Saturday, July 26, 2014

KidLitCon 2014

KidLitCon 2014!

It's time for KidLitCon! Believe it or not, it's the 8th. Yes, the 8th!



It will be held in Sacramento on October 10th and October 11th. I'm afraid that this year, I will be missing it, but I wanted to remind you all that it was happening and what you need to know.

More information is at the Kidlitosphere website, at the KidLitCon webpage.

KidLitCon is an independent event, volunteer run and organized. It floats around the country, which changes who, each year, are the volunteers putting it together. That means each KidLitCon is a unique experience. It also makes it that much more excellent that it's been going on for eight years.

What is KidLitCon? From the website: "KidLitCon is a gathering of people who blog about children’s and young adult books, including librarians, authors, teachers, parents, booksellers, publishers, and readers. Attendees share a love of children’s books, as well as a determination to get the right books into young readers’ hands. People attend KidLitCon to talk about issues like the publisher/blogger relationship, the benefits and pitfalls of writing critical reviews, and overcoming blogger burnout. People also attend KidLitCon for the chance to spend time face to face with kindred spirits, other adults who care passionately for children’s and YA literature."

What I love about KidLitCon is it's about the bloggers. Full stop. That is the primary purpose and mission of KidLitCon. It's about what the bloggers care about. Oh, there may be authors and publishers there, presenting, and that can be great and amazing. But it's not about them. They are there to support the blogging community: they are not there saying, what can the blogging community do for us.

This year’s theme for KidLitCon is: Blogging Diversity in Young Adult and Children’s Lit: What’s Next?

Here is the link to Registration. It includes the tentative schedule, registration costs, what is and isn't included in costs, information about lodging. When you look at the price, remember: this is about volunteers. It all goes into making the con happen. The deadline for registration is September 19.

The link to the form to submit a proposal to present is also at the Registration page. That deadline is August 1. At this point, there are no discounts offered to people presenting.

One of the reasons that the KidLitCon floats around the country is that gives more people the opportunity to attend, present, and network.

Two of the reasons I love attending KidLitCon are presenting and networking.

KidLitCon offers a great opportunity for people to present. Have an idea? Submit it. You're the expert. You know your stuff. You just haven't had the time or money to travel to BEA or ALA or NCTE -- but because of KidLitCon now being closer to you, here's your chance. And honestly, KidLitCon needs you to make it wonderful.

KidLitCon is also the time to put faces to the people you've always known. My best memories of KidLitCon is getting to meet people in real life, and have conversations, and hang out talking and talking and talking. It deepens friendships and relationships. As great as the Internet is, allowing us to have a common space online to talk and connect, it's so terrific to be able to meet in person.

And sigh as I'm typing this I so wish I could go!!

Other posts about KidLitCon:

Tanita Davis talks about KidLitCon, and this year's them of Diversity, at what it means when we talk about Diversity

At Nerdy Book Club, Jen Robinson talks about why she loves attending KidLitCon










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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: If I Stay

If I Stay by Gayle Forman. Dutton, a member of Penguin 2009; SPEAK, imprint of Penguin 2010. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Mia is in a coma.

There was a car accident.

She can see what is happening around her, but she cannot interact. She is not dead but she is not alive.

Her family is dead.

It's all her choice, whether to stay with the living. But what will her life be like, if her family is gone?

The Good: Confession: I did not read this when it first came out, in 2009. I skipped to the end of the book to find out her choice, then read other things.

Then I saw the trailer. And Chloe Grace Moretz's performance as Mia. And just from the trailer, I cried more than I cried in The Fault in Our Stars. Even though I have a pretty firm rule to not read books before movies, I broke the rule. In part because the trailer already seduced me into wanting to see the film version, and in part because even though that "read the end" moment had told me the ending, I wanted to know more about Mia and how how she got to that moment.

Looking for a book to make you cry buckets? Then this is the book for you. Yes, from the start you know there's been a car accident and her family is dead. You'd think that would mean, no tears because you already know the worst. So, why cry? Because If I Stay proceeds to flashback to Mia's family and OHMYGOD I love her parents. I want them to be MY parents. Mia is a teen who had a great, supportive family. Page after page just shows you the depth of what she has lost.

Page after page of If I Stay is also showing the depth of what Mia has to keep going: her best friend, her boyfriend, her music, her other family members. Her boyfriend! Adam, like Mia, is a musician, but entirely different music so that music isn't necessarily something they share. What they do share is respect and love and fun, and wow, Adam. I just loved him.

Seriously, Mia before the accident had a great life.

Reinvention and starting over is often the subject of novels, and there is something curiously appealing about suddenly having a clean slate. Typically, though, this is a fairly positive process in that it's a character's choice and what they are leaving is a place and people that they can return to. Vacations, holidays, changes in mind, all that means that what is left isn't really gone.

Mia is faced with a choice: does go back to a world where her life and the people in it will always be "behind" her? She was worried about the impact and changes leaving for college was going to be, and suddenly she has to face a life where those she thought she was leaving have left her.

Mia's going to be facing a life where no one shares her childhood memories. Or family jokes. Without the love and support of her parents.

Is that a life she wants? Is what she has left enough reason to stay?

I LOVED this book. Love, love, love. Who cares if its a 2009 title? It's a Favorite Book Read in 2014. Also -- I can't wait for the movie.



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

TV Review: MTV's Finding Carter

New teen show alert! MTV's Finding Carter! MTV, Tuesday, 10 p.m.

Carter is out one day, having fun with her friends, as one will. Which includes breaking into a carousel, as one will. The police come and bring everyone to jail. Carter is the cool one, shrugging it off as no big deal. Except, when her friends are released into their parents' custody, her mother is no where to be seen.

