Books I’m looking forward to

I’m taking a short vacation before Summer Reading starts and the library gets really busy. In addition to seeing family and working on going from zero draft to first draft on a new-ish project, I hope to get some reading time in. Here are the books I have on my to-read pile or downloaded to my phone.

Pointe, Claw.Pointe, Claw by Amber J. Keyser

I’m about half-way through this book. Rarely do I encounter a book so intense/heavy that I need to step away from it, but I’m finding with this book I can only read in one-hour stretches. It’s brilliant, though also dark, so if you’re looking for a fun escape, maybe try something else. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Jessie Vale dances in an elite ballet program. She has to be perfect to land a spot with the professional company. When Jessie is cast in an animalistic avant-garde production, her careful composure cracks wide open. Nothing has felt more dangerous.

Meanwhile, her friend Dawn McCormick’s world is full of holes. She wakes in strange places, bruised, battered, and unable to speak. The doctors are out of ideas.

These childhood friends are both running out of time. Jessie has one shot at her ballet dream. Dawn’s blackouts are getting worse. At every turn, they crash into the many ways girls are watched, judged, used, and discarded. Should they play it safe or go feral?

The Star-Touched Queen.The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

This is going to be the first of my road trip audiobooks. I listened to the first chapter and love the Indian-inspired fantasy setting. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most … including herself.

Girl Out of Water.Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman

I’ve been looking forward to this book for almost a year now. It should be a good, lighter follow-up to Pointe, Claw. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Ocean breeze in her hair and sand between her toes, Anise can’t wait to spend the summer before her senior year surfing and hanging out on the beach with friends. Santa Cruz is more than her home—it’s her heart. But when her aunt, a single mother, is in a serious car accident, Anise must say goodbye to California to help care for her three young cousins.

Landlocked Nebraska is the last place Anise wants to be. Sure, she loves her family, but it’s hard to put her past behind her when she’s living in the childhood house of the mother who abandoned her. And with every Instagram post, her friends back home feel further away.

Then she meets Lincoln, a charismatic, one-armed skater who challenges her to swap her surfboard for a skateboard. Because sometimes the only way to find your footing is to let go.

gena/finn.Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson

I was lucky enough to meet Kat at an author event near me last weekend, and picked up a copy of this book, which has been on my to-read list for a while. Online friends becoming IRL friends? Yes, please! Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Gena and Finn would have never met but for their mutual love for the popular show Up Below. Regardless of their differences—Gena is a recent high school graduate whose social life largely takes place online, while Finn is in her early twenties, job hunting and contemplating marriage with her longtime boyfriend—the two girls realize that the bond between them transcends fanfiction. When disaster strikes and Gena’s world turns upside down, only Finn can save her, and that, too, comes with a price. Told through emails, text messages, journal entries, and blog posts, Gena/Finn is a story of friendship and love in the digital age.

What are you reading? Any books I should add to my to-read list?

Book Talk Tool: Kahoot!

Kahoot! app.Yesterday, I had my last school visit of the year. I’ve learned a lot through a year of book talks, and get a sense of closure from having the first and last classes I visited this school year be the same. One tool I’ve started using in middle school classrooms is Kahoot!

If you’re unfamiliar with Kahoot!, it’s a free online platform that lets you create multiple-choice quizzes that students can answer on a computer or mobile device. (There are other options for quizzes and games you can create, but I haven’t explored those yet.) Every student at the local middle school has a Chromebook, which is perfect for Kahoot! After talking about books I think the students will like, I tell them about the library’s online resources and upcoming programs. A Kahoot! quiz on our eBooks and events is a great way to see how well the students were listening (and how well I presented!), and to get them more involved in the presentation. In my opinion, the more interactive a class visit, the better! It helps that the teachers use Kahoot! here, too; just say “Kahoot!” and the kids all know what to do!

Tonight, before we Skype with YA author Stephanie Garber at the library, I’ve prepared a Kahoot! with trivia about her book, Caraval. There are so many ways to use Kahoot! to spice up a presentation or host a trivia night.

Do you use Kahoot!?

Why supporting libraries supports communities

Support Libraries. #SaveIMLS.The proposed federal budget for 2017 threatens to significantly cut funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which helps fund a lot of America’s libraries. While public libraries are mainly funded by taxes (the exact logistics of this vary by state), IMLS provides grants that help libraries develop STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programming, purchase equipment, and even provide Internet access to the public. I worry that a lot of the people voting to potentially cut IMLS funding don’t really know what libraries do. Maybe they have an idea in their head from when they went to their local library as a kid and checked out books or got research help they assume Google could handle today. So I thought I’d share some of the things we do every day at my library (and that libraries around the country do) to help our community. Feel free to share these stories with your representatives and encourage them to support IMLS!

