For the past couple of months I have been working as the project coordinator of the Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Children’s Books and Young Adult Literature. This collection is so great because it spans quite a wide time period. There are books from the the late 18th century through to the early 21st. I have run across all kinds of interesting books, from inscribed copies of Maurice Sendak’s works, to first editions of the His Dark Materials series, to books given as prizes in schools and Sunday schools throughout Britain.

While inventorying the collection I came across a book in the Garden Gang series. It was a cute little book, but it caught my interest because the entire series was written by a young girl.

You can learn more about the Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Children’s Books and Young Adult Literature here and read my post about the Garden Gang books here.

To see other fun and interesting things from the collection, follow me on Instagram and Twitter @Poindextrix.

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Poisoned Apples Review

February 19, 2016

Midway through 2014 I started hearing about a book of poetry entitled Poisoned Apples. Just a few comments here or there at first, but eventually the positive twittering turned into a roar of approval.

Christine Heppermann’s slim volume melds contemporary feminism with familiar fairy tales to produce modern, provocative poetry that speaks to the teenage experience. Fairytales! Feminism! Poetry! On paper, this book sounds like it was made specifically with me in mind.

And yet… I didn’t love it. Maybe it’s that it was playing to the YA audience, maybe it was a little too modern, but this poetry just did not do it for me.

The fairytale adaptations felt strained and gimmicky — like they were trying too hard to hit the feminism and wink at the story. I do think part of the letdown was that I had extraordinarily high expectations for it, and that is perhaps unfair.

In any case, it was a quick read and it was fun, it just wasn’t everything I hoped it would be. On the bright side, I think that reading this helped get me out of my reading rut, so that’s something.

Has anything you’ve read ever suffered from inflated expectations? I feel like I don’t read enough poetry, even though I love it. Leave your poetry recommendations in the comments!

Captain Underpants is in the bookish news right now and this time it has nothing to do with being challenged (this series is frequently banned for being inappropriate or encouraging children to disobey authority).

The full story can be found here, but the long and short of it is that in the course of the newest book, it is revealed that one of the characters is gay. And it isn’t a big deal. In fact, it isn’t even remarked upon.

This is incidental diversity and it is exactly what needs to happen in literature. Kids (and all readers for that matter) need to see characters who are like them in books, but the stories they read don’t always need to be about how they’re POC, gay, differently-abled, etc. In some ways this just highlights differences and reinforces ideas that a white/straight/cis experience is the norm and anything else is a variation.

Incidental diversity shows that a gay character can be gay without that being the story. A character who is a POC or differently-abled or of a different religion can have varied experiences in a multitude of genres and that part of their identity is just that: only a part of who they are.

 

So while I don’t care very much about Captain Underpants, I am super excited about this. Hopefully more authors/illustrators and publishers will take note and we’ll see more diverse characters being regular characters.

As some of you may recall, I read Garth Nix’s Sabriel, and while I really enjoyed it, I initially decided that I wasn’t going to continue reading the series. And then there was so much buzz about Clariel and the other two books (Lirael  and Abhorsen) were right there at the library and… yeah.

I enjoyed Clariel, but if I’m being honest, not as much as the other books in the series. I liked the concept behind the book and how it took a different direction than the other books, but somehow it didn’t all mesh the way I wanted it to. Some people were disappointed with Clariel  because they found the character to be unlikable in whatever way. I can see how she is not the most likable person, but I think much of it is a fair representation of a certain type of teenager — somewhat selfish and wrapped up in her own interests, but fiercely devoted to her family, despite any disagreements. Clariel reads like a hard-headed teenager for a lot of the book. That doesn’t necessarily make her actions any less infuriating though.

Even though Clariel takes place in the same world, it feels like such a departure from the rest of the series because of the tone and the way the story progresses in a different direction. I certainly would not discourage a fan of the other books from reading this, but they should be prepared for something a bit different.

Golden Son — Review

March 9, 2015

Golden Son is the second book in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy and I can assure you that it does not suffer from second book syndrome.

Darrow continues to live as a Gold, working to gain favor and influence in order to bring down the Society from within. But the Bellona are still after him and with multiple players in the game the dynamics are constantly changing.

Golden Son is gripping and fast-paced. I absolutely tore through it and now I’m a bit mad at Pierce Brown because I have to wait for the next book and if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s patient.

This series is gearing up to be a thrilling dystopian masterwork. Sometimes jarring in its violence and brutality, it shows characters battling with still-universal questions of love, loyalty, trust, and identity.

I got a copy of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt back at BEA 2013 and due to school and life and disorganized bookshelves after moves, I didn’t pick it up until the start of this year.

This book received a lot of buzz and praise and all that, but if I’m honest, it felt a little lacking.

I didn’t actively dislike it, I just thought it was fine. I often have very passionate feelings about books, so to be so completely “meh” about one is kind of weird for me.

The protagonist is fourteen, but I kept forgetting how old she’s supposed to be. I think Brunt fell into a common trap of writing an extremely precocious young narrator — sometimes she reads way older, and other times way younger. While this is sometimes an accurate representation of precocious children (more mature than their peers in some ways, but significantly behind in others), on the page the disparities are jarring. Additionally, I found that there was something off, or not quite believable about the personal relationships between the characters — especial the family members.

This is another book that just wasn’t for me. For one, I’m not necessarily the target audience. Sometimes I think that I forget that when I read YA. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with adults reading YA — in fact, I think it’s good. But, YA is (and should continue to be) for young adults, which means that sometimes it just isn’t going to be totally up my alley. And that’s fine. That might have been my problem here, who can really say?

