Monthly Archives: May 2016

Princeless: Save Yourself

Princless: Save Yourself.Over the weekend I came across an interview with Jeremy Whitley, author of the Princeless series, that could not have come at a better time for me. I was craving a fun, humorous read, and everything in my to-read pile right now is pretty dark. A few paragraphs into the interview I decided I HAD to read Princeless now. The idea of a black princess saving herself and teaming up with her dragon guard to save her sister was way too appealing to pass up. I devoured the first two volumes in one sitting.

There are so many awesome things happening in these graphic novels. The discussion of armor designed for women that actually works as armor. The examination of gender roles, status, and societal expectations. The way the author and artist both point out and subvert so many stereotypes surrounding the traditional princess story tropes. I loved seeing Angelica, the “beautiful” sister; Devin, the prince who isn’t “manly” enough for his father; and King Ash share pieces of their stories, so we understood how they came to be the characters they are. There was definite potential for this series to go over the top with cheesy stereotypes, but the creators deftly avoid that. I highly recommend the Princeless series for fans of princess stories and superhero stories. I’d love to see more comics like these geared toward kids.

Genre Lessons: Poetry

Poetry (1)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 discussing poetry. I have a weird relationship with poetry. There are lots of poets and collections that are considered lofty, literary works — Poetry with a capital “P” — that I just don’t get. I recognize that these are great works, but they do nothing for me. But at the same time, I love music, and the sound of words, and clever turns of phrase (bonus points if there’s some kind of rhyme, either internal or at the end of a line). I will spend hours turning over a gorgeous line/sentence/paragraph/stanza in my mind. And I am so in awe of some spoken word poets, I can’t even articulate their genius.

So, poetry. It simultaneously delights and confuses me, intrigues and bores me, depending on the poem. Which I guess is true of any format, any medium. But people often speak of poetry as a single thing (genre?), so I sometimes feel like I should be able to form a single opinion on it. Either it’s for me, or it’s not, right?

Wrong. The first lesson I learned when reading poetry for this month’s book club is:

1. No single work is representative of any genre, category, format, medium, etc. Just like there are some mysteries I love and others I couldn’t finish, some romances that make me swoon and others that make me cringe, the label a work is given does not automatically determine who will like or dislike it. Sure, knowing the genre helps, but you might surprise yourself when you try something in a genre you don’t normally read. I find that time and time again with poetry. Also,

2. A piece can read like poetry even if it’s written as prose, in paragraphs rather than stanzas. Some of the most gorgeous, poetic things I’ve read have come from novels by the likes of Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Jandy Nelson, and Maggie Stiefvater. Those lines that make you catch your breath, that you go back and re-read again and again — whether they’re hidden in prose or not, I consider them poetry. Finally,

3. Whether you’re writing poetry or prose, there has to be an overall arc, a theme or story connecting the entire work. In a novel, that’s your story. In a collection of poems, maybe that’s a story (as we see with novels in verse), or maybe it’s a theme that links every poem in that collection. Whatever it is, there has to be a common thread.

Now, I’m off to read some more gorgeous writing. I finally got my hands on the audiobook The Raven King, and I believe Maggie Stiefvater’s prose is so musical it’s even better read aloud.

What has poetry taught you about writing? Any poets or collections you’d recommend?

Books for Mental Health Awareness Month

One of the things I love about fiction is its ability to provide readers with greater understanding of and empathy for people whose experiences are different from their own. Sine May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I’d like to highlight a few books that I (and readers/reviewers who live with mental illness) think portray characters with mental illness in an accurate, respectful, and hopeful light. I hope that with greater understanding, we can tackle the stigma against getting help or taking medication to manage mental illness. All book descriptions are from Goodreads.

Anxiety

Symptoms of Being Human.Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure — media and otherwise — is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school — even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast — the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created — a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in — or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

Highly Illogical Behavior.Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley [I haven’t read this yet, but I love John Corey Whaley’s books and I’ve heard amazing things about it.]

Sixteen-year-old Solomon is agoraphobic. He hasn’t left the house in three years, which is fine by him.

Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to get into the second-best psychology program for college (she’s being realistic). But how can she prove she deserves a spot there?

Solomon is the answer.

Determined to “fix” Sol, Lisa thrusts herself into his life, introducing him to her charming boyfriend Clark and confiding her fears in him. Soon, all three teens are far closer than they thought they’d be, and when their facades fall down, their friendships threaten to collapse, as well.

Depression/Suicide

My Heart and Other Black Holes.My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution: a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner.

Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.

The Serpent King.The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life — at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.

Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

The Rest of Us Just Live Here.The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

For more recommendations, I encourage you to check out Teen Librarian Toolbox‘s #MHYALit Project. There are many, many more books that portray mental illness really well. There are also many that do a terrible job and may perpetuate harmful stereotypes. If you know of a book that you think provides a good representation of characters living with mental illness, or of a book you think is problematic, please share in the comments.

Publicity creation with Canva

Canva.Things have been crazy at the library lately, and I’ve had to come up with publicity materials for a lot of new programs. While Publisher is great for flyers, it doesn’t offer the flexibility I’d like for creating images for web banners and social media posts. There’s plenty of expensive software designed for these things, but as a librarian on a budget, I’m always looking for free/cheap alternatives. Which led me to Canva.

Some things I really like about Canva:

  1. You can choose from a variety of standard image sizes, or create something using custom dimensions. This has been perfect for making Facebook event photos.
  2. Canva is online, so you can access and edit your designs anywhere.
  3. If you sign up for the business version of Canva (also free), you can use the “magic resize” feature to quickly adapt the same image for multiple platforms. You can also share projects with other members of your team.
  4. There are tons of fonts to choose from!

Some things I’m not as crazy about:

  1. There’s no way to draw a curved line, or make text curve, in the free version of Canva. Or if there is, I haven’t found it yet.
  2. The free stock images you can use aren’t great. There are better images you can use for a dollar apiece, but I haven’t used any of those. You can upload your own images (including stock photos you purchase elsewhere), so I usually do that.

I know other librarians who also use Canva to make bookmarks and infographics, but I haven’t had time to experiment with those yet. I don’t have any formal training in graphic design; everything I do is self-taught, using best practices I’ve read about online and experimenting over the last four years that I’ve been creating publicity for library programs. When things settle down a bit at work, I’ll play around with other image types in Canva, and let you know if I come across anything of note.

Do you use Canva at all? Do you have a similar tool you’d recommend for creating publicity?

What I learned from 30 days of poems

Poetry.

Photo by Flickr user Teresa Grau Ros

In April, I challenged myself to write a poem a day in honor of National Poetry Month. This turned out to be a great time for such a challenge; poetry has always served as an emotional outlet for me on the rare occasions I sit down to pen a poem, and it was nice to have that outlet when things got really crazy at work last month. I think I learned more about myself than I did about writing from this endeavor, but maybe you’ll find something useful in my takeaways, too.

First, I learned that I’m obsessed with word sounds and rhythm. I’ve always known this; while I don’t often read poetry, I’ll fall in love with poetic prose, and can be deeply moved by a poignant turn of phrase. Throughout April I forced myself to focus on rhymes and rhythm, and I found that focus creeping into my work as I edited prose.

I also learned that I don’t like being confined to a rigid structure. Every poem I wrote was free verse, and while there were some rhymes, and I was aware of the meter, I never forced myself to follow a strict structure. There were no limericks, no sonnets, no haikus. I wrote what resonated with me, and what I thought sounded okay. (I say okay because while there were a few stanzas I really liked, the majority of my poems still feel like drivel. I think I’ve mentioned that I don’t consider myself a poet by any stretch.)

But most importantly, I learned the same lesson writing flash fiction has taught me: experimenting with a new format forces you to flex different writing muscles. I don’t see myself every writing poetry professionally, but I do feel like my poetry improved over the course of thirty days. And writing poems has made me even more aware of the sound and rhythm of my prose.

Have you ever done a writing challenge like this? How did it go?