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The ARC for this sequel to her 2014 novel Firebug hit my doorstep extremely early, but I still dropped everything to read it – and I was not disappointed. I enjoyed this entry into McBride’s universe every bit as much as her previous novels. Rejoining her characters felt like coming home.
Summary from the publisher:
Ava is having a rough time. Getting rid of Venus didn’t set her free—she’s still Coterie. Her new boss seems like an improvement, but who knows if he’ll stay that way? The Coterie life changes people. And since Ava’s currently avoiding her friends after (disastrously) turning down a date with Lock, well, everything kind of sucks. And that’s not even taking into account the feelings she might have for him.
But when a mysterious illness starts to affect magical beings, it’s up to Ava and her team to stop its spread . . . or else one of them might be next.
I don’t really want to get into the plot here – too many spoilers. What I’d like to reflect on, however is Lish McBride’s ‘dual giftedness’ that makes her one of my favorite authors. As I said above, rejoining her characters felt like coming home. A model of ‘show not tell,’ McBride’s characterizations are delightful. Even her minor characters come fully fleshed with individual flaws and weaknesses. Her main characters are so fully realized that you feel they are close friends after reading the story. Secondly, McBride is gifted in the style of storytelling I like most, where individual threads of story are introduced individually and slowly woven together to form a complete and often bizarrely interrelated story. In the beginning, all you can see are the separate threads. By the end they make a picture so complete and detailed, without ever ‘overtelling.’
If I were you, I would drop everything to get my hands on a copy of Pyromantic. And if you haven’t yet read Firebug, or her other novels in this world Hold Me Closer, Necromancer and Necromancing the Stone, you are in for a treat!
Pyromantic hit shelves on Tuesday, March 21st.
Our weekly STEM program for 3 to 18 year old patrons took a turn for the galactic yesterday as we focused on Star Wars. None of the ideas I’m about to link to are my own, but I will tell you how well they worked for us and give you some tips for success.
Our first activity was releasing Lego Star Wars figures from ‘carbonite.’ You can find the original post here. We used a combination of baking soda and water to freeze the minifigs into ice cubes. First hot tip – they don’t fit in standard ice cube trays. Luckily, I actually had some Star Wars themed jello molds (don’t ask) and they fit in those. We used vinegar to dissolve the ‘carbonite,’ but unlike the original post, I had the kids use pipettes to wash the baking soda away gradually. It really depends on your level of patience, but I think they had fun. Your mileage may vary.
Next we moved on to this activity – creating light saber cards. This was probably my favorite activity and the one I would consider the most teachable moment. If you scroll down in the post, you can find links to all the necessary materials, which were surprisingly affordable. There are also free printables to make the cards themselves. The blogger created one version for ‘May the Fourth’ and one for ‘May the Force,’ so you can use it year round.
We made balloon hovercrafts as detailed here. I’m sure you have some old CDs or DVDs and balloons around, and who doesn’t have a hot glue gun? Unfortunately, the other necessary piece (a pop up bottle lid) is much more difficult to find these days. Almost all of the items that used to have them, such as dish soap and sports water bottles, have switched to the new flip top model. I found them from some online vendors, but you either had to purchase thousands of them or pay exorbitant shipping fees. My best advice is to make friends with people who polish their hardwood floors – all of those containers still use the pop up lids, as does dish soap from the Mrs. Meyer’s company. It’s not ideal, but it is doable if you plan ahead (or have lots of friends with hardwood floors.)
We made these light saber sensory bottles, as well. The post recommends using VOS water bottles, which are quite expensive. We used the large Smart Water bottles because it is what I like to drink. I would recommend going with a smaller bottle, though.
Finally, we made some origami Millennium Falcons. There are many different versions of the instructions online, but the one I found easiest to follow is here.
Happy Star Wars day preparations to all!
I don’t do enough of it with our students. I’m working to change that. One of my goals is to make creative writing a cornerstone of my library practice.
