Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanks to libraries...

...for providing some interesting conversation this Thanksgiving.

I was forced to confront the fact that every clerk who wields a date-due stamp is considered a librarian, and their knowledge seems to represent the whole of profession, however the miniscule collections and occasional the open hours of the institution. "Well, the township library is only open one afternoon a week, and there are always buses from the senior center and day cares then, so the librarian can't help me with my geneology..."

And school librarians are not mandated by the state of Pennsylvania and are thus vulnerable to being cut, warned one cousin.
Another cousin, looking for electronic resources for homeschooling, reminded me that we all could do a better job of publicizing state-funded databases. She also opened my eyes to the tremendous potential homeschoolers represent for niche curricular marketers.

I remembered that classification is really what separates the amateurs from the professionals. Its inherent messiness was intuited by my husband's aunt, involved in cataloging a 4,600 item church collection. I shared methods of Dewey-snatching from World Cat and the Library of Congress catalog.

Wait lists for popular new materials seem insurmountable to an aunt living in South Carolina. Rather than be 40-something in line for a title, she gets her friend to borrow them from another county system. I go to great lengths to describe interlibrary loan processes -- go to the reference department, I stress, not the circulation desk -- only to have her produce a limp list of Nora Roberts titles. Do libraries ILL Nora Roberts? I did try to emphasize that many libraries scrutinize hold queues to order additional copies, that she shouldn't abandon all hope. Also, she seemed to be il fait with exact copy statuses -- "awaiting processing," or "in transit."

Their patron satisfaction seems to all boil down to better customer service, better communication. The collections and databases are useless if the library users don't know about them.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Willing suspension of disbelief

I heard author Ginger Rue speak at the Alabama Library Association conference last spring, where I won a copy of her first novel, Brand-New Emily, by answering literary trivia (and what an awesome way to distribute prizes was that?). Emily is about a girl who decides take the tenets of commercial marketing to heart to increase her popularity and appeal. It was a cute read, and I expected more of the same when I snagged an ARC of Rue’s latest novel at ALA Annual. It's Jump, published by Tricycle Press.

But while Emily is more middle grade, Jump is definitely YA (hooray!). Brinkley, a shallow and selfish cheerleader and star of the school play, has been ordered to therapy because of her nasty habit of tormenting other girls. As Brinkley begins “jumping” into the bodies of her classmates, -- walking a mile in their moccasins, but also bodies, clothes, and lifestyles -- she very gradually learns empathy. 

I felt for Brinkley as she was a product of benign neglect. Her parents throw money at her and give her precious little attention and no real boundaries or consequences. She recounts in one therapy session how, when she and her friend were caught sneaking out in the middle of the night, her friend was grounded for a month while Brinkley’s parents were either unconcerned or uninformed. Her parents are conveniently out of the country for the bulk of the book, so her strange disappearances (and reappearances as other people) are almost unobserved.  I think as many teens have always lived in the same way as Brinkley as have been under the scrutiny of “helicopter parents,” but it is interesting to see a portrayal of parents emotionally absent because of disinterest rather than their own addictions or mental health issues, which seems to be a recurring model in YA.

Brinkley is left in the care of her maid, Talullah, who she ultimately realizes may be the only one with her best interest at heart and, in Brinkley fashion, rewards her with a yellow Tory Burch bag.  In fine style, Rue incorporates many wonderful details about the school’s production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, with Brinkley playing Laura, despite, as she realized having a much more talented understudy. (Speaking of literary allusion, am I the only one compelled to start reciting Houseman given the author’s name, “With rue my heart is laden…”)

Brinkley takes the transition to other people’s bodies in surprising stride, and develops a new confidant in Miranda, the rather goth theater techie who was her first “jump,” and begins to have her doubts about her best friend Bette.  There are some rather fantastical plots holes. The principal orders her therapy. Hmm, I wish they had that discretion. And the “jumping.” Is it some sort of mystical technique employed by her therapist Irirangi? I went with it. I have mentioned that I tend to like science fiction, which tends towards overly-elaborate explanations for strange happenings, to the willing suspension of disbelief needed to read much fantasy. But this reminded me more of Melvin Burgess’s terrific Lady: My Life as a Bitch, where one individual experiences inexplicable fantastical personal transformation in the midst of an otherwise realistic universe. And of course, this doesn't apply to dystopias, because I'm naturally rather pessimistic, so it all SEEMS all too realistic.