Instead, Carter is taken aside by the police and it's patiently explained to her how her photo and fingerprints were entered into the system. Carter isn't fazed, since she has no priors.

What the police tell her does faze her: her parents, her mother and father, are on their way.

Her real parents.

Over a decade earlier, three year old Linden Wilson was kidnapped.

Carter is Linden.

Carter's going home, to people she doesn't remember.


Finding Carter is about teenage Carter, adjusting to this new knowledge and new family. The added complication? In Carter's view, she had a pretty great life, including a wonderful mother. The opening scene between mother and daughter was very Gilmore Girls, in how the two interacted. So now? Now, she views the Wilsons as people who have removed her from the life she loved.

So far, it's just been a handful of episodes. Carter, and Finding Carter, is very much a young adult novel, with Carter and her wants and needs at the focus. I love Carter: she's fun and confident and self-assured. I also am frustrated with her: she has absolutely no sympathy for the loss that the Wilsons suffered and sees this entire thing only through her own point of view. I both admire that the show is willing to be so dedicated to Carter's truth, while wanting to throw things because would it really hurt Carter that much to realize that this family lost a child?

And, well, the answer to that question is yes. I can see that yes, it would hurt Carter -- it would destroy Carter -- to acknowledge that the woman she adores and calls "mom" could have done something so terrible to someone else. So, instead, Carter is focused on one narrative, her narrative, where she has been kidnapped -- but from the mother she knows and loves.

Part of Carter's intense rejection of her mother's crime is to focus her anger on her birth mother. Again, while this pisses me off tremendously I love how real and true it is. The other members of her blood family are people who didn't have counterparts in her life, so she can let them in and let herself like them: father, sister, brother, grandparents. Mother, thought? That role is taken, so Carter pushes back. Sometimes brutally. I am really, really looking forward to Carter both coming to terms with her "mom's" actions and letting her blood mother in -- even if it takes a season or two.

Carter, Carter, Carter. Because Carter insists her name is Carter, and they all must call her that, not Linden.

The Wilsons have been scarred by the loss of their daughter. Linden's twin sister, Taylor, is a "good" girl but it's also clear that it's a reaction to not just her over protective parents but also her fears. She knows the worst that can happen. It did, to her family. Then there is Grant, a sibling born after Taylor's disappearance. The father wrote a book about Linden's disappearance -- and, unknown to anyone, is writing a sequel about finding Linden. Right now, Carter sees her father as the "good" parent -- a role he embraces -- and I can't wait to see her find out about this betrayal.

Which brings us to poor Mom. Who may be one of my favorite characters, probably because Carter dislikes her so much. Her main crimes: she's not Carter's "real" mother. She's a police officer. And she's not "real" in the way Carter insists a person should be "real": she doesn't show her emotions in the way Carter thinks "real" people do.

Yes, I do want to rant at Carter for judging this poor woman who lost a child. I want to rant at how Carter has such a narrow view on what a good, real person is, and realizing there are many ways of loving. That being a mother is not about baking cookies and someone has to pay the bills. And I want to rant at Carter, about how can she judge a woman so critically when that woman was shaped by the loss of her three year old? A kidnapping that Carter so easily forgives?

One last thing about Carter: she is the "cool" girl. She has the eyeliner and black clothes, the friend with benefits, the casual drug use and drinking and that breaking into the carousel thing. But the thing is? It's also clear that she's a good person. She's not a "bad" girl, just the cool girl. And I really, really wonder about her relationship with her "mom." Some of Carter's actions with the Wilsons are clearly oppositional, done to piss them off and establish her own identity. So, then, what about her "mom"? Is it that she had a "cool" mom who also did this stuff? Will we at some point see something other than Carter's loving memories?

And yet. And yet. Carter is still a teen. A teen who has lost her mother, her home, her life, even her identity. She has some pretty good reasons to be bratty and self-centered and self-destructive.

So, yes, I'm loving this show and am frustrated and can't wait to see where they are going to be go with this.

Anyone else watching?


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Flashback June 2012

A look back at what I reviewed in June 2012



The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos. From my review: "Houston, 1968. Two stories are intertwined; the story of a white family and a black family. Jack Long is the race reporter for the evening news. Larry Thompson is a local activist and college professor. They reach out and develop a friendship, based in part because both realize that “men of conscience have got to get together . . . , or nothing is going to change."

Gilt by Katherine Longshore. From my review: "England, 1539. Kitty Tylney and Cat Howard are two teenage girls, living at the home of Cat’s grandmother, the Duchess of Norfolk. The Duchess may be rich and powerful, but she is also old and absorbed in her own affairs. Kitty, Cat, and the other girls who live crowded together in the maiden’s chamber are there because they have no where else to go. No one is really interested in them. . . . . Young, pretty, bored. Dreaming of life at court, with dances and pretty clothes and handsome men. In the meanwhile, making their own fun, in ways not quite proper. Late night festivities that include dancing and drinking and boys. Kitty, abandoned by her family, values Cat and her friendship more than anything, because it’s the only thing Kitty has. She’ll do anything for Cat, follow her anywhere, help her with anything. All of Cat’s dreams come true when she captures the eye of the King, and she brings her friends along for the good fortune. Dreams sometimes turn to nightmares; how far will Kitty go to help her friend?"

My Sister's Stalker by Nancy Springer.From my review: "When sixteen-year-old Rig’s parent’s divorced, he went to live with his mother while his sister, Karma, stayed with their father. The two haven’t really kept in touch in the four years since, especially since she left for college. One day, Rig, missing her, searches the Internet for her rather distinct name. What he finds chills him: a website by someone obsessed with his sister. Photographs that could only be taken by someone watching his sister. Will Rig be able to convince his parents that his sister is in danger? Will he be able to save his sister?"

