Celebrate the freedom to read

Banned Books Week 2017.Happy Banned Books Week, everyone! This time of year, I like to take a moment to reflect and celebrate the freedom to read. Throughout history, the first thing tyrants sought to control was information and literacy. In the 1800s, it was illegal for enslaved people to learn how to read. The Nazi party banned and burned books in Germany. And throughout the world, history books are edited to alter perceptions and erase events and practices that the government either is ashamed of or seeks to deny (books in Southern states asserting the Civil War was about “states’ rights” and economics; China re-writing history books to extend the Sino-Japanese War).

So this week, and every week, I encourage you to read widely. Read whatever you want. Read stories about people whose experiences are wildly different from yours, and about people whose experiences you’ve shared. Read about the parts of history we should be ashamed of. Listen to the voices of the formerly- and currently-oppressed. Read about the things that those who use fear to maintain power would have us deny or forget.

As the Doctor once said, books are “the best weapons in the world.” Arm yourselves.

If you want to learn more about Banned Books Week, check out the American Library Association’s list of the Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016. Have you read any of the books on the list?


Books I’m excited for this fall

My professional life is a blur of school visits and reading for critique partners right now, so I’m reading less published fiction (I only have one book going, instead of my usual three!). Still, I wanted to share some books I’m looking forward to in the coming months. All summaries are from Amazon.com.

Dear Martin. Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

Long Way Down.Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Moxie by Jennifer MathieuMoxie.

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with an administration at her high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Moxie is a book about high school life that will make you wanna riot!

The First Rule of Punk.The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez

There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school—you can’t fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malú (María Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself.

The real Malú loves rock music, skateboarding, zines, and Soyrizo (hold the cilantro, please). And when she assembles a group of like-minded misfits at school and starts a band, Malú finally begins to feel at home. She’ll do anything to preserve this, which includes standing up to an anti-punk school administration to fight for her right to express herself!

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.

Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

Oddity.Oddity by Sarah Cannon (Full disclosure: the author is a friend of mine)

Join a tough eleven-year-old as she faces down zombie rabbits, alien mobs, and Puppet Cartels while trying to find her missing twin in Sarah Cannon’s imaginative middle-grade debut, Oddity.

Welcome to Oddity, New Mexico, where normal is odd and odd is normal.

Ada Roundtree is no stranger to dodging carnivorous dumpsters, distracting zombie rabbits with marshmallows, and instigating games of alien punkball. But things haven’t been the same since her twin sister, Pearl, won the town’s yearly Sweepstakes and disappeared…

Along with her best friend, Raymond, and new-kid-from-Chicago Cayden (whose inability to accept being locked in the gym with live leopards is honestly quite laughable), Ada leads a self-given quest to discover Oddity’s secrets, even evading the invisible Blurmonster terrorizing the outskirts of town.

But one of their missions goes sideways, revealing something hinky with the Sweepstakes … and Ada can’t let it go. Because, if the Sweepstakes is bad, then what happened to Pearl?

And some bonus books that I won’t include full descriptions of:

I’m currently reading and loving an advanced copy of The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton. Waiting in my to-read pile are They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman, and The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke. So many books, so little time…

What books are you looking forward to reading?

Fun accounts to follow

Follow all the fun people!Sometimes the bombardment of bad/upsetting news stories can be overwhelming. When I need to step away, I have a few humorous Twitter accounts I like to turn to.

Brooding YA Hero (@broodingYAhero) — Created by the amazing Carrie Ann (@Writer_Carrie), Broody is both a stereotype and a challenge to overused stereotypes and problematic tropes. He’s hilarious. And has gemstone eyes/a ripped body/perfect hygiene even when he’s in a historical novel set in the seventeenth century. He (er, Carrie) also has a book coming out that is sure to be amazing, called Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me. Broody is one of my go-to places for a good laugh.

Wholesome Memes (@WholesomeMeme) — This is exactly what it says it is. This account is full of wholesome, inspirational, and sometimes hilarious memes, pictures, quotes, and comics. When the news feels like too much, this account will restore your faith in humanity.

Librarian Problems — This one may only be funny for librarians, but if you work in a public library, you’ll get a good laugh out of this account.

What are some of your favorite places on the Internet when you need to step away from the news for a bit?

Outlining for pantsers

Writing. I’ve always considered myself a pantser, or a discovery writer, someone who doesn’t outline a book before she starts writing. That’s probably why my early drafts always have weak plotting, slow pacing, and endings that need to be re-written multiple times. With every book I’ve written in the last few years, I’ve crept closer to outlining, planning major plot points and character arcs in advance, but I will never fill out a beat sheet for one of my books.

But NaNoWriMo is coming, and I plan to fast-draft a YA mystery/thriller this November. Not only do I want to write alongside the teens I encourage to do the Young Writers Program at the library, I also volunteered to be a Municipal Liaison for my region (USA :: Indiana :: Elsewhere), so I’ll be organizing write-ins and other NaNo gatherings all month long. In an attempt to prepare for NaNoWriMo, I’m loosely brainstorming plot points, character arcs, and setting details. So, I thought I’d share some tips for pantsers looking to dip their toes into outlining. Remember, every writer is different, so do whatever works for you. These are some things that work for me.

