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Friday Finds – July 31, 2015

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Simmons College Homecoming: The Summer Children’s Literature Institute

This past week, I attended Simmons College Center for the Study of Children’s Literature‘s Homecoming: An Institute. I went to Simmons for graduate school and haven’t been to an institute since 2005. The institute happens every other summer. They invite a load of great voices from the children’s book world and this year’s lineup was no exception. Below you can see the schedule and then all of the tweets I frantically typed out while listening and trying to absorb all of the brilliance that was crammed into those few days.

 

Fittingly, the theme this year was homecoming. Boston will always be one of my homes. Spending a week with the usual suspects in my girlgang and then getting to go home again to my Simmons community (and my Children’s Book Shop gang) was a weird and wonderful time warp. Search #chlithome15 on Twitter for more tweets from the conference. You can also find the Storify of the tweets here at Simmons College Homecoming: The Summer Children’s Literature Institute.
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5 Reasons Why Maker Days/Labs/Spaces Can Trump Traditional Library Programming

As I approached my position as the YA coordinator at a new library, one of the things I knew I wanted to do was to evaluate my maker programming and try and recreate the parts of it that were successfull while making any necessary changes to improve on the model. And since it was a new idea for this library, I had to be able to prove that there was some benefit into adopting a maker lab model of programming, especially since it can involve a high initial cost. When you are asking administrators to spend money, you need to have some good, solid reasoning for how and why that money is going to be spent. So I went to my new administrators asking that we make that investment of time and money into a maker lab/space so that we could move away from more traditional library programming.

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First, let me define what I am meaning here when I use the term “traditional library programming”. For many YS and YA librarians, we are tasked with continually coming up with programs based around an idea or a theme. For example, you might host a Doctor Who party with a variety of Doctor Who activities or a Mockingjay release party. Traditionally, we are tasked with coming up with a program theme and then create a program around that theme. It can involve a currently popular book, movie or tv show, it can be a craft, or it can be related to a specific medium, such as an anime club. I have been doing programs like these for 20+ years and I understand the who, what, when, why and where of them. I am in no way going to suggest that we should stop doing them. I am, however, going to suggest that we do less of them and develop more programs like MakerSpaces – whether permanent installations or a rotating program like Maker Mondays – to be the primary foundation of tween and teen programming in our libraries.

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In comparison, I have been hosting a regular Maker Mondays for a couple of years now at two different libraries. At The Public Library of Mount Vernon of Knox County (OH), I have 3 carts loaded up with a variety of maker stations that include things like Legos, Little Bits, button makers and more. I go in on a Monday, set up the make lab, and have an open program for several hours. I take a laptop with me so that I can work on book orders or research more maker items (you can rotate new stations in and out to keep it fresh) or answer email in the event that I have a down time with no patrons in the library. Though to be honest, I have yet to have any down time during one of these open labs, even on days when I have had the make lab space open for five hours. They are popular and busy.

So what makes a maker lab/space more desirable than engaging in more traditional library programming? I’m glad you asked.

1. Predictability Drives Up Attendance Numbers

If I have a maker lab or Maker Monday every Monday from say 3 to 9 PM, teens and staff know when upcoming programming is taking place. Having a regularly occurring program with a set schedule eliminates the guess work for our intended audience; it helps them develop a regular routine of coming to the library. My teens at my previous library knew that on Mondays they can come to the library after school and hang out and make stuff. This is the same principle that is applied with things like teen cafes, teen hangouts, or homework help sessions. There’s no carrying around calendars or looking events up on the webpage only to realize that you’ve missed something really cool, it’s regular and predictable and becomes a part of everyone’s routine.

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2. Provides Developmentally Appropriate Opportunities for Self Direction and Exploration

It’s fun to have a trivia night or for everyone to go from station to station during a Harry Potter party, but it’s also developmentally appropriate to give teens the space and freedom to engage in some self directed behaviors, to give them an opportunity to make choices about how they want to spend their time, what they want to create, and what they want to explore. A maker lab or space does this. I have a variety of options, they get to choose what they do or don’t do. It’s empowering, it’s asset building, and it helps them transition into the oncoming storm of independence.

