Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Friday Finds – August 30, 2013

This week at TLT:

Our Sunday Reflection was an ode to Twitter (and what it can do for you professionally.)

Read Karen’s defense of electronic gaming in the library – it’s important!

And Christie’s follow-up on the benefits of low-tech gaming.

We have book reviews:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christie gives us the low down on the movie adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones.

We posted our 1000th post this week – on Sex in the Library, Things I Never Learned in Library School.

This week’s Take 5 gathers together a list of books on a difficult topic, sexual violence in the lives of teens.


Previously at TLT:

For more on gaming, read our post on International Games Day.

Around the web:

We got a look at more of the movie based on Divergent by Veronica Roth. And then the official trailer came out !

Make Magazine posted an interesting guide for librarians on boosting the maker movement.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries won a Creative Arts Emmy for digital media programming. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Start here. And never wonder again if the classics can be relevant to today’s teens.

VOYA Magazine announced it was the winner of the 2014 St. Katherine Drexel Award from the Catholic Library Association.  Also, we learned that there is a Catholic Library Association.

Ypulse discusses the truth about teen exhaustion with the supernatural movie market.  What does the future hold for YA novel adaptations?  Despite lagging box office receipts, the sequel to the City of Bones, City of Ashes, is still being developed into a movie and Sigourney Weaver has joined the cast.

Book Review: The 100 (The Hundred Book #1) by Kass Morgan

In the future, the Earth has been annihilated and humans live in space cities orbiting the radiated Earth.  100 hundred teen convicts are sent to Earth to determine if the planet is now inhabitable.  The future of the human race depends on it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmL67fIGrEQ]

This book is coming out in September and it is already being developed into a series for the CW.  This was an entertaining read.  Not great quality literature, nothing incredibly new, but it should be a hit with teen readers.  I read it in a couple of hours and was completely satisfied when it was over.  With Ender’s Game coming to the big screen soon and the show coming to the CW, I imagine this will be mega popular.  Plus, it was nice to have some legitimate science fiction.  Pair it with Across the Universe with Beth Revis and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott card and you have an interesting look at life in space.  Also, it would make an interesting pairing with the short story All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury, one of my very favorites and if you haven’t read it you should.

My only quibble, it goes from being an awesome space adventure to another dystopian once the teens are on Earth, but there is still stuff happening up in space and I am sure in future books they will keep going back there for the politics, etc. This is book 1 in a new series. A solid 3 stars because it is an entertaining read and should be popular.  Coming in September from Little, Brown.  ISBN: 9780316234474.

Flashback 1969(ish): Twerp by Mark Goldblatt and If I Ever Get Out of Here Alive by Eric L. Gansworth

I just happened to read 2 books that are set in the 1960s and 1970s for the MG set and they were both really good.  Let me take a moment to tell you about them.  By the way, even though these books were not on my list, this officially puts me past the read 5 Historical Fiction books this year personal challenge I set for myself, right? I’m going with yes.

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

Technically, the tween and I listened to this book in the car as an audio book.  Here’s what you need to know: we laughed out loud in several places, at another the Tween *literally* (real literally, not that new fangled figuratively crap they say it means now) was sitting on the edge of her seat, and in the end – we were both gut-wrenched and sobbing. Again, literally. That ending packs a seriously powerful wallop to the gut.

Twerp is the story of Julian, who is writing in his journal for his English class.  He is supposed to be writing about that thing that happened with Danley (whose name is really Stanley).  But he goes so far out of his way to avoid talking about what happened that he writes about everything but that – until the last moment.  In it he tells the story of his 6th grade year . . . the triumphs (his first date), the tragedies (again, his first date), and everything in between.

This is such a super, amazing, really good book.  It has that element of suspense, because you want to know what happened to Danley.  But the stories building up to it are just your basic stories of childhood: funny, warm, touching, cringe inducing.  If you are old enough to remember the show The Wonder Years, you have an idea of what this book is like.  The tween’s favorite story is about the boy who was walking on the fence and fell off – straddling the fence.  And yes, they say balls. (And although this is completely MG accessible, they also say boner. I only point that out because some people got really upset when The Higher Power of Lucky said scrotum.  To me, it was not an issue because this is in fact how middle school and high school boys talk.)

In the end, Twerp is also a story about bullying.  The thing is, Julian is not a bad kid.  He just sometimes makes really bad decisions.  Julian has a fantastic voice, a great supporting cast of characters (this is a great story of friendship), and this is just a charming story.  I loved listening to it and highly recommend the audio book.

If I Ever Get Out of Here Alive by Eric Gansworth

Lewis “Shoe” Blake lives on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in the year 1975.  He has few to no friends, until George shows up and he doesn’t know that he isn’t supposed to shun the reservation kids.  The two become friends, but they each have their secrets.  Lewis will go to great lengths to hide how poor his family is, but people like the bully Evan make it hard as he goes out of his way to target Lewis.  And yes, this is also a book about bullying.  But it is also a good one.

So, there are a few really great things about this book that I want to make sure you know about.

1)  This is such a spot on depiction of tweens and teens living in poverty.  The lengths that Lewis go through to hide this fact are just soul crushing.  There is a scene where George’s dad is bringing Lewis home and his family sits inside with the lights off so that he can’t actually see what the house looks like.  If this scene doesn’t make your heart grow 3 sizes for kids living in poverty then it is most likely true that you do not in fact have a heart.

2)  This is also a spot on depiction of what it is like to be a military family.  George’s family is a military family, as are a couple of other kids in the school.  There is a lot of talk about not putting down roots and being ready to pack on a moments notice because you never know when you are going to get orders to move somewhere else.  I was a military kid; we moved every 3 years.  This part of the story was an authentic depiction and I thought it was a nice inclusion because I haven’t often seen it in a lot of our MG or YA lit.

