Thursday, September 24, 2009

Our virtual author visit with Melissa Walker

This morning, nine enthralled young women enjoyed a half-hour conversation about writing, books, and youth culture. It was one of those mornings you knew that the students would always remember.

I had purchased Violet on the Runwayfor our library because books about fashion and modelling tend to be popular with students at my school. Crystalby Walter Dean Myers and the Airheadbooks by Meg Cabot are favorites. When I found Violet a smarter-than-average read, well-informed by author Melissa Walker's own experiences in fashion journalism, I suggested it to my teen advisory board. Who doesn't love a book whose "key phrases" include skinny jeans and ballet flats? I had been following Melissa (@melissacwalker) on Twitter and knew she seemed accessible and really pro-teen, so I shot her an email and Melissa kindly agreed to Skype with us. I ordered the last two in the Violet series, and they are being passed around.

Some things of which the chat reminded me:

* Teens really, really DO judge books by their covers. And they are fascinated by that design process, as their questions proved. Melissa was kind enough to send links to blog entries about those, which I know the students will devour.

* Authors are genuinely curious about what teens are into. I actually had no idea one of my students was into Fringe until the chat.

* We don't always share a vocabulary. When Melissa was sharing the awesome-sounding premise for a new project, I asked if there was pressure for authors to write about the supernatural. The students didn't believe that they read about what we termed darker themes, but Vampire Academy books was a unanimous fave, as were many other paranormal books.

* Sometimes, it's the little things that makes you love a book. One girl obviously felt the entire Violet series was elevated because Violet read manga.

Girls are looking forward to Melissa's October 22nd Readergirlz Teen Read Week chat with with Cassandra Clare, whose Mortal Instruments the girls adore. Meanwhile, I actually circulated two rather dusty Christopher Pike books, after Melissa confessed a fondness for his stuff. I'm always trying to push students to read things I loved as a teen.

I wish the crowd had been a little larger, and we had several more students sign up. But two girls reported that, despite their invitations, they weren't allowed to leave class. Some teachers were under the impression that there was standardized testing in the library, but the guidance department has worked with us to accommodate Melissa's call. She was terrific!

Monday, September 21, 2009

A dip into historical fiction

"It's historical," precedes most of my students putting down whatever title they've just asked about. And why not? So much historical fiction for young people is either saccachrine or dreary. And perhaps my intense concentration on the Newbery over the last year made me forget that historical fiction for kids and YAs could take place in any era other than the Middle Ages and the Great Depression, but it was a strange sensation to return to that genre twice in the past week. I began my trip into the past with the National Book Award Winner What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell.

Blundell rather gently evokes post-war Florida. The historical backdrop provides explanations for certain elements of the plot, surrounding an infantilized teen, familiar to students with hovering parents, whose stepfather, mother, and would-be lover are caught in a love triangle. As well as introducing the idea that certain part of the country were quite uninhabitable before "air cooling," but the history there is rather scant, along the lines of Revlon lipstick colors. Then I read Bliss by Lauren Myracle, an occult thriller set in 1969 Atlanta with the Manson family murders as a recurring motif. Bliss was much more about a time period (think of all the little consumer details from To All My Fans, With Love, from Sylvieby Ellen Conford) rather than the less period-conscious What I Saw.

I suppose I actually read a third historical novel for young people recently, The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff. The reviews I've looked at claim it was set in the 1850s, but I found scant little historical support in the forty percent of the text before I just couldn't take the HORSE anxiety. Instead, it seemed to be set in some amorphous medieval past. I preferred her post-apocalyptic How I Live Now.

All this begs the question: what I have been doing avoiding the genre? Anachronism, especially in dialogue or extremes of characterization, will cause me to throw a book down is disgust. I know many of my readers will feel a book isn't applicable to them if the central character doesn't send and receive a text message in the first three pages. Oh tempora, oh mores!

But how much of what we choose to read is a reflection of the current publishing market? Much of what I loved growing up (Gone with the Wind, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) was actually historical fiction, I adored the Sunfire series and champion Scholastic's Dear America books even to my high school students. And I have also realized that pretty much every adult title I have been reading (Margaret Forster, lately, and Julian Fellowes' Past Imperfect, which moves seamlessly between the 1940s, 1960s, and present-day, with technology intact).

Actually, if you had told me twenty years ago, most of what I was reading would be science fiction, I would never have believed it. But post-apocalyptic stuff is pulling me these days, and some fantasy and horror, genres I would have run from in the past. But I don't think I'm pushing myself as a reader as much as capable authors perhaps choosing to write for these rather lucrative niches? Just a guess.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I'm with the books

Sorting out my fall goings-on, I noticed a trend:
  • Kidlitosphere Crystal City VA October 17, to bask in the book blogging.
  • AASL Charlotte NC November 5-8. I'm presenting on digital storytelling in Joyce Valenza's ALA/NECC/AASL new tools for school libraries trifecta and will be tweeting and blogging as well.
  • NCTE/ALAN November 21-25. I'm presenting "Reinventing your school library to support adolescent literacy" in "Literacy as Community" Sunday morning, but I'm sticking around Philadelphia for ALAN afterwards.
So you'll glean there's no ASIST, however much I want to go to British Columbia, and probably no ALISE in January 2010. This is definitely a more bookish era for me.

Meanwhile, I'm feeling a little spoiled about taking this time off, consdering our school hasn't any money for professional development this year. It's not so much a funding issue, sine I'm not precluding any one else doing anything -- in my eight years there, I have taken a scant $150 from our pooled funds for 2005 AASL registration, and felt pangs of guilt over that ever since. It's more a sense that I can afford to contribute to my own professional knowledge -- not to mention the fact that I find it all terrific fun, practically recreational -- while not all my colleagues can do that. My feeling of being blessed at being released to go into the world and learn in turn means I never balk at presenting to my faculty or district. I just want them all to stretch the tiniest bit and become a little bit more responsible for their own professional growth.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Demented reading

Have you had the sensation? You realize it a few pages in, or chapters if it was particularly forgetable. "I have read this book before." It's especially frustrating when it's someone like Agatha Christie or Graham Greene who has so many books, so many editions existing of each, and multiple titles for many of them... an easy-to-make mistake, right?

I had the reverse sensation this weekend. I picked up Whitethorn Woods at the library resale shop. I knew I didn't own a copy, and figured a tidy mass market copy of Maeve Binchy would not be unread. I do like Maeve Binchy, and I love the idea that you can buy a new, readable book for $5, which inclined me to this edition. I would have sworn on a Bible I'd read all of hers, including this one. I could tell you the skeleton of plot: a bypass threatens a shrine. I am almost positive I checked it out of the Ann Arbor public library. But evidently I didn't get around to reading this one. I think I might have been buried in Brookner. So I had the sensation of reading, waiting to see if I recognized the next vignette, but I never did... and now I will never be altogether sure whether I have read anything, really, ever again.