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.

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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.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On my way to AASL...

I was at a meeting today -- if I were staging my biopic, I'd want a whole committee deliberation where things are praised as being "literary" or decried as "not literary," which is ridiculous because so many amazing things are not literary and so many terrible things are literary -- and a retired school librarian asked me if I were going to AASL. Her nice recollections about the conference, which she described so sincerely as her favorite, made me slow down and appreciate the fact that I'll be in Columbus, somewhere I've never been, tomorrow morning for our every-other-year professional meeting. Thousands of school librarians...

I'm doing two presentations, both on Saturday. I'm speaking on a research panel for the Educator of School Librarians Section (ESLS) early that morning and then with Maggie Crawford from the Newseum for the "Making a Change" session later in the afternoon. I'm most looking forward to hearing Eszter Hargittai, the really incisive sociologist whose work on the "second level digital divide" really inspired my own beginning doctoral work.

Now I'm really glad to be headed to AASL. What had seemed like a chore now feels like a thrill.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What October?

I can say without a doubt the last two months have seemed like an eon, replete with all sorts of onerous tasks, wasted time, and and tying of up loose ends. As much as I love Halloween and all the autumn changes, I'm ready for the calendar to turn to November.

The #IBBYNYC Regional was as amazing as I knew it would be. The walking tour with Leonard Marcus, talking about the picture book bohemia that was Greenwich Village not so long ago, was a definite highlight, but I think about all the listening I did -- I heard Lois Lowry talk about falling in love late in life and Chris Radschka talking about Vera C. Williams dying, Susan Cooper being skewered for writing about Native Americans in Ghost Hawk, David Almond sharing his notebooks, translators talking about being funded by supportive national governments rather than publishers -- a whole world of ways of living, the sort of treat that will keep me going. And I managed to see Hamilton, which was as good, and as strange as everyone said it was. A mixed race hip hop musical about the Founding Fathers? Isn't that a Simpsons' punchline? 

Now, I'm in the weeds with award committee reading. If you're more organized than I am, tonight and tomorrow night, the Library of Congress is hosting some interesting online sessions for teachers looking to do more with inquiry, questioning, and primary sources in the classroom. Sign up here.

Monday, September 28, 2015


I bought three brand-new shiny young adult books this month, and I plan to keep all of them for myself. That almost never happens. But I couldn't resist:

Asking for It by Louise O'Neill,  because Only Ever Yours really was that good. I imported this one.

Most Dangerous by Steven Sheinkin. After hearing the Pentagon Papers bandied about as the whistleblower touchstone in ALA Council chambers, I felt I needed to know more, and Sheinkin is never boring. Now I sort of have a crush on Daniel Ellsburg.

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy, because the ARC rocked my world and I wanted that adorable pre-order pin. Murphy will be in Nashville for the Southern Festival of Books next week, so I'm determined to shower her with the praise she so rightly deserves.