New Girl by Paige Harbison. From my review: "A re-imagining of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. When a space opens up in the prestigious Manderley Academy, the “new girl” from Florida finds herself in a complex situation. The reason for the opening? The disappearance of Rebecca Normandy the previous spring. Becca had herself been the “new girl” the year before; despite being at school just one year, Becca made an impact and impression on all she met: her grieving roommate, Dana, who resents being given a new roommate; Max Holloway, Becca’s boyfriend; Johnny, Max’s former best friend."

Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I (His Fair Assassin Trilogy) by Robin LaFevers. From my review: "You know, “nun assassins” is enough, isn’t it? (Or is it assassin nuns?)"

Summer and the City: A Carrie Diaries Novel by Candace Bushnell. From my review: "Seventeen year old Carrie Bradshaw is in New York City for a summer writing program. She’s just been mugged and has called the only number she has, a cousin of a semi-friend. Carrie goes with Samantha Jones to a party, and thus begins Carrie’s introduction to New York City in the 1980s."


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review: And We Stay

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard. Delacorte Press, Random House. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: January, 1995, and Emily Beam has just started at the Amherst School for Girls to finish her junior year. Before this she went to her local high school, and she isn't going to talk about why she is now in this boarding school in Massachusetts.

It was because of a boy. Not just any boy, her boyfriend. And the gun he took to school. And what happened. And why.

The Good: "Before Boston, before ASG, Emily had wanted nothing more than to be loved by a boy. When she was fourteen, sixteen, she had watched girls on the cheerleading squad sprout wings with each boyfriend. They became more beautiful, the beauty of confidence. For four months, Emily had it, too."

Emily had it with Paul, a senior. Paul, who took his grandmother's gun to school one day and killed himself.

And now Emily is at boarding school.

Why the setting of 1995? Because what happened with Paul, with Emily, at the school is Emily's secret. Or, not so much secret, as thing she cannot talk about. In today's world of social media and easy Internet access, the "why" of Paul would remain hers but the facts of it would be known.

And why Amherst? Because Emily becomes fascinated with another Emily who lived in Amherst, Emily Dickinson. Emily writes poetry, and it's in these poems that she gradually comes to terms with the boy she loved and what happened.

OK, Spoilers. Sorry, but this is one of the times when I want to talk about those secrets and yes.... for an original read of the book, it is best to discover it on your own.

Paul and Emily's relationship is what the Emily at 14, at 16, had wanted. And at first, Paul is what she wants and she loves him. But as time goes by -- and yes, it's only a handful of months but it's still time -- Emily realizes she wants more. When she gets pregnant, she tells him she's getting an abortion. The scene, later in the book, is heart breaking. At first she tells him it's because her parents say she has to, even though they haven't, until she owns that she doesn't want a baby. And she breaks up with him.

Maybe today Paul's reactions, wanting to marry Emily, being against her having an abortion, would be different than in 1995. Or, given some recent news stories, maybe not.

But And We Stay is about Emily living with, and surviving, what happened: Paul, being in love, not being in love, and how quickly it all happened: the break up, his suicide, her abortion. She is sent to boarding school in part so she doesn't have to go back to the whispers and bad memories of her old high school, but also about giving her a blank slate against which to come to terms with what happened. It is only her memories, her emotions, she has to think about.

It's told in the here and now of Emily at ASG, and so it's not just about Emily coming to terms with her past. It's also about her connecting, despite herself, with those around her. It's about finding her voice through her poetry.

My favorite line in the book is practically the last one: "It does not have to define who Emily is, was, or will be." And this is the heart of the book -- deciding what does, or does not, define us.

Other things that I like: Emily's parents. They do their best for her; she is not "sent away" to boarding school but sent to, for herself, not as punishment. That while the story is told in present tense, it still creates a distance between the reader and Emily, reflecting the distance Emily keeps between herself and the world. The friends she meets at ASG. And that there is no new boy or new romance.



Other reviews: Wondrous Reads; Kirkus; Finding Bliss in Books; Stacked.




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Echo Company

Great news!

The Echo Company books by Ellen Emerson White are available to buy!

White wrote these books back in the early 1990s, under the name Zach Emerson.



The Echo Company books are set during the Vietnam War, told from the point of view of a young soldier, Michael Jennings. A follow up book, The Road Home, is about a young nurse Michael meets and is about both Rebecca's time in Vietnam and her homecoming. I wrote a pretty in-depth look at these four books, as well as a couple others that refer to the characters in these books, in my 2007 post, Ellen Emerson White: Vietnam.

At the moment they are only available as ebooks from Amazon.

The titles, in order:

Welcome to Vietnam (Echo Company Book 1)

Hill 568 (Echo Company Book 2)

'Tis the Season (Echo Company Book 3)

Stand Down (Echo Company Book 4)

The Road Home (Echo Company)

As I said back in 2007, "It's real. It's death and dying and blood. And Ellen Emerson White doesn't shy away from any of it. And what she has done is take you into the experience; just as Michael (and the reader) has the lull of "ok, this isn't so bad after all, I can make it" BAM. No. It's not OK. It is that bad. This is one of the few war novels I have read that respects the soldiers and their experiences; that doesn't play politics about the issue of war. And is brutally honest about the soldier's experiences."

And about The Road Home, "By exploring the Vietnam War thru the POV of a female, and of a nurse, there is the horrors of war combined with the healing of medicine; the mixed emotions of saving the lives of soldiers, only to have the soldiers go out, risk their lives again, or to kill. And the details, of triage, of deciding who lives and dies, who gets morphine and who doesn't, who dies alone or dies with lies of "it's going to be OK. Rebecca goes from naive and hopeful to scared, afraid, bitter."

Trust me: you will love this series. And since it is historical fiction, you won't have to worry about anything seeming "dated."