First, let’s clear up some common misconceptions. Some representatives argue that the Internet is a luxury. It’s 2017; if you want to search for a job, apply for a job, apply for a higher education program, apply for financial aid, view or print a pay stub, view or print travel documents, pay taxes — basically be a member of society — you need the Internet. And I haven’t even mentioned basic “luxuries” like email, social media, and the wealth of information (and, yes, misinformation) online.

But moving past the basics of providing Internet access to everyone in our community, here are a few other things that happen daily at my library. Many of these are teen-specific, because I’m a teen librarian, but know that libraries are here for everyone of every age, gender, race, religion, and ability.

Kids and teens have a place to be and things to do after school. Our community has a lot of latch key kids — kids whose parents/guardians work during the after-school hours. Many of these kids are also in charge of younger siblings/cousins. The library gives them a place to hang out and unwind, books to read for fun, computers to do their homework or play games on. It has study rooms for those working on group projects. It has a children’s department and a designated teen room where kids and teens can spend time with friends their age and meet new friends.

Youth can develop leadership skills. One of my favorite moments as a teen librarian was watching a few of the teens who come to library programs regularly take ownership of an event. I knew almost nothing about Kendama at the start of April, other than my teens were really into it, and they wanted to have a tournament at the library. Fortunately, the teens helped me a lot with planning this event, coming up with the trick lists themselves, recommending prizes for each division, and even helping to judge the tournament. Not only did those who planned the event benefit; the day of, lots of teens were helping each other learn new tricks between heats, and the parents and grandparents who came to watch got to see what their kids were passionate about.

Students can do schoolwork. I have lost count of how many students of all ages (including scores of adults taking online classes) I’ve helped with everything from finding information for research papers to formatting their paper in Microsoft Word to attaching those papers to emails or uploading them to Blackboard. Could they do this work elsewhere? Maybe. Some may not have the research skills to find the information without a librarian’s help yet. Many do not have Internet access at home, so even if they typed their papers at home, they would need to come to the library to do research and to submit their papers electronically. Some may not have a home computer on which to type their papers.

Teens have a safe place to talk about tough topics. Teen Game Nights at my library always contain fascinating conversations. We’ve had political debates over Apples to Apples, discussions of bullying and LGBTQIAP+ identities, conversations about racism and sexism and mental health. Sometimes teens have questions I can answer, like “Is Russia a democracy?”; sometimes it’s harder, like “How old do you have to be to know if you’re transgender?” or “What do I do if my girlfriend’s parents say she’s too young to date?” Sometimes it’s not my job to have the answers; it’s my job to listen and let the teens know someone cares about them, is interested in the things they’re interested in, and is rooting for them to succeed. I know not all my teens will talk to me about the things that are bothering them, but I’d like to think they all know they can talk to me. Because while many of them have parents or grandparents or older siblings they can talk to, not all of them do.

People get free technology help. This afternoon, three teens came in distraught, looking for their lost dog. They wanted to make a flyer with pictures of the missing pet. They had no idea where to start; I showed them how to make a flyer in Publisher, how to upload pictures of the dog from their phone, and how to print the flyers. Could they have done this elsewhere? Perhaps a copy shop could have helped them, but they would have charged a lot more than ten cents per copy.

People can improve their lives. Whether this means checking out a book on eating healthier, borrowing an exercise DVD, or using one of our community meeting rooms to hold a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, people’s lives change every day at the library.

I could keep going, but this post is already longer than most. If you care about libraries and building strong communities, please ask your representatives to support IMLS. And if you have your own library stories, please share in the comments!

Measuring Success: Beyond the Numbers

Success.Every month, I submit a report to my managers with information about outreach events and meetings I attended, professional development, and programs I facilitated. These reports are largely about numbers — how many LEUs (Library Education Units) I earned for attending a webinar, how many presentations I made to how many students on a school visit, how many hours I spent on a special project. But those numbers often don’t tell the whole story.

For instance, at an open mic night last week, I had three attendees. One wanted to perform, but was too shy until I made a deal with him: I’ll sing first if you sing second. So we both sang for the two other teens, who are regulars at teen programs. After he rapped for us, the shy performer asked if he could bring his own music next time, instead of doing a karaoke rap to a YouTube video. We talked a bit about the raps he writes before he had to leave. On paper, my program with three attendees may not look like a huge success, but it gave me a chance to connect with a teen, and gave him a chance to share something he’s passionate about.

