Friday, January 30, 2009

What To Read Now?

A silly question, perhaps, but for an entire year it's been young adult reading all the time. Which I loved, of course! But now I can look at reading other things without feeling guilty; and without it taking away from committee obligations.

I asked this over at Facebook, where I got some great suggestions like Shopaholic (which my cousin has also recommended.)

So, what should I read?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Printz Books

This past year, I've had the privilege of serving on the 2009 Printz Committee.

Serving on the committee is, without a doubt, the highlight of my career; all the better by having a year of amazing books to read. All the copy below used to describe the books is taken from the ALA website.

The 2009 Printz Winner:

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Haunted by the past, Taylor Markham reluctantly leads the students of the Jellicoe School in their secret territory wars against the Townies and the Cadets. Marchetta’s lyrical writing evokes the Australian landscape in a suspenseful tale of raw emotion, romance, humor and tragedy.

Melina Marchetta lives in Sydney, Australia, and is the award-winning author of two previous novels. A former high school teacher, she is recognized for the authenticity of her teen characters’ voices.

“This roller coaster ride of a novel grabs you from the first sentence and doesn’t let go. You may not be sure where the ride will take you, but every detail—from the complexities of the dual narrative to the pangs of first love—is pitch perfect,” said Printz Award Committee Chair Mary Arnold.

The four Printz Honor Books:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson.

Caught in the crossfire of the American Revolution, escaped slave Octavian joins the British army in hopes of finally securing his own freedom.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
by E. Lockhart.

Can the old-boy network at her elite boarding school survive the mal-doings of Frankie Landau-Banks?

Nation by Terry Pratchett

Pratchett’s trademark humor leavens this epic tale of ravaged islands, shipwrecked nobles and survival.

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

In utterly original language, Lanagan re-imagines “Snow White and Rose Red” and explores the brutality and beauty of life.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Morris Award Predictions

Over at librarian by day, I've been reading and reviewing the books shortlisted for the inaugural William C. Morris Award. It's been an intriguing attempt to get inside the heads of the Morris Award committee, to see what they saw in these books. I may or may not have succeeded in this goal, although we'll see on Monday how close I came. So, here are my predictions/general thoughts on the Morris Award shortlist.*

The Book I Enjoyed More Than I Thought I Would: Graceling. I'm not a huge fan of fantasy, especially something that veers more towards high fantasy. Yet I found myself totally caught up in the story of Katsa and her strange, fearsome ability.

The Book I Didn't Enjoy At All: Absolute Brightness. I truly don't understand why this book was shortlisted. I felt that compared to the other four books, it suffered from several defects in its writing. While it certainly has a few compelling characters, I don't believe that's enough to overcome its flaws.

The Book That Was a Surprising But Valid Choice: Me, the Missing, and the Dead. Sure, it's got a great hook, but it's the quality of the writing that elevates this novel from other books that start from a good idea. With quirky personalities and a believable narrative voice, this novel stands above other similar works.

The Book That Was a Hard Read: A Curse Dark as Gold. It's certainly a well-written book, full of interesting plot twists and philosophical questions. Yet this novel is quite dark, and draws the reader into an unforgiving world, where one small mistake can lead to ruin and destruction.

The Book That I Think Will Win: Madapple. With a complex structure, memorable characters and an unique style, I believe that this novel will win the Morris Award. It's truly different from anything else that has been published for young adults, and it represents a purity of thought that the other novels on the shortlist did not achieve as richly.

Agree or disagree with me? I'd love to hear your thoughts. And remember, you can follow all the action from the Youth Media Awards Announcement, including the Morris Award, via Twitter or by watching the live webcast. Find out all the ways to follow the YALSA action at Midwinter via this blog post.

*My opinions are my own and do not represent any disrespect towards the work accomplished by the committee.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Prepping For Midwinter

I'll be checking back in next week. Between now and then, I'm reading and rereading and packing and flying to Denver. I think you can guess what my first after Midwinter post will be!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

And the winner is....

