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Don’t read those %&#@ YA books! A discussion of profanity in teen fiction

Trend Watch: Profanity in Teen Fiction

Lately, everyone has been a buzz about the profanity in teen novels.  It even made the news! A recent study was done and they counted the swear words and noted an increase in the use of profanity in teen books.  There have been some informative – and some amusing – blog posts about the topic (linked at the end of this post).  Apparently, the women’s lib movement is somehow to blame and all us women folk got a potty mouth when we put on our shoes and walked out of the kitchen.

I am not going to lie, I have noticed as a reader the increase in profanity in teen books and it has given me pause.  Not because I personally care, but because I stop for a moment and think to myself yep, a parent is going to complain about this.  So far they haven’t, but with all the press it increases the likelihood.

I am a huge believer in Intellectual Freedom.  I believe that authors have the right to tell their stories the way they feel they need to be told; it is their character and they have a right to give them the voice that feels authentic to them.  That doesn’t mean I have to like it, it means that I have to make it available and allow my patrons to make decisions for themselves.

As a parent, I can’t help but notice that faux-swearing has even invaded my tween television time.  The cast of iCarly spend a lot of time saying “shiz” or “chiz” or however they might spell it.  So here’s what I do as a parent: I either decide I am okay with it, I talk to my child about it, or I ban the show in my home.  Or some combination of the above.  I think whether you continue to watch the show or not, you have to have the conversation about what you view to be acceptable as language in your home.  If I took a moment, I could really evaluate every show we watch and tell you something that I find objectionable: Sam is mean to Freddy, Alex is a disrespectful slacker in Wizards (now over), Squidward is mean . . . I could go on, but you get the point.  This is where parenting is an active process: I watch TV with my children and we talk about it.  I read books with my children and we talk about it.  Sometimes topics come up that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to talk about otherwise, I wouldn’t think to.  That is part of the value of reading.

For example, my tween and I have had a lot of discussions about the way that Sam acts on iCarly, specifically how she acts towards Freddy.  You see, she hits him a lot and it is played for laughs – except I can’t help but feel that if the situation were reversed, if he were hitting her, there would be a huge outcry.  To me, it is not okay.  Any type of abuse between two people is never okay and I don’t appreciate the implication that it is a source of humor and I worry that it may send the wrong message to young viewers.  But again, I talk to my tween about it.  That’s my job as a parent.

So back to swearing.  As I read these various teen books, the question I always ask my self is this: is it organic to the story, to the character?  You see, books have to be about SOMETHING, and they are often about teen characters struggling with real life issues and whether we like it or not, teens cuss.  A lot in fact.  And sometimes, when you are hurting or angry, profanity is a good way to express the high emotions that teens feel because those words have known power and meaning.  Hurting people call the people who hurt them a bitch precisely because it has the known cutting power that they need in that moment.  When it comes to stroytelling, characters have to choose the words they need to convey their emotion in context of their setting and culture.  We don’t have to like it, but profanity is part of contemporary culture.  In fact, I think the F word is one of the few remaining words you still can’t hear on prime time television.

I was personally amazed when watching a special on Whitney Houston on Lifetime television and they kept showing an ad for an upcoming movie on Drew Peterson. Right there in the ad Rob Lowe said, “I’m unstoppable bitch.”  In an ad.  I understood why they had chosen that clip, it packed a wollop and conveyed their message in the 30 seconds that they had to do it.  Like I said, if our tv characters aren’t actually swearing, they are fauxswearing.  Is there really any difference?  The intent is definitely the same.

If we want teens to read, they have to have access to books that speak to them.  We can pretend that teens don’t cuss and present them with squeaky clean fiction – but they will immediately cast it aside because it’s not real to them.  This is especially true for those teens growing up in homes that we can’t imagine or in the inner cities. And of course the truth is that however we may feel about certain words, not all parents feel the same.  To be honest, I grew up in a home where my parents didn’t care about cussing as long as I didn’t direct it at them.  If I should make the mistake of cussing out my mom, well, the soap was coming out.  Otherwise, they were just words.

I think if we want teens to read, we have to respect the diversity of lifestyles that exist out there.  They are not all growing up in cookie cutter homes.  Just like the rest of the population, there is a tremendous diversity in how they live and love and think and feel and, yes, speak.  Our collections must reflect this diversity.  We must also remember that part of the value in reading is in helping the teens understand lives outside their own and develop empathy; thus, teens step into the shoes of main characters different from them and experience what it is like to grow up in homes and communities different than their own.

