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Diversify YA Life: Diversity at BEA and BookCon

Mon, 05/23/2016 - 07:00

Two years ago at Book Expo America 2014, there was some concern about the lack of diversity in an all white all male diversity panel.  The We Need Diverse Books movement formed after BEA 2014 and because of the movement, there has been a steady rise in diverse authors and characters.

Since its start in 2014, We Need Diverse Books has seen support from the publishing community, libraries, authors, and book bloggers.  Book bloggers are a unique group because they volunteer their time and money to promote literacy to the masses.  Over the past two years, many bloggers have hosted diversity reading challenges, Twitter chats, and author interviews to spread the importance of diversity in children’s/ young adult literature.  BEA and BookCon is the event YA bloggers look forward to to connect with friends, meet authors, and find new books to promote on their sites.  I got a chance to meet several YA bloggers of color and interviewed them on the importance of diversity in YA literature-Steph, Erica, and Hafsah.

Meet the bloggers.

With over 1100 website followers and 7,000 Twitter followers, Cuddlebuggery Book Blog is a leader in the YA blogging

Steph from Cuddlebuggery & Laini Taylor

community. Stephanie Sinclair started her blog in 2011 called Stephanie’s Book Nook and in 2012 joined Kat Kennedy to form Cuddlebuggery.  In 2014, Meg Morely joined the team that reviews YA lit, adult crossovers and middle grade books in a fresh, inventive and fun atmosphere.  You can follow Steph and Cuddlebuggery on the following social media sites:  YouTube channelGoogle + pageFaceBook page,Tumblr,Twitter,Instagram andGoodreads.

Erica has been reviewing YA fiction since the start of this year and she hosts a regular feature on Mike the Fanboy called Book Beat.  You can follow Erica and her 1,200 followers on Twitter at @Cambear.

Hafsah began her young-adult book review blog, IceyBooks, in late 2010 because she was homeschooled and had no one to share her love of books with. Over the years, she befriended countless people in publishing, other bloggers, authors, agents, editors, and found some of her dearest friends all because she started blogging. She now blogs on IceyBooks with her sister, Asma. You can follow Hafsah and her 8, 000 followers on Twitter and her 3,000 followers on Instagram at @HafsahFaizal.

How do you think the We Need Diverse Books movement has progressed since its start two year ago?

Steph: It’s definitely grown considerably and I’m impressed with how much its accomplished in such a short time. I feel like I can directly see some of its effects as well. There’s been more books being purchased by publishers written by marginalized people and I’m seeing them more prominently at bookish conventions, such as BEA. It’s been a very “in your face” movement, which is exactly what publishing needed. There have always been people campaigning for diverse books, but this just helps us all scream a little louder.

Erica: I haven’t been covering YA books for that long, but I think there is greater awareness across most media. There’s greater awareness that there is a lack of diversity and I think groups are getting more organized on raising their voices. Certainly the internet is quicker to pounce when something happens.

If you look to commercials, the most sophisticated marketers already know they need to feature diversity because they want to connect with as broad an audience as possible. You can see a better mix of races, ages and family units (gay, straight, adopted) in commercials. The ad industry is much further along than the media companies. They have to be or they can’t sell their product.

So there’s a proven business model out there. We need more opportunities for blockbusters (books, movies and TV) with diverse casts to prove this in other industries as well.

Hafsah: I think the WNDB movement has grown tremendously because of what it represents: the innumerable amount of people looking for themselves in the world of fiction, between the pages of a book. We need diverse books, and the WNDB movement is pushing for just that.

Why do we need diverse bloggers in the YA world?

Steph: Simple answer is that it’s important to see and hear voices of various backgrounds, no matter what field it’s in. Having marginalized voices at every level of the publishing industry is essential and allows people to get more familiar with what they don’t know. It causes everyone to be more socially aware and tolerant.