A group of students recently participated in the creative writing exercise–“I wish everyone knew that…” This exercise is not new, of course—it’s not a revolutionary concept, but that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful. I love this activity. I added another writing prompt in case any student wanted to extend the idea:
I wish __________ (a specific person or group of people) knew that…
I thought that some students might choose that option and write about family, teachers, girls, etc. How small and limiting my thinking was! As always, our students are big thinkers who care about national and global issues.
I’m reprinting the work of one of our writers—J—with his permission and my thanks. No commentary from me is necessary, other than to say, our students deserve the world—and our time and respect as they work to one day change it.
I wish Donald Trump knew that not all Mexicans and foreigners come to the United States of America to sell drugs or rape or commit other crimes. Immigrants like me come to America or came to America to live a better life. To escape from their horrible jobs and get ones to provide for themselves and family. WE come to get better jobs. WE COME FOR OPPORTUNITIES! —J
I’m Julie Stivers at @BespokeLib—and my students are amazing. I look forward to seeing them every Monday!
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How does one tell the story of a week where our students got to meet and learn from an award-winning author?
You share some quotes. Of course!
I love how you made Reina a brave, strong girl. ~Jalen, 6th Grader
To prepare for the lucky reality that was G. Neri serving as a Writer-in-Residence at our school for a week, we underwent extensive prep. Every student in the school read G. Neri’s short story in verse Under Berlin—part of the Open Mic collection, edited by Mitali Perkins (2013) and then created digital book covers. Students connected to this story of turning prejudice on its head and when they signed a welcome poster, they included thoughts on the story and main character, Reina.
Yummy was the best book I have ever read. ~Multiple. Various.
I have never seen students as interested in a book as they were in G. Neri’s graphic novel Yummy (2010). All 7th and 8th grade students read the book and participated in a creative, critical thinking activity as a culminating project in the weeks and months leading up to our author visit. On the welcome poster, many students expressed this sentiment. How amazing is it that students then got to MEET the author of their new favorite book?
My books are the ammunition and I’m shooting them out with the hope that they hit you. ~G. Neri
The week started with two large group sessions where G. Neri gave presentations on his books, his unique entry into a writing career, and the writing process. In thinking of books as Weapons of Mass Information, G. Neri carried this analogy to his own many books and his hope that they would hit students with information. Knowledge. Make them think.
Everyone is a natural storyteller. ~G. Neri
This was touched on in his school-wide presentations, but when G. Neri starting working with his three writing groups for the week, he expanded on this idea, reminding students that they tell stories every day. Their verbal experiences with friends, family, classmates, and teachers have already taught them the rhythms and the hooks of story. Writing is just putting that to paper.
Give yourself permission to suck. Just try it. Get it down. ~G. Neri
As the writing groups—20 students in all—began working, G. Neri stressed the importance of not over-thinking that first effort. Powerful words for writing, but also life. Our work doesn’t have to be perfect immediately—we just need to start. Try it. Get it down.
A good stopping point comes at a dramatic beat. ~G. Neri
As G. Neri worked with those 20 students over the course of five days—in three separate groups—he framed their writing activities around technical advice on the mechanics of creative writing from character to setting to pace.
You can use your voice to help people understand how you feel and change perceptions. ~G. Neri
In one activity, students were tasked with thinking of a situation where they or someone they knew was discriminated against. In addition to being a springboard for reflection and powerful writing, it served as inspiration for our students to use their bold and unique voices to…well…change the world.
Why would I pick another book? Yummy is so amazing. ~Shania, 8th grader
Each of our students chose which of G. Neri’s books they would like to keep and then had him sign either the book or a book plate while he was here. Yummy was the most popular choice, but many students chose Chess Rumble (2007), Ghetto Cowboy (2011), or Tru and Nelle (2016).