If you haven't read any Ellen Emerson White before? Go, read.

And if you have read Ellen Emerson White, what's your favorite book?

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Friday, July 04, 2014

TV Review: AMC's Turn

This past week's viewing obsession has been AMC's historical drama, Turn, about the spies of the American Revolution.


I am so happy to find out that this has been picked up for a second season, because while a lot happens in the first season, the upcoming seasons are the ones that will be about John Andre and Benedict Arnold. (Let's be clear: historical fact doesn't count as spoilers, OK?)

What the first season does spectacularly is examine the formation of the spy ring. Oh, yes, it's fictionalized and adjustments have been made for making this a visual story. (For more on the real history versus the television history, check out J.L. Bell's posts at Den of Geek.)

Abraham Woodhull is a young farmer living on Long Island during the British Occupation. He appears to be, like his father and brother before him, a Loyalist. Instead, for various reasons, he becomes a spy for the Continental Army. Season One is primarily about Abe's motivations and in a way, Season One is a slow burn of character growth: why will Abe end up risking everything to spy for a cause? If his sympathies are not with the British, why didn't he join up at the beginning, like his two friends, Benjamin Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster?

Without giving too much away, there are reasons! And feelings! So. Many. Feelings. Abe's older brother, Thomas, died, and Abe did the "right" thing by breaking off his engagement with Anna and married his brother's fiance Mary. While he appears to be happily living with his wife and baby son, the truth is he still wants Anna, even though Anna is now married herself.

Abe's own choices are second to what he thinks he should be doing as a loyal son to his father. And yet, what he wants bubbles to the surface: he refuses to live off his father's money, in his father's house, instead doing a (rather poor) job farming. He cannot help his continued love for Anna. And there is more to it, but that's not until about episode 8 or so. (See the metaphor there? Abe's conflicted feelings towards his father, love and resentment, wanting to make his own choices instead of following his father's wishes, mirrors what is happening in his country: loyalty to England, or independence?)

And so it's about Abe, going from unwilling to willing spy. But it's also about the others in his circle, Ben and Caleb and Anna, who while all are stronger (and more vocal) in their political stance, there is still the mechanics of just how a spy ring is put together.It's watching not just a puzzle be put together, but a puzzle be made. And just because I'm talking about the character growth over episodes, and how the building of a spy ring isn't something done in five minutes, there is plenty of action. This is 1776, after all, and there are battles and skirmishes and betrayals.

Slavery factors in: Abe's own slaves are shown so matter of factly that at first I didn't realize that was what was happening. Two of Anna's former slaves factor into the story, also: Abigail and Jordan. Abigail has a son who has been taught to read, and one of the reasons I want another season is to find out more about her and her son. Jordan was born in Africa, and was trained as a Maasai warrior -- and his chance at freedom is offered him not from the Continental Army, but from the British.

The British Officers are interesting, yes -- but here the person who really intrigues and captures me is Major John Andre. He's handsome and cultured and smart. I admire smart in a character. Major Hewlett is a bit of the stereotypical by the rule soldier; and Captain Simcoe is scary-crazy-ruthless; but Andre  . . . Andre is one major reason I want to see more seasons. Because I cannot believe that Andre would ever do something as stupid as get captured; yet history tells us that happens.

What else?


Jamie Bell grew up mighty fine. Even though it's like impossible to find a photo of him from Turn of him smiling, because he always has so many feelings. So, many, feelings. Also, hats.












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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Libraries: More Than The Common Core

Listen, I get it.

I understand the attention that school and public libraries are giving the Common Core. As professionals who deal with information and research, we know that schools, teachers, and parents will have questions and that we need to support that. As with other things, we need to support it regardless of our own feelings about the Common Core, how it was created, the process behind it, how it's being implemented, etc.

"Support" means knowing what it is and knowing, and determining ahead of time, what types of resources will be needed in a library or school.

One thing that's interesting: when you start looking into who questions the Common Core -- well, there are many people who aren't thrilled with it, for many reasons. I think public and school libraries should have a general understanding of this, if for no other reason than to recognize that those challenging it, and it's implementation, are diverse in their reasons.

So, yes, that's my paragraphs in understanding and defending the role that libraries have in the Common Core.

As that support gets rolled out, I just want to throw out a simple reminder.

Libraries are more than the Common Core. We are more than supporting the stated educational goals of a school.

We are also about enjoyment. Reading for pleasure. (This is true even for school libraries, who may not be part of an institution that explicitly states this, but who understand that an element of literacy, even when unsaid, is that reading is and can be something that is fun. And it's OK to encourage and celebrate fun reading.)



As libraries, especially public libraries, take a look at programs and resources and books within the context of the Common Core --

Remember. We are more than the Common Core. We are also about escaping into literature. We are about the joys of getting lost in a book. We are about celebrating the act of reading for the sole reason that some of us like to read. Or, rather, love to read.

And that simple pleasure, well, sometimes, it does get attacked. Is the person reading the right books? What are they learning from those books? Is it making them a better person? Is it uplifting? Does it have a moral? Is deep reading going on? Is the reading being done the "right" way? Will this make someone a better employee? Is reading too passive? Isn't it better to be making something than reading? Isn't it better to be talking to people? Don't people have better things to do than read? Than read that book?

I think one of the wonders of libraries is that it is still a place for the person who loves reading. Libraries are more -- we are the sum of our parts, more than any one part of our mission. And part of that more is, and should continue to be, celebrating reading and being there for readers.


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, June 23, 2014

Flashback May 2012

How did it get to be June already?!?

Well, that's what happens when you take a mini holiday from posting.



