Thursday, August 28, 2014

Teen Program: Egg Drop

This summer was pretty crazy at the library.  Summer is always crazy with extra traffic, kids desperate to report their reading and earn prizes, and programs happening every day of the week.  For myself personally, it was also hectic because I was, through a series of convoluted events that I won't get into here, forced to come back from my maternity leave just in time for summer reading to begin.  Crazy!

Fortunately, I had done a ton of planning for this year's Teen Summer Reading Program well in advance.  Good thing to, because this year we had record numbers of teens signing up to participate in our special events.

Our best-attended program of the summer was our Egg Drop, which a whopping 28 teens participated in.  This program was based on a widely popular physics project done at many middle and high schools.  The idea is to challenge the participants to construct something that will protect an egg that is dropped from a great height and prevent it from breaking.  Teens need to use a little bit of ingenuity to figure out how to displace the force of the impact using a few basic supplies.

We set up several tables for the teens to work at with four chairs at each table.  Each table was given a single egg and the teens worked together to build an egg-protecting contraption.  This was great for encouraging the teens to be social and to promote teamwork and cooperation.  We set up a supply table with a variety of objects that the teens could use to construct their contraptions.  Supplies included:  Berry baskets, styrofoam, cardboard, plastic bags, string, toilet paper tubes, craft sticks, and of course, scissors and tape.  The teens were encouraged when they signed up for the program to think about designs in advance and bring any supplies from home that they might need, but most were happy to just use what we had on hand.



We basically told the teens what the goal was, showed them a few of the supplies at the supply table, and then just let them go to town.  We gave them about 40 minutes to build their contraptions, and much of this time was also filled with socializing and snacking.  I made a point of walking from group to group to ask them about their contraptions and many were eager to show off their ingenuity.



When time was up we went over to our drop point in the library.  My library has a fairly unique two-floor construction, with a main floor on ground level and an open basement below.  There is a large open space in the center of the main floor surrounded by a rail that looks down on the lower level.  We found a spot along this rail that didn't have much that could be disturbed below it, covered it in plastic tablecloths, and marked it off as the area where the eggs and their respective contraptions would be dropped.


The teens gathered on the lower level near the drop point to observe, and groups were called one at a time to go upstairs and drop their contraptions.  The group then had to come back downstairs to open up their contraption to see if their egg survived the fall.  All in all, the dropping portion of this program took a little over 20 minutes with (if I remember correctly) 9 groups.  Yes, we were a bit noisy out in the middle of the library.  But most of the other patrons in the area were actually really interested in what the teens were doing and came by to observe.  I also think that it was nice doing a program like this out in a public place so that other people could see the teens in action doing something positive at the library.

Generally this was a very successful program.  There is only one thing that I would change if we were to do this program again:  I wouldn't include so many packing supplies on the supply table.  I might even leave the styrofoam and bubble wrap out completely.  These materials are built specifically to protect the objects inside from impact, and I think that providing these materials made building successful contraptions a little too easy.  We didn't have a single egg casualty and I would say that at least six of the nine contraptions had more or less the same secure design.  While there is something to be said for such a high success rate, it could have been nice to see more variety and to encourage a little more creative thinking.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Book-to-Movie: Divergent

This week we showed the movie "Divergent" here at the library.  The books upon which this movie was based, written by Veronica Roth, have been hugely popular - so much so that the multiple copies of the book that my library owns are always checked out, with an incredibly long hold list that ensures that we won't be seeing the book anytime soon.  It's no surprise that, in a movie market that is happy to turn successful YA books into film, this series was quickly optioned and adapted to the big screen by Summit Entertainment.  The film was released in theaters in March 2014 and came out on DVD and BluRay on August 5.

Our showing of the film here at the library was quite successful.  Thirty people attended this program and, just as when we showed "The Hunger Games" back in 2012, I was impressed at the number of adults - several parents and a few stand-alone adults - who were interested in seeing this movie with the teens.  It is exciting to see more opportunities for intergenerational programming here at the library thanks to the growing cross-appeal of YA books and movies.

Clearly, the movie is popular.  But was it actually any good?

In my humble opinion, the answer to that question is highly debatable.

When it comes to the movie's ability to translate what happens in the book onto the big screen, I would say that it did quite well.  As I was watching the movie I could think of only one event from the book that was left out of the movie, and though this scene was powerful in the book, I completely understand why this cut was made (time, lack of lasting impact on the series).  As far as my memory is concerned, watching the movie was just like reading the book when it comes to plot. This should please most fans of the book immensely.