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3. Balances Hands On Learning with Opportunities for Social Interaction

I have routinely found that one of the things that most teens primarily want in library events is a time for social interaction. If you can provide an opportunity for teens to do something and be social, it’s win-win. Part of the large appeal with something with like Rainbow Looms, which were a huge deal not too long ago, is that it is something simple you can do with your hands while sitting around a table and talking with your friends. I like having a couple of maker stations on hand that create this same time of atmosphere for teens. The teens who wish to can go work together on robotics and being really involved with that process, while other teens can do something that requires less attentiveness and catch up with their friends in a safe environment.

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4.Creates a Better Time Management Scenario

Programming and collection development are the two parts of my job that require the most amount of time. At one library I worked at they hired an operations manager from the corporate world with no library experience, she put together a spread sheet for all the librarians of how they should be spending their forty hours a week and allotted one hour to programming. This was an impossible scenario because I was required to have a weekly one hour program, but programming involves more than just this one hour. I had to research each program, deciding which activities we would do, purchase and organize staff and supplies, market the program, set up the program, execute the program and then clean up after the program. Having a regularly recurring maker lab/space cuts down on the amount of time I spend researching, setting up and marketing a program, freeing up more time for me to do other things, like school visits or innovate new elements for the library like our circulating maker kits.

In addition, having a regularly recurring event is easy to brand, which cuts down on the amount of time you spend creating and distributing marketing materials. If you develop publicity materials for your maker space, including a unique logo, then you are kind of set in the marketing department. It’s easy to go in an change dates, re-print, push out notifications on your social media pages. Where as every time you have a new, unique program you have to start from scratch with your marketing effort.

Even if I continue to have say one additional program every month or every other month, like a Paper Towns or Mockingjay release party, the regular maker lab/space gives me more time to research and put together higher quality programs for these bigger events as opposed to having a lot of smaller programs that have to be researched, organized and marketed. Even though I am engaging in what appears to be more regular programming, each individual program takes up less background work, giving me more time for other things.

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5. Has Larger General Audience Appeal

If I have a Doctor Who party, which I have and definitely will again, I am creating an event with a more limited audience. Each time we pick a program theme, we are pre-selecting and limiting our audience. A Doctor Who party appeals to Doctor Who fans, an anime club appeals to anime fans, a gaming night appeals to gamers, etc. When we create a larger event with a variety of activity choices, like a maker lab/space, we are creating programs that are more open for the general public. We are inviting a larger target audience into our space, serving a more diverse portion of our local communities.

A good maker labe/space would involve high and low tech options, you can even throw a craft station or two in there. Right out of the gate, because there is no theme except come make stuff, you are opening your event up to a larger portion of the population. At a recent Maker Monday I had around 75 tweens and teens come in and make stuff with me, that’s more than I get at most of my regular themed programs, except of course for something like a Harry Potter night.

And as I said, I’m not going to stop having some traditionally themed programs, I am just transitioning the ratio of my programming for the reasons stated above. And as the maker movement eventually phases out in popularity, which it probably will, I’ll have to rethink my programming strategy once again. I have been doing this for 20+ years now, this is the strategy that is working for me now, it’s different than the strategy that I used 5 years ago, and I’m sure it will be different than the strategy I use 5 years from now. Being a good YA librarian means paying attention to the needs of my audience and making changes when needed. This is what works best for me now, and as long as it continues to do so I will keep doing it. But you and I both know that won’t be forever. Librarianship is all about change; the core of who we are and what we do remains the same, but the tools we use and the ways in which we do it change from time to time.

MakerSpace Notes:

My Original Mobile Makerspace (the text below)
My Updated Mobile Makerspace
MakerSpace Tech Tools Comparison Chart
The Unboxing and Learning Curve
Exploring Circulating Maker Kits and Circulating Maker Kits part 2 with a Book List
The Maker Bookshelf/Collection (with a book list)
Strawbees part 1 and part 2
Things I Learned Visiting the Cincinnati MakerSpace: Fun with Buttons! Edition
Creating and Using an iPad Lab in Your Library
Take 5: 5 Tools for Movie Making in Your MakerSpace
Take 5: The Robot Test Kitchen Reading List

App Review: A Beautiful Mess

Last week while discussing the Candy Camera app, suggested by The Tween and the Bestie, librarian Maria Selke reminded me of the A Beautiful Mess photo app. I am a huge fan of the A Beautiful Mess (ABM) blog, so I had actually purchased the app well over a year ago. The only problem is that I had an older device with an older operating system and it never worked for me. Fast forward to today and I had to get a newer device and I decided to re-load the app and it does indeed work. But would I love the app as much as I love the blog?

