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Book Review: Also Known As by Robin Benway

After Angelo left, I circled the park once to see if there were any new locks that I hadn’t seen yet. They were still the same  though, simple and easy to access, and I knocked back the rest of my espresso, spilling a drop on my white shirt (of course), and head hoe.

My mom called when I was two blocks away from the loft. At first I didn’t even realize it was my pone that was ringing. It was a new disposable cell that had some crazy German-dance-rave ringtone, and by the time I finally  got it out of my bag, I was mortified.

“Where are you?”

“I went to see a friend,” I said. “A friend” is what we call Angelo over the phone. “He bought me magazines with teenage girls in them.

“How nice,” She totally wasn’t paying attention. “How was school?”

“Wow,” I said, “how weird is that question coming out of your mouth?”

“It’s definite odd,” she agreed, “and you didn’t answer it.”
 My jacket flapped a little in the breeze from the river, and I tried to button it with one hand. 

“Frustrating,”I told her. “I didn’t see him yet.”

“Really? Why not?”

“Because there are a thousand people at that school : I exploded. “And apparently he ditches a lot, so if you want me to meet him, then I guess I’m going to have to start smoking really bad weed in some back alley with all the other delinquents, or whatever it is that he does!” I sighed and shoved my hair to of my face. Stupid bangs. “This is difficult, okay? 

It requires a little precision. I’m safecracking a person. I gotta figure out the code before I’m in.”

“Honey, we have to submit a report to the Collective by Friday-“

“I know!” I cried. “You think I don’t know that? I’m very aware that this whole thing is on me, thank you very much.:


“Sorry,” I said immediately. “Look, I can do this. I can do this better than anyone because I am a spy, okay? I am a great spy and- and something is licking me.

There was a definite wetness on my calf and I glanced down to see a huge, shaggy golden retriever pushing his nose against my leg, then giving me a big doggie grin. I had seen this dog somewhere before, and I looked from the dog to his leash to his very cute owner.

Oh no, I suddenly realized, my heartbeat flying into overdrive. Oh no, oh no, oh no.

“So,” Jesse Oliver said, “what’s this about being a great spy?”
Being a prodigy safecracker and second generation spy has it’s perks: travel, parents with awesome jobs, avoiding high school and all the drama that goes with it. However, when the Collective decides that Maggie is old enough for her first solo job, it’s off to New York City, and an exclusive high school to spy on Jesse Oliver, son of a high powered media magnet who it’s rumored has stories that could ruin the collective and place Maggie’s parents and friends in jeopardy. Yet can pulling off the biggest jobs around the world have prepared her for high school, being a real friend, and a secret threat to Maggie herself?

Robin Benway (Aubrey, Wait) writes a funny and light spy mystery in Also Known As. Margaret (aka Maggie aka Peggy aka Maisie aka Polly aka) has been cracking safes since she was three and unlocked combination locks instead of playing with toys. Raised by her master-spy parents and always on the move from job to job, Maggie knows that her life will be one of a spy- can’t think of anything else. And she’s yearning for the day when she has her first solo job. Yet when it comes- it’s HIGH SCHOOL?!?!  Spying on a high school boy and getting information is not what she had in mind, and neither was gaining a best friend, or getting her first kiss from her mark, or any of the other complications that come her way.  The relationship really make this story, and the chemistry between Roux, Maggie and Jesse as well as the family bonds between Maggie, her parents, and Angelo make this a definite read. Those looking for hard spy stories should look elsewhere, but those looking something to pair with Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series or Heist Society series will fall in love with Maggie and her crew.  4 out of 5 stars.  Would also be perfect lighter read for the Collaborate Summer Reading Program, adding it into a booklist for spies with the Beneath the Surface theme.  As of March 22, Goodreads lists Also Known As as 3.87 out of 5 stars.

Also Known As was hysterical and I laughed through out the book. The situations that Maggie gets into, as well as her reactions to what would be a “normal” high school experience cracked me up, and seem totally realistic with the mindset that Maggie has no interaction with any other teenagers. Roux was sweet and wonderful, and you can’t help but ache for her when you learn of her situation.

The huge twist in the story (the second danger, not the issue with Jesse or his dad) creeps in slowly but hits with such force that it leaves you turning the page, and wanting to know what happens next.  The fact that it’s a huge betrayal also hits hard, and the ending while seeming a little forced and pulled together, makes me hope that there are other books in the works.

And I am really glad that the cover of the ARC was NOT the finished cover for the book, as the creepy clone girls weirded me out and I did NOT know how I was going to sell that to teens.

More spies, villains and criminal masterminds .  . .