I understand the parental desire to protect your children, I also understand the value of engaging with your teen and helping them to see and understand that the world is a complex place full of a wide variety of people having a wide variety of experiences – some that we couldn’t even imagine.  As we talk to our teens about this, they develop the tools they need to live and thrive in a world that isn’t black and white but full of complex shades of gray.  I think, too, we have to respect our teens and recognize that if a book doesn’t feel right to them, they will stop reading it.  When we respect our teens and value them by providing thoughtful, well rounded collections, we all win.

It’s also important to remember that when we are talking about teens, we are talking about a huge age group: anywhere from around 12 up through 18 years of age.  So when I am working with teens or parents, I always tell them to look at the books before they check them out and note the age of the characters; middle school characters are going to talk the way middle school students do and deal with middle school issues and high school characters are going to talk the way high school characters do and deal with high school issues for the most part.

So what do you think, is there too much profanity in teen fiction?

Research: more swearing in teen novels than video games
Spark Life: Is there too much swearing in teen fiction?
What teens may be learning from swearing in teen fiction
Daily Kos: Rich, beautifyl and popular, fould mouthed characters in teen books have it all
Cursing: Not just for sailors anymore

Are you feeling feral? Big news from author Holly Schindler

Author Holly Schindler has big news!

You can learn more about Feral at Holly’s blog: hollyschindler.blogspot.com, on Twitter: @holly_schindler, or at Holly’s Facebook author page: http://www.facebook.com/HollySchindlerAuthor
Holly Schindler is the author of Playing Hurt and A Blue So Dark.  You can find out more about her and these books, including book trailers, at http://www.hollyschindler.com/.
Feral will be coming soon from Harper Collins.

Book Review: Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan

The Ranger’s Apprentice is a series of amazing fantasy novels written by Australian author John Flanagan. The series takes place in a fictonal world, based upon medevial Europe and follows the adventures of Will, an orphan of Castle Redmont who is taken as an apprentice Ranger, as he strives to keep the Kingdom of Araluen safe from invaders, traitors, and threats. He is joined on his adventures by his mentor Halt and his best friend Horace.

Growing up as a ward of the castle, Will dreams of becoming a knight and fighting for the honor of his king and kingdom. However, as his 15th birthday approaches and the time for choosing a path arrives, he is devastated when he is selected by Halt, the Kingdom’s head ranger, as his apprentice.  Because of Will’s diminutive size and uncanny ability of stealth and unseen movement, Halt believes that Will has the chance to become one of the Kingdom’s greatest Rangers.

The Rangers are typically viewed as magicians by the villagers for their ability to seemingly appear out of nowhere and are masters of unseen and unheard movement, camouflage, knife throwing, knife fighting skills and long-range weaponry, specifically the long bow.  And despite Will’s initail disappointment of not being selected as a knight, he quickly realizes the vital importance the Rangers play in the safety of the kingdom.

I really cannot say enough good things about this series.  As of now, Flanagan has published 10 books and 1 collection of short stories and states that he has a couple more in the works.  The author originally wrote these stories for his son and had no intention of publishing them and I think it’s really cool that years later these books have sold over two-million copies and we’re looking at a possible film series.  I picked the first book of the series up on a whim and have loved everything about the series ever since.  Neither the cover or title give you any indication of the greatness held within, and needless to say that 10 books so far is not enough, there could be 50 books in this series and I’m sure I would love every one.

The battles are intense, the characters and comaraderie are amazing, and in nearly every book Flanagan introduces the reader to another land, filled with it’s warriors, culture, schemes, and battle plans.  I really think that the author struck a great balance between character development and action, the plot is descriptive, without getting bogged-down.  And the battle scenes are fantastically detailed; tactics, troop deployment, and all the other minutae that goes into war-waging are described in detail and puts the reader right on the front lines, dodging arrows and swords along with the heroes.
Karen’s editorial note: This series has been super popular with my teen guys in two different libraries now, I highly recommend it.
Reviewer Chris Dahl is a life-long resident of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  He has aspirations of world domination, but lacks the resources, ambition, and over-all managerial style to accomplish his goals.  Anyone who believes that “still waters run deep” has never met Chris. He believes that there IS crying in baseball and blubbers like a baby every time he watches “Field of Dreams.” He has never been in a fist-fight, but has almost bowled a perfect game.  In addition to reading he enjoys getting sun-burned and the occasional rant about how nobody listens to good music anymore.  To the best of our knowledge, he is not in any way related to Roald Dahl, but we think it would be cool if he was.