The short answer is, no.

A Beautiful Mess is a blog run by two women, Elsie and Emma, that focuses on crafts, DIY, food and photography. The crafts/DIY and photography tips section are the parts I love most. So I was looking forward to this photo app.

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Availabe for both iTunes and Androids

The 411:

Price:

$0.99 for the app itself. But you have to make a bunch of additional in app purchases if you want more functionality.

The Basics:

You can alter a photo or create a collage.

Using the backgrounds provided, you can also make whimsical quotes or create a background with a photo overlay.

There are about 25 filters in the version I have, which is the basic version.

You can add doodles and text overlays, which is the part of the app that excels.

Here are some pictures I created with the app:

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For this picture, I used a photo that I had created and filtered in the Candy Camera app, as you can see the Candy Camera watermark there. I went in and added the whimsical elements, the border and wording, using the ABM app.

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This last image is made using the background feature, for obvious reasons. It is my favorite part of the ABM app.

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Final Thoughts:

If I had to describe the A Beautiful Mess app in one word, it would be whimsy. This is obviously an app designed to help you create those whimsical photos with your cutesy borders and text overlays. It accomplishes that well, though I want an app that does a little more than that.

It has a list of some of the top in-app purchases, which I have not purchased:

  1. Font Pack$0.99
  2. Dainty Borders$0.99
  3. Mod Backgrounds$0.99
  4. New Phrases (One)$0.99
  5. New Phrases (two)$0.99
  6. Sketchbook & Shape Borders$0.99
  7. Arrow & Symbol Doodles$0.99
  8. Word Bubble Doodles$0.99
  9. Geo Backgrounds Pack$0.99
  10. Font Pack 2$0.99

So it’s possible that by making some additional purchases I could do more things and would be more impressed, but all those in app purchases add up and I am on a tight budget so this app is not the right app for me.

What Others are Saying:

This comparison chart allows you to look at the features of A Beautiful Mess that matter most to you and explore some other photo app options. It’s kind of a Consumer Reports feature on the ABM app.

C-Net called it “cute and crafty, but not much else.”

Canvas Pop liked the retro feel and ease of use.

Final Thoughts:

If you want to make cute, crafty, or whimsical pics, this app is probably for you. It definitely would make great blog pics for crafty/DIY blogs that were going for a certain type of audience. I think I still like OVER best for adding texts to my graphics. It’s a little costly to get the full functionality of the app, so it’s not my go to app by any means. It has a pretty decent overall rating on the iTunes store.

There is also this A Beautiful Mess Photo Ideas Book, published in 2013. I haven’t seen it, but they have great tips and ideas on their blog so it might be worth checking out.

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My top 5 photo apps are:

  • BeFunky
  • ComicBook – makes great comic book pages
  • PhotoShake – I use it to make bookmarks and grid photos
  • Over – for adding text
  • Hipstamtic – for the various lens and film combinations

Definitely check out the A Beautiful Mess photo tips and e-courses.

More Tech Talk

Book Review: Forever for a Year by B.T. Gottfred

FOREVERTwo teens take turns narrating their story in this painfully honest look at young love and all of its ups and downs in B.T. Gottfred’s FOREVER FOR A YEAR.

 

For Carolina, 9th grade brings big changes. She stops going by “Carrie” in an attempt to be taken more seriously. She’s smart and geeky, but hopes to downplay those qualities in her effort to become more popular. Her best friend Peggy, now going by her full name of Marguerite, happens to have an extremely popular (and mean/shallow/insufferable) sister, Katherine, who is determined to make them the hottest girls in their class. This means tutorials on things like what to wear, how to walk, where to sit, and, most importantly, how to get boys to like them. Carolina understands all of this is kind of ridiculous and ultimately not important, but she’s excited about high school and the possibility of overhauling her image.

 

For Trevor, 9th grade means a new school and a repeat of a school year. Recently transplanted from California to Illinois, Trevor is decidedly not excited about high school. He’s not excited about anything, actually. “Life is pointless” is one of his mottos. His mother recently attempted suicide and lives in a depressed fog. Trevor’s mindset isn’t much better.

 

The two teens meet on the first day of school and it’s love at first sight. Really. They both fall hard, even when they know nothing, really, about each other—even when they’ve barely even spoken. It’s just one of those things. They recognize something in each other and are drawn to one another. It doesn’t take long for them to start talking and then start dating. They are both extremely honest about their feelings (though not about everything else in their lives)—awkwardly, painfully earnestly so. They’re both so infatuated and self-conscious and sweet. Carolina is all, Oh my gosh! all the time and Trevor is like, God I love her, but how will this fall apart, and why is everything I say and think so cheesy?