So, here is what I was reading in May 2012:

The FitzOsbornes in Exile (The Montmaray Journals) by Michelle Cooper. From my review: "The FitzOsbornes have lost their home; they are now royalty in exile. Aunt Charlotte’s good fortune to marry well means, well, they can depend on her large fortune to take care of them. Clothes, good food, servants — all are theirs. But what is the cost? . . . Cooper doesn’t rush the story; just like in real life, things take time and it takes awhile to find one’s footing. Sophie and the others have a new home and country to adjust to, as well as trying to figure out what they can do regain their home from the Germans. They may have titles, but it’s from a powerless nation. They don’t have money and are financially dependent on Aunt Charlotte. With the exception of Simon, who is a commoner with no connections or cash, they are teenagers. I adore Sophie, as well as Veronica. These two are fantastic! The only reason I’m glad that the laws prohibit Veronica from inheriting is I’m not sure she’d do well with the politics needed to be a ruler; she sure has the knowledge and history and integrity. I’d follow both of them anywhere, in exile or not."

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book III: The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood. From my review: "The three Incorrigible children (Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia) and their governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, have returned from their London adventure and are happily ensconced in Ashton Place. Nothing ever remains safe and comfortable for these four, and unexpected guests of both the animal and human kind lead to new adventures and new questions about their mysterious origins."

Black Heart (The Curse Workers) by Holly Black. From my review: "Cassel Sharpe, 17, couldn’t stay out of trouble if he wanted to. (Now that’s a question; given his talents, his family, and his background, does he want to?) The Feds are forgiving his past crimes if he works for them, using his unique talent as a transformation worker, someone who can transform whatever he touches. His mother is in big trouble with the local crime boss, and all will be forgiven if Cassel does him one little favor. Cassel knows there is no such thing as one favor. It’s complicated by the fact that neither the mob nor the feds can know he’s working for the other. Oh, and another thing — the crime boss just happens to be the father of the girl Cassel loves. Just to make things all that more simple — not — Cassel has to worry about his senior year in high school. Classes, avoiding demerits, friends, and a possible blackmail scheme. It’s all in a day’s work for someone with a black heart like Cassel."

Ashes by Ilsa Bick. From my review: "One minute, Alex is hiking, trying to figure out her future and deal with her past. Sounds typical for a seventeen year old, but her future is complicated by an inoperable brain tumor and her past by the death of her parents four years before. An electromagnetic pulse changes that.
Suddenly, the world changes. No electronics are working. Alex find herself responsible for Ellie, an angry eight year old who just saw her grandfather die from the pulse. At first, they think the dangers they face are low supplies, a rough trek to the ranger’s station, and wild dogs. Then they run into two teenagers. Unlike Alex and Ellie, these kids are changed. They eat flesh. Human flesh."

Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand. From my review: "1977. Merle, 18, is in Washington DC to attend the Corcoran School of Art. Art is her ticket out of nowheresville Virginia — but not the way some would think. Not in a make money or become famous way. Art is her way out because art is her life, it’s what she lives for, it’s what drives her. 1870. Arthur Rimbaud, 15, is running away from provincial Charleville, France to Paris. Poetry is what drives him and pushes him. Separated by contents and a century, two artists struggle to find a way to express themselves, to leave a mark, to become."

The World in Your Lunch Box: The Wacky History and Weird Science of Everyday Foods by Claire Earner. From my review: "Aimed at a middle grade audience, The World in Your Lunch Box is to the point, providing quick facts and history. It’s a clever way to organize the information; instead of alphabetically, or by types of food, by typical lunches. I imagine the author had fun as she decided on what lunches to use! It’s quite interesting just how many foods are found in a week’s worth of food, and how much history can be learned, and how many cultures are represented."

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. From my review: "France. 1943. Verity, a British spy, has been captured by the Nazis. “I AM A COWARD,” she explains. She has given the Nazis the wireless codes they wanted; she is now writing out her confession, explaining how and why she ended up in Ormaie in Nazi-occupied France, why she has the identify papers of Maddie Brodart, and why she is telling the truth and telling the Nazis every little thing. How much time has Verity bought for herself? A handful of days to write her confession; and after that, what? . . . . As the pages go by, the reader falls into the past. The horror and disgust at what Verity has done — given the Nazis the secret wireless codes in exchange for the return of her clothes — slowly fades away. Partly it  is because Verity is equally disgusted with herself, and had, as a child, thought she’d be as brave as her various ancestors such as William Wallace, and she cannot believe she hasn’t lived up to her ideals. Partly it is because, while Verity never gives direct descriptions or details because, of course, Von Linden knows what was done to her so why tell him, she gives enough sideway hints and references to burns and bruises and pins for the reader to realize that more was involved in the questioning of Verity than taking away her clothes. But, for me, what most led to my forgiving Verity is that, as she recounts her past, I can’t help but like her. . . . Oh, kiss me, Hardy."

Marvel's The Avengers. From my review: "When Loki steals the Tesseract and threatens to take over Earth, Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. has only one option. Assemble a group of super heroes to defeat Loki and recover the Tesseract. The problem is, most of those he wants to recruit for “the Avengers” don’t play well with others. “The Avengers” have to become  a real team, which may be almost as difficult as beating Loki."

The Summer My Life Began by Shannon Greenland. From my review: "Elizabeth Margaret’s life has been planned to the smallest detail. Do well in school, go to an Ivy League college, got to law school, marry well, get a good job. She’s done all that has been expected of her. Valedictorian. Summer internship at a law firm. Harvard in the fall. So what if her only close friend is her younger sister, Gwyneth? Or that she hides cookbooks like they’re drug paraphernalia and has to sneak into the kitchen to cook? Her life is planned and Elizabeth Margaret complies, doing what pleases her parents and grandmother. Until now. A mysterious letter arrives from Aunt Tilly, a relative she didn’t even know existed, inviting her to spend the summer at her bed & breakfast in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. For the first time, Elizabeth Margaret does what is neither planned nor expected: she tells her family “no” and herself “yes.” She goes into the unknown, to meet this stranger, and — as the title says — her life begins."