3) Lewis is a huge Beatles, Paul McCartney, Wings fan and I loved the inclusion of the music throughout the book.  The book title and each chapter title are somehow derived from McCartney songs.  It is a powerful story about friendship and the power of music: to move you, to bond you, to inspire you.

Like Twerp, If I Ever Get Out of Here is a book about bullying.  With Twerp, if you don’t know much about the story, you don’t realize it is about bullying until the very end.  There are no questions about that in If I Ever Get Out of Here.  But it is more than bullying, it is about discrimination and racism and the hatred that can live in our hearts for people that our different than us. Gansworth himself grew up on the Tuscarora reservation and Cynthia Leitich Smith endorses it (“A heart-healing, mocs-on-the-ground story of music, family and friendship.” — Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of TANTALIZE and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME), which carries a huge amount of weight in my eyes.  This is an important and accessible look into Native American life for those who are not yet ready to read The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

I think that both of these titles are MUST READS for everyone.  They are really good books, moving stories, and important reminders that we really should just be nicer to one another. These are sincere, heartfelt glimpses into our past, both the good and the bad; And in the case of If I Ever Get Out of Here, it is an important reminder of the racism and classicism that can divide us if we let it.  They also both have really strong, well developed voices.

Twerp by Mark Goldbatt.  Published in May 2013 by Random House.  ISBN:
9780375971426.  Also available on audio.

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric L. Gansworth.  Published in July 2013 by Arthur A. Levine Books. ISBN: 9780545417303

Also, check out this Random House feature on Kids and Bullying: Audiobooks for Conversation   

More About Bullying on TLT:
Join the Fight Against Bullying
A Letter to Teens About Bullying
Quotable Ra: Stop Bullying. Period.
When is a Prank More Than Just a Prank?

Take 5: Important Books on a Difficult Topic – Sexual Violence in the Lives of Teens

When I lost my baby, I went into a deep, dark hole.  The only thing that helped me claw my way out of the darkness was to read books about other women having a miscarriage.  It helped me know that I wasn’t alone, that what I was feeling was perfectly normal, and that I could once again – one day – find my way into the light.  That is one of the magical powers of books, they hold our hand on a healing journey and they remind us that the world is big and there are others that do in fact understand what we are going through.  And if you haven’t been through it, they can help shed light on the feelings and emotions that those that have may be feeling.

Statistics indicate that by the time they are 18 years old, 1 out of 3 (or 4) girls and 1 out of 5 boys will have experienced some type of sexual violence in their lives. A troubling statistic to be sure. One that needs to change, to zero.  But it also means that there is a need for books written for teens to include these types of horrific acts.  Not for shock value, but to be the books that remind those teens that they can claw their way out of the darkness.  And to remind those of us that work with and care about teens what their lives may be like, and the emotions that come with that.  As the mom of two little girls, my hope is that we will read these types of books, be horrified, and join together to work to make sure that no more children have to experience this type of abuse and the painful emotional after effects, emotions that can plague survivors for the rest of their lives.

These are 5 books that I think we should all read, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.  Please note, if you click after the jump there will be spoilers for a couple of new titles.  Also, please be aware that the discussion of the titles and of course the titles themselves can be triggers.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak is one of the classics on this topic.  It is a haunting tale of the emotional after effects of one girls rape at a party.  So traumatized is she by what happens, she literally shuts down and loses her voice.  It is also about her slow journey to find herself again, and to speak up when the moment calls for it.  Laurie Halse Anderson is an advocate for rape victims and works with RAINN. 1999, Highly Recommended

Fault Line by Christa Desir

Although rape affects its victims greatly, it also affects those that love them.  Fault Line is unique in that it looks at how rape can affect those that love its victims, in this case the boyfriend.  Told entirely from the boyfriend’s point of view, we see guilt and the desire to rescue those we love as they spiral into the dark aftermath of rape.  Fault Line is also important because it reminds us that not all who are assaulted become quiet and withdrawn, sometimes they react by becoming promiscuous and trying to take control of their sexuality by having a lot of sexual experiences.  This is emotionally a very hard read, and it is very frank in its depiction of many sexual situations and strong emotions. It is a unique and important perspective. 2013, Recommended

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Callie has spent her life on the road fleeing with her mother, who kidnapped her from her father.  Along the way, her mother has had various men in her life, one of whom did horrible things to her.  Where the Stars Still Shine is a beautiful, moving portrait of the deep emotional effects of childhood abuse.  It is one of the most well developed emotional portraits I have read.  Like in Fault Line, Callie becomes promiscuous as a way to try to take control of her sexuality and to try and find the perfect healing sexual experience; It gives her a power over herself that this man in her past took away.  But unlike Fault Line, this story is told from the victim’s point of view so we get a deep, nuanced look into Callie’s psyche.  There is a scene where she freaks out during a sexual encounter because it triggers her that just rings truer than most scenes I have ever read.  It is also a book that leads Callie into a journey of healing as she finds people who truly love her.  As a side note, it is also a good depiction of mental illness (her mother).  Also, there are some disturbing, very realistic scenes that depict what has happened to Callie; though they are not graphic in their depiction, they are so spot on in capturing the terror and emotions.  2013, Highly Recommended

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

There is a rape that occurs in this book, and it is disturbing.  Very disturbing.  But there are also two scenes of street harassment in this book.  On the surface, they don’t necessarily need to be in the book.  But I am glad that Fama included them because it is a powerful reminder of what life for many can be like, how they can have these totally random and unexpected moments where suddenly they find themselves in a perilous position being harassed and frightened by both people they know and complete strangers.  They are effective reminders of what life is like because they don’t need to be in the story, but they are.  Just as these moments shouldn’t be in the lives of our teens, but they are.  When we have written about street harassment here in the past we get a lot of comments from teens who tell us about how they are harassed while walking to and from school and sometimes even in their school hallways.  They way these scenes are included in Monstrous Beauty is a stark reminder of the reality of street harassment. 2012, Highly Recommended