Characters who struggle are more interesting. ~G. Neri
Neri meant this as writing advice, but it felt like a life affirmation for our students. At our alternative school, all of our students have some sort of struggle in their pasts, at the very least, academic difficulties at their base schools. Many, though, have faced other challenges in terms of family, behavior, or peer groups. People who struggle ARE more interesting. Yes, of course, in the pages of books, but also simply as our teens navigate their life stories.
When I was reading the book, that is just what I imagined! ~William, 7th Grader
The students who belonged to the 7th and 8th grade writing groups read Ghetto Cowboy in advance of the visit. While he was here, G. Neri showed the students some exclusive footage of real-life urban Philadelphia cowboys shot by the filmmakers who are turning Ghetto Cowboy into a movie. Exciting news! And, exciting for students to see what they had seen in their own heads turned into footage on a screen.
He had a mushroom haircut. ~Amin, 8th Grade Booster
Hearing the students share their own writing is what our Writer-in-Residence weeks are all about. Their voices are funny, brave, insightful. Magical. Often, too personal to include here. With this five-word on-target description of a character, Amin demonstrated how to visually depict someone and was rewarded with laughter from all of his fellow writers.
Yummy had me about to shed a tear. ~Kiyah, 7th Grader
On the morning of G. Neri’s last day, a group of students that were not part of the writing groups were invited to the library to have breakfast with the author for an informal session. The students asked questions and shared their sentiments about the book. Whenever the conversation moved away from Yummy, Kiyah would bring it back, finally exclaiming just how wrapped up she was in Yummy’s story.
We got G. Neri. ~Christopher and DJ, 8th Graders
During a break on that last day, G. Neri played kickball with a class of 8th grade PE students. How meaningful for our students to be able to adamantly claim a favorite author as a member of their kickball team!
I am in the writing group. ~Jerry, 8th Grader
The welcome sign the students created is filled with quotable phrases about specific books and characters. This, though, from Jerry is my favorite quote. When, I first saw it, I chuckled. Then, I almost cried. With this bold statement, Jerry is cloaking himself in the identity of writer. A powerful gesture for him to make and an empowering identity to wear.
I’m Julie Stivers at @BespokeLib ~ thank you to both G. Neri for working with our students and to our school administration for supporting our Mount Vernon writers!
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Preparing for his visit has been the focus of my teaching for over two months. Every student in our school has read Under Berlin [G. Neri’s short story from the wonderful collection Open Mic, edited by Mitali Perkins] and created a digital book cover. All 7th and 8th grade students read Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. Afterwards, we examined what it would mean to alter one element of Yummy’s story. How would that have changed his narrative? Students were empowered to do creative, critical thinking for this project. They each chose one action or reality to change in Yummy’s childhood and then rewrote Yummy’s story by producing animated videos of his new narrative via Biteable. [They were amazing. I might have cried while we were having our mini-movie premieres. Okay. I did cry.]
With two 7th and 8th grade writing groups, we’ve been reading Ghetto Cowboy during an elective-like period. The students in these groups will be working for one or two classes each day with G. Neri on different aspects of creative writing.
I can’t stress enough how important logistics and preparation are in terms of welcoming authors into our schools. I recently wrote about this topic and I want to touch on that today.
The January/February 2017 Knowledge Quest, the journal of the American Association of School Librarians, focused on Equality vs. Equity. The issue was subtitled Diversity Matters: Moving Beyond Equality toward Equity in Youth Services and edited by Kafi Kumasi and Sandra Hughes-Hassell.
I was lucky enough to write about my #MdlPwriters that worked with visiting author Matt de la Peña last year and I’ve been revisiting my reflections on logistics and preparations these past few months. I think this plan works because it’s grounded in an equity-based framework.
The ideas paraphrased below were originally written about in: #MdlPwriters: 14 Powerful Voices by J. Stivers (2017). Knowledge Quest, 45 (3), 29-37.
As librarians hosting a Writer-in-Residence, it’s imperative that we:
When we prepare using this framework, we are then able to essentially get out of the way and let our students and the author powerfully connect via literature and creative writing.