Book Review: No Safety in Numbers by Dayna Lorentz

Life As We Knew It meets Lord of the Flies in a mall that looks just like yours

A biological bomb has just been discovered in the air ducts of a busy suburban mall. At first nobody knows if it’s even life threatening, but then the entire complex is quarantined, people start getting sick, supplies start running low, and there’s no way out. Among the hundreds of trapped shoppers are four teens.

These four different narrators, each with their own stories, must cope in unique, surprising styles, changing in ways they wouldn’t have predicted, trying to find solace, safety, and escape at a time when the adults are behaving badly.

This is a gripping look at people and how they can–and must–change under the most dire of circumstances.

And not always for the better.

Make no mistake about it, contagion novels are trending. Karen was completely right last week. And this book is not one to be missed when gathering together your book list of hand sanitizing reads.

Cast of characters:

– heading into work when jocks attempt to run him down in the parking garage and destroy his bike…
– daughter of a Senator and really not looking forward to a family excursion
– little brother of football star and desperate to fit in
– transplant to the area and takes to hiding out at the mall to escape loneliness and boredom

While Marco is running from the jocks who are hellbent on destroying his bike and pulverizing him, he dashes into a room and locates what looks to be a bomb and calls the authorities. Luckily for the authorities, Lexi’s mom, the Senator, is having lunch/breakfast with her family and immediately, along with the government, decides to shut the entire building down and quarantine the mall crowd inside. Ryan, out shopping for zombie makeup for a big party, is trying so hard to impress his older brother, the star quarterback, and the rest of the football team. Said teammates being those same jocks who tried to rundown Marco in the parking garage. And Shay? She’s just a new girl and trying to avoid being lonely by hanging out at the mall. She runs into Ryan in a store and the two are immediately taken by one another, but Shay is having to take care of her 10 year old little sister and her diabetic grandmother who just so happened to forget her medicine that morning.

While the four stories begin to come together and these teens learn that they may be fighting for survival, the pace never stops and you find yourself completely hurtling towards the end of this book.

One gripe that I did have is the fact that you really have to suspend some sort of belief when it comes to the people in the mall. It seemed as if everyone was just fine being stuck in the mall for the first few days with the promise of a gift card to keep them appeased. Um, hello? No thank you. $25 is not going to keep me from trying everything in my power to get the heck out of there. Quite possibly, since the story is told from the teens’ point of view, the author was showing that the teen’s were much more complacent in the beginning to go along with whatever was happening.

Closer to the end, the frantic nature of all involved starts to come to light but it still seems as if it was a far reach. What really made me go crazy is that the entire time I was reading this book, I thought it was a stand alone novel. Well, it’s not. So, if you are looking for this story to be tidied up at the end you will be devastated because it is another YA cliffhanger to start off a series.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars…mainly because the suspension of belief was just too hard for me to pass over. Pair this book with Emmy Laybourne’s Monument 14 and Michael Northrop’s Trapped, along with any of the books mentioned in the Contagion Trend Watch!

The Giver (Lois Lowry) as discussed by Lauren Kate

Today, as part of our ongoing series Why YA?, Lauren Kate, author of the Fallen series, discusses The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” is a story that truly moved me growing up. The book takes place in a society where all pain and suffering have been eradicated – a seemingly wonderful thought which has in turn, led to the death of human emotion. Only one man—the Giver—has access to the joys and pains of humanity’s past experience. He is dying. He is looking for a successor to carry this strange burden.

Like all great novels, the Giver calls into question all the things we take for granted about our own world: music, color, human connection, the love of a parent for a child, the ability to make our own decisions. What are we without these? How different are those who have access to these gorgeous painful realities from those of us who don’t know how or refuse to see them?

The Giver created a vivid and haunting world without color, without passion, without connection, a world so visual that I can still picture it, tree for tree, 15 years later.

And the best part? The Giver is the first in a trilogy – followed by “Gathering Blue” and “The Messenger.” I’d recommend all three to anyone looking for an eye opening experience. These books will truly change the way you look at the world.