Author Shannon Hale just posted a great piece on her tumblr. She writes about how at a recent school visit to promote her new book Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters, the school administration had only given permission for the female students to leave class for her talk.

Let’s be clear: I do not talk about “girl” stuff. I do not talk about body parts. I do not do  a “Your Menstrual Cycle and You!” presentation. I talk about books and writing, reading, rejections and moving through them, how to come up with story ideas. But because I’m a woman, because some of my books have pictures of girls on the cover, because some of my books have “princess” in the title, I’m stamped as “for girls only.” However, the male writers who have boys on their covers speak to the entire school.

Hale says that this is not the first time that this has ever happened. And I’m willing to bet that other female authors have had similarly bizarre experiences.

She also comments on how this tendency to gender books can be damaging, but I want to weigh in.

This situation is ridiculous. Anyone presented with it can see it is ridiculous. And yet so often people try to classify something as a “girl book” or “boy book.”

Studies have shown that it’s harder to get boys to read after a certain age, which may account for some of the targeted marketing, but does not account for all of the discrepancies. People don’t give boys enough credit — they think that if the protagonist of a book is a girl (or the author is female — ask Joanne why she published as JK), then boys won’t be able to relate and won’t want to read the book. Those factors didn’t seem to stop girls from enjoying Harry Potter (or any number of “classic” works of fiction with male protagonists) or boys from enjoying The Hunger Games or His Dark Materials.

By labeling books as “boy” and “girl” books, we’re signaling to kids that certain books aren’t for them. There will be the outliers who will read them anyway, but so many will hold back out of fear or embarrassment, while others simply won’t have those books on their radar.

Reading is important because we see ourselves, but we also see others. We relate to characters and learn how other people see and experience the world. This is why we need diverse books and why we need to read diversely. It’s why boys should be allowed to read “girl” books (and attend assemblies about them).

The Fever — Review

January 24, 2015

The first book I read in 2015 was The Fever by Megan Abbott.

Deenie Nash, her brother Eli, and her father Tom have settled into a decently stable life after her mom moved away, but that stability is shaken when Deenie’s best friend has an unexplained and terrifying seizure in the middle of class. As hysteria sweeps the school and town, more girls fall ill, and Deenie — who remains fine — seems to be the link.

In some ways, this book went in an unexpected direction, but I could almost see this being an episode of some police procedural like Law & Order: SVU when it came to the motivations and behaviors of some of the characters.

I also really did not like the ending. Generally I am not a reader who needs everything to tie up perfectly, but I felt like The Fever waved away a lot of issues that it raised earlier on in the narrative. It was an engaging read, but the last quarter of the book fell a bit flat for me.

Sabriel — Review

November 7, 2014

I initially decided to pick up Garth Nix’s Sabriel because it was one of those books that I kept hearing about every once in a while when talking about books and then we were coming up on the release of Clariel (which is part of that series) and there was so much buzz. So I got my act together and added it to my never-ending holds list at the library.

And I really liked it.

It has multiple forms of magic and a girl hero coming into her own and a snarky sidekick. What more could you possibly want?

There are hints of romance which I could really take or leave, but I get the impression it’s sort of important for plot things later on. In any case, the driving force of the plot in Sabriel is not the romance.

So here’s the thing. I enjoyed this book and went to find out which was the next book in the (then) trilogy (now it’s a series—Clariel is the fourth book). That’s when I realized it isn’t really a continuation of the story, though it is connected. At that point I decided that I wasn’t going to continue with the series.

Now if you follow me on instagram (which you should because I post all kinds of awesome book pictures … and sometimes pictures of my cat) then you’re calling shenanigans because you know that I picked up Lirael and Abhorsen in my last library visit. Well, everyone kept gushing about Clariel and as we’ve already established, I’m weak in the face of the giant monster that is book buzz.

So there you have it: I loved Sabriel and I buckled in my resolve to not read the rest of the series, so those reviews will show up at some point. Though I picked up four other books at the same time and have countless other ARCs and books I’ve bought that I should also be reading.

If we could just stop time for a bit so I could get some reading done that would be super.

We Need Diverse Books

November 7, 2014

I was initially going to write a long-ish expository post in which I’d ask you to think about your own reading habits as a child and the reading habits of children you know, then to think about the children’s, middle grade, and YA books you knew of, slowing leading you to the conclusion that we need diverse books, but I’m just going to jump straight there.

Walk down the aisle of any library or bookstore and pick up some books at random. Of the say 10 or 20 that you might pick up, how many do you think would be by women, people of color, or people in the LGBTQ community? How many of those books have protagonists who are people of color, in the LGBTQ community, are disabled, etc.? Feel free to actually do this exercise, but I can tell you that generally speaking, the answer is far too few.

We Need Diverse Books is a movement — now a nonprofit organization — that addresses this. They work with authors who write diverse books, as well as publishers, in order to produce more high-quality diverse books and get them into the hands of readers in the community.

There is nothing that I don’t love about this. Nothing.

And that’s why I’ve already donated to their Indiegogo campaign. I try not to make you guys spend money. I’m a huge advocate of using your public libraries and all that. But if ever there was a good cause that deserves your extra cash, this was it. Also, donations are tax-deductible, so it’s a win-win. The campaign is running through November 24 (though I’m sure they’ll take donations in other forms after the date).