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Sexual violence doesn’t just happen to girls.  Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a powerful story of the emotional effects of rape and sexual violence on a boy, Leonard.  Leonard sets out on his birthday to kill himself, but only after killing the boy who did something horrible to him.  There is a powerful scene where Leonard tells a teacher what happened and he looks at him and says, “You know that boys can be raped, too, don’t you?” (not an exact quote from the book, I don’t have it sitting in front of me).  In that moment he has put a name to that which Leonard could not. 2013, Highly Recommended

In these books, the teens don’t always seek out help (in fact, they almost never do).  And the adults don’t always do the right thing.  But the power is in how well they capture the emotions.  And these are, of course, not the only titles on the subject; many would argue sometimes not even the best.  However, my goal is to capture a wide range of experiences and emotions to represent a wider view on the topic.  Share your thoughts in the comments.

More on the Topic in Teen Issues:

What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
Should there be sex in YA books? 
Plan B: What Youth Advocates Need to Know 
Because No Always Mean No, a list of books dealing with sexual assault
Who Will Save You? Boundaries, Rescue and the Role of Adults in YA Lit.  A look at consent and respecting boundaries in relationships outside of just sex. 
Incest, the last taboo
This is What Consent Looks Like
Street Harassment

Things I Never Learned In Library School: Let’s Talk About SEX, Baby….


I blame it on Parker Posey. I LOVE her as an actress and adore her films, but I swear I think everyone has secretly seen her in Party Girl and now thinks that the library is THE ultimate place to have sex. There is no other explanation. 

In Party Girl, Mary (played by Parker Posey), gets arrested and has to call her godmother (a librarian) for bail money. The Godmother makes it a condition that Mary work in the library as a clerk to pay off the loan (and in the end, Mary decided that she wants to join the most awesome of professions, and become a librarian). In the middle of all this, Mary falls in love with Mustafa (played by Omar Townsend) and at one point they have wild sex in the Romance section of the library.

Why else would people think that libraries are the perfect place to get their freak on…?

CHAIRS ON THE PUBLIC FLOOR
WHO: college students
WHERE: comfy fabric covered chair facing a picturesque view outside, but still on the public floor in plain view of all
WHAT: girl sitting on guy’s lap, skirt up, no underwear; guy with pants down, underwear down
DISCOVERED BY: me
ACTION: after they got dressed, taken to conference room separately for determination of ages to figure out if other laws were broken (statutory rape, etc), then sworn out criminal trespassing warnings

 
CAR PARKED IN THE STAFF PARKING LOT
WHO: adults
WHERE: in a parked car in the staff parking area, with the seats laid back but in plain view of the security cameras
WHAT: definitely intimate relations going on right before the library was to open, which causes an issue because the public book drop was right by the staff parking lot
DISCOVERED BY: me
ACTION: called police to ask them kindly to move their action away from the library and neighboring community center

 
WOMEN’S PUBLIC RESTROOMS
WHO: adults
WHERE: stall of women’s public restroom
WHAT: pretty sure intimate relations because the toilet came off the wall and crashed, the gentleman ran out of the room to wait for his companion and the lady waited a good while to compose herself in the second stall
DISCOVERED BY: other staff members
ACTION: building services called to address property damage, nothing said to patrons

SELF GRATIFICATION DURING AN INTERNET SESSION
WHO: adult
WHERE: public computer terminal
WHAT: patron was looking at personal ads that would not violate terms of computer internet usage while self gratifying underneath the table
DISCOVERED BY: other staff members
ACTION: session terminated, called into manager’s office, criminal trespass issued

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
I hear that a lot- we’re in a public place- WHAT CAN WE DO?
First, know the laws of your state: what is considered public indecency, what is considered porn, whether you’re considered a mandatory reporter, what is considered statutory rape, etc. 
Second, know your library’s policies: what are the steps for dealing with someone looking at porn, for having sex in the corner, for kissing or having a higher level of PDA? Does your system issue criminal trespasses for those who violate library procedures on this level?
Third, know what your management will back you up on. It may seem like splitting hairs between knowing the policy and what your management will tolerate, but in some systems there can be a vast difference. Some managers (and they are the bad ones) will not want to be bothered with the “headache” or the “issue.”
Fourth, know what you’re comfortable handling and know what your boundaries are. If you’re not comfortable addressing someone doing things, KNOW THAT and then figure out a plan for when that might occur.  Remember, it’s not only you but also your staff and coworkers who are ensuring that the library is a safe place. That means making sure that there is someone walking the floors- not just making sure that everyone is finding what they need, but also scouting those weird corners that you can’t see but everyone knows about. It means making sure to get training for everyone on how to increase awareness of what goes on around them- not just zoning in on the reference or information desk. It means making sure that your staff talks- with the shift towards more part-time staff, not everyone may know that a certain patron was removed on Monday, and when they try to come back on Thursday, they may not know to call the police and enforce the criminal trespass order.
So what did we do?
For the college kids, it was just a matter of approaching them, then getting them separated, then calling the cops, because they violated the decency laws. For the adults in the car, we didn’t know what was in the car with them, so the best option was calling the police. For the bathroom, no one caught them doing anything- all we heard was the toilet crashing down. For the self-gratifier, someone came to us reporting it, so we had a “computer glitch” that killed the sessions, and as we brought the system back up, a male staff member took him into the manager’s office to await the police we had already called.