Those numbers also don’t show the relationships I’ve built with teachers, or the students who pull me aside after I’ve talked to their classes to rave about favorite books. They don’t show the times I’ve helped people apply for jobs, find obscure recipes, learn how to train their new puppies. Numbers are great, but they shouldn’t be our only measure of success.

How do you measure success? Have you ever had a program that looked like a flop on paper but went really well?

Genre Lessons: Women’s Fiction

Woman reading.I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. The idea is to get us better-acquainted with the types of books we may not normally read. In addition to improving my recommendations, I’m also studying these books from a writer’s perspective. Just because I don’t write a certain genre doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who do. If you want to see other posts in this series, check out the “genre lessons” tag.

This month we’re reading women’s fiction. If you asked me what genre I read the least, it would be women’s fiction. There are a lot of excellent women’s fiction writers out there (a few of my friends among them), but it’s not the type of story I typically look for. Women’s fiction and romance tend to be predictable — you may not be able to guess every turn the plot takes, but you always know the couple will end up together. I don’t see this is a fault; in these genres, it’s intentional. It’s what the reader wants. They may want to be surprised by a twist, but they expect a Happily Ever After.

But here’s the thing: having a predictable plot gave me ample room to explore the different beats of the plot. There were conflicts in each protagonist’s work life. There was a secret that threatened to ruin everything. There was an antagonist ex-fiance, a climax, a dark moment when it looked like the relationship was over, and an engagement at the end. If, like me, beat sheets make you cringe, women’s fiction is a good genre to work on breaking down the plot of a story.

Another thing about great women’s fiction: setting. The book I read was basically a love letter to Milwaukee, where it’s set. I’ve never been to Milwaukee, but now I have a loose map of the city in my head, and I’d love to visit for one of their cultural festivals! Perhaps in part because there’s less room for the plot to meander, women’s fiction has ample opportunities to develop rich settings. And the way the characters describe their settings speaks volumes about who they are.

Have you read any women’s fiction recently? What writing lessons did you learn?

Letting story ideas marinate

Swordfish marinating.Sometimes, I’ll get a great idea for a story that will have me making excited, almost-feverish notes, whether it’s Saturday afternoon or four a.m. Sunday night. The idea will consume me for a few hours. But after that initial burst, the idea often loses momentum.

For me, the key is to let the idea marinate. I don’t make detailed outlines, but I’ll jot down key plot points and character traits. After I’ve done a bit of brainstorming, I need to step back and let the idea marinate in my subconscious, soaking up spices — a subplot here, a plot twist there — until the story is ready to cook. Some writers get ideas fully-formed, like someone’s handed them a box from one of those meal delivery services. I have to measure the spices myself, decide which ones to keep and which belong in another dish, and give the whole thing time to simmer.

If your ideas need to marinate, like mine, you may find it helpful to do writing prompts or exercises while you wait. Try experimenting with a new format or genre. Take a long walk and let your mind wander, or take a day trip for a change of scenery. One day you’ll go back to that idea and realize you’re ready to cook up a new story.

Do you have to let your ideas marinate? What helps you prepare to write something new?

What happens when you let teens take ownership of a program

Kendamas.A few of of my regular teens are really into Kendama. After school, there’s almost always at least one person practicing Kendama in the Teen Room. A few months ago, one of the teens on the advisory board asked if we could hold a Kendama tournament.

I had no idea how to run a Kendama tournament, but luckily, he did. One we picked a date for the program, he came up with the trick lists for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced competitions, and helped me get in touch with someone in our community who’d run a tournament last year. He gave me ideas for mini-games to play in between each division competition. He volunteered as a judge, and helped me find other volunteers to judge.

The tournament was awesome. The best part wasn’t the competition itself, though; it was watching all these teens who were passionate about something come together, give each other tips, cheer each other on, and build off of one another. Their enthusiasm was infectious. And it was awesome to see all these amazingly talented teens showing off their skills.

Another cool thing about the tournament: about two-thirds of the competitors were teens I’d never seen before. The teens who helped plan this event were the ones who spread the word and brought new people to the library. Will all of them become regulars at teen programs? No. But maybe a few will start coming to other teen events, or hanging out in the Teen Room practicing Kendama after school.

So, if you have teens who are interested in programs around something you don’t know a lot about, see if they’d like to plan an event. You know your teens; if they can handle the responsibility, it can be truly amazing to see what they do when given the chance. And you might just learn a thing or two about their passion; I bought myself a Kendama because it looked so fun, and I plan to be able to get through the entire beginner’s trick list by the time we hold our next tournament!

Have you let your teens plan any programs at your library? How did it go?