Find out more about Lauren Kate and her books at her website

Lauren Kate grew up in Dallas, went to school in Atlanta, and started writing in New York. She is the author of Fallen, Torment, the forthcoming Passion, and The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove. Her books have been translated into over thirty languages. She lives in Laurel Canyon with her husband and hopes to work in a restaurant kitchen and learn how to surf. She is currently at work on the final book in the Fallen series, Rapture.  If you live in the Dallas area, Lauren Kate with be visiting Barnes and Noble at Southlake on June 18th. (Author bio from her official website)  You can follow Lauren Kate on Twitter @laurenkatebooks.  Rapture, the final book in the Fallen series, will be released on June 12, 2012 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

TPIB: Food Fight based on The Sweetest Thing (by Christina Mandelski)

Funny story, I hate to cook.  But I am obsessed with The Food Network, especially shows like Iron Chef, Cupcake Wars and the Extreme Challenge.  So as I was sitting there reading The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski, all I could think about was all the great cooking show programming you could do as a tie-in.

The Sweetest Thing tells the story of Sheridan, the daughter of a master chef and a cake decorator who has some amazing talent of her own.  In fact, she is known around her small town as Cake Girl.  Unfortunately for her, her fabulous cake decorating mom took off quite a while ago and hasn’t really done a great job of keeping in touch.  When her father makes the announcement that he finally got his own TV show, Sheridan is terrified of making any changes and moving to New York City where her mom is sure to never find her.  As the countdown is on to film the pilot for her dad’s cooking show, things are really unravelling for Sheridan.

The Sweetest Thing will definitely remind readers of authors like Sarah Dessen (Hope was Here) and Joan Bauer (Squashed).  I enjoyed reading about a teenager with passion, especially since her passion did not involve singing, acting, dancing or trying in any way to be famous.  Sheridan’s voice was true to the teenage life and she worked hard at her craft.  As her life spirals out of control she becomes a selfish bundle of bad decisions, stinging statements, and begins idealizing and demonizing the wrong people; but like most teens, she eventually works it out.  There’s a nice little love story nestled in here, a loving grandmother, and a father who cares but doesn’t necessarily know how to show it. Mandelski also manages to weave in some touching discussions of faith and religion without being overbearing; she presents a well rounded spiritual leader who touches just the right notes in his discussions with Sheridan.  At the end of the day, The Sweetest Thing is a satisfying read that will satisfy your sweet tooth without being syrupy sweet. (4 out of 5 stars)

Based on the book, there are a wide variety of food/cooking type of programs that you could put together.  I recommend having teens sign up as teams.  At the end of the event, teens can do the judging and choose a winner and then, yum, there’s lots of good stuff to eat.

Cupcake Wars

On the TV show Cupcake Wars, contestants cook and direct a variety of cupcakes in a series of three challenges.  In the final challenge, contestants must not only make cupcakes but design a display to showcase them.  For the sake of simplicity, and so you don’t accidentally burn down your library, I recommend asking a local bakery to donate unfrosted cupcakes for this activity.  With the promise of publicity most should be willing to donate.

Throughout the book Sheridan and the TV show are planning a fake sweet 16 for Sheridan with a luau theme.  Ask contestants to design and decorate cupcakes for a luau themed party and then you can judge your entries on things like creativity, originality and execution.

For a second round you can buy a variety of inexpensive luau decorations (Oriental Trading usually sells them) and have your teams create a display to showcase their cupcakes.  Other cake themes in the book: mermaids and barnyard animals.

If cupcakes proves to be too expensive, you could substitute sugar cookies for a canvas.  And because pancakes play a part in this title, you could also do some pancake decorating.

Iron Chef

I have done an Iron Chef program before and to be honest, it was a very popular program and my teens begged to do it again.  Because I worked in a library with no cooking facilities, I purchased a wide variety of dry good and dessert items and let the teens go wild with creativity in creating desserts.  Some of the items I purchased included marshmallows, chocolate bars, pretzels, various candy bits and toppings, graham crackers, whipped cream, etc.  You could alternately purchase sandwich ingredients and see who could make the best tasting, most creative sandwich, for example. 

Again, you divide your teens into teams and just let them be as creative as possible with the ingredients that they have.  Simply specify the number of dishes they need to prepare (it is 5 on the Food Network show) and let them know if you want different types of dishes or give them free reign. (YouTube clip of a library teen iron chef competition to give you ideas.)