For diverse bloggers, we also have a very important role as well, and that’s reading, reviewing, supporting and challenging these diverse titles. Many authors are writing outside of what they know, and that’s awesome, but it’s not always a perfect system. I’ve run across books where most of my white blogger friends have praised a book that I found horribly offensive and books where they found the content uncomfortable, yet I felt it was true and accurate. The world is a diverse place and, therefore, by default you’ll have diverse readers. As a reader, I love following bloggers who have similar tastes as me to find my new favorite book, but it’s also good to have others who have different perspectives so I can find books I would have never picked up. Erica: Books, writers and reviewers should reflect the readers and, well, readers aren’t a homogeneous group. The crowd at BookCon this weekend was a full rainbow of all kinds of people.  Each person experiences a book through their own personal lens so having diverse reviewers mean you’re more likely to find someone who might have similar tastes to you. Hafsah: Just like we need diverse books to read, we need diverse people to spread the love for these books, to appreciate them, and to advocate them. There’s no application to become a blogger, there’s no form to fill out. Bloggers in the YA world have come together because of their love for books, and nothing else, regardless of the differences that make us who we are. What would you like publishers to know about the importance of diverse books? Steph: As a kid, I used to wish I wasn’t black because all I saw and read about were white kids going on fantastic adventures. I felt like I was being left behind and it was difficult for me to find stories where I saw myself. Nowadays, that’s changing and I’m starting to see a lot more diverse characters and marginalized voices sitting at the table, fighting dragons and saving the world. It’s fantastic and I’m excited that my kids will have a better selection of stories to dive into. Erica: People often read books to find characters they relate to whether its based on physical appearance, their attitude, their choices or whatever. The books that stay with people resonate the most and one size does not fit all. Mix things up. Check out Steph’s diverse YA book recommendations:

Naila’s parents want her to marry a man that’s been arranged for her but when she meets Saif, she doesn’t want to follow tradition.  In an effort to get Naila to appreciate her heritage, she travels to Pakistan with her parents.  Naila soon discovers that her parents planned a marriage while in Pakistan and the only person to save her is Saif.

Simon isn’t quite out of the closet and neither is Blue, his anonymous email friend. When Martin accidentally sees Simon’s emails, Simon finds himself on the other side of blackmail and is forced to hook up Martin and his friend Abby.

When Michelle runs away from a drug addicted mother, she finds herself in NYC alone and out of money.  She meets a nice looking boy that offers her a place to stay but she soon finds herself in the world of child prostitution.

Check out these diverse YA recommendations by Erica.

Three unrelated stories come together with an interesting twist.

This is the story about Rashad and Quinn, one black and one white, and their experiences with racism in America.

  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Lara Jean writes her crushes love letters because she’s too shy to tell them in person.  When her secret box of letters gets mailed, Lara Jean must meet her crushes face to face.

Erica also recommends Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda.


Hafsah been reading a lot more diverse fiction these days, and she’s especially drawn to fantasy set in the Middle East and Asia, because the majority of fantasy is set in Europe. The ones she most recently loved are:

This is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights. King Khalid kills all his brides by dawn. When Shazi’s best friend dies by dawn, she vows to avenge her death by becoming Khalid’s bride and killing him.

Inspired by Indian Mythology, Maya’s future life of love is cursed with death. When Maya is forced to marry for political reasons, her new reign as the queen of Akaran soon becomes marked with magic and mystery.

Vika and Nikolai are enchanters and they are being sought by the Ottoman Empire for political gain.  In order to find the best enchanters, the Tsar announces a duel where the losers must die.  Vika and Nikolai see this as an opportunity of varied reasons but what will happen when they fall in love knowing that they both can’t survive?

Dawn is currently reading – The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

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2016 Hub Challenge Check-in #17

Sun, 05/22/2016 - 07:00

Not signed up yet for YALSA’s 2016 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since the awards were announced counts, and the challenge runs until 11:59pm EST on June 23 (that’s still a solid month of reading and listening time), so sign up now!

I’m currently on an audiobook kick. I just finished Randall Munroe’s What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, read to great effect by Wil Wheaton, and I’m partway through Libba Bray’s Lair of Dreams, in which January LaVoy creates a stunning auditory landscape with approximately one million different character voices. What If? frequently had me laughing out loud (on the treadmill, so I was that person in the gym). Randall Munroe is probably most famous for his (beloved) xkcd webcomic, so I was expecting to laugh, and Wheaton’s energetic narration was a lot of fun. For me, it took awhile to get through simply because the content felt more digestible in small-ish doses; I personally wouldn’t have wanted to listen to so many thought experiments for hours on end (for instance, on a road trip), but taken in twenty minute chunks I found them completely delightful. I don’t listen to a ton of audiobooks normally (my listening time tends to go to podcasts and radio), but I love to be read to (file under: things we carry with us from childhood; thanks Dad!), so I’ve been really enjoying the change of format.

I’m loving Lair of Dreams, and I’ve discovered an awesome benefit of listening to this particular title; I’m enjoying the 1920’s slang that is peppered throughout everyone’s (especially our main protagonist from book 1, Evie’s) speech a lot more when I can hear it. The cast of characters is still expanding (and representing an increasingly diverse NYC as it does), and the story is reeling me back in quickly. I almost didn’t start this, because I didn’t feel like I had time to revisit The Diviners first (it’s almost 600 pages!), and I really needed a refresher on everything that had happened (I read it well over 3 years ago), but a quick detour to the time-saving Recaptains site brought me back up to speed quickly (the site is awesome, and designed to refresh readers’ memory about previous volumes in a series, so it’s all spoilers. Consider yourself warned. I use it a lot for next installments, especially if the time between volume publications was long).