TPiB: Collaborative Summer Reading Program Movie Ideas

If you’re in one of the states that is participating in the Collaborative Summer Reading Program like I am, you are already thinking of ways to bring creative (and cheap) programming into your rotation.  The manual has some wonderful ideas, and if you’re on pinterest there are TONS of boards.  I’m always scouring for movie ideas: we have the movie license so that’s paid for, the movies can either be rolled into the summer reading budget or into my materials order so I have the movie, and if I add in a craft and a few tables for my gamers, my teens are set!

I’ve pulled together a TON of movies that will work for family, tween (through twelve- my definition), and teen nights using an ‘underground” theme, which fits into both Dig Into Reading and Beneath the Surface!  Think of anymore, share in the comments!

 Family Movie Suggestions (G & PG):
A Bug’s Life
Alice in Wonderland
Beetlejuice (might need a special warning because it was made before there was a PG-13; it does have an Fbomb in there)
The Corpse Bride
Gnomeo and Juliet
How to Train Your Dragon
James and the Giant Peach
Journey 2- Mysterious Island
Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)
National Treasure
Peter Pan
Raiders of the Lost Ark (might need a special warning on sign if for a family night since it was made before the PG-13 label- some scenes are intense)
Spiderwick Chronicles
Wreck It Ralph
Teen Movies (PG-13 rating):
10,000 BC
Batman/ Dark Knight
Blood and Chocolate
Bourne series
Brothers Grimm
Chronicles of Riddick
Clash of the Titans
Death Becomes Her
Deep Impact
Disaster Movie
Drag Me To Hell
Eight legged Freaks
Fifth Element
Forbidden Kingdom
Ghost Rider
GI Joe
Hunt for Red October
I am Legend
Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
James Bond movies
Jurassic Park
Killer Klowns from Outer Space
King Kong
Lara Croft
Lord of the Rings triology
Lovely Bones
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Min in Black series
Mission Impossible series
Mortal Kombat
Mummy series
Mystery Men
Prince of Persia
Red Dawn
Scorpion King
Skeleton Key
Snow White and the Huntsman
Sucker Punch
Terminator Salvation
The Fog
Time Machine
Total Recall
Transformers series
True Grit
Vampire’s Assistant
Van Helsing
War of the Worlds
Wicker Man
Wild Wild West
Note:  All movies listed are covered under Movie Licensing USA.  If you do not have a public performance license, please purchase one before showing movies for programs or use movies that are in the public domain.  Do not get invaded by the authorities.
Special Note:  while the MPAA ratings are guidelines and not law, a majority of libraries are not able to show R rated movies to teens without permissions slips or at all.  All suggestions are at the most PG-13.

Book Review: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

“All right,” Ada says, “I want you to listen very carefully.” She moves around the room with the confidence of an ER Doctor, opening panels on the walls, setting dials. The thakerak hums and purrs.

“Whoa!” Gamary yells as a sword jabs through the door.

“Open up!” a voice orders. The sword jerks up and down but, lodged in the wood, it can’t get far. From the size of it I know it’s Officer Tendrile’s.

“Hurry up!” Gamary pleads.

“Peregrine.” Ada takes my hand. “You have to go back to cdamp and kiss Anna Margolis, do you understand? We’ll find Mortin in Granger Prison.”

“How? You’re trapped here.”

“I have a service exit,” Gamary says, “if you two don’t get us killed by dawdling.”

“If you don’t kiss her, you won’t free the princess, and the dark shroud of violence that you see will continue to befall us.: She holds up the silver figure. I look into the princess’s eyes. The thakerak sparks, and I sear, for a second, the princess winks at me.

“Why can’t we free her here?”

“Excuse me?”

Open up!

Ophisa- he’s in the Badlands, right? We’ll get an adventuring party together and defeat him. Me, you, Gamary . . . plus we can rescue Mortin and bring him. I’ve demonstrated my worth as a warrior, right? We’ll kill the monster, free the princess, and all live happily ever after.:

“You’re saying you would rather travel to the Badlands, infiltrate Ophisa’s lair, try to avoid the poison that he spits from his unblinking eyes, run under him with a sword, and plunge it into his dark and distended heart . . . than kiss a girl in your summer camp?

“Yes! That’s exactly what I’m saying!”

“You have bowels, Peregrine, I’ll give you that, but-“

“Excuse me?”

“You’re brave. Bowels.”

“Oh. Uh . . . ” I’m embarrassed to correct her, and we are in a time-sensitive situation, but I remember what Mortin said: you should always correct a friend who mispronounces something.
“You’re thinking of a different term, Ada. It’s balls.