Cake Challenge

Of course at the heart of The Sweetest Thing is cakes.  You could definitely get a cake decorator to come in and do a workshop where they taught basic techniques and how to do things like make roses.  You could have contests to see who could roll out the smoothest fondant or make the best gum paste flowers.  The ideas are really limitless.  The Grand Prairie Library system that I work for recently had a cake decorating contest for National Library Week and had entrants bring in their already decorated cake for judging and this is certainly a viable option as well.

Keep in mind you can also do a variation of the “gingerbread house” by using graham crackers, frosting and a variety of candies as decorations.  They don’t even have to be houses, they can be any type of scenes that teens want to create. For more information, visit My Recipe.

If you really wanted to have fun with it and take it to the next level, be sure to bust out your Flip camera or iPhone and record the experience.  You could even get some of your teens to do on camera demonstrations and show what they are making.  Then, edit your video and share it online.  Don’t forget to pull some of your favorite (easy) recipe books off the nonfiction shelves and some of your favorite teen fiction titles dealing with food to put on display in the room.

Some other fun food program ideas:

  • Have teens share their favorite recipes and put together a library teen recipe book
  • Remember to take pictures of any creations to share on your social media sites
  • Have local restaurants provide a main dish and have a taste of the town program and book discussion group
  • You can make dessert pizzas (large cookie crust, pudding or whipped cream for “sauce” and various fruits as toppings) (http://www.instructables.com/id/Dessert-Pizza/)
  • Have a pizza tasting challenge where local pizza places donate pizza and teens vote on their favorite pizza place
  • Do a Coke/Pepsi taste challenge
  • Do an Oreo stacking contest
  • Challenge: How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop
  • Decorate aprons, chef hats or oven mitts and pot holders
  • Decorate placemats or plates to showcase food creations
  • Make recipe cards or cook books (Online recipe card maker and Printable recipe card generator or simply use card stock or scrapbook paper).  You can make your own cook books using 3-ring binders and dividers, simply decorate the outside and gather your favorite recipes.  There is also this organize your family recipes craft at Martha Stewart.  And here is another scrapbooking recipe cards activity. You can also make homemade envelopes to mail your favorite recpies to friends and family.
  • Oriental Trading has a Design Your Own Lunch Box Tin you can purchase and decorate. These are also great for recipe card holders or just a catch all.
  • Make food gifts in a jar (http://www.squawkfox.com/2008/12/02/holiday-gifts-8-homemade-gifts-in-a-jar-with-free-printable-gift-tags/)

The Sweetest Thing discussion guide with a recipe for Cake Girl Fondant can be found here.

Have you read The Sweetest Thing? Tell us what you think.  And share any fun food programming that you have done in the comments.

Cupcake Wars, Iron Chef, and the Challenge programs are all based on TV shows that appear on the Food Network and are the property of said network.

Top 10 Tuesday: From Beyond the Grave

In the end, life inevitably always ends in death. Death and taxes you know.  A lot of teens can avoid the taxes part, but they often get to the death part too early, especially in teen fiction.  But death is a funny thing, and you don’t always stay dead.  Or you hang out in limbo while you wait to learn life’s GREAT LESSONS.  So here, for your reading pleasure, is a list of books that tell their stories from beyond the grave, where teens come back to make things right, fall in love, or just haunt the people who made their lives miserable.  They are not always ghost stories, because you don’t have to be a ghost to haunt someone.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

“Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around it, let it slide like coins through you fingers. So much time you can waste it.
But for some of us there’s only today. And the truth is, you never really know.” (Lauren Oliver)

The idea for this Top 10 list came as I was reading Before I Fall the other day.  Here, Samantha Kingston dies in a car accident on her way home from a party, and yet she keeps waking up to repeat this day over and over again.  The question she must ask herself is why: What happened on this day that she is supposed to change?  Before I Fall is an interesting book because in the beginning, our main character is really not that likeable.  And yet, as she relives this day over and over again she comes to understand who she is and tries to find a way to make it right while she still has a chance.  It is an interesting story about bullying and how we affect those around us. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

The remaining books on our Top 10 list involve teens telling their stories from beyond the grave through unique storytelling devices or living as ghosts to continue their tale . . .

