What I've Been Up To!

I haven't posted a blog entry in over 1 month! Good grief! With my new job as a Learning Center Director, I have been extremely busy, but thought it was about time I make a post. Below are some pictures of things I have been doing in my Learning Center. Enjoy! Book reviews to come...

* The "Book Bites" program was held during all lunch periods. Not only did I book talk a variety of books, but students were also able to bring and eat their lunch in the Learning Center.

* The "Say What?!" display features first lines or popular quotes as a way to get students in reading one or more of the featured books. I put this display up at the beginning of the year and it definitely seemed to catch students' interest.

* The "Survivor Challenge" had a total of 24 very excited students participate in a variety of Learning Center challenges including: Name that Book, Dewey Fishing, and the Destiny Quest Hunt.

* I started a T.A.B. in the Learning Center this year, which was something that was never done in my school district before. We had over 70 students apply to be a member, which was great, but I had to narrow it down to 30...making my decision a tough one.



Phew! I know I have been M.I.A. lately but I'd like to think I have a good excuse. As most of you know, I started a new job last week as a Learning Center Director at a local middle school. Things have been going so well since my start date and I'm really enjoying working with the students all day long. 
This new job has definitely been a big change from my experience working in public libraries, especially giving me a lot more responsibility. The past week and a half or so has been filled with my not only getting used to my new position, but with a TON of Learning Center orientations. Normally this is something that is only done with the 7th grade students, but since the 8th graders do not know me (and because some policy/activity changes have been made), I wanted to give them a mini-orientation of the Learning Center. With around 1400 students at the school, these orientations have kept me extremely busy, but I'm about finished with them. I have to say, I never really understood the world of a school librarian and I am starting to see just how crazy it is. I am always busy and I must be extremely flexible when it comes to the Learning Center itself, but also with scheduling and when working with teachers. I don't think I have ever been so busy in any of my previous library positions, which makes the days fly by.

One thing I'm starting this year at the middle school is rather than having a traditional book club, I'm going to be starting a Teen Advisory Board. For me, I feel like there is so much more a Teen Advisory Board can offer to my students in the present and for their future. Since last Thursday, I have given out a little over 150 T.A.B. applications! I have had 15 students turn them in as of yesterday. I'm sure not all of the students that took an application will join, but for this to be my first "project" I'm working on, I'm really excited to see how it ends up. Our meetings start in October, so I will keep you all posted with how this goes.

I have still been busy reading too, so keep an eye out for book reviews in the next few days. Once again, I apologize for being M.I.A. but this new career opportunity has kept me, happily, busy. :-)

P.S. On top of all of this, my sweet kitty Dewey was rushed to the vet last week with a blocked urinary tract. I hear this is common in male cats, but since Dewey is my first cat, I had no idea about this. I caught it pretty early, but he still was close to possibly dying. He is recovery pretty well...but man it definitely threw me for a loop last week on top of the new job.


Riot by Walter Dean Myers

Received: In the library

Rating: 4.0/5.0 stars

Summary: In 1863, fifteen-year-old Claire, the daughter of an Irish mother and a black father, faces ugly truths and great danger when Irish immigrants, enraged by the Civil War and a federal draft, lash out against blacks and wealthy "swells" of New York City.

Riot is the first book I have read by Walter Dean Myers, which is kind of surprising since he is a "legend" in the teen fiction world. I chose Riot because, after reading the summary in the book jacket, I realized I had never heard of this major riot that took place in New York City during the Civil War. Aside from that, I also found the text of the book interesting in that it is written like a movie script. I thought if I liked the book, it would be one I could recommend to readers looking for a different type of writing style in a book. I also think writing this book using this format allowed me to better visualize what was happening throughout the story. This point could be helpful for visual learners/readers.

Walter Dean Myers' writing and storytelling in Riot takes a good look at race relations and class. As a teenager, Claire never thought much of the fact that she is racially mixed, looking more white than black. She just sees herself as a person. Yet, when one of the other characters, who seems jealous of the way the guy she likes looks at Claire, finds out that Claire is partially black, she acts like Claire is suddenly a horrible person. I won't give too much of the story away, but what goes around comes around. It was heartbreaking to me when this incident occurred because at that point Claire questioned everything about herself and kind of lost her innocence.

