

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Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

O'Neill's future is only a little more remote than Glory O'Brien's. Women have value only as refracted through men. I hope this is a feminist manifesto for the fourth wave.

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More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

This was recommended, or I might not have picked it up, but I was thrilled I did. Silvera has a great ear for language and captures the cadences and communities of the Bronx rather perfectly in this twisty tale. Realistic fiction readers needn't be put off by the just-slightly-fantastical premise.

Things Get Dangerous


Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

It's like Gossip Girl meets Amanda Knox. What really happened among the group of vacationing friends? Who was at the beach when? Frothy, but fun.


The Fever by Megan Abbott

Abbott is pitch-perfect in drawing a largely female cast in this novel where the seemingly inexplicable is rooted in garden-variety high school dynamics. Abbott is hugely underrated, probably because she writes about women.

ALA Finds


Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

Giles documents the unlikely friendship of two girls sent to live in a care-in-the-community set-up. This is a book which changes readers. Schneider Family Book Award, 2015.


Confessions by Kanae Minato

Your nipponophiles will love this peek into Japanese classrooms and culture as the mystery of the teacher's son's death is covered from so many angels. Alex title, 2015.


Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I didn't go see Cain when she was an auditorium speaker at ALA, but I sure heard about this book. When I finally got around to reading it, it made me feel SO MUCH BETTER. About everything. As only a great book can.

This year's list is a little estrogen-laden, but so was this year for me.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


I have been to a half-dozen AASL National Conferences now, but this year's was one of my favorites. I'm adding Columbus to my list of lovely Midwestern cities (along with Minneapolis and Chicago). The sessions were stimulating, and the conversations with old and new friends gave me much fodder for thought. I got a particular thrill from hearing Eszter Hargittai at the closing section, as she is one academic whose work I follow closely and believe reveal fundamental truths about our society and the ways we relate to technologies.

As I wrote earlier, I spoke twice, at the ESLS research session and with Maggie Crawford from the Newseum on using social media in the classroom. I got to help several librarians send their first tweets!

On the whole, the vibe was optimistic, especially coming after what seems like years of gloom-and-doom. It seems like more school librarians are trying new things and pushing the boundaries. Like "making," innovation, design thinking, and guided inquiry are all new names for old tricks. Two years from now, the event will be in Phoenix. I hope we will all have as many triumphs and inclusive moments to report.