Have you had people getting too sexy for the library? Share your experience in the comments….

Audio Review: W.A.R.P. The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer (review by Cuyler Creech)

It’s the late 19th century in Victorian London, and orphaned Riley has the hard luck of being apprenticed to the heartless and vicious madman illusionist-gone-assassin, Albert Garrick. Riley has been well trained by his master in the shrouded arts of illusion, but when it comes to killing, teenage Riley’s heart just isn’t as black as Garrick’s. Which puts Riley in a bind. If he doesn’t consent to becoming what his master has been training him for since he was a child, Garrick won’t hesitate in slitting his throat and dumping him in the lake with his other victims. When given another chance to prove himself to Garrick, an unconscious man is brought into their hideout, and Garrick has all intents of Riley ending the man’s life. But what Garrick wasn’t expecting was the unconscious man’s strange pendant to light up, actually dematerializing the man and his boy apprentice. In a flash of light Riley is just…gone.
Gone through a wormhole.


Chevron Savano, a Native American FBI agent in an experimental teenage program may have just cost herself her career as a full-fledged agent in the Bureau. After an incident in America, Chevy is sent to a secret facility in present day London for a “babysitting” job watching a strange metal pod associated with an unknown program called ‘W.A.R.P.” Chevy has no idea what the pod does, but has just been told to guard it and watch for a man to step outside of it, which no one has in over thirty years. That is, until one day the pod opens, revealing a boy wearing clothes seriously out of style for the 21st century. And he’s standing over a dead body.
Chevy realizes that she’s been assigned to watch a time machine that operates through wormholes, which the FBI uses to safely relocate witnesses to different time periods; a program appropriately called the ‘Witness Anonymous Relocation Program,’ or W.A.R.P. But this time, the body of its creator and a boy named Riley from the Victorian era step from the past and into the present.
And Riley’s murderous master, Albert Garrick, isn’t far behind. And he’s looking for his apprentice, as well as the secrets of the time warp. And no force, in the past or the future, can stop him.
Can the teen duo from worlds apart, a 19th century orphan and a teenage FBI agent, stop the quantum assassin?
MY OPINION:        
                                               
This was, undoubtedly, a pretty fun read. Eoin Colfer has such a neat vocabulary, and the way his words are threaded together are like succulent beads strung on one huge necklace of awesomeness. This was an audiobook read for me (or is that a listen?), which, if you get the chance, is really fun to listen to. Maxwell Caulfield narrated this time-travelling tale excellently. I didn’t count, but I’d say there were about eight different character voices, which made the telling very alive and realistic. If you find the audiobook version of this, don’t pass it up. 
As far as pace goes, Colfer played out his story pretty well. The tense emotions begin immediately with the first chapter, and keep throughout. The time-travelling subject is kind of awesome, and I’m a sucker for wormholes. The science of it was enough to make me feel like I knew how they worked instead of suffocated by confusing and uninformative jargon of quantum mechanics. Throughout, this was a pretty easy to read story. That being said, I am, after all, not a Victorian, so Riley’s dialogue was a little hard to understand. But Colfer even played that out well, (even Chevy didn’t know what Riley was saying half the time which made for some entertaining banter), and if you’re good with context clues, you’ll get the gist of what he says.
The idea of using time-travel as a means of witness relocation is, in a word I use for, like, everything, awesome. Add a hard-hitting and sarcastic heroine, a time-travelling illusionist/killer-in-training, and a psychopathic quantum man who would make Jack the Ripper wet his pants, and you got yourself one spicy meatball of a story. 
W.A.R.P.: The Reluctant Assassin is the first in a fun and enthralling series, tackling the time warp plane with a whole new look and style with animated and unique characters that will take you on their ride through time. I give 4 out of 5 stars for this quantum adventure tale, and I look forward for what Riley, Chevy, and Colfer have to bring next. 
Karen’s totally irrelevant editor’s note: When I was my Tween’s age, I was totally in love with Maxwell Caulfield.  Grease 2 baby.  I had the soundtrack – on tape! I probably should not be sharing any of this. But I am totally going to listen to this now because he is narrating.

Reel Thoughts: The Mortal Instruments- City of Bones

I was completely excited for this movie- I really like the books (I am in love with Magnus and Alec, and Simon and Isabella). I admit, I went to opening night. Wednesday night after work, IMAX. And the theater was DEAD. According to the ticket taker it was 8% full. That Guy was with me, and had him repeat it because we weren’t sure we heard right- surely he meant 80% from all the buzz (spots on MTV, hype everywhere, clothing lines through Hot Topic, music videos) but no, it was 8%. We scored seats in the middle of the row in the middle of the theater, got our movie theater dinner, and settled in to watch. And I picked up some interesting differences between the movie and the book, things which threw me for a loop and out of the fantasy. Did you catch them? Follow the break below, but if you haven’t seen the movie, or haven’t read The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, be warned, there are spoilers….




WHERE IS YOUR FAMILY?!?!?
Movie: Jace, Alex, and Isabella live in the Institute with Hodge.
Book: Jace, Alex, and Isabella live in the Institute with Hodge, their parents Maryse Lightwood and Robert Lightwood and their other son Max.
Commentary: It’s a huge thing that Maryse and Robert are in charge of the New York Institute while Hodge is cursed to the inside- they were also in league with Valentine, yet their punishment was not nearly as severe. It also sets up a huge family that was caring for Jace and it’s much more crushing in the late books. Max bonds with Clary in the first book, and his destiny is heartbreaking.

DONDE ESTA SU GATO?
Movie: no cat
Book: Church the cat is ever present in the Institute, and seems to be able to understand the Shadowhunters.
Commentary: I was looking forward to Church, and disappointed that he didn’t make the theatrical cut. If you read both series (The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices) he’s even more important.