“You can’t stop the future
You can’t rewind the past
The only way to learn the secret
…is to press play.” (Jay Asher)

“Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes the choices make you.” (Gayle Forman)
“You can obsess and obsess over how things ended- what you did wrong or could have done differently- but there’s not much of a point. It’s not like it’ll change anything. So really, why worry?” 
(Jess Rothenberg)
“New Orleans is a city that’s defined and therefore haunted by its past.” (Paula Morris discussing Ruined at http://www.bookdivas.com/interviews/2010/03/interview-paula-morris)
“Dear sir: twelve hours is as twelve years to me. I imagine you in your home, smiling, thinking of me. That I am your heart’s secret fills me with song. I wish I could sing of you here in my cage. You are my heart’s hidden poem. I reread you, memorize you, every moment we’re apart.”  (Laura Whitcomb)
“and if we can change
things that have
already happened
if those planes can fly in
uneasy formation
if that splinter moon
can blow away the shadows
then anything,
anything at all.”  (Jaclyn Moriarty)
“Great. Not only do I have an angry spirit guide, but an angry spirit guide with a vindictive streak and an unnatural knowledge of show tunes. Better and better already.”  (Stacey Kade)
“I started wondering about how someone would feel if they got a letter from a dead girl; what if the relationship between the two had been bad? Then my head was off into why had the relationship been bad. The novel started to form.” (Gail Giles discussing Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters at http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/lit_resources/authors/stories_behind/storygiles.html)
“My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered.”  (Alice Sebold)
Now it’s your turn, tell us your favorite stories of teens speaking beyond the grave and trying to right wrongs.  Don’t forget to tell us what your favorite title on the list is.

The Secrets of the (Probably Not So Much) Immortal Michael Scott

Yesterday was my 17 year wedding anniversary and, like any good teen services librarian, I ditched my husband, grabbed my tween, and journeyed to a magical place – the bookstore – to meet author Michael Scott.  (Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds, we had dinner together later.  Me and the Mr. that is, not Michael Scott and I.)  It is always fascinating to hear authors talk about their work, their writing process, and to get those little glimpses into who an author is.  So today I bring you a look at the secrets of the (probably not so much) immortal Michael Scott, the author of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series.

During his author visit, Mr. Scott shared with us his ten year journey to write the 6 book series The Secrets of the Immortal of Nicholas Flamel.  The most fascinating tidbit: besides the two main characters, Sophie and Josh, every single character and every single place in the story are rooted in real life.  He researched the story to such a degree that, should you choose, you can go and fact check the story.  Whereas most fantasy authors get a fiction book editor, Mr. Scott got a nonfiction book editor who did just that.  And one fan went through and Google mapped the story.

Image from RandomHouse.com where they have reading discussion guides

Mr. Scott began our journey (with an amazing Irish accent I might add) by discussing the root of legends and myth.  At the heart of every legend, Mr. Scott maintain, is a grain of truth.  There is evidence of at least 5 Robin Hood characters in real life.  There is evidence that the city of Troy really existed; and if the city of Troy is real, what about its inhabitants like Achilles.  With this series, Mr. Scott wanted to do folklore and myth, but do it in a different way.

Nicholas Flamel was a real person who had acquired great wealth, and like most wealthy people of his time, it was believed that he had his wealth buried with him.  Yet, when grave robbers went to rob his grave, they found it empty.  Throughout the years following his death people kept reporting that they had seen him at various places.  This is how it came to be believed that Nicholas Flamel had learned the secret to alchemy and immortality.  As Mr. Scott sat in the restaurant that was once Flamel’s home, he knew that Flamel would be the hero of his story.  10 years later, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel is published in 37 countries and in 25 different languages.

The key, says Mr. Scott, to writing a story is to write the ending first.  When you know what the destination is, it’s easier to put the pieces into place to get there.  Ten years later, he has finally put the ending to his story in place and he said it worked almost perfectly, there was very little he had to tweak to make it fit.

Although Flamel may be the hero of this story, Mr. Scott wanted to tell a story about family.  Twin legends exist in every culture, but what happens if you have twins with unbalanced power?  What if one twin was somehow special and the other was not?  Here you have a theme of mirror images and how they relate to one another.  In addition, you have the theme of family and who, in the end, you can trust.  Mr. Scott says he doesn’t necessarily write with a message, but this became the heart of the story he wanted to tell.