 

A lot of their story is devoted to their increasingly sexual relationship—and the reader is right there with them for every detail. EVERY DETAIL. There are some of the greatest scenes of talking about sex, both between Trevor and Carolina and between each of them and their parents, that I have read in a long time. Trevor’s mom has an extremely candid talk with him. “Talk to her about things. Okay? Don’t not talk about it just because it’s awkward. If you want to do things sexually, ask her how it makes her feel first. Ask how it feels during it, ask her how it feels afterward. This might sound easy now, and in the moment it’s going to seem impossible, but it’s very important,” she tells him. This is just one of many conversations about sex (later Trevor even admits to her that he’s not good at making Carolina have orgasms and his mom replies, “No teenage boy in the world is.”). Both teens freely mention researching different things about sex, watching porn, things like that. When they do start to have sex, it’s not that great for Carolina, and they get caught up in the moment—repeatedly—and skip protection.

 

This is young love. It’s sweet and exciting but also upsetting and sometimes way too heavy. Gottfred shows readers all of the parts of being in love—the secrets, the stresses, the joys, the confusion, everything. No matter how old a person is, love is complicated. Their youth doesn’t make their feelings any less serious or real. At times I admit that I felt like, okay, I get it, you’re obsessed with each other, move the story along! But then I remembered how it felt to fall in love for the first time, and how every detail felt amazing, and what a wild ride it was. And in the end, Carolina and Trevor make some big realizations about each other (after many other big realizations about themselves, their families, their relationship, and more).

 

Readers will root for these two while likely understanding that 9th grade love can’t last. The alternate narration really works here—not only are their voices distinctive, but the way they retell the same part of the story or pick up where the other left off helps move along the story. A lot of it is repetitive—They love each other! Oh my gosh! They make out! Their parents are making them bonkers!—but it’s also real. As much more of a Trevor-type, I found Carolina’s enthusiastic optimism and naiveté a little overbearing at first, but she grew on me as their relationship matured. The book did go on longer than was probably necessary, but that’s kind of fitting, actually, as many relationships do too. I tried to read this with my teenage eyes instead of my nearly-40-year-old-eyes, because adult me often found the repetitiveness and all of Carolina’s exclamations overbearingly tedious. Overall, though, a really honest, romantic, and nuanced (if overlong) look at young love. Those who can relate or who wish they could will eagerly snatch this one up.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781627791915

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Publication date: 7/7/2015

Pages: 432

 

Middle Grade Monday – Making your library work for you

middlegrademondayOver the past six months or so, I have touched every piece of furniture, electronic or computer device, and every book in my school library media center (except the smart board, which I have to wait on for a trained professional.) Some might ask why, and my muscles would certainly chime in on that question. To be honest, it was because the library, the arrangement of the furniture, the amount of equipment, and the location of the books, simply wasn’t working for us. Neither the students nor I were getting what we needed out of it. And I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted – an organic space that encourages exploration and small group work, a place where the students can take ownership of their surroundings, a place where they feel comfortable, not a place where they feel monitored. I had no idea what to do.

Fortunately, I work for a large enough school district that we have people on staff who can help. Not only did they come out and talk to me for several hours, then come back and help me make a floor design (in which we got rid of about a third of the furniture and most of the equipment) and a collection map, they figured out a way to get several display pieces and some wheeled table legs to replace two on each of 9 tables, so it’s easier to reconfigure the furniture on the fly. Here, let me show you what it used to look like. This is the former view from my office door:Old office door

The entryway to the library is on the right, and I believe at this point we had already removed the security gates. Completely useless since I lost my assistant position and the students began checking out their own books. Also, not very friendly when we did use it – it rang a siren like when you set off the alarm at a department store. The mini lab of computers you see straight ahead are completely gone, as are most of those tables (they’ve been repurposed in other parts of the building.) And on the right is the circulation desk. Also completely useless since we lost our media assistant position. And a barrier to access and service.