After the bare-bones ARC, I was glad to see Jump's final cover displays Brinkley as she might have experienced her “jump” to Miranda. The cover art, like the ample fashion and pop culture references, could entice girls who might be a little like Brinkley at the beginning to think a bit about their classmates’ lives, their choices and challenges.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Beyond good intentions

I am heading home from the second YALSA Literature Symposium with enough must-read titles on my list to see me out this calendar year. The Lit Symposium is a bi-annual event, and I feel very lucky to have gone to the inaugural symposium in Nashville two years back. Despite the logistical challenges involved in travel to Albuquerque – I had to take a personal day Monday, because getting there and back from Alabama is a day-long proposition – it was well worth the rally. To be surrounded by 450 other librarians, authors, and academics with a real interest in young adult literature was really invigorating experience.

The conference had a diversity theme, and while I know I immediately think of racial and ethnic diversity, the conference did make me think of inclusiveness in a new light. My Friday began with the excellent preconference (organized by the incredible Angie Manfredi, who  was also an excellent local hostess), which talked about Body Acceptance and Fat Positivity and how to connect young people with a range of books that discuss these important issues so they can begin to develop a sense of self-worth beyond the basely physical.

Other sessions expanded that knee-jerk definition of diversity to focus on the portrayals of disability, religious experiences, sexual orientation, sexual content, and diversity in graphic novels (with the extremely knowledgeable duo of Francisca Goldsmith and Robin Brenner) and historical fiction (Melissa Raby, with authors Christina Diaz Garcia and Ruta Sepetys). I also especially enjoyed meeting Megan Frazer, a high school librarian in Maine who is living the dream as author of Secrets of Truth and Beauty. The closing session with Lauren Myracle and Ellen Hopkins was phenomenal, as they shared  correspondence from readers. Hopkins believes all middle schoolers should read her books to discourage drug use and will supply compelling testimony from teens about the worth of her novels should they be called into question in your library.

The only thing I would like to have seen more of was on technology, perhaps the digital divide and as a diversity issue and how libraries help. The symposium was also rather short of take-aways in terms of programming and ideas for implementation in your practice, but I am sure the literary love-fest will affect all of our collection development as we attempt to fill these gaps with the resources showcased.

I have also been reflecting on how new media has completely changed my conference-going experiences from rather lonely to completely social. So many of my YALSA friends I got to know in various ways online before meeting face-to-face. Twitter was HUGE at this conference, possibly more so than at any other I’ve attended, not only for backchanneling sessions but for building community.  I had dinner with one tweep, lunch with another, and caught a movie with a third, none of whom I’d laid eyes upon before this weekend, but with all of whom I am eager to remain in touch.

I will point you towards Gretchen Kolderup's blog for more thoughtful analysis. I have a presentation to cobble together for NCTE in the meantime. The next YALSA Lit Symposium will be November 2-4, 2012, in St. Louis. I’ve marked my calendar!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Just sweet

In Fixing Delilah Hannaford, Sarah Ockler plays with that Sweethearts trope about meeting the boy who was once your best friend years ago. In this case, it's the dishy contractor-and-coffeeshop-crooner Patrick, who Delilah remembers as "Little Ricky," her grandmother's neighbor and the companion of her childhood summers. It doesn't help that Delilah has the worst "not-boyfriend" ever, Finn, back at home. There is some mild intrigue surrounding the reasons Delilah and her stressed-out mother stopped visiting eight years ago. Delilah pieces her own history together only after she and her mother return to Vermont to settle her grandmother's estate, but it changes both their lives.

This book is utterly charming, and it left me thinking about particular students to whom I would recommend it. I found it not dissimilar from

Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney. About three generations of women, all with their own issues. I think this tale resonates for girls who have or are seeking maternal ties in particular.

The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill Alexander. All she wants is to ride in the parade, and Austin decides raising chickens will win her the affections of the 4H. I love that she takes Ag and feel that her experiences are not far from many of my students'.

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern. Love the accuracy with which Halpern describes high school group dynamics. I think the bits about D and D will ring true for many survivors. of middle school.

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford. This has some sad bits, too, but on the whole it's such a precious narrative, like Sara Zarr's Sweethearts, I think it does appeal to the same readers.

I heard Halpern at last year's ALAN conference and know Alexander is one of the finalists for that group's Amelia Elizabeth Walden award this year, so I suspect she'll be in Orlando. I'm excited to be presenting at NCTE alongside some amazing librarians later this month, and staying over to hear the authors at ALAN, my new favorite conference.