WHERE FOR ART THO RAPHAEL?

Movie: There’s “The Vampire Leader” but not named
Book: Raphael Santiago, de facto head of the vampires in New York in the absence of the true leader
Commentary: Raphael plays a huge part in the sequels, especially City of Ashes. Why is he just “The Vampire Leader”?

DROPPED BITES
Movie: Simon gains perfect eyesight and starts showing symptoms of being turned into a vampire (including bites), yet nothing is ever mentioned or talked about it in the rest of the movie
Book: Simon was turned into a *rat* at the party, then bitten, but wasn’t showing symptoms or turning until City of Ashes
Commentary: Why show things and then drop them? And why add them in this movie when it’s not going to be followed through?

 
WHO KILLED WHAT?!?!
Movie: Jace kills the dog demon after Clary in her apartment, and the demon that takes the place of Dorthea after they first find the Mortal Cup
Book: CLARY kills the demon in her apartment, and SIMON kills the Dorthea demon
Commentary: WHY does Jace need to do all the killing? I mean, seriously? Clary killing the demon showed that she did have Shadowhunter blood, and Simon killing Dorthea got him on Isabella’s radar and made him more believable about staying in this world. It wouldn’t have hurt to have them stay true to the book.

What did you see that was different/changed from the book/movie? Or what did you think of the movie? Share in the comments!

7 Thoughts I Had While Reading Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan (Book Review)

I basically read Counting by 7s because I ran into John Corey Whaley at TLA earlier this year and he said it had the potential to be this year’s Newbery award winner.  I kind of feel like you should listen when an award winning author recommends a book, so I read it.  He was not wrong.  Counting by 7s is an inspiring book with a great, unique voice.  Below, I share with you seven things I thought while reading Counting by 7s by Holly Golberg Sloan.

But first, a synopsis:

Counting by 7s is the story of Willow Chance, the adopted daughter of an older couple who die in a car accident at the beginning of our book.  Willow is a genius with an uber green thumb and a tendency to be obsessed with medical conditions.  Her unique character makes it difficult for her to blend into our world, and she doesn’t have a lot of friends or many people to turn to in the midst of her loss.  But a variety of characters come into her life that help her navigate the difficult waters of grief and each of them in turn find ways to change their own lives for good.  In the end, Counting by 7s is a story about how we build families with the people in our lives and manage to hang on by our fingernails in the face of adverse circumstances.  It is a moving story of love and hope and how sometimes complete strangers can completely turn your life around and become a family.

Be Inspired, Be Very Inspired

“For someone grieving, moving forward is the challenge. Because after extreme loss, you want to go back.” 

This is hands down one of the most inspiring books I have read.  It basically tells 4 different stories: the main characters, the story of the Vietnamese siblings and their mom that take her in, the school counselor’s story, and the story of a taxi driver, and weaves them all together in this message of hope and built family.  I really loved that this was a clean, inspiring, feel good story that made me want to run to the top of a grassy knoll and spin around with my arms out singing.  Sometimes it is nice just to read an uplifting story and remember that in the end, most of us end up in an okay place even in the face of incredible loss and difficulty.  For me, this is the Wonder of 2013.  For that reason alone, I highly highly highly recommend it.  This is the ultimate story of triumph over tragedy with a beautiful magical realism that courses through it veins and just enchants.

When is Diversity not Diversity

Willow makes friends with two Vietnamese school mates and their mother, Pattie, who eventually become her adopted family.  I loved that there was this diversity included, but I kind of cringed at some of the stereotypes perpetuated here, the main one being that the mom, Pattie, owned a nail salon.  And they lived in extreme poverty conditions.  I also loved how Willow used her genius brain to learn Vietnamese so she could talk to her new found friends and respect their heritage. So in terms of healthy diversity I kind of consider this depiction a wash.  The characters themselves are rich and nuanced, but it definitely perpetuates a few stereotypes.  For the record, I asked Christie and she said this would not have bothered her if the family was still portrayed positively, which they were, so I guess this is a non issue.

Another Look at Poverty?

With news focusing on the increasing number of people (children) living in poverty, I was moved by this look at a family living in poverty.  Willow’s friends literally live in a garage with no running water and use a hot plate to cook on when we first meet them.  There are some big reveals later in the book though that really shake up this picture (see spoilers at the end of the post).  To me, this was the only flaw in the book, which we can’t discuss in depth because it would be a massive spoiler.  So I cheat and discuss it at the end if you want to take a peak.

More Than Labels

“It’s possible that all labels are curses. Unless they are on cleaning products.” 

While reading Counting by 7s I kept thinking about the TV show The Big Bang Theory.  If you spend anytime online you know that many people speculate that Sheldon has Aspergers, although he reassures us that his mother had him tested.  In the beginning of this story, I kept wondering if Willow had Aspergers and I wanted Sloan to give her a label.  This is, in part, because I think it is empowering for us as readers to take a look inside minds that are different than are own.  But it is also, in part, because our minds just seem to want to label everything.  But then Willow herself says the most profound thing about labels and I was able to let the need go.  Why must we label everyone and everything that seems different than ourselves?  Labels can be empowering, they can help people get services and education, etc.  But they can also put them in boxes and help set them up for failure.  In fact, this book without labels – except for the school counselor Dell’s truly messed up labelling system – has some profound things to say about labels.  I loved the way Sloan says it and feel it was such a powerful statement.

What Is Going on in Our Schools?

