Monday, December 11, 2017

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio - student book review by Isabella

None of the above is about Kristin Lattimer, a typical high-school girl, whose life is picture perfect: she is a champion hurdler with a full ride, she has a fantastic boyfriend, and has just been crowned homecoming queen. However, suddenly her life is turned upside down, when after experiencing excruciating pain during her first time, a visit to the doctor reveals that Kristin is intersex. Outwardly, she looks like a girl, but she has male chromosomes. Now, she not only has to process this brand-new revelation, but she has do deal with the scrutiny of her community, when her secret is leaked to her school. As she struggles to cope with her new life, she realizes that the question of identity is much more complicated than it appears.
I found this novel fascinating and enlightening. Kristin is an incredibly complex and vibrant character and it was a true pleasure to be able to understand her emotional journey to come to terms with her new identity. I have never personally encountered someone with AIS (androgen-insensitivity disorder), and thus I learned a lot about the implications of this condition. Furthermore, I found Kristin’s emotional response very realistic and appreciated that the author did not try to minimize her feelings, but rather explored this event’s impact in depth.
Furthermore, I think this novel is an important step in spreading awareness about the complexity of identity, particularly gender identity. If others are able to understand someone like Kristin’s feelings and experiences, they may be able to overcome their prejudices and embrace them as an individual, rather than stereotype. Also, showing the impact other people’s negative responses to her identity had on Kristin, may make readers more aware of the impact of their own actions. Overall, what I liked the most about the novel was the emphasis on not reducing Kristin to purely her gender identity, but rather treating her as a person first and foremost.
I would recommend this novel to any student, who has an open mind and is willing to learn about the experiences of others. This novel could be used in a literature, psychology, health, biology, or gender/queer studies class. One thing to note, is that there are mature topics addressed (e.g. sex, sexual health).

Little Peach by Peggy Kern student book review by Isabella

Author (Last name first): Kern, Peggy
Title of the Book: Little Peach 
 Publisher: Balzer and Bray 
 Date of Publication: 2015 
 ISBN#: 978-0062266958 
 Price: $17.99
 Grade Level: YA 
 Number of pages: 208 
Rating: 5Q, 4P Highly Recommended

Little Peach takes a brutally honest approach to the realities of child trafficking and prostitution. Fourteen-year-old Michelle has never had an easy life, nevertheless, she could always count on her grandfather to keep the wolves away. However, when he dies and her jealous mother kicks her out of the house, Michelle has nowhere to go. With one last shred of hope, she tries to find an old classmate in New York, but soon realizes the futility of her endeavor.
She is alone, aimless, and afraid. Suddenly, a charming, nicely dressed man approaches her and welcomes her into his world. At first, Michelle naively believes that she has found her happily ever after. Yet, soon she discovers the truth that she is to be a child prostitute. Stuck in this impossible situation, Michelle will have to make choices that no child should have to make.
Little Peach is a difficult book to read. It is not an uplifting story, but rather one aimed to educate the reader about the way children wind up in prostitution. I found the writing to be very nuanced, as the style reflected Michelle’s maturity and mental state: as a young child her thoughts were simplistic, but when her environment forces her to grow up quickly, the reader can see this change evident in the style of writing.
One moment in this novel that struck me particularly was when the girls find a missing child poster and realize that no one is looking for them. I found this eye-opening because I had never thought about the children who are not on missing posters, but who simply disappear. Furthermore, I found it shocking how these girls had nowhere to go, when they were abandoned or abused by their families. They feared being put in a group home or foster family more than going to New York City by themselves, which can be seen as rather indicative of the poor state of child protective service in poorer regions.
Finally, I think that this novel’s lack of a happy ending was a good decision because it shows that in these situations there are never picture perfect movie endings. Nevertheless, it suggested that it is possible for some to escape the dark world of prostitution, but that they cannot do this alone and thus we as a society must work together to save these girls.

This novel would be a good choice for an upperclassman English class, government/politics, or cultural studies class. Please note that this novel has many mature themes (e.g. sex, rape, drugs, sexual/physical/emotional abuse, prostitution, and violence).


George by Alex Gino book review

George is a 4th grade boy, who decides he wants to try out for the role of Charlotte, from Charlotte’s Web, during the class/school play.  He and his best friend, Kelly, practice the part of Charlotte.  He is not really interested in typical “boy” topics and hobbies.  His best friend is a girl and they talk about stereotypical girl things. George tries to keep his secret from his mom and brother in that he feels like a girl on the inside. George has a hidden stash of magazines that are teen girl magazines, but he is ashamed of them and hides them from his family.  After all the rehearsing of Charlotte’s part, George gets shut down pretty quickly by the teachers who tell him it is a “girls” part and don’t let him try out.  He goes home very sad, but can’t really tell his mom what happened.