I’m Julie Stivers at @BespokeLib—have a great week!
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On June 3, 1989, countries around the world watched in horror as the Chinese government cracked down on protestors in Beijing who were demanding democratic reforms from the Chinese Communist Party. Western news outlets captured the scene as tanks rolled through the streets on their way to Tienamen Square, the center point of the protest. Demonstrators took to the streets to bar the Army’s way, only to have the tanks crush them or soldiers fire weapons on them. The official death toll was 241 (including soldiers) with some 7000 injured, but many critics place the casualty rate much higher. The government mission was successful; however, effectively ending demonstrations for democratic reforms in Mainland China to this day.
For those of us born in the U.S. in the late 1960s or ‘70s, such government brutality seemed impossible. How could the Chinese government blatantly murder unarmed protesters in the modern age? One iconic photo, in particular, sent a collective chill through the Western world: the image of a man standing before a line of tanks that were about to run him over in cold blood. It was unthinkable, and yet it was happening before our eyes. There was a sense of superiority for democracy over totalitarian rule, because democracy would not allow murder to silence free speech and assembly.
But those who had lived through the Kent State massacre less than twenty years earlier were here to teach us otherwise. Most young Americans in 1989 had never heard of Kent State or had only a vague sense that something unfortunate had happened there. But for those who had lived through the Vietnam War years, the Kent State shootings represented a true test of our democracy.
On May 4, 1970, National Guard troops on the campus of Kent State University opened fire on unarmed student protestors, killing four and wounding nine. Initial reaction mostly blamed the students, and one early news report even claimed that a Guardsman had died. The public was given a narrative that the massacre was in self defense. The Guard claimed there had been sniper fire, although this was later debunked. They claimed large bricks and other projectiles had been thrown at them and they were in fear of being physically overrun by the large group of students.
Most people, including the main stream media, were content with these excuses. Many felt that students across the country were out of control and needed to be reined in, and a lack of parental discipline was enabling a generation of spoiled anarchists. Now they would know their limit.
Students nationwide rallied behind the KSU students; however, staging the first national student strike and waging about a hundred strikes a day in the week of the shootings. One hundred thousand people marched in Washington to protest the War and the Kent State killings. Young people were not going to be deterred from getting answers.
The narrative also began to change through investigations by the free press. The Akron Beacon Journal was the first news agency to conduct an intensive investigation, published on May 24, 1970. Later awarded a Pulitzer Prize, the report found that the force used by the Guard was completely unnecessary.
Much of the main stream media continued to support the Guard, though, and ensuing doubt led to increasing demand for a federal investigation. The process became messy and contentious. There has never been any formal admission or governing declaration that the Guard acted intentionally, but as stated by the FBI the use of deadly force was “unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”
Many who were there that day continue to press for some formal acknowledgement that the Guard acted knowingly and intentionally, that they planned to have the murder of students act as a deterrent to what had been a continuous and powerful stream of dissent, and that they did so with the highest level of authority going through Governor Rhodes all the way to the White House.
The truth of what happened that day may never be fully known. But what we do know is that when there is an imbalance of power between authority and dissent, and when that dissent is not protected and allowed to flourish, democracy fails. What sets democracy apart from totalitarianism is not that it always functions as it should, but that we are willing to make the attempt to get to the truth when it does not function properly. The role of the Department of Justice and the free press is critical in times of civil unrest, for it is in these institutions that justice lives. And it is up to everyday citizens, led often by an idealized youth, to demand that these institutions live up to their calling. This is the lesson of Kent State that must be kept alive.
Sabrina Fedel’s debut Young Adult novel, Leaving Kent State, was recently released from Harvard Square Editions. Her YA short story, Honor’s Justice, was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize, as well as a 2016 storySouth Million Writers Award and a Sundress Publications Best of the Net ’16 award. She holds her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. You can find Sabrina at her website, www.sabrinafedel.com, or on twitter (@writeawhile) or Instagram.