Out of Sight, Out of Time (Gallagher Girls) by Ally Carter. From my review: "Cammie Morgan awakes to find herself in a strange bed, in a strange country. Worst of all? A several month block of time is missing from her memory. The last thing she knew, it was the end of the school year and she was leaving, on her own, without telling anyone, to discover more about the secret Circle of Cavan that had targeted her. The wounds on her body tells her things may have happened that she doesn’t want to remember. Cammie’s going to need all her strength, all her spy skills, all her smarts, and all her friends to figure out what happened to her. Only problem is — when you run away from home, even though people are happy you’re alive, they’re still mad that you left."

The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani. From my review: "When eleven-year-old Sonia’s father loses his job, she has to leave private school for public school. At her old school, everyone knew her; now, they wonder if she’s Indian like her father or Jewish like her mother. She’s trying to make new friends and keep in touch with old ones. To make matters worse, her father’s unemployment is taking more than a financial toll on her family. It’s also emotional. One day, he just doesn’t come home."

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter. From my review: "Orphaned Roo goes to live with her newly discovered rich uncle. Neglected and wild, she loves nature and the out of doors. She prefers being alone. Her uncle lives on an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, in a former children’s TB clinic. Roo is now cared for, but isolated, seeing only a handful of her uncle’s employees. Roo hears a mysterious humming, and it leads her to a secret garden."

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, June 16, 2014

ALA 2014

My schedule for ALA 2014.

This is a partial schedule, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know! I am being a bit flexible about some things, especially when there are multiple things going on at the same time that look interesting. Right now, what I do on 8:30 on Saturday may depend on a flip of the coin!

Also, this is my very first time in Las Vegas, so any suggestions for where to eat or things to do, please share.

Friday:

21st Century Teens: Literacy in a Digital World, a YALSA workshop.

Opening of Exhibits

Saturday:

Margaret A. Edwards Brunch

BFYA Teen Feedback Session

Sunday:

YA Author Coffee Klatch

The Future of Library Services For and With Teens

ASCLA All Committee

Monday:

Conversation Starter

Deciding What's Next for YALSA

ALSC President's Program

Odyssey Awards

Tuesday:

Inaugural Brunch


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Friday, June 13, 2014

In Defense of CSLP

CSLP is the Collaborative Summer Library Program.



From their website: "The Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP) is a consortium of states working together to provide high-quality summer reading program materials for children, teens, and adults at the lowest cost possible for their public libraries. . . . Participants have access to the same artwork, incentives and publicity, in addition to an extensive manual of programming and promotional ideas. . . . CSLP continues to evolve, but its guiding principle remains the same, librarians sharing ideas, expertise and costs to produce a high-quality summer reading program for children."

From spring to summer, I see or hear some negative comments about the program. (Note: while my state is part of the consortium, I, individually, have not been a state representative or on the board, or on any type of official affiliation.)

The complaints run the gamut, as complaints are wont to do. Their kids/teens don't like the art, the incentives, the programs, etc. etc.

So, in defense of CSLP:

Congratulations! You and your system are so well funded and well staffed and talented in all the ways that nothing in the manual or resources are ever of use to you. Your department is full of like minded individuals who you can share ideas and brainstorm. Go, you. I'm happy for you. You're in a fortunate place, professional wise.

The there are the rest of us. In my prior place of employment, I was in a well funded library with many branches and was lucky enough to work in different sized branches in different socioeconomic areas. Even though I was there only about five or so years, and it was still all within one county in one state, I learned something very valuable: communities are individual. Teens are different. They are not cookie cutter.

And neither are the librarians who serve them. Or the libraries. Budgets vary, so what can be bought or planned vary. Staffing levels vary, and so do staffing talents. Just because a person is brilliant at storytimes for the under fives doesn't mean that person is also brilliant at all programming, or graphic design. And if that person is brilliant at all that, they may not have the time to be hunting up incentives and promotional materials.

For those librarians like me? CSLP is a life saver. A time saver.

CSLP is like a one-size fits all item of clothing. No, it's not going to be perfect for everyone. Some will have to let it out; some will have to take it in; some will bedazzle the heck out of it.

It's like any other library programming and materials someone else does: look at it, and instead of reinventing the wheel take that wheel and do what works for you and your community.

As someone who was around pre-CSLP for my state, I personally can attest to the time saving CSLP offers. It doesn't stop me from doing my own thing, but oh, the time it saves so I can focus on what matters to my patrons, my library, and me. And as someone who is now the sole librarian, it's like having a virtual brainstorming session whenever I need it.

CSLP isn't an "it" as much as a "they." And they are your state representatives who do the hard work of putting this together; and at least in my state, repeatedly ask for input and feedback. They work under various constraints and have to compromise. One person is contributing from a state where "teen librarians" primarily focus on middle school, another from high school, and another from teens don't participate in summer reading.

As someone whose summer reading program doesn't start until July, and whose summer program is entirely by mail for print-disabled children and teens, trust me, I get it: there are many things in the manual that make me go "nope, won't work for me." But I can tinker and change things. And it's much easier starting with that manual than starting with tons of books and internet searches to create summer reading materials.

So, from me: a thank you to the CSLP and to my state for participating. It saves me time, which means it saves money, and it makes my job easier and allows me to concentrate on other things.

Your thoughts -- do you like CSLP or hate it? What do you miss from pre-CSLP days? Does CSLP inspire or is just a manual you never look at?