Here are some panoramic views of the former arrangement from the center of the room (about where you see the blue column in the photo above.) The first is an image from the office door on the right to the far side of the room:Old front-2

This one is the other half of the room:

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And now it looks like this:

IMG_0712 IMG_0713We’ve gone from a standard two classroom and 1 mini lab setup with a traditional circulation desk to one large group space with multiple small group spaces coming off from it in a spiral shape. I’m afraid the pictures don’t do it justice. I’m so excited for the students to come in and use it!

Have you ever undertaken a similar project? What ideas/questions do you have?

 

 

This is how I came to write a short story about my “first time” in the upcoming anthology The V Word edited by Amber Keyser

Since starting this blog 4 years ago, a variety of things have happened. I wrote a book with Heather Booth. I lost my house. I’ve met a variety of authors. And I wrote a short story for a collection of true stories about women having sex for the first time that will be published by Simon and Schuster/Beyond Words in 2016.

Wait, you did what? That’s right, I wrote a short story about the first time I ever had sex for a collection coming out in 2016 edited by Amber Keyser.

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If I’m being honest, this was one of the most difficult things I have ever written. On this blog I have shared about my history of sexual abuse, I have shared about my economic woes, and I have even shared about my struggles with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. But writing about having sex for the first time was hands down the hardest writing I have ever done. It’s so personal. Sex is something that is still so taboo to talk about.

I do not consider myself a writer. I am a librarian. I am a blogger. I am a flinger of far flung dreams who shares her thoughts and feelings in an attempt to stay engaged in the profession I love, to advocate for teens, and to maybe one day make the world a tiny bit better. I share myself because I feel like being open and honest let’s us know that we are not alone, that what you are thinking and feeling is in fact something that connects you to the rest of humanity.

When Amber asked me if I wanted to share my story, I was concerned about a lot of things. I didn’t know if I could write a short story, let alone a truthful one about my first time. So she asked me to give it a try and we would go from there, and I guess it’s okay because it’s in the book. My name is listed on Goodreads as an author!

It was an honor to be invited to participate in this collection. A terrifying honor, but an honor none the less. I mean, I get to share page space with some of my favorite authors, like Christa Desir, Carrie Mesrobian, Erica Lorraine Scheidt and Justina Ireland (to name just a few).

The cover was revealed last week on Stacked by Kelly Jensen. You can read her introductory post about the book here. She is also doing a Q&A in the book about how teen sex is portrayed in the media.

A lot of people have gotten really honest and shared their experiences. It’s terrifying. It’s awesome.

Just don’t tell my family.

Publisher’s Book Description:

HAVING SEX FOR THE FIRST TIME IS A BIG UNKNOWN. LOTS OF PEOPLE WILL TELL YOU WHAT TO DO, BUT IS ANYONE TELLING YOU WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE?

The V-Word pulls back the sheets on sex. Queer and straight. Relished and regretted. Funny and exhilarating. The seventeen women in this book (including Christa Desir, Justina Ireland, Sara Ryan, Carrie Mesrobian, Erica Lorraine Scheidt, and Jamia Wilson) write about first-time sex—hot, meaningful, cringe-worthy, gross, forgettable, magnificent, empowering, and transformative.

Whether you’re diving in or whether you’re waiting, we hope these stories will help you chart your own course.

Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster
Released date: February 2, 2016
Simultaneous hardcover and paperback release.
ISBN: 978-1-58270-521-7 (TP) / 978-1-58270-522-4 (HC)

Sunday Reflections: On DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy, or why today I will choose to put on a bathing suit and make a memory with my daughters

If you have ever had your heartbroken because your 6-yr-old daughter came and asked you if she was fat, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.

I love her spirit, please don't break it.

I love her spirit, please don’t break it.

If you have ever watched as your pre-teen daughter refused a piece of her favorite cake at her birthday party, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.

This is my reader.

This is my reader.

If you have ever sat outside the pool while your kids splashed and laughed because you felt too uncomfortable in your own skin to put on a bathing suit and join them in making this memory, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.

My vow: don't sit on the sidelines any more.

My vow: don’t sit on the sidelines any more.

If you have ever looked up at the pictures on your wall and realized there are almost no pictures of you with your kids because you hate to have your picture taken, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.

A rare picture of me and my girls, my heart laid open.

A rare picture of me and my girls, my heart laid open.

And if you have ever thought that I should sit outside the pool because I’m too fat to join my kids, or said of course that young girl shouldn’t eat that piece of cake on her birthday, or thought that a 6-year-old should be told she is fat and should be ashamed, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.

The Twee doing the #dumplinpose.