There is actually very little significantly wrong with the film.  Fights are well choreographed.  Kate Winslet is significantly villainous as Jeanine Mathews.  I truly enjoyed being able to see the different factions and how each one is symbolized by a different color scheme and sense of design.  Yet this movie just didn't "wow" me.  It was fine.  Maybe I'm just a bit tired of the genre, but I couldn't help but feel that I'd heard this story before, only told better.

My biggest complaint will probably spark some debate since most critics seem to feel differently than I did:  I just didn't care for Shailene Woodley as Tris.  In both the book and in the movie, Four comments that fear doesn't shut Tris down; it instead wakes her up.  I frankly never really saw Tris wake up in this movie.  I saw her jump off of trains and get into fights and go through all of the brave motions she is supposed to.  But I never saw that spark in her eyes, that moment of desperation that drives her to be brave and to enjoy her new freedom.

Still, even if the movie isn't perfect, it is reasonably entertaining.  And since it does such a good job to portraying the plot of the book I'm willing to bet that the majority of fans will be satisfied.

Overall Quality of the Film:  C+
Overall Faithfulness to the Book:  A

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Don't Discount YA Literature, Part III: Books to Try

I've spent some time lately talking about books written for teens and the ways that adult readers might come to these books with some inherent prejudices.  In fact I've written two different posts on the subject (see links at the bottom of this post).

Having these sorts of inherent prejudices against books written for this age group is problematic.  There is no reason at all why Young Adult books would not be as well-written as those written for adults.  In fact, I would imagine that, when looked at by percentages, there are just as many amazing books for teens as there are for adults!

I like to think that those adults who have such low expectations of Young Adult books just have not yet stumbled upon that one amazing YA read that makes them want to explore more of the genre.  I strongly believe that just about any YA book can be enjoyed by just about any open-minded adult reader.  If you're an adult looking for the best of the best in the genre here are a few books that might get you hooked on YA:


The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Charlie is a high school freshman and he's not particularly popular.  As he writes letters to a "friend" describing his difficult life, he finds himself taken in by a few gregarious seniors and, with their help, navigates his way through a host of new experiences including sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A powerful novel that is deeper than the sum of its parts.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
Mattie is a girl with big dreams of going to college, but given her farming family's needs and low expectations that typified 1906, she has little hope of seeing them come true.  Maddie is able to take a job at the Glenmore Hotel and hopes to set aside her earnings, but an unusual request from one of the hotel's patrons leads to a mystery that Mattie never expected.  A historic setting, a true crime murder mystery, lyrical writing, and solid characters come together to create an absorbing read.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
See what all the fuss is about by checking out this book about two teens with terminal illnesses who fall in love while trying to uncover the ending of one of their favorite books.  The book will make you laugh at cry at the same time.  Is the hold list too long for your liking?  I'd actually strongly recommend any book by this widely popular author, so try Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, or Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
Bobby is your typical teenage boy in Harlem.  When his girlfriend announces that she is pregnant, the two of them suddenly find themselves faced with decisions that they never thought they'd need to make. Angela Johnson's writing is poetic and lovely to read and transforms this premise from obvious to amazing.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
Sam is an unassuming young adult working a dead-end fast food job.  Things change with Douglas, a creepy and violent necromancer, wanders into the restaurant and sees plenty of potential in Sam.  That's when things start to get interesting.  This supernatural story is full of both humor and gore, and while this genre is stereotypically enjoyed by teens, adult fans of the genre will find plenty to like here.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
The two title characters meet when they find themselves sitting together on the bus, and they soon bond - and eventually fall in love - over Park's comics.  But everyone knows that first love doesn't usually last, and soon Eleanor's troubled home life threatens to tear the two apart.  Author Rainbow Rowell's voice is like a breath of fresh air as you read.  I also highly recommend another of Rowell's books, Fangirl.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Karou, an art student in Prague with fantastic blue hair, fills her sketchbooks with incredible monsters.  Little does anyone know that these monsters are real.  Karou has grown up with these chimera and is a part of their lives, traveling the world on mysterious errands to retrieve teeth for Brimstone, the monster who fills the role of her father.  Yet Karou has always felt that something was missing from her life  When the magical doors that allow for her travel are suddenly destroyed and her chimera family is killed, Karou just might find the answers she is looking for from the beautiful angel Akiva.  This fantastic novel is one part globe-trotting modern fantasy and one part heart-pounding romance, written with a grace and maturity that will make this book plenty palatable to adult readers.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Verity is a spy who finds herself captured by the Gestapo and Nazi-occupied France.  Her captors present her with two options:  Tell them what her mission was, or suffer the consequences.  She composes her story on scraps of paper, telling an intricate tale of courage, hope and friendship.  Meanwhile her best friend Maddie, who was also the pilot of the plane whose crash lead to Verity's capture, hopes to rescue her friend before it is too late.  This is a powerful story that sneaks up on a reader slowly.