There is nothing inappropriate in this story as far as anything sexual or more in depth transgender details.  This is a upper elementary story about someone who does not feel comfortable in his body.  I feel that it is written for young children.  It may help a child who feels different or it may generate empathy and understanding in readers who have a friend like George.  I really think it’s a groundbreaking book to give a voice to those who have not traditionally had a voice in children’s books.  The narrator uses female pronouns for George, while teachers, classmates and family use male pronouns. This book is providing a diverse character for some readers to identify with, who many not have many fictional characters to identify with. This book is not being challenged for any words contained within the pages, but for its ideas.  I’m sure the ones most vocal against this book have not actually read it.

I picked this book up because it was appearing on the ALA most frequently banned/challenged lists for 2017.  It is definitely a elementary/middle grade reader, which I usually don’t purchase for my high school library.  However, I did think it would be a good addition to our GLBTQ collection just in case there was a student who saw the banned book list and was interested in reading it.  Although, I can see where conservative groups would try to remove it from school libraries. I also picked up this book because I heard Alex Gino speak at nErDcampMI about the book and I am always interested in the books when authors talk about them.  There is definitely a personal connection. The cover design is simple, but very cute and when you open the cover, there are multi-colored hand drawn pictures depicting items most young children enjoy.  Overall, it’s a well written, groundbreaking book.  I would recommend it for school and public libraries.

Author's Website:

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Using Collections by Destiny in an IB School

I have been playing around with Destiny Collections over the past few weeks, and I am super excited about the way it is allowing me to share my IB library resources with my staff and students. I think the physical collection is being featured more prominently because it’s integrated with online sources as well. I was a big user of Resource Lists in the previous version, but exporting a text list is not as visually appealing as a whole collection that can be shared with one link. The Collection has pictures of the book covers, screenshots of free web resources and YouTube videos that are playable through the Collection. Simply put, I think that students can see at a quick glance that they have access to great library resources.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron - student book review by Alyssa

The premise behind The Forgetting is something that, to me, is insanely fascinating. It follows the idea of a society where, every twelve years, every citizen loses all of their memory. The citizens must write their true life story down in books, which they carry with them at all times, so they can read them and know who they are after the “forgetting”. The book does a fantastic job of exploring the possibilities for corruption in the society, such as what happens when a person’s book is lost, or if a person never forgets, both of which happen to the main protagonist, Nadia.
The Forgetting originally appeared to me as similar to a novel in the dystopian fiction genre, as it features a small, idyllic city with a different society from ours and with a seemingly corrupted government. I went into the book expecting the general dystopian YA plot - a love interest, overthrowing the people in power, etc, all of which were indeed present; however, I was caught completely off guard and found myself very pleased with the science-fiction rout the book ended up taking. It managed to explain a lot about some seemingly fantastic and unrealistic aspects of the setting, even giving an intriguing scientific explanation for the Forgetting itself.

In general, the book covers themes such as corruption, truth, love, memory, and family. It should also be noted that the book is definitely YA and up, due to the descriptive imagery in the romantic scenes and descriptions of the anarchy and death that occur in the days before the Forgetting. The Forgetting would be a good book for free reading or book clubs, due to both the general aspect of enjoyment and character development, as well as the deep themes which would be fascinating to discuss. Although I found the beginning to be a slight bit slow, once the science fiction aspect dropped in around halfway I was completely captivated and could not put it down!

Author's website:

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider student book review by Nicole

Rating: 4Q4P
Highly Recommended
Once diagnosed with the drug-resistant form of Tuberculosis (TB), Lane moves to the Latham house in order to promote health and wellness until a cure is discovered. The once star student on his way to Stanford has his eyes focused only on keeping up with his education rather than his health; this only has a negative effect on his overall well being and is forced to remove himself from all that he lived for before TB.
Finally discovering his way throughout Latham house, Lane meets a past summer camp acquaintance, Sadie. After a rough start marred by camp memories, the two discover that they are the best of friends, perfect for eachother in the mess of Latham. From sneaking into the nearby town to late night parties the two fall in love- Latham becomes their sick version of paradise.
Once life starts to fall into place, everything starts to go wrong, from tragedies regarding their close friends to the discovery of a cure, life starts to change. Although the news of the cure is amazing, Sadie and Lane are devastated to be separated. Through a culmination of events brought by these changes, Sadie is injured to the point close to death three weeks away from the delivery of the cure. Trying an experimental version of the cure, Sadie ultimately meets her demise through the drug rather than TB or the injuries themselves.
Still affected both by his time at Latham and relationship with Sadie, Lane leaves the sanatorium recognising that life needs to be lived to the fullest in the present rather than just focusing on the future.
This book Extraordinary Means by Robyyn Schneider was a great read and I would love to read it again. Similar to the themes of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, this novel follows two sick young adults through their time recovering and growing up.
I enjoyed the fiction intertwined with the truth of the real disease. No, there is no TB that is completely drug resistant but the idea of an epidemic such as that is extremely interesting. Also, basing the plot around the patients and their experiences at a sanatorium is another modern way to look at the experiences of those during the major epidemics of TB in the 19th century. Schneider did not just focus on the impacts to the patients, but the extended impacts on the society surrounding and the caretakers within. This created a feeling that this epidemic could truly occur and measures should be taken to account for everyone’s health and safety. Furthermore, I feel that it is extremely beneficial that the author studied medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. This provided an added sense of reality intertwined with the clear fiction of the disease.
Despite the amazing plot there are a few mature scenes that a reader should be aware about before reading this novel. To start, drinking and excessive drug usage is highly prevalent throughout the culture of the kids at the Latham House. Furthermore, the relationships formed throughout the sanatorium tend to end in hooking up in the forest. Regarding relationships, the mini love triangle between Sadie, Lane, and Nick was not executed as best as it could have been. It was between existing and not; I feel that Schneider should have chosen between the two rather than having it fluctuate.  