Teachers today are getting a bad rap in the media, which is unfortunate because most of the teachers I know are dedicated, hardworking, passionate professionals who sacrifice a lot of personal time and money to be successful at their jobs.  Dell, the guidance counselor in Counting by 7s, does not start out as a very good example of a school employee.  He makes it clear that coasting is his goal and he is not in any way vested or qualified to do his job.  But Willow sparks something in him that challenges him to invest.  Of course he then breaks a ton of legal and ethical rules that puts his job in jeopardy, but I give him points for deciding to care.  His story arc was interesting to read, but it was the least realistic and the most problematic given what we know about the laws governing those who work with kids.  Though to be fair, this is by no means a truly realistic story but has an air of magical realism about it when you consider how the garden kind of transforms them all.  Remember, I said Willow was into gardening.  There’s a garden.  Its place and use in the story is very beautiful.  Not since the Secret Garden have we seen such an enchanting garden.

It’s Not Just for Kids

This book is being marketed to the MG crowd, which makes sense because at the heart of it is the story of Willow, an MG kid.  But I think it is appropriate for and works for all ages.  Although this is mainly the story of Willow, it is also the story of many adults as well including Dell the counselor, Pattie the mom, and the taxi cab driver.  These voices are also well depicted and will resonate with older readers.  I really want EVERYONE to read this book.  It is that beautiful.

Flawed but Profound

In the end, I think Counting by 7s is a 5 star book in terms of writing, style, characterization and voice.  Willow has a unique voice that manages to come across as both gifted and still childlike and it is sustained throughout the narrative.  I think there are a few storytelling bumps along the way, including the stereotyping of the Vietnamese family and the ending that would make sense to no mother, but Sloan manages to create a moving, inspiring story that brings together the lives of 6 people and reaches a broad age range of readers.  It is one of my favorite reads of 2013.  4.5 stars, because in the end I subtract half a star for some issues that concerned me or didn’t resonate well. This joins Wonder by R J Palacio as a book that I just recommend across the spectrum for everyone to read.

So . . . About That Ending

Below There Be Spoilers

Serious Serious Ending Revealing Spoilers

I Am Not Kidding – Spoilers

Okay, so I really wanted to talk about the ending.  So, it turns out Pattie, the mom, is actually super rich and can, in the end, buy an entire apartment building for Willow.  Her children are living in a garage with no running water, they eat meals prepared on a hot plate . . . but somehow she is moved to buy an entire apartment building for this child.  The actual children that she gave birth to do not warrant an actual, comfortable apartment, but Willow, a child she has just met, somehow does.  I really had a hard time with this.  As a mom, I just couldn’t imagine.  And it changed the way I felt about the whole rest of the book.  What was a heartbreaking look at poverty became a mother who was really not an awesome parent and who would have her children taken away by children services in real life.  I don’t know how others felt about this aspect of the story, but it did not sit well with me and it really struck me as a deus ex machina.  Technically, you can say she didn’t buy the apartment building just for Willow (they all benefit and move into a positive place, which is beautiful), but Willow is the impetus.  And it will turn out to be a positive change for her and her children.  But how could she have let them live like that for those years?  Maybe it won’t bother others the way it did me, but I got to talk about it so I feel better.  Although I make it sound like a big deal, it obviously didn’t bother me enough to make me not recommend the book, and highly.  So take it for what you will.

Geek is the New Black: Low Tech Gaming in the Library

Karen talked earlier about the benefits of electronic gaming in the library; I’m not going to repeat her points- just go HERE.


However, there is a LOT to be said for low tech gaming as well. While some news outlets seem to think that today’s youth can’t be bothered with these types of games, I call bull. Otherwise, why do I have a line for the games at my library, and a ton of tweens and teens asking me to play games with them?

The low tech games (and to be specific I’m talking board and card games) that we have are all donated in one way or another, and are used CONSTANTLY. They fulfill a host of the 40 developmental assets, not to mention get them involved with each other and off a screen. They involve reading, comprehension, math, vocabulary, memory and strategy, all of which help to build on what we want for our tweens and teens.
 


Not enough? Then check out this TED talk by Stuart Brown:



 

National Gaming Day @ Your Library is November 16th
So what to do with board games? Well, you can have an open gaming day (I call them Low Tech Gaming Days) and have two or three games set up on tables around the room, and let participants play whatever they want to play. I usually have a movie playing as well so that those who want to be in the room but who don’t want to play can have something to do.

Or, have a day set aside for a specific game. Set up a Monopoly day, or contact the local Chess Club or the American Go foundation and see if they can come out and teach a class or three on the basics of those games. 

Talk to your local comic shop about when they have their set dates for the Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon tournament plays, and then set up “free play” days for those in your area that are interested on days/times that won’t conflict with your comic shop (you don’t want to draw from their customer base). All you need are clean tables, some six-sided (normal) dice, scratch paper, pencils, and a staff person in the room willing to listen. Make it clear there’s no trading cards or playing for cards- that’s all for fun.


What games work in a library setting? Well, what do you have? Currently, these are my top games of interest:

Monopoly

Jenga

Apples to Apples
Fluxx

Munchkin
Pokemon
Uno
Yu-Gi-Oh

Chess

 

Which ones work for you? Share in the comments.
 
More on Board Games:

Geek is the New Black: Benefits of Electronic Gaming in the Library, a defense

Recently, I was asked about gaming in libraries.  Specifically online gaming, but much of this same information can be applied to video gaming in libraries as well. Ironically, CNN recently ran an article RE video gaming in libraries, which came across as largely pro.  In our 21st century world, I think that being pro gaming is the way to be. Yes, even for libraries.