As we go into our last couple of weeks before the ALA Youth Media Awards Announcements (and I sneak away from massive amounts of rereading to post this), I'm thinking, of course, about the reactions people have to awards.

Monica at Educating Alice has a great post up about the Newbery and appeal; Franki at A Year of Reading reminds us that every book has its passionate child supporters.

Monica starts her post with the observation that "There will delighted cheers, shocked silences, and polite clapping at the press conference. Criticism will be cautious as, of course, no one will want to insult the winners or the hard-working committee. But it will be there, I’m sure. Is there ever a winner of any sort of award without it?"*

There has been and continues to be much said about the Newbery (as well as other awards).

Maybe my opinion at this will change after the Announcements, but right now I don't think criticism is an insult; or that disagreement is an insult. If everyone would agree with the choices a committee makes, then, well, they're doing it wrong. And if we cannot question, what is the point of the discussion? Do we really want people to say, "the committee is hard working and I'm going to trust the process so I'm going to agree with what happens a hundred percent?"

Questioning the winners shows that people are invested in literature and the meaning of books in people's lives. It shows people care. It shows people are thinking and considering and are involved.

Do I hope the questioning is fully informed? That the award's policies and rules as they are written are considered? That the eligible and winning books are read and examined from an award perspective rather than an "I loved it"/"I hated it" personal reaction? That the discussion does not insult the books, the committees, and the readers?

Of course. But asking the question "what were they thinking" is not an insult. Asking why -- and coming to a different conclusion -- is not an insult.

*In classic blogger fashion, I am writing on a totally separate point than the one Monica makes. I use her post to springboard to what I want to say rather than what Monica is saying. And for the record: I'm not saying Monica is saying that disagreement = insult. This part of her post caught my eye (i.e., no one is going to "boo" at the Announcements because it would be insulting), and it reminded me that I do see that disagreement= wrong in some of the comments I've read when people write about disagreeing with the awards.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Opinions and overviews

I've got some book reviews for you over at Librarilly Blonde:

and you can see my first music reviewing effort, for The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack by Sixx: A.M.

I've also made some predictions as to what's going to take the Printz. Come argue with me!

Meow Meow Meow

The Cats Meow, the Baker & Taylor Public Library Newsletter for Children's and Teen Services, reviews my favorite book for libraries and librarians, Pop Goes the Library.

OK, so it's also a book I co-wrote, but it can still be my favorite.

From the review: "Although this book doesn’t focus on children or teen libraries, they are as intertwined with pop culture and maybe even more so than the adult services, making this an essential read for all those involved in children and teen services."

Sunday, January 04, 2009

All A-Twitter About Newbery Diversity

What's with those Newbery books, anyhow?

Bloomberg news ran a story with the headline: Blacks, Hispanics Are Rare Heroes With Newbery Kids Books Medal. Based on a "Brigham Young University study" (no author or title of study was given), the article pointed out that 2000 was the last time there was a black main character of a Newbery Award winner; and it's been forty-plus years since there was a Hispanic main character. The article is full of rather interesting conclusions, such as the money quote of "Characters depicted in Newbery winners are more likely to be white, male and come from two-parent households than the average U.S. child." Various Very Important People in the Children's Lit community are quoted; yet I am not sure how many of them, if any, read the BYU Study or were simply told the conclusions by the reporter.

The New York Times had a brief mention of the article, spinning the above-money quote as follows: "protagonists are increasingly likely to be white, male and from two-parent households." (And traditional media wonders why people have stopped reading it?)

I got interested in this very quickly (see my Twitter) for a few reasons:

- Diversity is not a requirement, implicit or explicit, for the award of the Newbery.
We've seen again and again how stories bring in the Newbery to prove a point....that has nothing to do with the Newbery itself. Want attention brought to what you want to say? Involve the Newbery! "Kids are reading less, it's the Newbery's fault" is a prime example of a great point (how to get kids to read more) linked to the Newbery because, well, the Newbery is our Angelina Jolie. It's our celebrity. So, just as much written about celebrities really has nothing to do with the individual named, but is a reason for an author to write about marriage, children, working, fidelity, etc., so too has the Newbery become the thing we mention to write about something else.