I’m also working through The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Geek Girls by Sam Maggs (in print). The overall tone of the text is refreshingly positive – fandom being, at its heart, about celebrating something that moves you – and incredibly direct, leaving zero room for the idea that anyone can shut anyone else out of a fandom, or that any group of fans could be more “legit” or authoritative than any other. I am excited to share this with a ton of my students, and I’m also finding it to be a great overview for me in collection development and reader’s advisory terms; there is so much content out there, it can be overwhelming, and although I certainly am an enthusiastic fan in many arenas (*she wrote, with an eye on her complete Buffy dvd collection*), there are plenty of shows, games, series, etc. that I know some of my students love but that I won’t realistically have time to consume in their entirety. I’ve already found lots of fun ideas for possible displays and read-alike recommendations, and there are a lot of potential programming ideas to be found here too.

What have you been reading for the Challenge lately? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, and join the conversation on social media; look for the #hubchallenge on InstagramTwitter, and our Goodreads group. If you’ve finished the Challenge, a) bravo! and b) fill out this form.

-Carly Pansulla, currently reading We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with M.T. Anderson

Thu, 05/19/2016 - 07:00

There are cultures, for example, where teens are not considered to be, first and foremost, consumers.

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

I’ll admit right up front to being horribly intimidated at the prospect of this interview.  I put off drafting questions by collecting other interviews, reviews, and articles; by sifting through YouTube for conference appearances and even more interviews, by reading and re-reading the essays and speeches on his website…you get the idea.  But all that research and preparation just made it worse, actually.  So much worse.  M.T. Anderson’s reputation as one of the nicest and funniest (Whales on Stilts, right?) authors around seems, from my limited experience (which mostly involves award speeches and receptions and secondhand stories from totally reputable sources), to be well founded and supported by evidence.  And I’ve seen with my own eyes (as an audience member etc.) how downright goofy he can be so I know that’s true too.  And yet.

And yet.

You simply can’t read Octavian Nothing, or Feed, or (wow!) Symphony for the City of the Dead without becoming a little overwhelmed at the incredible intellect and spirit behind the words.  And I think it’s impossible to not want to rise to the occasion, so to speak, but when I finally had to sit down and write this introduction (which of course I put off as long as I could) all I could do was sputter and gesture and shake my head because really, what can I say? (Thankfully I was alone.)

So I guess I’ll just say thank you for the opportunity, for–as always–making me think, and for championing teens, intellectualism, and intellectual teens in a climate that routinely dismisses all three.

Always Something There to Remind Me

Please describe your teenage self.

Thin to the point of mantis-like. Eager to explore the world in front of me. Already unhappy that someday I’d have to die.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

A writer! I always had stories I wanted to tell. I spent a lot of time reading, and I was eager to become part of the ancient conversation of literature.

What were your high school years like?

There was some fun. I was in plays and musicals. I made movies with my friends. I spent an extra high school year in in England, and that was incredible – full of those eccentricities we now would see as Hogwartsian (students wearing black robes, medieval courtyards, all the entertaining rigors of a British boarding school). That place really stepped up my intellectual and artistic game. We studied Anglo-Saxon history, read Lear, sang Renaissance church music, and created a Cubist play about Picasso’s youth on a stage made entirely of cabbages.

What were some of your passions during that time?

When I was younger, I read mainly science fiction and fantasy. By the time I was in my later teens, I was reading a lot of British lit (favorites were Virginia Woolf, Evelyn Waugh, and Ronald Firbank). I loved music written before 1750. Some favorite movies from when I was a teen: The Time Bandits, Brazil, Monty Python and the Holy Grail … wow, the Monty Python team seem to have had a big effect on me … Angel Heart, The Thing, True Stories, and yes, The Breakfast Club.

Would you be willing to share a difficult teen experience or challenge that you feel shaped the adult you became?

Not in the slightest.

What about a positive experience or accomplishment that had an impact on your adult self?

For me, a big turning point was going to school in another country and realizing that there were places and cultures where it was actually not embarrassing to know things – that thinking wasn’t discouraged everywhere as something like masturbation that probably everyone did at some point, but did on their own, ashamed, and tried to conceal. In American high schools at the time, there definitely seemed to be the sense that too much thinking was a kind of perversion. The idea of “geek chic,” which saves so many kids now, was definitely not a movement in the 80s. It was so important to me to find other kids who were passionate about knowledge, about history, about joking our way through the echoing, statued halls of human civilization …

What advice, if any, would you give your teen self? Would your teen self have listened?

You don’t need to be as homely as you are. A lot of it is frankly just attitude.