In a previous position, I ran an after school program designed to meet the needs of the teens in that community.  It was hugely popular, averaging 50 to 70 teens every Tuesday for about the entire 10 years that I was there, and video gaming was a huge part of that.  At the same time, there would be teens reading, teens talking, and, yes, teens sitting across from each other at a table texting each other.  Because we are living in a 21st century world and our teens are PLUGGED IN.  We could certainly make the argument that they should be plugged in less, but as a library we do a disservice if we ignore this aspect of who we serve because of our personal beliefs.  We are not their parents, we are their librarians and our job is to help them gain access to the resources they need to navigate 21st century information.  Plus, you can always balance your plugged in programming with unplugged programming.  The trick is not to ignore one in favor of the other.


In a time where more and more information is moving to a technology based environment, an increasing number of kids are learning that they suffer from what is known as the “Technology Gap” or the “Digital Divide”.  Children and teens growing up in low income homes do not have the same access to technology as their more affluent peers and they suffer from this lack of access.  The topic is of such high educational importance that the PEW project often does research on the Digital Divide (see it here) and many cities discuss ways to bring broadband access to the state, as well as free wireless access.

Part of the problem we see is that many of those people in positions of power and decision making are not people who are living in the digital divide, so it is easy to become distanced from it and fail to recognize it.  However, those of us working hands on day to day in the schools and at the public service desks of public libraries are reminded on a daily basis how vast that divide can actually be.  We work with people every day who don’t have access to technology that we think of people as having.
Although the Internet can be used in many ways, a popular way among children and teens (and many adults to be honest) is through online gaming.  Although it is easy to dismiss gaming as a superfluous activity, the truth of the matter is that there are a great number of education benefits that come from engaging in gaming.  Yes, gaming has educational value.  It did when we were playing chess and checkers and Monopoly and Life.  And it does when we play online as well.

Computer Literacy 

Literacy in today’s age goes beyond just the basic ability to read and write.  There is, in fact, a new type of literacy that is termed computer or digital literacy.  The ability to navigate and adapt to current and unfolding technologies is a basic life skill for our emerging youth.  Gaming helps them adopt basic tech skills in a fun way that engages them.  In fact, if you teach a beginning Internet class one of the exercises often given to participants is to play Solitaire to get better at manipulating the mouse.  Just as young children learn a variety of basic skills through random, unstructured play, so can our youth learn a variety of computer literacy skills through online play.

Multiplatform Storytelling (Basic Literacy Skills) 

A large amount of online gaming involves basic storytelling.  Heroes go on a quest, basic tasks are given, etc.  Along the way, participants have to read prompts, engage in the story, and help determine the story’s outcome.  In many ways, video gaming is simply another form of storytelling, albeit a more active one.  In fact, it is an online “Choose Your Own Adventure” story that you, the participant, is helping to write. 

Take, for example, the concept of transmedia – Transmedia storytelling (also known as transmedia narrative or multi platform storytelling) is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies. It is not to be confused with traditional cross-platform media franchises,[1] sequels or adaptations. (Don’t hate on me, but this is the Wikipedia definition.)

Many of the items we purchase in our collection now include a transmedia approach.  This means that there are a variety of online activities, including games, that young readers are invited to jump online and do to enhance the story.  Examples of this include the BZRK series by Michael Grant and The 39 Clues by multiple authors.   The very items in our collections are instructing our readers to jump online and engage in the story in a more hands on way.  A customer would be pretty unsatisfied to go to a store and buy a printer but not be able to buy their printer paper there, so it would also be pretty annoying for our patrons to check out and read a book that directed them to go online for additional experiences and be told the very library they checked the book out from doesn’t permit that. 

21st Century Education

21st century has an emphasis on STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math).  This means that young students need to be adept and knowledgeable at interacting with technology and be continually aware of the rapidly changing landscape of the technology world.  In addition, these new skills require a different type of learning, of information access and processing skills, and these skills can arguably only be acquired through frequent interaction with the online world. 

Coding (see Minecraft

One of the primary 21st century skills that STEM education emphasizes is coding.  It is believed that all students today need to learn some basic coding.  Minecraft is a game that was designed to help teach kids coding in a fun, game like environment.  Minecraft is just one example of this type of gaming, but it is currently the most popular.  In fact, many libraries now have Minecraft parties as a regularly occurring program because of the social and educational benefits. 

See also, Why Everyone Should Learn to Code: http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/03/29/codecademy_hacker_school_why_everyone_should_learn_to_code.html 
See also these References from YALSA: http://yalsa.ala.org/blog/2013/04/04/connect-create-collaboratecraft-a-teen-tech-week-post-mortem-minecraft-in-the-library/, http://www.questia.com/library/1G1-317588244/minecraft-programs-in-the-library-if-you-build-it 

Lateral Thinking, Creativity, Innovation (STEM Education) 

Video gaming puts kids and teens in a variety of scenarios where they have to think creatively, problem solve, innovate, lateral thinking and more.  These are all 12st century education goals.  They are, in fact, some of the same benefits that we get from reading, but gaming addresses this in a 21st century way and it does so while engaging in a different type of learning environment/strategy.  There is more than one way to learn, and each way is more effective for different people; by allowing access to gaming, we widen our education net to meet the needs of those with learning disabilities of various types and allowing them to engage in the educational format that works best for them, as opposed to more traditional formats. 

Lateral Thinking Definition: Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. (Edward de Bono) 

Physical Benefits That Impact Learning and Basic Literacy 

Video gaming increases some basic skills such as hand/eye coordination.  These are all skills that are also important to the basic ability to read.  Thus, gaming in the library reinforces many skills that help our youth become better readers and information processors.  That seems to fall under our basic mission.  For another example of the physical benefits of electronic gaming, see Video Games Promote Cognitive Flexibility.