As for class, I was shocked to think that the wealthy could pay $300 to get out of having to serve in the military, while those less fortunate financially had no choice. The Irish caused the riot because they didn't want to fight in a war to free slaves who they thought, in turn, would come to the north and take all of the jobs from them. Also, they didn't think it was fair that the wealthy could pay money and get out of having to serve. Exploring this issue in Riot was a good way to show that the racism wasn't just based off the color of people's skin....it had to do with getting and maintaining jobs and a lifestyle, not saying that makes racism good in any way.

Overall, I enjoyed the story that was told within the pages of Riot and for me, it was a very quick, enjoyable read. The author's note at the end of the book states: "It was the bloodiest civil disturbance in American history. Four terrible days in July of 1863 that would leave hundreds dead and injured and forever change the face of New York City." I learned about a piece of history I knew nothing about and that I haven't seen written in other historical fiction books. Also, I was able to connect to the characters. I would easily recommend Riot to students that enjoy historical fiction as well as those that want a suspenseful, action filled book.


Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Received: Purchased for my Nook

Rating: 4.5/5.0 stars
Summary:  A novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932. When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, grifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her. (Summary from Publisher’s description).

Water for Elephants is one of those adult books that is constantly checked out/put on reserve at the library. Since I spend so much time reading teen fiction, when I see an adult book being checked out so much or there is a lot of hype about it, I know I have to put it on my adult fiction TBR list. After coming across this book a couple of times and reading the summary for it, I just didn’t think Water for Elephants would be my kind of book. Luckily, I was wrong in my judgment!

As a child, I only went to the circus one time, but I was so young that I didn’t remember much about it other than being terrified of a clown. I always associated the circus with family, happiness, animals, special performers, and overall, a good, enjoyable time. Yet, the circus in Water for Elephants is from the performers’ perspectives and the workers’ perspectives giving readers a whole new light into the world of the circus. The main circus that has it all and is making a lot of money is Ringling and if you’re not a part of that circus, you are pretty much struggling to make ends meat, which is the case with the circus Jacob is a part of. The way the performers and workers are treated, along with the animals is shocking. Workers go weeks without getting paid, animals are abused, and some of the workers can be “redlighted” meaning Uncle Al, the head of the circus, decides you are no longer good for them and pushes you from the train in the middle of the night. There were definitely some parts that shocked and disgusted me, but I felt like it made me realize a circus isn’t just how the outside world views it, there is so much more to it.

I absolutely loved and connected with Jacob’s character. After losing both of his parents, he ventures out into the world unsure of what his next step in life will be. When things look down or he doesn’t know how he will go on, he stays strong and fights for what he believes in, especially his passion for animals. He is a character that you will be cheering for until the end of the book.

I would have enjoyed the book with just the circus aspect of it, but throw in “forbidden love” and the story is that much more appealing. Jacob feels so connected to Marlena from the first time they meet, but tries to deny his feelings since she is married. Not only is Marlena married, but she is married to a schizophrenic man who is perfect one minute and the next he’s trying to get someone killed. Last but not least, I loved Rosie the elephant. Just from reading about her she comes across as a sweet, loveable animal. Unfortunately, Rosie isn’t treated the best, but in the end she gets her revenge.

A story filled with passion, rage, love, mystery, and intrigue I could not put Water for Elephants down. This book made me realize that sometimes it’s good to step out of the teen fiction world and explore all of the wonderful adult books being published.


Follow Friday

It is officially Friday which means it's time for Follow Friday. Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee at ParaJunkee's View where there’s a great opportunity to meet new bloggers!

This week's question:  How has your reading habits changed since you were a teen? or If you are still a teen what new genres are you in love with currently? 

As a teen, most of my reading was stuff I was assigned in school. When I would read a book for fun, I would always read adult lit/fiction. I have to say though, when I was a teen (about 10 years ago) it didn't seem like we had a big teen fiction section in the library or in book stores as there is now. Both because I enjoy it and also because of my career as a librarian, I definitely read a lot more books now as an adult than I did as a teen.


Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti

Received: At the library

Rating: 4.5/5.0 stars
First and foremost, I have to say that the cover of this book was a perfect choice for the book. It’s one that summarizes the book up with just a picture. Aside from that, Something Like Fate is the first book I read by Susane Colasanti and I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m not usually a big fan of romance books, but the cover of this one intrigued me and I like to be able to recommend “good” books from a variety of genres, romance included.