As a clearly well researched and written novel, any teenage student would love to read this book. For a teacher, literary analysis is plentiful; whether it be determining plot points such as debating where the climax rests, the character development of Lane regarding his personal values such as education vs. school life, or the influence of technology or nature on daily life, anyone could find anything to track throughout this novel. This book easily fits within a high school library. If a librarian would like to feature it on a themed shelf, I would recommend placing it with books such as The Fault in Our Stars or Wonder.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Darkstalker by Tui T. Sutherland - student book review by Arav

Overall, I do think this book is criminally good. The plot of the book is revolves around the villain dragon DarkStar, and the events which lead to his slumber almost two thousand years before the main series of Wings of Fire. The setting revolves around intelligent personified dragons, divided into many tribes based off of race with each having magic special to them. For example, the “Nightwing” race have members which can read minds, predict the future, or both. Now, the setting might put new readers to this series off, but I would suggest sticking around, as Sutherland shows off an incredible case study in how all villains might not be strictly evil, but simply misguided beings whose power let them embrace their character faults.

The story itself is shown through three lenses, each rotating for a role to narrate the story whenever Sutherland sees fit: DarkStalker, Fathom, and ClearSight. DarkStalker, as the titular protagonist, gives the reader a clear view as to how his thoughts turn from seeking justice and what is right to using his power of magic for evil. ClearSight, gifted with the vast ability of future-sight, gives us both an interesting glimpse as to how confusing such a power can be, while also acting as the checks and balances to DarkStalkers antics, so that when certain key elements of the plot are revealed, we understand how hard it can be to fully see a being’s transition to madness without going into the mind of that individual itself. Lastly Fathom, the eldest of the trio, has a rather uplifting story, one which, for the sake of preventing too many spoilers, I will not discuss.

 All three have a rich interplay which makes the transitions neither seem jarring nor forced - in fact, I did not even notice that the chapter headings indicated which dragon was speaking at the time, as I could simply tell from the characters’ internal monologues and conflicts. However, this book is not for the faint of heart, as it does include descriptive violence among dragons, including a disembowelment. These scenes, however, are crucial to the plot, weaving together big character moments with big plot points. In terms of giving this book to students, I would love to analyse all the themes that this book tries to portray. Overall, it provides a pretty satisfying analysis of what the words “good” and “bad” really mean to our ears, especially as people can tend to both given their mood and whatnot. Each character underscores different ideas regarding good and evil from Arctic, DarkStalker’s Father, underscoring the need to think through your decisions, to Whiteout, DarkStalker’s sister, underscoring the need to keep your individuality to maintain sanity. The magical powers of each dragonkind are also well-thought, with the various thoughts concerning ClearSight’s future-prediction abilities akin to time travel, such as causal loops and multiverse theory. There is also a lot about power structures and the way power is distributed in societies that is good to reflect on, from how hereditary power can cause even the most level headed to go mad with power to how easily can people let the past define the possibilities of the future. Lastly, the style of the book is simply marvelous. While I had no knowledge of the book’s setting or who the characters might be, the book both managed to convey necessary plot details in a way that respected the intelligence of the reader, from giving subtle hints about a certain dragon’s imprisonment early onwards, while still making the actual plot fun to read.

I had a blast between the character interaction scenes, where characters went back and forth about certain thematic issues. Each was chock-full of both witty remarks and sarcasm that I honestly felt like I could hear the stuff in my head. Altogether, then, the book was incredibly vivid. It has the ability to spark a lot of conversation on it, though the setting might turn some off. My only real complaint is that I want more of this story to read, so my next task will be to read the rest of the series to see what it has in store for me!