“Like male human testicles?

“Yes. Well. Yes.”

“That’s not fair. What do you say for a woman, then?”

Peregrine’s ideal summer of playing Creatures and Caverns disappears in smoke when he discovers that his parents are sending him to summer camp. Worried about his social skills, they’ve decided to ship him off to Camp Washiska Lake, where he’s to learn to interact with his peers and become “normal”. However, when Peregrine discovers the portal to The World of Other Normals, everything he’s learned from Creatures and Caverns and his burgeoning social skills will be needed in order to save both worlds.

Stuck in a world where his parents are divorced and dating their divorce lawyers, and only communicate through their lawyers, sixteen year old Peregrine just wants to play Creatures and Caverns. But when he’s discovered skipping class to play with a friend across town, that’s the last straw for his parents: off to Camp Washiska Lake, which is nothing like the brochures look like. With the camp confiscating his C&C materials, getting jumped in a fight within the first ten minutes, and his friend basically disowning him, Peregrine doesn’t think he’ll make the summer. But then he discovers the portal to The World of Other Normals, which is exactly like the world his C&C is based on- as it should be, as the guy he followed in is the writer of the manuals. Yet the Other Normal world has had their princess captures, and the only way to save it is for Peregrine to kiss a girl on his side of the portal- before it’s too late. Flipping back and forth between the worlds, and changing things on both sides of the lines while he does, can Peregrine save the Other Normals and his World?  Definitely a geeky and sweet coming-of-age story, with hilarious dialogue and awkward situations that make you feel for Peregrine. I’d pair it with In The Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern or even more gamer books such as Ender’s Game or Ready Player One, depending on what your reader was looking for. 3.5 out of 5 stars. As of March 22, 2013, Goodreads rates The Other Normals as 3.38 stars.

I know kids like Peregrine; heck, I think I married one. They may not be C&C players, they may be Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic players, or engrossed in Assassin’s Creed 3, but their gaming world (card, table, electronic or otherwise) may be their safe space- where they feel in control of something. This is what happens with Peregrine- out of control with his family, with his alcoholic brother, and his school, C&C is the one thing he can control. It’s his safe zone.

I really liked that The World of Other Normals paralleled Peregrine’s real world so closely; in fact, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the one-to-one relationships of the characters from one side to the other. I knew which one was Peregrine even if he didn’t, but his brother’s was a surprise. I love surprises in the book.  The ending of the book was fun as well, and sets it up for future novels as well, which I hope will come, because I have a feeling Peregrine’s story is far from over. I definitely want to know what happens with Peregrine and Ada.

Tweens in the Library: Getting Them Involved in Summer Reading Programming

I am a huge believer of keeping my patrons involved in our library.  If they’re invested in the library and the community, they have a reason to come back, and feel like they belong.  I’ve always felt that way, no matter what library I’ve worked in- large branch or small.  Libraries are such a huge portion of the community, and when the community is invested in it, it takes on a life of it’s own.

I apply this heavily in my tween programming.  I’m heavy in the middle of summer programming, and we (Texas) just switched from having a state program to investing in the Collaborative Summer Reading Program, so our theme for the tween set (which I define as eight through twelve years old, YMMV) is Dig Into Reading.  If your tweens are anything like mine, it didn’t exactly inspire much enthusiasm (flowers, Miss?  REALLY? Plants? WORMS?)  So, it’s my job to GET them enthused- this is the age where reading goes to aliteracy, and they’re not old enough for the lock-in and teen things but old enough to WANT them.  These are the ages where they get so BORED with summer reading, so to get them invested is the BEST thing we can do.

First, I took the CSRP theme and thought up twelve themes for tweens that I thought would work best- ones that I knew I could create some interesting programs for my kids.  Then I created a ballot and had them vote.  Looking at the programming calendar, I knew that I had three programs that I needed tween themes for. The three with the most votes would be the programs for the summer.

After two weeks of voting, I had my three themes:  Mummies, Wizards, and Spies.

Next, I went through the PG listings of movies covered by our umbrella license, and pulled out movies that would fit the three themes, and highlighted them in different colors.  I then let two of my tweens loose with my list and a computer set to IMDB.com, and had them put YES, NO, or 1/2 for their preferences (half being if they couldn’t come to a decision).

 From their list of movies with definite approval, I pulled out ones that I knew I could stand to watch (a definite requirement for *any* program that I do) and have created our Tween Movie Ballot below.

This week is our school system’s spring break week, so they’ll vote for their favorite in each category, and the winner will be the movie we watch.  I’ll tie it in with crafts, games, and other activities pulled from the Internet and the chaos that is my brain, and we’ll have a wonderful time.  