No, I wouldn’t have listened.

Do you have any regrets about your teen years? Anything left undone or anything that might have been better left undone?

Are you kidding? Why do you think I became a writer for teens?

What, if anything, do you miss most about that time?

The sense that the world lay before my classmates and me, ready to be explored – and we were the new generation poised to explore it. We didn’t know enough to realize that the world wasn’t our oyster.


Every Day I Write the Book

In a 2010 piece you say that “ideology is always present, vibrating in the text, whether it’s there consciously or unconsciously,” and you confess to being fascinated by the impulse to explore a particular question without necessarily knowing the answer. In fact, you wonder, might not the books that endure be those where “the author’s ideological certainty and ideological doubt both continue to inspire debate within readers…” Could you give us an example of a book that embodies this tension?  What about your own work? Is there a book that you feel successfully explores a particular question while remaining honest about your uncertainty? 

Choose a book at random … Say, The Great Gatsby. At once, there’s a sly satire of a cheap, capitalist world taken in by glitter and illusion – and yet what’s so powerful about that book is that, at the same time, the narrator (and the reader!) can’t help to some extent be taken in by that glitter, charmed by that illusion, feel empathy for the charlatan Gatz.

And, come to think of it, that’s partially the way my novel Feed worked out. I set out to write a furious assault on a blind, infantilizing consumer culture that I felt had made me miserable as a teenager … but also, as I wrote it, I thought a lot about how that culture had created me, too … I was partially taken in by it. I found myself sympathizing not just with the dissident girl in the book, Violet, but with my irritating narrator, Titus, too, and I think it wouldn’t have been as good a book if I hadn’t found things in him that were dangerously close to dreams and desires I myself had.

“Teens,” you said in your 2009 Printz Honor acceptance speech, “are conspicuously the opposite of bland and blank: They are incredibly eccentric, deeply impassioned about their interests, fantastically – even exhaustingly – knowledgeable…Their commitment to complexity of thought is, if anything, fiercer than an adult’s – because they have to fight so fiercely to defend it.” You’ve spoken elsewhere, and often, about the sophistication and diversity of teen interests and capabilities, and you’ve urged your fellow writers to help woo “readers away from the anti-intellectualism and self-congratulation that imperil our nation,” suggesting that powerful moments “for teens…actually come about precisely because they’re reading things that are complicated and sophisticated.” There seems to be a disconnect between the popularity and rabid consumption of so many elements of “teen culture” and the popular disdain for teen interests, abilities, and certainly, their intellectual capacities. Could you talk a little about that disconnect, and about the way you approach writing for teens? 

It’s important to note that we all, grown and growing, seek out role models and try to match their skills, their attitudes, their excellences. Different cultures hold out different models, and we tend to allow certain parts of us to atrophy if we don’t see them being positively reflected in the culture around us.

There are cultures, for example, where teens are not considered to be, first and foremost, consumers. And here let me segue directly into your next question, which provides a perfect example of what I’m talking about …

You’re clearly inspired by history, not only by the events or people, but by the construction of history itself. “History isn’t just sitting there under a tarp, waiting to be discovered. It’s assembled, each and every time we tell it,” you said in a recent interview, in which you also talked about the importance of connecting the past to the present in ways that illuminate both.  “We assume that our life is our life and history is stuck in the past,” you’ve said, “And then there are those terrifying moments where you realize, ‘Oh, wait a second. My life is a part of history.’…These things could happen to us.” How does your fascination with history and the empathy you bring to your research color the way you view the world today? Have you had that “Oh wait” moment yourself? 

I thought of one of those moments while answering the last question. When I was in college, I remember reading a Time Magazine article about Chinese students gathering in Tiananmen Square to protest the oppressions of their government. I was stunned: Here were students conceived of as radicals, people my own age and just a few years older who were changing the course of their country’s history, standing up for what they believed. I was sitting outside reading the article; I flagged down a friend and told him how incredible it was, these students risking everything.

He waved his hand in a vague, lofty, Cantabridgean flourish, and said, “Oh, yes … I think they all got shot yesterday or something …”

It was true. The Time I was reading was a week out of date. The students had been massacred by their own government since that article came out. Tanks had driven straight into the crowds of protestors. These young men and women had given their life to stand up for what was right.

That was one of the moments when I first realized how differently the idea of “student” plays out in different cultures. In ours – even more now than when I was in college – the student is first and foremost constructed as a consumer. We invite them to understand themselves in that way. They become thinkers despite the role we groom them for. And that’s a tragedy.

Every American child should feel that the world of knowledge – the whole of human history and culture – belongs to them. It’s just waiting for them to pick it up and use it.