The Twee doing the #dumplinpose.

And then you should also read MAKING PRETTY by Corey Ann Haydu.

Two books that everyone who knows a girl, cares about a girl, or ever has to interact with a girl should read. So, basically, everyone.

Two books that everyone who knows a girl, cares about a girl, or ever has to interact with a girl should read. So, basically, everyone.

My preteen daughter and I read both of these books this year and it changed the way we talk with one another. I don’t tell her she is pretty, I tell her she is kind, smart, a good problem solver. I tell her that I love her. I take more pictures with my kids. I put on my bathing suit and splash in the pool.

I spent a lot of my life hating my body. I was anorexic throughout most of middle school, high school and college. I was hungry and cranky and tired, and I still hated my body even though I had the ideal body type. Now I am older and fatter. I still hate my body. But I don’t want my girls to grow up spending so much of their life and mental energy being concerned about their body. I don’t want them to miss life moments because they are too busy sitting around stewing in a cesspool of self-loathing. I have been there, I am still there, and it sucks.

But reading these books helps. Yesterday I put on my bathing suit and I swam with my girls. I splashed. I laughed. I made a memory. And I taught them that they can love themselves.

Here’s what we do to our girls:

This week ABC News reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. . .

15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly . . .

eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down . . .

25 percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize . . .

Source: How to Talk to Little Girls, Huffington Post

If you break my daughters with your cruel world, I will never forgive you. They are my heart laid bare for all the world to see. They deserve your love, nurture and protection. No matter what size they may be.

DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy is about a plus size girl named Willowdean who loves Dolly Parton but is ashamed of her body. Of course she is, this world tells her daily that she should be. And Willowdean happens to be the daughter of the former local beauty pageant winner who dedicates a large portion of her life each year to coaching the next generation of girls to be the next queen. Never once has she asked Willowdean if she is going to participate. Fat girls don’t get invited into beauty pageants, even if your mom is the coordinator of the pageant.

But this year, Willowdean is leading a rebellion in honor of her favorite aunt whose loss she mourns fiercely. She is going to try and do the one thing her aunt wanted to do but never felt worthy of in her memory: enter the pageant. And when Willowdean enters, a variety of other social outcasts decide to join her.

DUMPLIN’ is a book about accepting yourself, not by changing yourself, because change is never quick or easy, but by truly learning to be comfortable in your own skin and allowing yourself to feel worthy of this thing called life even when you’re not sure who you are or who you want to be.

DUMPLIN’ is about friendship, old and new. Imperfect, but worth striving for, even when it’s hard.

It’s about mothers and daughters and the tensions that can come between them when neither one of them is entirely happy with who they are or what is happening in their life.

It’s about falling in love. And out of it.  And feeling worthy of love. And how you have to find a way to love yourself before you can believe that anyone else could ever truly love you.

As I said, The Tween and I both read DUMPLIN’ recently. We both LOVED this book. It’s moving and thought provoking. It really, as they say, hits you right in the feels. As a long time librarian and book reviewer, this book goes on my best of 2015 list. As a mom, it went right into my Tween’s hands because I wanted her to read it, I wanted us to talk about it, and I wanted her to be a part of Willowdean’s journey to help start her on her own journey. She’ll be 13 next month. I know she picks up on the messages both subtle and not so subtle this world sends to her about our expectations of girls. DUMPLIN’ is not only a fun and fantastic read, but it’s a great tool in the arsenal to make us think and reflect on those cultural messages so that we can tear them down and build ourselves up.

Our DUMPLIN's button we made at a recent Maker Space program.

Our DUMPLIN’s button we made at a recent Maker Space program.

Reading this book was a sort of spiritual experience for us both. We laughed. We cried. We talked. We bonded. We made decisions about how we were going to live our lives differently because we didn’t want to miss the moments of life. Willowdean missed so many moments because she thought she wasn’t worthy of them, and I think so many of us can identify with that.

Coupled with the equally profound MAKING PRETTY by Corey Ann Haydu, DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy is a must read. Together, these two books really help us understand the ways that we build up and tear down girls. We step right into the psyche of a mind that has been honed and cultivated in a culture that says the way you look matters first and foremost; a culture that objectifies and sexualizes girls at very young ages and throughout their lifetimes; a world that demonizes girls that don’t fit conventional beauty standards; a world that crushes the spirits of girls as early as age 6, which is when my youngest child came home and asked me if she was fat because the kids at school were teasing her.