The Enchantress is the last book in the series and in writing it, Mr. Scott has put an end to this particular 10 year journey.  Although there are certainly a lot of great characters introduced in the series and there is the possibility for short stories to be written to fill in the gaps.  In the end, Mr. Scott says, “if you don’t weep buckets you have a heart of stone.”  Apparently, very few characters make it out alive in our series – so much for immortal.

One of the audience members asked Mr. Scott who his favorite character was and he said Dr. Dee.  Dr. Dee it turns out was the original 007, a spy for Queen Elizabeth who signed his correspondence to the Queen with two large ovals, representing eyes, and the number seven.  It is Dr. Dee Scott maintains that has the biggest journey and shows the most change. (Note, there is a Dr Dee Tumblr)

Proving that I am a genius, Mr. Scott then talked about how the Internet was changing the face of reading and writing (see The Relational Reading Revolution).  He mentioned that when a new book is released he will have messages at the end of the day from his fans asking him questions because authors are now accessible, the response is immediate.  On top of that, there is now some expectation that he will reply and engage in the conversation.  This, he maintains, challenges him to be a better writer.  I will say that very evening I tweeted that I had skipped my anniversary to go meet him and he did tweet back and send Happy Anniversary wishes, which was very kind indeed.  I was giddy with delight when he was mentioning all this though and like I said, I call trademark on the term!

Mr. Scott did end with some tips for writers:
1.  If you can lie, you can tell a story
2. No more vampires, please
3. Don’t use Wikipedia for your research, it is useless
4. Read a lot, readers make better writers
5. Write the ending first (see above)

And then, because we live in a world where books are made into movies before the book sometimes even hits the shelves, we talked about whether or not the series would be made into a movie.  Mr. Scott is open to the idea, but he is fiercely protective of his baby, as he should be, and wants to make sure it is translated well to the movie screen.  For every The Hunger Games, there are those Eragon and The Golden Compass movies.  A good movie can make a book, and a bad one can break it.

It was such an honor to meet Mr. Scott; he gave such a thoughtful and passionate discussion about his work.  I got a signed copy of The Enchantress, which I could give away on the blog, or give to my teens as a SRC prize, but will probably end up keeping for myself.  Although if I was really smart, I would give it to The Mr. as a 17 year anniversary present.

Book Review: This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

“This must be what Dorothy felt like, I think. Maybe. If Dorothy was six scared teenagers and Oz was hell.” (This is Not a Test, Courtney Summer.”

It is always assumed that when the zombie apocalypse happens we will do everything in our power to survive, but what if the morning all hell breaks loose, you were already planning to end it all?  That is the superbly unique premise that Courtney Summers brings to us in This is Not a Test, hands down one of the most stunning looks at the ZA I have ever read.

For Sloane Price, the end of the world happened years ago when her mother died and her father decided that her and her sister Lily would be his very own punching bags.  The morning that it happens Sloane is trying to choke down her burnt toast in complete silence in the allotted ten minutes that she has to eat breakfast.  In some ways, the zombie apocalypse brings for her a freedom that she has never known before.  And she, more than anyone, is equipped to live in a world now over run with fear.

She is a part of a group of six teens that end up making their way to the now abandoned local high school.  Here they wander the silent hallways alone, praying that the madness doesn’t break down the doors and sink their teeth into their flesh.  Except Sloane, she often wants to sleep walk into the crowd of teeming zombies, having decided a while to check out.  While everyone else is desperately trying to stay safely in, she is trying to find a way out.

Slowly, as the clock ticks, food supplies dwindle, and the somewhat safety they have come to know in this knew world shatters, they must each decide if they even want to live:  He is “made of the kind of energy people with hope have” notes our very broken Sloane of another character.  She is opposite them in every way and they don’t understand why.

This is Not a Test is a tightly coiled snake waiting to explode; 90% of the book takes place in the high school with nothing but these six characters, proverbial sitting ducks, waiting to see which group, the living or the undead, will outlast the other.  These six teens slowly peel back the layers of each others souls, taking pieces of flesh with them and wounding each other in ways far more devastating then the teeth of a zombie ever could.  And through it all, the thudding on the outside doors pulses with a frenetic energy of fear that threatens to rip through every page – until it finally does and any illusions of safety are ripped away. 