Your latest book, Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad, has been described as a story about how music and musicians can change the world, and you’ve spoken yourself about the power of music, about how it can bolster the human spirit and help people “remember to be human,” even in the darkest times. “Music has always been really important to me,” you’ve said, “especially classical music, [which]…is intensely emotional and intensely visceral.” Could you talk a little about the impact classical music has on your work?  Where would you point a classical music novice who was interested in exploring new works and composers?

For me, music plays into how I write in all kinds of ways – though I don’t actually listen to stuff while I write! If I do, I get all moved and think, “Wow, this is incredible … I am ON FIRE today!” And then read it the next day and realize that it’s absolute crap and I was just moved by the music.

As for learning about music, one of the best ways you can explore classical music – even without a streaming service – is YouTube. Find one piece you know about and love, and the margin suggests a bunch more from similar watch lists. I have found some incredible pieces and composers this way – stuff I never would have heard if there hadn’t been algorithms saying, “If you liked that, you may like this …”


Just Can’t Get Enough

Question from Noelle Stevenson: You’re quite prolific in the literary world, but my question is: if you were given a blank check to personally oversee an adaption of any one of your books into another medium, no matter how far-fetched, obsolete, or experimental, what book and medium would you choose? What role would you choose to play in adapting it?

Next year, my graphic novel Yvain, an adaptation of Chrétien de Troyes’s 12th– century epic, will come out with illustrations by Andrea Offermann. It’s already an illustrated version of a script of a medieval epic, so it has already changed form a few times already – and I think it’s absolutely ripe to turn into a French Baroque opera. I’ll bring the plumes!


M.T. Anderson has contributed a question for the next author in the series, Francisco X. Stork. Watch for an interview with him coming soon!


M. T. Anderson is the author of Feed, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, as well as The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party, winner of the National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller, and its sequel, The Kingdom on the Waves, which was also a New York Times bestseller. Both volumes were also named Michael L. Printz Honor Books. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad was a 2016 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Finalist. M. T. Anderson lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

You can visit M.T. Anderson at his website, or follow him on Twitter.


–Julie Bartel, currently reading The Raven King by Maggie Steifvater and (re-reading) A Stranger Came Ashore by Mollie Hunter

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Adult Books for Young Adults: Psychology & Sociology

Tue, 05/17/2016 - 07:00

As teens become more self-aware and motivated to learn for job training or college preparations, there are some intelligently-researched self-help/psychology books designed to get readers thinking. So while many are targeted to adults, they’re absolutely useful for the inquiring teen.

The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Duhigg shares the mechanisms through which humans form habits and by using examples of every day habits such as smoking or exercising and he automatically gets the readers attention. The book is useful to any teen looking to make a change, little or big, by understanding routine. Not brushing twice a day? It might change after this.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

Making a decision is a blend of both feeling and reason. This goes for everyone from airplane pilots to serial killers and investors to poker players. Lehrer then blends science and story to share with readers how rational and emotional elements combine to allow us to decide, though we can use recommendations to trick our brains too. This mix is as much entertainment as education.

Your Playlist Can Change Your Life: 10 Proven Ways Your Favorite Music Can Revolutionize Your Health, Memory, Organization, Alertness, and More by Galina Mindlin, Don DuRousseau, and Joseph Cardillo

Knowing that music plays a significant role in teen lives through radio, downloads on the Play Store and iTunes, in movies and video games is motivation enough to read this book with a catchy premise. The repetition and basic idea is that remembering noises and sounds as well as identifying the music you listen to and tweaking it when necessary is akin to having a Rocky Balboa moment with “Eye of the Tiger”. So, similar to Amy Cuddy’s proposals in body posing to prepare for an interview or how someone reacts to defeat, Midlin, DuRousseau, and Cardillo advocate creating playlists for when you’re learning, when you need to de-stress, and when you need to feel happy– mixed tape anyone?

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Appreciate the introverts, that is Cain’s premise. On top of that, be sure to appreciate your introverted qualities since the world tends to value extroverts when the power of introverts can be more useful and valuable. With stories of successful introverts, introverts will be empowered and calmed by the psychology and neuroscience that Cain relays in real-world stories that celebrate the quiet people.

And we couldn’t finalize a piece on psychology books suitable for teens without talking about the most accessible: Malcolm Gladwell. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Outliers: The Story of Success, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Each of them offer a different angle on topics that can inspire readers. Easy to read and succinct enough to sustain anyone’s attention, they should be the first offered when wanting to delve into psychology or sociology.