Patron (Customer) Satisfaction and Retention 

Part of remaining vital and relevant not only today but in the future is to communicate to your patrons that you value them and that you have the resources they need to be successful in their formal and informal education.  You cannot alienate a generation of library users by denying them access to a key component of their technology needs and expect them to later come back and find the library both viable and relevant.  By eliminating gaming in the library we will communicate to today’s youth that we do not have what they need and want, that we are not a relevant community resource, and we will be hard pressed to convince them otherwise at some later date.   

Supporting General Education 

A basic part of much classroom education today is supplemented by online games.  In fact, there are entire curriculums such as Study Island that students are assigned and are asked to access outside of the classroom.  These activities involve a variety of math, language and science based games that reinforce things discussed in the classroom.  My tween daughter is instructed by her teacher to log in and participate in a group of games called Study Island, and it tracks her progress.  Her teacher sends me emails reminding me that my daughter is supposed to do this.  We are lucky, we have a basic laptop and Wifi access at home, but not all students do, which is where the public library comes in.

New Days, New Ways.  Different is Not Always Bad, It’s Just Different

Recently, when asked to speak at a staff training event, I was talking about teens and reading when a hand went up in the air: “But teens don’t really read anymore”, this staff member said.  The truth is, teens do read.  Some of them, many of them, even still read traditional books.  But as our world changes, so must our ideas of how we define reading.  You just sat here and read this blog post, you were reading.  Not a book, but still reading.  Teens read, and a lot of them are doing it in new ways provided by technology – including inside of the games that they play.  In order for libraries to remain relevant, we have to understand the patrons that we serve and be able to meet their needs.  We have to adapt.  This means that we have to acknowledge that teens may be reading in different ways, but that they are still reading.  And teens may be learning in different ways, but they are still learning.  The question is, do we want to continue to be a part of their education?  If the answer is yes, then we must find ways to incorporate electronic gaming in libraries.

Additional Thoughts and Resources RE Gaming and Education:
20 Benefits of Video Games: http://www.trendhunter.com/course/gaming-speech
The Educational Benefits of Video Games: http://sheu.org.uk/sites/sheu.org.uk/files/imagepicker/1/eh203mg.pdf
Hidden Benefits of Video Games: http://www.drcherylolson.com/hidden-benefits-of-videogames/
Video Games Help Reading in Children With Dyslexia: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21619592
New Study Finds that Gaming Helps Children Learn Ethical Decision Making: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21619592
Study Finds Playing Video Games Helps You Process Images Faster: http://www.geekosystem.com/visual-stimulus-gamers/
The Benefits of Video Games: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/technology/2011/12/the-benefits-of-video-games/
When Gaming is Good for You: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203458604577263273943183932.html
The Brain 101: http://www.positscience.com/brain-resources/brain-facts-myths/brain-101
Video Games Promote Cognitive Flexibility: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/24/video-games-brain-starcraft-cognitive-flexibility_n_3790610.html

Additional Thoughts and Resources RE Gaming in Libraries:
The Librarian’s Guide to Gaming: http://librarygamingtoolkit.org/
Video Games and Libraries are a Good Mix: http://venturebeat.com/2013/01/18/video-games-and-libraries-are-a-good-mix-say-librarians/
Video Gaming in Libraries 101: http://www.slideshare.net/JustinTheLibrarian/video-gaming-inlibraries101
At Libraries Across America, It’s Game On: http://www.npr.org/2013/08/11/209584333/at-libraries-across-america-its-game-on
Beck, John C and Mitchell Wade. Got Game: How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever. Harvard Business School Press, 2004.
Gee, James Paul. Good Video Games + Good Learning : Collected Essays on Video Games, Learning, and Literacy. P. Lang, c2007.
Gee, James Paul. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Palgrave McMillan, 2003.
Johnson, Steven. Everything Bad is Good For You: How Today’s Pop Culture is Making Us Smarter. Riverhead, 2005.
Nicholson, Scott. Everyone Plays at the Library: Creating Great Gaming Experiences for All Ages. Information Today, 2010.
Neiburger, Eli. Gamers … in the Library?! : The Why, What, and How of Videogame Tournaments for All Ages. American Library Association, 2007.
Prensky, Marc. Don’t Bother Me Mom–I’m Learning. Paragon House, 2006.
Salen, Katie. The Ecology of Games : Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. MIT Press, 2008. Forthcoming
Selfe, Cynthia L. and Gail E. Hawisher. Gaming Lives in the Twenty-First Century : Literate Connections. Palgrave, 2007.
Vorderer, Peter and Jennings Bryant, eds. Playing Video Games : Motives, Responses, and Consequences. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006.
“A Revolution in Library Service: Gaming is More Than Just a Lure into the Library” by Kelly Czarnecki. School Library Journal, May 2007, p34.
“All Thumbs Isn’t a Bad Thing: Video Game Programs @ your library” by Beth Saxton. Young Adult Library Services, Winter 2007.
“From Platforms to Books? I’m Game” by Rollie Welch. Young Adult Library Services, Winter 2008.
“Gaming and Libraries: Intersection of Services” by Jenny Levine Library Technology Reports Sep/Oct 2006, vol. 42., n. 5
“Gaming Advocacy: New Ways Librarians Can Support Learning and Literacy” by Kit Ward-Crixell. School Library Journal, September 2007.
“Why Gaming?” Library Technology Reports, September/October 2006, p10.

Additional Resources and Thoughts RE The Digital Divide:
7 Myths of the Digital Divide: http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2013/04/26/7-myths-of-the-digital-divide/
The Digital Divide is Still Leaving Americans Behind: http://mashable.com/2013/08/18/digital-divide/?utm_cid=mash-prod-email-topstories
The Digital Divide and Its Impact on Academic Performance: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/WRC08034.pdf
Digital Divide: Bridging the Gap: http://www.broward.k12.fl.us/digitaldivide/
Education World: Caught in the Digital Divide: http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/tech041.shtml