And, not only have I gotten some of my summer programming done, but I’ve gotten a large group of my tweens interested in what’s going on, what the results are, and what we’re doing for the summer- and it’s mid March.

How do you get your tweens involved in your library?  What programs are you planning for your tweens this summer?  Share in the comments!

TPiB: Beneath the Surface Ideas for Tweens/Teens

Ah, February…  the time when every teen services specialist thinks of candy hearts, chocolate tastings, and OMG, we have HOW MANY DAYS UNTIL SUMMER?!?!??!  Do not fear!  We at Teen Librarian Toolbox have not one, not two, but EIGHT different ideas that would fit in with the 2013 Collaborate Summer Reading Program Theme (Beneath the Surface & Dig Into Reading)…

I happen to be in charge of everything (splitting the youth portion with my part time youth services librarian) and have had tremendous success with tween programs.  So for the summer I’m alternating between tween and teen nights.  However, any of these ideas can be aged up or down depending on your library, and what works for your patrons.  What works for me and mine may not work for you and yours.

Note:  All movie suggestions have been cleared through Movie Licensing USA, which is where my system gets their umbrella license.  If you do not have a public performance license, please use movies in the public domain.  Do not have the authorities pounding down your door.  Also, while the MPAA ratings are a guideline and not law, no movies suggested go above PG-13.


Superheros/secret identities 

  • Movie suggestions: DC Superheroes featuring Superman, Green Lantern, Batman– the first week of June Man of Steel is released in theaters so it would be a good tie in.  Marvel superheroes like The Avengers or Iron Man as Iron Man 3 will have been released in early May.

  • Craft suggestions:  create your own superhero emblem and place in a photo keychain, or utilize the system’s buttonmaker (start preparing the arm muscles), or get mask blanks and let them design their own costume piece

  • Game suggestions:  pin the cape on the superhero, name the secret identity, create your own superhero, get your own superhero name,  Marvel Monopoly


  • Movie Suggestions: anything zombie related, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or I am Legend (World War Z is released June 20)

  • Craft suggestions: create your own zombie heads with blank kickballs (hacky sacks for those of us who remember), or create a little felt zombie with some scraps and a house out of leftover candy tins.  Or check out Zombie Felties for a real craft project. 


Law enforcement

  • Movie Suggestions: The Lone Ranger comes out July 3, so you could pull in the western aspect with Wild Wild West, or go full force with S.W.A.T. or uber mysterious with Total Recall (2012)

  • Craft suggestions:  rattlesnake pulls, ID badges, finger print cards, create your own wanted poster

  • Game suggestions: Live Clue, mystery scavenger hunts, assassin

Shark week

  • Movie Suggestions: Really, what else is there but Jaws or the sequels? 

  • Craft suggestions: baby food jars plus plastic sharks=shark globes, or make your own shark teeth necklaces, design a shark bite

  • Game suggestions: shark bite tag, feed the shark (bean bag toss), shark volley


  • Movie Suggestion:  Wreck-It Ralph. Yes, seriously.  Yes, they are both video games, but if you have ever seen Minecraft, they build and build and build, and then take it down and tear it apart and then build and build and build.

  • Craft suggestions:  create your own Steve masks, fold your own Minecraft printables, build your own creepers

  • Game suggestions: Live Minecraft (gather boxes to build the fort, have some tweens be builders, and some be creepers and destroyers- see who wins), Creeper Bowling, after hours Minecraft gameplay


  •  Movie Suggestions:  Jurassic Park, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Godzilla

  • Craft Suggestions:  Create your own dinosaur fossils, dinosaur bones out of pasta, design your own dinosaur heads

  • Game suggestions: bean bag toss with dinosaur eggs, hot dinosaur egg (hot potato), Lava tug-o-war between the herbivores and the carnivores


  • Movie Suggestions: The Mummy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Hotel Transylvania, Corpse Bride, Jumangi

  • Craft Suggestions:  create your own mummies cardboard tube mummies, potato chip tube mummies, create your own tombs (Check out the hieroglyphics section on this Art Through the Ages TPiB)

  • Game Suggestions: Musical chairs (Walk Like an Egyptian, King Tut, etc.), Mummy wrapping, hieroglyphics codes 

Spy party

  • Movie Suggestions:  Spy Kids, Inspector Gadget, James Bond movies or the Austin Powers series

  • Craft Suggestions: recyclables to make their own gadgets, finger printing, disguise printables

  • Game Suggestions: disguise relay races, spy training obstacle courses, hide and seek, assassin

    Adapt ideas from this CSI themed TPiB