— Alicia Abdul, currently reading Sunny Side Up by Jennifer and Matthew Holm

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School Library Journal 2016 Day of Dialog Recap

Mon, 05/16/2016 - 07:00

Each year, School Library Journal presents a Day of Dialog, which allows librarians, educators, and library students the chance to come together and learn the latest about childrens and teens publishing trends and upcoming releases.  This was the first time I have attended a Day of Dialog and I would definitely recommend future attendance to anyone who works with children and/or teens promoting books and reading. Check out my recap of the middle school/high school panels and speakers from the day!

The day opened with the keynote speaker, Richard Peck.  He spoke about writing, the importance of reading, and his new book The Best Man.  Here are some of his key points from his talk:
  • I am a writer because of a teacher, any writer will tell you that.
  • My junior high students made a writer out of me… They taught me how to write.
  • As a writer, you introduce the reader to the characters they want to be and then you spend six drafts trying to erase yourself from the pages.
  • The only way you can write is by the light of the bridges burning behind you.
  • The Best Man is about a boy putting himself together with parts of various role models, but it will be labeled as a book about same sex marriage because one of his role models wants to marry a man.
  • Putting the right book in the right young hands is no more important than now.
Peck infused his presentation with humor, even inserting a good political zinger at one point, courtesy of Mark Twain:

Peck also read from his new novel, The Best Man:

Panel: Some Nonfiction! Dynamic Information Books for Young Readers Most of the titles listed on this panel were for young readers, but the topics covered are of interest to anyone who enjoys reading both fiction and nonfiction.

Candace Fleming & Eric Rohmann, Giant Squid
Julia Kuo, The Sound of Silence
Mara Rockliff, Around America To Win the Vote
Jane Sutcliffe, Will’s Words
Melissa Sweet, Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White

Moderator: Deborah Stevenson, Director for Children’s Books at GSLIS, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Editor of Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

How does fiction and nonfiction relate? What are the rules?
  • Rockliff: He feels responsible to tell kids the truth. Illustrated nonfiction books can’t be held to the same standard as text only books because the illustrated characters on the page have to be doing something. Her top priority: what are kids going to walk away with.
  • Kuo: The Sound of Silence is the true story of the author’s memory. When you illustrate it’s all about interpretation, but it’s almost impossible to be true with nonfiction because the illustrations are her best way of creating the environment of the story.
What is the role of text in the page design along with illustrations?
  • Fleming: it’s amazing what design can do to tell a story. It is important that illustrations are supporting rather than decorating the text.
What choices did you have to make through the editing process and what was left on the cutting room floor?
  • Kuo: most of the editing was done to the text. Kou drew what was left.
  • Rohmann: there’s a hierarchy and you have to ask questions like: what do you want the reader to see first? Is it a color? Is it a thing? Is it a breather or a break from the imagery? Where do you want the audience to look?
  • Sweet: When the book is done you don’t remember what was lost because it is so right… It is the essence of what you set out to create.
Any unexpected challenges?
  • Most challenges were with the illustrations, like finding references and the best medium for the material.
Panel: Truth Be Told: Big Questions in Middle Grade Fiction and What Adults Keep From Children
The theme for this panel was that all these author’s books all deal with the truth and they also think deeply about the truths that people speak to themselves. Panelists:
Kelly Barnhill, The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Adam Gidwitz, The Inquisitor’s Tale
Jennifer L. Holm, Full of Beans
Jason Reynolds, As Brave As You
Raina Telgemeier, Ghosts Moderator: Betsy Bird, Collection Development Manager at the Evanston Public Library

The panelists introduce themselves and their books:

  • Reynolds: has two middle grade novels to be published this year. As Brave As You is an homage to his “country cousins.” He wanted to write the story about those who migrated north and then as a city kid being sent to the South for the summer.
  • Holm: her new novel Full of Beans, is a companion (prequel) to Turtle in Paradise.
  • Gidwitz: his new novel is The Inquisitor’s Tale. He’s excited and nervous, because this was a big project and dear to his heart. While in Europe, for his wife’s dissertation, he collected stories. One was The Holy Greyhound (written in what was called an inquisitor’s notebook) and was the inspiration for The Inquisitor’s Tale.
  • Barnhill: her latest title is The Girl Who Drank the Moon. She is very interested in the notion that if you change the narrative, you change the world.
  • Telgemeier: her new graphic novel is Ghosts. This is her first foray into magic/supernatural stuff. This is magical realism, though, because she needs to be grounded in realistic stories. This graphic novel also ties in to her interest in the tradition of The Day of the Dead.

How do to make a book truthful to your experiences and also so that the kid will believe them?