Time and time again, Sloane is forced to decide whether or not she truly wants to live.  This new world is no worse or better than her previous one, just a different version of it.  The monsters may be different, but hers has always been a world filled with monsters.  The ghosts that haunt her mind – her soul – are in some ways so much worse than the monsters waiting outside to eat her flesh. And that is the unique perspective that This is Not a Test brings to the tales of zombie lore: this is a quiet, haunting tale of how for one girl, the world didn’t really change, just the face of the monster did.

It seems weird to say, but This is Not a Test is a beautiful book; it is beautifully written with every page soiled by the pathos of a wounded soul trying to decide whether or not life is even worth fighting for.  It has a slow, languid pace of subtle tension throughout most of the pages, with sudden bursts of fierce and stunning thrills.  And like all good zombie fiction, it makes us pause to consider who the real monsters are: the zombies who have lost all self will and kill because an illness compels them to, or those who remain and are willing to sacrifice anything – or anyone – in order to survive.

I don’t even have the words, the skill, to tell you how rich and amazing this book is.  It has pitch perfect pacing, a richly oppressive atmosphere, and a heartbreaking main character that your just not sure what to hope for her. A definite 5 out of 5 stars and it goes right on my list of Top 10 Zombie books.  Buy it, read it, tell your teens to read it. (This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers is released in June 2012 by St. Martin’s Griffin)

TPIB: Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

I am a huge fan of cover art.  Like…HUGE.  It’s no mistake that teen books have some of the best cover art out there and generally because most of our teens are looking for things that are visually appealing.  But some of the books that I read and fell in love with didn’t have the best covers.  When I would try to booktalk these books or hand sell them to my teens in the stacks, they looked at me like I was insane.  The conversation would go a little something like this:

Me: OMG I just read Bloody Jack and it’s about this girl who cuts off her hair and joins the Navy as a boy in disguise but then…she falls for one of the guys on the ship.  Except he doesn’t know.  Because he thinks she is a dude.  It’s awesome.
Teen: This book looks like it needs to go in the Children’s section.  That cover is stupid looking.
Me: But trust me…it’s really good.  And here’s a good book called Mare’s War about a girl who has to travel cross country in the car with her grandmother and learns that her grandmother was one of the first African-American women to participate in WWII.
Teen: Is it a picture book?
Me: ::jumps out of library window::

So you can see the dilemma.  And my teens aren’t the only ones who thought the cover was crazy.  It was changed for BOTH books on their paperbacks to a much more appealing cover.  See for yourself.
Older covers on top…new covers on bottom.  BIG difference.
So, I decided to take book speed dating and turn it into something else.  I created a book speed dating program of sorts and called it ‘Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover’.   I would then grab 20-30 books, depending on how long I had for the program, and type the titles and authors on a little worksheet I created. 

When the teens sat down, they received a worksheet and a book and then were asked to place a check in the column entitled ‘Front of Book’ if they would read this book judging only from the cover.  Then, they had 15 seconds (I timed them) to read the jacket flap and see if that changed their mind.  And then one full minute to read from any part of the book that they wished.  Some started at the end, others at the beginning.  When the time was up, they were asked to place a final check if they would read this book now, even with a cover they may not have liked or even a description that they thought wouldn’t interest them. Instead of discussing the books, they then passed them to the next person and the process continued until all books had been completed.

The end result?  Most of the teens were surprised to find out that the books they didn’t think they would like became the ones they were wanting to check out when they left the program.

When we were done, I would let them eat and talk while I made photocopies of their sheets of paper.  They were able to bring home a personalized ‘to-read’ sheet, and then I kept one on file because the chance of them making it home and keeping that sheet?  Exactly.  And many of the teens returned to ask to see their sheets so they could find another book.

This program did two things for us as a branch.  First, it helped the teens make a match with books that they might not have picked up while browsing.  But the second thing it did was for me as a librarian.  It showed me where I needed to strengthen my book collection.  After several months, I began to notice trends popping up with certain types of books: high fantasy, contemporary novels, and sports books.  Most of the paranormal reads?  They never checked them out.  So, I started to buy with my teens in mind.  Granted, this was only a small sector of my reading population, but most of us know that after a while, we don’t get to see many of the faces checking out the books and sometimes don’t get the interaction of finding out what our teens like and don’t like.

For more info, please comment and if you would like a copy of the original form, feel free to ask for that too and leave your email address!

— Stephanie