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Because It's A Day Ending in Y

I wasn't going to weigh in on the latest article about adults reading YA, and saying how terrible it was that grown ups weren't reading the "right" books. Because I've seen this before, and the various ways it's worded. And I don't want to add clicks to something written to get clicks. And many others were already responding and saying what needed to be said.

But, well, so much for that vow.



The article in question: Against YA: Read Whatever You Want. But Adults Should Feel Embarrassed When What You're Reading Was Written For Children at Slate. Responses include A Young Adult Author's Fantastic Crusade to Defend Literature's Most Maligned Genre at Nerve.

And Roger Sutton at Read Roger at The Horn Book also weighed in, at Why Do We Even Call It YA Anymore.

Adults reading YA and what that means about adults and the genre is something that has been discussed for years. Years. Just to pick on Roger, he addressed this in 2006 and 2008. (I'm sure there have been other times.) (And I'm linking to my own posts responding to Roger's arguments.) (And it's not just adults reading YA -- it's that adults are the gatekeepers for YA, as writers, agents, publishers, librarians, booksellers, etc.)

Here's what I believe:

Read whatever you want, when you want, how you want. The books one reads does not define who one is; I prefer to judge whether someone is an adult by how they live their lives and treats others than the books they read, music they listen to, clothes they were, TV they watch -- well, you get the picture. So what if someone reads "only" YA? Do we really think that means they aren't living grown up lives, meeting their financial and work and familial responsibilities? That they aren't engaged in their world as an adult? And what is the timeline to judge "only"? One month? Two? Six?

I have to confess: It annoys the hell out of me when I read people saying they won't grow up or become adults. I call bullshit. Being a teenager has its good and it's bad, but to glorify adolescence as a period better than adulthood? Nope. Being an adult may be scary and tough at times, but it's a pretty darn good place to be. But here's the thing: the people I see or hear who truly act or represent this way? Aren't the people reading YA. So, yeah, I don't see the link.

I think there is a very legitimate question to ask about who is buying and reading YA, and how that affects what is being published, and whether adults reading YA is changing the genre. Examples of questions I think are worth considering include whether what adults are buying for themselves means we are seeing less books for that tricky 12 to 14 age group, where some of the kids in class are couples and make up and all of that, and others are still giggling and whispering and thinking kissing scenes in movies are gross. Where some are having great school experiences, and others are living through mini hells.

What I have a problem with are some of the things Roger throws out in his latest blog post, particularly:

"YA literature  is still more thematically and linguistically narrow than people invested in it like to admit. But I would argue that both the narrative variety and thematic thinness of current YA stem from the desires of its adult fans, not from the limitations of being books “for kids.”"

At first glance, not problematic. I can even agree, to a point, because there are certain things that I like to read about that, well, typically aren't in YA. If one wants to say that means it's "narrow", fine -- narrow doesn't have to be negative. It can mean targeted. Now, saying that is "thin" - well, that didn't set off any bells, either, to be honest, because I was thinking, well, I do see some very similar readalikes so maybe that's what it is.

Roger clarified in the comments, though: "But I think everybody would be better off if we viewed YA as a subgenre of popular fiction for women rather than as a genre for teenaged people."

Yes. THAT I found troubling -- because within the context of the entire post, it now reads, to me, as not so much defining the adults reading YA as dismissing them. "Popular fiction for women" tends not to be something said in a positive way.

It was this that led me to tweet, "One could see a cultural narrative that women reading YA ruins it while men writing it saves it."

When asked about this in the comments, Roger confirmed: "I think a large proportion of today’s YA fills a reading niche that used to be filled by chicklit and is read by the same demographic."

Historically, "chicklit" is not something said in a positive way.

Yes, Roger is being provocative and says as much. And yes, Roger is writing based out of an in-depth understanding of children's and teen literature and how it is historically treated.

But, here is what it sounds like to a civilian: Ladies are reading YA and just want less-than-great books and they're ruining everything.








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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, June 09, 2014

Film Review: The Fault in Our Stars

So, like many of you, I went this weekend to see the film The Fault in Our Stars, based on the book of the same name by John Green.

The plot: teenagers Hazel and Gus meet, fall in love, and go on an adventure. The meet at a support group for teens who have cancer. That both complicates and deepens their relationship.

Warning: there will be spoilers.

I am one of the handful of people who have not read the book. I didn't get it for review, and when it became so popular, I decided it didn't need me -- not the way that other books may.

And, of course -- I don't like books about dying kids. No matter how it's dressed up or done, they're not for me. Oh, as a teen I went through a phase that included titles like A Summer to Die and Beat the Turtle Drum, but now? As an adult?

Books like The Fault in Our Stars are the type of book where I read the end first, so I know who lives and dies. And it's the type of film where I look for the spoilers so I know, beforehand, what happens.

My fourteen year old niece wanted to see The Fault in Our Stars, not because she's read the book, but because so many in her eighth grade have read it and planned on seeing it. So, off we went! For the record: I cried. She didn't.

It's a good movie, with a good cast. I can't speak as to how well it was adapted, having not read the source material. I can say that the film made perfect sense to me. I also feel like my seeing the film opening weekend was a political statement: much as I love watching superhero films, Hollywood needs to be shown, with bodies and money, that other films will bring in money and should be getting made.

Gus and Hazel's friendship and romance is touching and lovely. They share a passion for a book, and travel to Amsterdam to ask the reclusive author about the ending. It's the type of trip that makes one want to go Amsterdam, and stay where they stay, and to go with someone you love.

Yes, this is love story about two teens. I wouldn't call the movie itself a "romance" because under my definition of that term, at the end of the movie the couple is together. Had this movie ended five minutes before it did, my definition would have been met. But, it ends with Gus's cancer returning, and Gus dying.