  • Reynolds: If you are authentic others will recognize this. There’s a universality of truth if the person is being truthful.
  • Telgemeier: Your emotions are true no matter what the details are. You edit to get to the truth.
  • Barnhill: Memory and imagination are similar. If all memories are partially fictional, what is the truth of the moment? Both the accurate and invented tell about why the moment matters to you. Try to give the reader enough raw materials to create something that is true to them.
  • Holm: Keep things authentic and truthful, and keep it grounded in a young persons point of view. Focus on telling a story using details of what are kids focused (i.e.: eating, family, the media of their time)
  • Gidwitz: He creates his protagonists so that they are avatars of him at that age and then he thinks how would he act and react.
  • Reynolds: It’s not about disseminating the truth it’s about presenting questions that they think about all the time and putting it on the page.


Post lunch speaker: Laini Taylor
Laini Taylor spoke about such things as genre reading, how she became a writer, finding her characters, and her new book: Strange the Dreamer

  • This book, Strange the Dreamer, started out  as stand alone novel but has become a duology.
  • Genres should be encouraged to marry each other and have mutant babies.
  • “Follow your heart” is her creed as a writer.
  • She started writing Strange the Dreamer and the title was “Muse of Nightmares” where the female lead was both the victim and the villain. It was her story… so she thought… but another character ended up stealing the story.
  • When she was 21, she had all of two dramatic life experiences and once she wrote about them she didn’t know what else to write about. She had no trauma or drama in her life. She closed that door (to writing), and went to art school. Thinking back it was probably the worst alternative that she can think of to a career of writing, but it worked out. She learned creative strategies and she met her husband.
  • She read Harry Potter when it was first published and that opened the door for her to reading more fantasy and when she went to write again she found she had so much to write about.
  • How do our minds interact with stories and how do genres affect this?
    • Her Fantasist explanation: think of our mind as a harp. Each string at its own frequency. Frequencies that resonate and play us like music. Genre is about finding these direct and pure resonances and playing them.
  • With fiction it’s feelings we are after. Feels (as the kids say) are the drug of fiction. Genres comes in as the scope for these feelings.
  • How and why did books like Twilight and Harry Potter resonate with readers? They tapped into the craving to be special. We have a “myth hole” that wants to be filled.
Here’s a short clip of Taylor speaking about her new book Strange the Dreamer:

Panel: Mind-Bending Women of YA An all female panel speaks to the struggles females face as writers and stigmas of female characters in YA lit. Panelists:
Sharon Cameron, The Forgetting 
Roshani Chokshi, The Star-Touched Queen 
S. J. Kincaid, The Diabolic
Laura Ruby, Bone Gap
Laini Taylor, Strange the Dreamer Moderator: Janice Del Negro, Associate Professor and Follett Chair at Dominican University What are the expectations of women writers and expectations of the feminine in your work?
  • Kincaid: People are very sensitive to female characters that are weak or timid. There is more criticism towards female characters, in general, when it comes to writing.
  • Taylor: She hasn’t felt pressure with her female characters but she sees this expectation that YA female characters should be Katniss-y and if they aren’t, they are criticized.
  • Cameron: She has felt the expectation for her females to be the Katniss trope. But when she writes characters she wants to write human characters in the way the world is. She asks, are you telling an incredible human story about this character? Her new novel’s character is a quiet rebel. This came about from reaction the Katniss trope agenda. This character has a rich internal life. She always wants to move to the humanness of her characters.
  • Ruby: She wants to limit the word strong when it comes to female characters. She’s lucky that she hasn’t felt the pressure to write a certain type of female character. There are feminine powers that we have that we don’t have to borrow from men.
  • Chokshi: When it comes to female writers, you can’t always shout about how proud you are about what you are doing. You have to wait for someone else to say it first then you can repost or talk about it. Women are power hungry just like men and they shouldn’t have to hide it. We also need to think before we throw around accusations of the girls that are not how we want them to be.
How about depictions of sexual feelings or encounters– can you speak to the depiction of sexuality in your work or in YA Lit in general?
  • Cameron: She has never written a story that warranted an explicit sex scene. She is very Austen about this and likes the tension and when the small things mean a lot. That’s ok, that’s the way her stories go.
  • Taylor: She likes the smolder. But there’s two different kinds of sex scenes: explicit sex when someone is learning about sex is invaluable and helpful when it’s based in reality, but explicit sex scenes like those found in romance novels where everything is perfect is not her favorite thing. She likes the scenes that are about discovery.
  • Chokshi: She would have liked to write more kissing and whatnot scenes, but she was living at home with her parents, and it was weird. She just couldn’t. The way we talk about sex and the different ways we show intimacy in YA novels is beautiful. Sex is not the seal of soul mates and it’s OK to explore. She likes that we are moving towards this message.
  • Kincaid: A lot of what she wrote had to do with her comfort level as a writer. It’s important to be true to the character’s experience.
  • Ruby: has written hazy magical bee sex as well as more realistic sex scenes. She thinks a lot is about point of view. But she does think you can get away with a lot more in fantasy rather than in contemporary fiction.
Do you think sex as a seal for the soulmate is more for feminine readers rather than masculine readers?
  • Taylor: It is promoted towards girls but boys will read it and like it, but don’t tell anyone.
  • Ruby: Boys aren’t allowed to say things like they want a girlfriend.
  • Chokshi: It’s for both. The first time you fall in love is intoxicating.  Romance is often a fantasy and plays to our what ifs.