Book Review: Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swensdon

 rebelmechanicsPublisher’s Book Description:

A sixteen-year-old governess becomes a spy in this alternative U.S. history where the British control with magic and the colonists rebel by inventing.

It’s 1888, and sixteen-year-old Verity Newton lands a job in New York as a governess to a wealthy leading family—but she quickly learns that the family has big secrets. Magisters have always ruled the colonies, but now an underground society of mechanics and engineers are developing non-magical sources of power via steam engines that they hope will help them gain freedom from British rule. The family Verity works for is magister—but it seems like the children’s young guardian uncle is sympathetic to the rebel cause. As Verity falls for a charming rebel inventor and agrees to become a spy, she also becomes more and more enmeshed in the magister family’s life. She soon realizes she’s uniquely positioned to advance the cause—but to do so, she’ll have to reveal her own dangerous secret.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Rebel Mechanics is a fun steampunk novel that features magic, awesome inventions, and has just the right amount of swoon. Set in an alternate history version of the early U.S., a group of rebel mechanics are trying to start a revolution to tip the balance of power and income inequality that is held by the magisters (the people with magic in this world). The rebel mechanics believe that if they can create their own machines to provide things like light and locomotion, then the balance of power will be tipped in their favor as they will no longer have to rely on the magic of the magisters.

On her first day in the big city, Verity stumbles into a group of rebel mechanics and is drawn into their cause. She becomes a valuable asset when she is hired as a governess to one of the most powerful magister families in the city. At first somewhat naive, she has no idea for example how both groups of people feel about children born of a commoner and magister couple (what we would call a mudblood in the Harry Potter verse), Verity quickly comes to understand the righteousness of their cause. She also doesn’t understand at first how high the stakes really are, but as she is drawn into the ongoing battle she is forced to make a variety of personal decisions that may have long lasting implications.

Part of the fun of steampunk is seeing the different contraptions that are built, and that is done in a fun way here with underground competitions and journeys through the night sky on the steampunk version of a magic carpet. In fact, author Shanna Swendson recently said that she kept singing the Aladdin song A Whole New World while writing this scene and it will surprise no one who reads it.

When reading alternate history tales, it’s fascinating to see the various ways in which the author chooses to tweak a familiar narrative. For me, the author includes some fun steampunk elements, a couple of interesting twists on Colonial American history, and adds in some compelling characters. I’m not going to lie, I am a big fan of Verity. She is naive and slightly overwhelmed in this new place, but she is never meek or trembling with fear. She is, in some ways, reminiscent of Anne Shirley, one of my favorite characters of all times.

The only thing I struggled with while reading Rebel Mechanics is the concept of time. The first 60 or so pages involve Verity’s first day in the city. A lot of stuff happens in that first day, so much stuff that I wondered if it all could in fact happen in just one day. In fact, later in the book, when I realized that all this had happened in just a course of a few days, I wondered if I was misreading the timeline in some way. The concept of time just seemed too compacted to me as a reader, with too much happening and too many feelings/ideas being developed in what seemed like an unrealistically short amount of time.

Overall, I really liked this book. It features a strong female main character who is intelligent, driven, and takes big personal risks because it is the right thing to do in her opinion. This steampunk/alternate history version of the early U.S. is fascinating and engaging. And if you have a book discussion group, there are a lot of fun activities you can do while discussing this book. From the simple, tying a gear to a red ribbon, to the more complex, creating a Rube Golberg machine, there is no shortage of fun to be had.

Definitely recommended. I look forward to reading more about Verity and the Rebel Mechanics.

More Steampunk at TLT

Friday Finds – July 24, 2015

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: This is what courage looks like

Cover reveal: Original Fake written by Kirstin Cronn-Mills with art by E. Eero Johnson

Middle Grade Monday – Online Museum Resources

Book Review: Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

July #ARCParty

The Faith of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a #FSYALit guest post with author interview

App Review: Candy Camera

Dark Shadows in a Glittering Metropolis: Magic and Religion in Jaclyn Dolamore’s Dark Metropolis Series (a guest post for #FSYALit)

Around the Web

Race and representation in Asian American Kid Lit

A mistake in  Shadow Hero?

Are you falling out of love with YA?

Book Riot has a great list of upcoming YA.

Have some fun with this literary road trip map (via Library as Incubator.)

Exciting movie news for Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’

This is just lovely.