Of course, I cried. I cried not so much for Gus or Hazel, but because I am reminded of other deaths and other funerals, and other losses. And I picture those real-life people. I cried for the loss of the parents who shouldn't have to bury a son. I cry because I'm being manipulated to cry, but I know and accept that, because that's what fiction does.

Hazel and Gus are smart and funny, and their love, I think, is more than a "typical" teen romance because of the knowledge that, at least for Hazel, who is terminal, this will in all likelihood be her only romance. Teens in love may frequently believe that to be true, but for Hazel and Gus it is true.

The characters that interested me the most, though, were not Hazel and Gus who, for all their smart wordplay are still teens (Gus, in particular, I thought, was a bit too smug and puppy dog) (The plane scene? I'm sorry. Just, no. Was that real or fake?). Instead, the people who intrigued me were adults: the reclusive author, Peter Van Houten, and Hazel's parents.

Van Houten, a cranky, mean drunk, was my favorite character, followed by Hazel's parents who have half-reconciled themselves to the death of their only child. (Half reconciled, because who is wholey reconciled?) Van Houten I loved because he didn't treat the two teens any differently than he'd treat any adult, and isn't that what teens say they want? And he didn't pity Hazel or Gus and didn't change just because two kids with cancer were in the room. I liked him all the more when I realized, at the end, that he was not so much the author who doesn't want to interact with readers -- which, let me tell you, is reason enough because I don't think an author owes their readers anything, not handshake, photo, autograph, or visit -- but that Van Houten represents Hazel's worst fears.

Van Houten is her nightmare about what will happen to her parents after her death: that they will be broken by it and unable to go forward. The death of a child may indeed do that to parents, and The Fault in Our Stars ups that manipulation factor (what will happen to them?) by making Hazel an only child. As much as Hazel says she worries about her parents and what will happen when she is gone, as much as she looks for answers in literature (Van Houten's book is about the death of a child with cancer and Hazel wants to know "what happens next" to the fictitious child's loved ones), when confronted with the reality -- Van Houten's book was about his dead daughter -- she runs. And when she finally confronts her parents about her worst fear, about what will happen to them once she's gone, they reassure her. Are they telling her the truth, or lies to ease her worry?

The truth is, there are more people who go on after the death of loved ones than those who are destroyed by it. And Hazel is aware of that, on some level -- she is the one who stands up in group to say, well, everyone dies eventually and we are all eventually forgotten. What she doesn't say or realize is that death is not new, even if with our first loss it seems something never felt or experienced by any one else. And something that shatters in such a way that there is no tomorrow. But there is, and Hazel learns that for herself, when Gus dies: experiencing a loss she never thought she would, experiencing what she imagines her loved ones will.

Of course, this is an adult watching this film. But that's OK: different people experience things like books and TV and film differently. What I like about the film, The Fault in Our Stars, is that it does work for both teens and adult viewing it. The teens in the back row of the theater probably hated the author and swooned over Gus.

So, what about you? Am I the lone person who likes Van Houten? Do I not give Gus enough credit?



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Sunday, June 01, 2014

VidCon Code of Conduct Updates

Some updates!



If you're unfamiliar with VidCon, or the delay in it's getting a Code of Conduct, check out my May 3 Vidcon: I'm Mad as Hell post, with updates. The only thing I'll emphasize at this point: John Green's August 7 post about Things That Should Go Without Saying But Apparently Don't So I'm Going To Say Them.

Since May 3, the following:

On May 17, the taskforce began posting to the YouCoalition about updates and what's going on with the taskforce.

On May 20, Dear Author had a terrific essay, Uses and Abuses of Girls, about "now, however, with the rise of YouTube and Vine, we have events like Vidcon and Magcon, which are centered on an ever-evolving collection of social media stars who have captured the imaginations and loyalty of young women, often underage teen girls, whose enthusiasm has created its own market, which many adult men are now exploiting. And there are some deeply problematic and disturbing elements to this cultivation of the teenage girl fan, from the lack of an actual product (aka substantive content) to accusations of sexual coercion."

On either May 20 or May 21, I asked the YouCoalition, via the Tumblr page, about the status of the Code of Conduct / Harassment policy. (I didn't record the date and am going by when I tweeted about this.)

On May 22, Hank Green posted about the status of the Code of Conduct at his Tumblr. YouCoalition reblogged it the same day. He noted, "Sorry we don’t have it ready yet, but we will soon. As with many things in our lives these days, it’s more complicated than we thought and taking longer than we’d like."

Later that same day, May 22, my question was answered at the YouCoalition, referring to Hank Green's post. (Yes, I'm a little annoyed that the timing is such that it looks like I asked the question after, not before, Hank Green's post.)

On about May 28, VidCon posted it's official Code of Conduct and Harassment Policy. This page also includes several other policies. To be picky -- and yes, as a former lawyer I get picky about the details -- as of now (June 1), the Code doesn't seem to be listed in the FAQ or other places in the website that would lead you to the page if you didn't have the direct link. I also suggest you compare the current code and policies to suggested draft policies at places like GeekFeminism. I also suggest comparing it to John Green's August post, that addressed standards for performers. This page, so far, does not.

The current Code of Conduct and Harassment Policy are a good start. But, it's that -- a start. It doesn't cover certain things, and I think it still relies too much on assuming everyone just knows. I also wish that they hadn't published these at the same time as the policies that are about protecting VidCon rather than the attendees.

I also wish this had all been done on a quicker time frame. I count John Green's August 2013 as the time the clock started ticking, and while I appreciate Hank Green noting the need for legal review and that things take time, that's still a long time for legal review. (Reminder to new readers: I practiced law for just under ten years before becoming a librarian, and my area of practice was corporate law: contracts, regulations, employment policies.)

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
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