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin
Matt and his sisters are deeply unhappy as they try to survive under the tyranny of their abusive mother.  Matt sees a glimmer of hope when their mother begins dating Murdoch, an upstanding man that Matt hopes can save them.  But will it be enough?  Or will Matt need to take a stand on his own?  Readers will find themselves rooting for Matt and his sisters as they try their best to pick up the pieces of their lives.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Narrated by Death himself, this book set in Nazi Germany tells the story of a girl, her foster family, a Jew, and a love of books.  The unique narration (Death as the comic relief in an otherwise heavy story) makes an otherwise awesome book truly stand out in the crowd.


See Also:  Don't Discount YA Literature
See also:  DDYL, Part II:  The Dos and Don'ts of Criticism

Thursday, August 7, 2014

It's Been Awhile

Readers, it has been awhile.  I last posted to this blog way back in late February.  That's a little over five months ago.  Oops. 

I've been plenty busy during that time.  Namely, I went and had a baby.  She is, in my humble opinion, the greatest baby on the planet.  But she does keep me plenty busy, thus the lack of blog posts.  I have only returned to work full-time this week and I'm not going to lie:  Coming back to work has been very, very difficult.  It's a good thing I love my job or I'd be in some real trouble.

Lots of fun things have been happening around the library since my last post.  The Summer Library Program just drew to a close, and even though I was only a part-time librarian during this time I still have lots of fantastic stories to tell about our very successful program.  I'm optimistically hoping to have the time and the energy to go back and blog about a few of them, so watch this space for new posts soon.  In the meantime, please send me happy vibes and I balance to joys of motherhood with the joys of being an awesome librarian.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Bad Things

The other day a girl, maybe in the 4th grade or so, came up to me and asked for help:

Girl:  "Can you help me find a series?"
Me:  "Sure.  Was there a certain series that you wanted, or do you just need help finding something new to read?"
Girl:  "It was a series where bad things happen..."
Me:  "Oh, I know what you're looking for!"

Instantly I knew exactly which series of books this girl was looking for, possibly because this particular series has a very soft place in my heart.  The books in question were Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events."  Each book in this series describes the trials and tribulations of the recently orphaned Baudelaire children and their efforts to remain out of the clutches of their evil uncle, Count Olaf.

Admittedly, bad things happen is lots of children's books.  This girl's vague description could have described any of a number of books or book series.  But instinct told me to look for Lemony Snicket, and of course my instincts proved correct.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Don't Discount YA Literature, Part II: The Dos and Don'ts of Criticism

Last week I talked about a certain amount of prejudice that seems to exist in the minds of many adult readers when it comes to books written for teens.  My complaint is that many adult readers of YA novels seem to either expect that the book will be flawed, or will readily excuse any flaws in the novel because of the target audience.

I will admit that not every YA book is a masterpiece.  There will be books out there that do have their problems, and it's perfectly acceptable for a reader to voice their criticisms of the novel.  However, we can very rarely can we chalk these flaws up simply to the book's target audience.  It is important instead for readers to really think about and be able to define exactly what a book's problem's are when reviewing, discussing, or otherwise critiquing a YA (or any other) novel.  This way they will not fall into the trap of immediately placing blame for a book's inadequacies on the perceived target audience.

Here are a few common critiques that I have seen made of YA books by adult readers.  I will be attempting to define what is or is not productive about such comments and, if needed, explore alternative ways to more concretely express dissatisfaction with a novel:

"This book had its problems, but it's a YA novel so I kind of expected it."
Should you be making this comment:  I hope not!  I'm very sorry if you've had bad experiences with YA novels in the past, but please do not assume that all YA novels are poorly written.  They're not.
Better ways to deal with this reaction:  Unfortunately, there might not be a better way of expressing this type of reaction.  But exactly why is it that you have such low expectations for this kind of book?  If you find yourself making this comment frequently then it might be time for you to try some different YA novels.  More on that to come in a future post.