In the beginning of the story, Lani is a high school junior and has been best friends with Erin for quite some time. They aren’t just friends though, they are more like soul sisters because of Erin doing something that saved Lani’s life years ago (which I don’t want to say and give away part of the story). Because of this, Lani feels forever indebted to Erin, even though she knows their friendship has changed over the years. When Erin tells Lani about her crush on Jason, Lani is happy for her. When Lani first, officially, meets Jason, she knows there is something between them that, although she tries, she just can’t deny is there. Keep in mind, Lani believes strongly in fate, horoscopes, and that kind of stuff. She knows there is something between her and Jason, but Jason is her best friend’s boyfriend now and there is nothing she can do about it except deny the feelings she is having for him. At the end of the school year, Erin goes off to camp and Lani and Jason are no longer a group of three. Will Lani continue to deny her feelings for Jason? Does Erin suspect their feelings for one another? Of course I won’t give away all the juicy details! Just when Lani and Jason think they have made the best decision, unexpected actions occur that neither of them saw coming.
What I liked most about Something Like Fate is how Colasanti was able to weave together a story that felt very real. Lani’s feelings for Jason, although a touchy sort of subject, were believable. It was interesting to read about the different characters and wonder whether or not Lani and Jason would admit to their feelings for one another. I also liked that Colasanti didn’t just make this a gushy love story, but instead included actions and emotions that put the characters in some tough situations. Something Like Fate tells a good story that can easily happen in the real world and questions who is “at fault” and what is more important, friendship or love? Recommend this book to girls that are looking for a good, sort of different romance book, especially those that have enjoyed books by Sarah Dessen.


The Accidental Genius of Weasel High by Rick Detorie

Received: In the library for my Nook

Rating: 2.00/5.00 stars

Summary: Larkin Pace desperately wants a new camcorder. How else is he going to become the next great filmmaker? But his dad won’t give him any money, his sister is determined to make his life miserable, and his nemesis Dalton Cooke is trying to steal his girlfriend. Now this height-challenged aspiring director must chronicle his wacky life for a freshman English assignment. (Summary from www.GoodsReads.com)

Targeted to children or teens that have enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, The Accidental Genius of Weasel High is told using a journal type of format from Larkin's point of view. I say journal, but it's really a written blog assigned by his English teacher to chronicle his life, interests, hobbies, or whatever else he wants to write about. As with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, this book features graphics and cartoons, but in a less appealing way. The graphics and cartoons do not look like something a 9th grade student would draw, but look  more like a graphic created on a computer. Although they go along with the story, they tend to be a little cheesy. The story read like an actual story rather than the journal it was supposed to be.

Aside from these two points about the book that I felt were kind of lacking, there were two major flaws that I just couldn't get over. First, and most importantly, I didn't feel like Larkin's character was real. Although he was supposed to be in 9th grade, it seemed like his character would be better suited to be between grades 5th-7th at most. Larkin's words and actions just felt young. I do think if his character would have been written as a younger boy the book would have been more believable and I would have definitely given it a higher rating. 

The second major flaw I had with this book is that Larkin believed his best friend Brooke, who happens to be a female, is actually his girlfriend. If Larkin was a younger character, I might be able to imagine how he might think they were boyfriend-girlfriend. Yet, I couldn't really believe that a 9th grader would not understand that there relationship was anything other than friends.

The Accidental Genius of Weasel High did have some humorous parts and explained experiences that readers would be able to relate to in their every day lives. However, the flaws in this book overpowered the more positive aspects of it. If you're looking for a Diary of a Wimpy Kid readlike, a more appropriate recommendation would be The Defense of Thaddeus Ledbetter.


TGIF Question

TGIF is a weekly meme hosted by GReads. This week's TGIF question is:

Taking it Personal: Which books have effected you on a personal level and lingered in your mind long after you closed the pages?

This is an easy question for me: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I read this book in my sophomore honors English class in high school and to say the least, I was blown away. One of the main things that really hit home with me with this book is how the main character, who is an African American girl, thinks being "pretty" means having blonde hair and blue eyes. The book is gritty and raw, containing some tough plot points, but focuses on beauty and accepting who you are. 

As I said, I read this book when I was in high school. After reading it, I had to give a speech in front of the class about it. I remember everyone was spending a lot of time making speaking points and rehearsing what they were going to say. Yet, I was so touched by this book that I didn't do either of these (or maybe I was just being a slacker LoL). I stood in front of the class, gave my speech, and was overcome with emotions as I was talking about the book. I ended up getting a 100%. The Bluest Eye is definitely worth reading!