- Diversity in children's literature is a good thing
And in other news, water is wet. And a look at children's publishing is a good thing: what is being published? Who is publishing it? Is it popular? Or is it literary? Is it both? Who are the authors? Etc. etc.

- The original source story was not cited.
I confess, my mad Google skillz could not find the source story. The closest I came is from this list of paper abstracts for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Eric found the actual paper and left the link in a comment at Read Roger. Without the source material, I tried to recreate the study because it didn't ring quite true for me; and I wanted to see how the books were coded. For example, Out Of The Dust starts with a two parent family yet becomes a single parent family; the flip happens with Sarah, Plain and Tall. At it's heart, this is a mathematical look at something, and, well, numbers can lie and be manipulated. So, I wanted the source. Take a look at my Twitter posts to see me trying to put together the numbers. It's a project I'm still working on, because with the finding of the source material, I have to reconfigure how I classify things.

-Finding the source study and what it says...and doesn't say

And drumroll, please for the actual study: Do You See What I See?: Portrayals of Diversity in Newbery-Medal-Winning Children’s Literature by Anthony Nisse, Brigham Young University, Department of Communications, M.A. Student, at the website Latina Lista. Latina Lista reported on this study in an Op Ed article, doing what both Bloomberg and NYT did not: naming and including the source material. Latina Lista also does not include the money-quotes of "OMG it's all white boys with married parents" that the other newspapers did.

Let me say what I have not done, yet: email Mr. Nisse directly and have a q&a with him, both about the study itself; the failure of mainstream media to credit or name him in their stories; and the spin given it by Bloomberg and NYT.

I've read through Mr. Nisse's paper. It's an interesting look at diversity in children's literature; but, ultimately, I wish his actual study was included because I cannot figure out what he has done to get his numbers. I also disagree with some of his conclusions, such as "having been able to easily locate copies of even the oldest winning titles, it is apparent that these award winning books have stood the test of time and are potentially still relevant to young readers of today." Really? My personal experience, especially with pre1945 titles, has been different.

The money quotes are, surprise surprise, not really Nisse's. What we have instead is "the number of female protagonists has steadily increased since the inception of the Newbery medal" and "number of dual-parent families in Newbery medal-winning books has remained constant." So while the "white" part of the Bloomberg and NYT quotes is supported by the study, the "increasingly" that the NYT uses is, well, NOT supported.

As an example of questions I have about the actual study: Mr. Nisse counts fifteen dual parent families in titles from 1980 to 2007. Nisse uses the following terminology for family structure: "dual parent, single parent (only father or mother present), guardian by a relative, guardian by a non-relative, orphan and no guardian (protagonist lives on their own with no knowledge from the story if parents/guardians are alive or existent)." I'm not sure what those fifteen titles are; because I don't reach that total. (I'm still working on a revised Excel spreadsheet using Nisse's coding; in the meanwhile, if you count 15, please comment or email me.) I reach between 9 and 12, with my 12 count including titles like Out of the Dust.

Mr. Nisse states that "The first Native American protagonist appeared in the 1932 winner Waterless Mountain but the next Native American protagonist does not appear until 1967 in Up a Road Slowly." To the best of my knowledge (and those of others on Twitter), Up a Road Slowly does not have a Native American protagonist. And love them or hate them, Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark (1953) and Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (1961) do.

Regardless of what is and is not in Nisse's study, I think the important questions he asks are more about what is being published, rather than what is being awarded the Newbery. Because, as I said at the beginning, diversity (whether race, gender, ethnicity, marital status, etc.) is not the role of the Newbery.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Cybils Finalists

This is the first year that I wasn't involved with the Cybils; I knew I couldn't make, and keep, the time commitment. I'm excited to see the shortlists; and I know, from prior years, how much work the participants have done. Congratulations, all!

And now the next round begins!

I'll be holding onto these lists for after January, when I begin reading things other than 2008 Young Adult titles.