"I was willing to let a few things go with this novel because it's a YA book."
Should you be making this comment:  NO!  It's perfectly fine if you decide to let a few minor flaws go with a book.  Readers of all kinds - myself included - do this all the time.  What is not okay with this kind of comment is the implied assumption that all YA novels will have problems or that it's somehow more acceptable for books written for teens to have these problems.
Better ways to deal with this reaction:  "This book wasn't perfect, but I was willing to let the flaws go.  Here are the flaws.  Also, here are the things that I did like that really made this book work for me."

"Ugh, teenagers are so annoying.  I hated the characters."
Should you be making this comment:  NO!  Teenagers as a whole should not grate on your nerves because no two teens - or teen characters in novels - are alike.  This sort of broad generalization is a bit unfair to an entire demographic of very real people and fictional characters.  It's fine if you didn't like the characters in one particular book.  That happens.  What's not okay is blindly assuming that all teen book characters are terrible.
Better ways to deal with this reaction:  "I did not care for the characters in this book.  Here's why."

"This book was nothing but teen angst."
Should you be making this comment:  Probably not.  Do you know what "angst" really is?  It basically means that the character has an emotional situation that needs dealing with that is causing him/her some sort of duress, and it not exclusive to teenagers.  Conflicts like this exist in books written for all ages, not just YA novels, and these sorts of concerns are necessary to drive the plot and create an interesting book.  As with anything else there will be situations where angst is over or poorly used, but if you really try to put yourself in the character's shoes you'll see that most of the time their concerns have real foundation.
Better ways to deal with this reaction:  Just be careful not to throw the word "angst" out there too readily.  It's an apt word in some cases, but the phrase "teen angst" has such a negative connotation that it should not be used lightly.  Try to understand the source of the "angst" before you critique it too harshly - a little understanding can make a situation seem more like "conflict" than "angst."

"I'm not a teenager, so I couldn't identify with the characters/plot/setting of this YA novel."
Should you be making this comment:  I hope not!  The vast majority of the conflicts and issues that teen characters are dealing with in YA novels actually apply to the adult world too - relationship woes, conflicts with family, dissatisfaction with the society we live in, trying to find one's place int he world, bullying, violence...the list goes on.  Admittedly, a teenage character lacks the life experience that, say, a 40-year-old adult has when dealing with some of these problems, so they might go about it differently.  This is an opportunity for the reader to really put on their empathy shoes and try to explore something that is unfamiliar.  This should be exciting, not alienating.
Better ways to deal with this reaction:  Before responding this way to a book, reflect on the situation that you had trouble identifying with.  Really flex those empathy muscles and make an honest effort to try to understand whatever it is that initially seems so foreign to you.  If you still feel alienated, then that's fine.  It'll happen.  But please keep an open mind and be open to discussion with someone who was better able to identify with the book.

The moral of the story:  Be thoughtful.  Be empathetic.  Be open minded.  If you've done all of these things and still find yourself unsatisfied with a book then that's fine.  You don't have to like everything.  But please make a sincere effort to try.

See also:  Don't Discount YA Literature
See also:  DDYL, Part III:  Books to Try

Friday, February 14, 2014

Heart Stamping

This week for storytime we got ready to celebrate a special holiday - Valentine's Day.  We read some of my favorite Valentine's Day stories (outlined in this post from a few years ago) and did a sweet rhyme together:

I Have a Little Heart

 I have a little heart, 
             (place hand over heart)
And it goes thump, thump, thump,
            
(pat chest three times)
It keeps right on beating,
when I jump, jump, jump
            
(jump three times)
I get a special feeling,
when I look at you.
            
(point to child)
It makes me want to give you,
A kiss or two.
             (blow kiss)

To finish off storytime, we did a special stamping craft.  I've seen the basic idea for this craft in several places online, but this is the blog post that I pinned to my Pinterest board and referenced as I was getting my supplies together.

For a few weeks before storytime I spent some time gathering toilet paper tubes.  Library staff brought some from home, and we also asked the library's cleaning staff to save any that they came across while cleaning our bathrooms, and we had a very good stock collected in only two weeks time.  Just as is described in the blog post linked to above, I flattened the tubes and shaped them into hearts, using a piece of tape to hold the curved pieces in place.  After storytime we gathered around our craft table and I set out the tubes and pans with four different colors of paint.  The kids could dip the heart-shaped tubes into the paint and use them as a stamp to make heart shapes on their paper.  