What do you think of the labels of Boy Books vs. Girl Books?

  • Kincaid: Her first books were packaged as boy books. It was a divide both ways, but an artificial divide that doesn’t need to be there because it has to do with the presentation of the book.
  • Cameron: Covers are changing lately and are not playing one against the other. The attitude of writing for those who are reading books (traditionally females) is changing.
  • Chokshi: Separation is not nice. Story is an incredible treasure that can be given to a person. Reading choices don’t emasculate you, they strengthen you.
  • Taylor: She loves the covers that welcome in anyone. Covers need to reflect the neutrality, if that is what the story is about.
 –Colleen Seisser, currently listening to All Fall Down by Ally Carter

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2016 Hub Challenge Check-in #16

Sun, 05/15/2016 - 07:00

Not signed up yet for YALSA’s 2016 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since the awards were announced counts, and the challenge runs until 11:59pm EST on June 23, so sign up now!


There’s a first time for everything, they say, and Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson has the honor of being the first non picture book that my daughter read first and then recommended to me.  She’s seven, so the recommendations usually flow the other direction, but if Roller Girl is the caliber of suggestion I have to look forward to I am in good hands for sure.  A 2016 Newbery Honor book, in addition to showing up on the 2016 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels & Top Ten Popular Paperbacks lists, Roller Girl tells the story of Astrid’s summer at roller derby camp, her struggles with friendships both old and new, and the looming specter of middle school.

It’s wonderful.  I loved Jamieson’s clever and creative style, full of visual clues and asides, and I especially loved her pitch-perfect and affectionate depiction of preteen angst.  That my daughter has taken up rollerskating (and me too, I guess) is testament to the vivid descriptions and joyful illustrations in Roller Girl, but the fact that she hounded me into reading the book immediately, wrote an unsolicited book review to share with her class, and has already given the book as a gift at multiple birthday parties tells me that this is a story that resonated with her, as it did with me, one I imagine I’ll be reading again.

What have you been reading for the Challenge lately? Have you shared any specific titles with friends or family, or have you read anything on the recommendation of others?  Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, and join the conversation on social media; look for the #hubchallenge on InstagramTwitter, and our Goodreads group.  And if you’ve finished the Challenge, a) bravo! and b) fill out this form.

–Julie, currently reading (at last!) Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven King



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So you want to read a Sarah Dessen book?

Wed, 05/11/2016 - 07:00

If you’ve never read a Sarah Dessen book before, it’s time to start. She’s a master of contemporary fiction with female leads. Her books have been nominated for the Teens’ Top Ten list several times. Check out this interview from 2012 when What Happened to Goodbye? landed in the top ten.


You could of course read them in order of publication date. There is something to be said for reading them in order as some of the characters are referenced in later books.

Order of Publication:
That Summer
Someone Like You
Keeping the Moon
This Lullaby
The Truth About Forever
Just Listen
Lock and Key
Along for the Ride
What Happened to Goodbye
The Moon and More
Saint Anything

But it’s not necessary to read them in order. Summer is the perfect time to read Sarah Dessen’s books because most of them take place during the summer. The books are set in two different towns, Colby and Lakeview. You could read them based on setting.

Along for the Ride
Keeping the Moon
The Moon and More

That Summer
Someone Like You
This Lullaby
The Truth About Forever
Just Listen
Lock and Key
What Happened to Goodbye
Saint Anything

Of course you can read them in a random order. If that’s the case and you’re not sure where to start, check out this list to find your answer. (This list has a hint of the book’s subject)

To Read about:
1. Music, read Just Listen
2. Giving up a stuffy library job for chaos in the kitchen, read The Truth About Forever
3. Reinventing yourself, read What Happened to Goodbye
4. Experiencing moments you wish you had in your childhood, read Along for the Ride
5. Falling for your BFFs brother, read Saint Anything
6. The summer before college, read The Moon and More
7. A reluctant Cinderella, read Lock and Key
8. Breaking all your dating rules, read This Lullaby
9. Getting out from your sister’s shadow, read Dreamland
10. Seeing yourself in a new light, read Keeping the Moon
11. Role reversal in your relationship with your best friend, Someone Like You
12. Seeing the past differently, That Summer

Happy Reading!

~ Jennifer Rummel, currently reading Night Study by Maria V. Snyder

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