 The finished heart collages were all lovely, and the kids had a great time experimenting with the different colors of paint.  There was almost no mess with this project either - the kids were warned to be careful with the paint and adults were on hand to supervise, but I really think that most of the kids were so focused on the task of careful stamping that it never even occurred to them to try and make a mess.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Don't Discount YA Literature

One of my greatest pet peeves of all time is when an adult has read a Young Adult novel and makes a comment something to this effect:

"This book had its problems, but it was a YA book so I didn't mind."

Or alternatively:

"It's a YA book, so I expected this book to not be awesome."

I think that this attitude is a real problem.  It makes me sad that so many adults out there have lower expectations of books that are written and marketed for a teen audience than they do for book that are marketed for adults.  I can't even imagine what the cause of this prejudice might be.

Is it because at one point in the not-to-distant past a series of books about sparkly vampires (or who who knows what other topic) turned them off from the genre?  But it hardly seems fair to judge an entire body of literature based on a few bad experiences.  Do we discount novels written for adults because we once read a book that we didn't care for?  I don't think so.

Is it because people have lower expectations of teenagers, and therefore have lower expectations of books that are written and published with them in mind?  Let me answer that question with another question:  Have you spoken to a 14-year-old recently?  I have - it's my job, after all - and most teens that I've spoken to are able to define what they do and do not like about certain books.  Teens know what they want, and they know how to pick out the good books from the bad ones.  Teens, like their books, will certainly surprise you with what they are capable of doing an enjoying.  Besides, teens are very rarely the ones creating YA books; they are written and published by adults.  YA is not the market where B-list authors and publishers are banished to when they can't hack it in the adult market.  In fact, many authors will admit that they didn't quite realize that they had written a YA book until their publisher defined it as such.  These creators are incredibly talented people who work hard at their craft and who should be held to the same standards as the authors of adult materials.

Is it because when today's adults were teens, the market for YA books was vastly different than it is today?  Perhaps, but consider the realities of the changing publishing world.  Could you not find a good book to read at your library when you were a teenager?  Maybe not because when you were a teen the market for YA books was much, much smaller than it is today - perhaps even non-existent depending on your age - so it was less likely for there to be a book on the shelf that suited your particular tastes.  The market for YA books has grown vastly over the course of the past 15 years or so, and this means that the demand for quality material has also increased.  The creation of the Michael L. Printz award in 2000 also encouraged publishers to increase the quality of the YA books published, and they have certainly responded in kind.  Don't assume that because you were not happy with the available books during your teen days that today's readers will have a similar problem.

When it comes down to it, there are lots and lots of amazing books written for teens out there being published today.  Adults should take notice!  Don't feel guilty about picking up a novel with a YA sticker on it, because even though it's marketed for a younger audience it's probably awesome.

Admittedly, not every YA book is brilliant.  There are sub-par books out there.  But there are also lots of sub-par books out there written and marketed for an adult audience.  We really need to hold books written for both markets to the same standards and not make snap judgments about books written for teens because of whatever prejudices we may have.  Literature is literature no matter who the publisher's target audience might be.  Go out there and enjoy it.



I have more to say on this subject, but I think that I'll save these thoughts for another post.  Look for more soon!  In the meantime, check out this article, or this article, both of which also do a fantastic job of talking about the awesome YA lit that is out there and why adults should not automatically discount it.

See also:  DDYL, Part II: The Dos and Don'ts of Criticism
See also:  DDYL, Part III:  Books to Try

Friday, February 7, 2014

Divergent Trailer

Today I stumbled upon another trailer for the upcoming Divergent movie.  I was not thrilled with the first trailer, but this one is a lot more compelling:



What do you think?

Divergent will be released in theaters on March 21, 2014.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

New Design

Hello everyone,

If you're reading this, than I'm sure that you've noticed that I have changed the design of this blog a bit.  The layout is more or less the same for now, but the design and color scheme is quite different.  I'm hoping that this design is a little easier on the eyes.

I'm hoping to make a few other minor tweaks soon to this blog in terms of the layout and design.  We'll see if that plan actually comes to fruition, because this librarian has a lot of other projects on her plate at the moment.

Thanks again for reading!