  1. Do character sketches. If you write character-driven stories, getting to know your characters better before you start writing will make the process go a lot more smoothly. I’ll write interviews or journal entries where my main characters tell me about their lives and how they feel about other characters in the story. Sometimes those sketches will reveal a surprising trait that leads to a major development in the plot.
  2. Figure out the main plot points. You don’t need to fill out a beat sheet or have every scene planned out, but it helps to go into a story knowing a few basics. I like to have at least a vague idea of the following beats: how the story starts, the midpoint reversal, the climax/final confrontation, and how the story ends. These don’t have to be exact. Sometimes my notes on a climax are protagonist confronts antagonist and uses some skill they learned earlier in the book to emerge victorious where they would have failed in the beginning. (Very vague, I know. Have I mentioned I once wrote twelve endings for a book before I found one I like? Maybe this is why… However, I don’t think I could’ve come up with that right ending before trying out all the ones that didn’t work.)
  3. List the scenes you know you want to write. Again, this can be really vague — first clue found (for a mystery), Character A dies, Characters B and C finally admit their feelings for each other, etc. If you’re like me, some of the major scenes have already played out in your head. Jotting them down may help you figure out where those scenes should fit into the larger narrative.

Again, these are things that have worked for me, but they may not be right for every pantser. There’s no right or wrong way to write, so figure out what works for you.

Do you have tips you would add to this list? Please share in the comments! Also, if you want to do NaNoWriMo with me, you can add me as a writing buddy: lizthelibrarian.

A look at great opening lines

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo.I’m a sucker for a great first line. I have a mental collection of my favorites, and today I’m adding a new line to that list. Rather than simply gush, I’m going to break down the first few paragraphs of my current read, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee. Hopefully, this exercise will help you improve your own opening lines.

First line: “So I didn’t handle the mugging as well as I could have.”

This tells us several things right away. First, there’s a mugging going on. Second, the narrator regrets how she responded. (We don’t know for sure that she’s a girl yet, but we’ll learn that in the next paragraph.) Third, the tone of this sentence suggests that this character has a humorous way of looking at the world and the situations she’s in.

Solid opening, right? But it gets better. The story continues:

“I would have known what to do it I’d been the victim. Hand over everything quietly. Run away as fast as possible. Go for the eyes if I was cornered. I’d passed the optional SafeStrong girl’s defense seminar at school with flying colors.”

All of a sudden, this mugging scene has been turned on its head. Our narrator isn’t the victim. Also, we know she’s level-headed during a confrontation, she took a self-defense class, and she’s not afraid to fight when necessary. At this point, you’re probably really curious. What’s going on?

Yee doesn’t waste any time with internal monologues or unnecessary descriptions. She puts us in that scene right away with the next lines:

“But we’d never covered what to do when you see six grown men stomping the utter hell out of a boy your age in broad daylight. It was a Tuesday morning, for god’s sake. I was on my way to school, the kid was down on the ground, and the muggers were kicking him like their lives depended on it. They weren’t even trying to take his money.”

Here we see more of the narrator’s humor in the tone and language used, and get a brief but detailed description of the situation. A high school student (their ages aren’t explicitly stated, but are implied by the tone and diction) witnesses another teen getting beat up by six adults. When I read this, I immediately asked myself, what would I do in this situation? Would I confront six much larger men attacking a kid?

At this point, I know everything I need to know. I’m invested in this story. I want to know who this boy is, why he’s being attacked, and how the narrator handles the situation. (She says she could have handled it better, so what did she do that she wishes she’d done differently?)

I haven’t finished The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, but so far, it is everything those first lines promise it will be. Full of action and a badass girl with a snarky/humorous outlook, and unexpected (but not to the point that they stretch belief) situations like stumbling upon a mugging on the way to school.

I hope this exercise has helped you see ways to improve your own opening lines. Do you have any favorite openings? Please share in the comments!

Eclipse glasses and library service

Solar eclipse.Last week, my library fielded thousands of calls, emails, chats, Facebook messages, and in-person questions about eclipse viewing glasses. Like many libraries across the country, my library received 1,000 free pairs from the Space Science Institute’s National Center for Interactive Learning via STAR_Net, an initiative to bring STEM exhibits and programming to libraries. And like many libraries, we had a demand that far exceeded our supply. News outlets kept encouraging people to go to the library for their glasses, and at the end of the week, we kept having to turn people away.

I hate having to say no to people at the library. And of course, I always offer an alternative when I can, in this case telling people about other places in the area that were giving out glasses and showing them instructions to make a pinhole camera to safely view the eclipse. But chances are those other places (some of them nearby libraries) also had demands that far exceeded supply. The most frustrating thing about all this, as Karen Jensen points out on Teen Librarian Toolbox, is that for a lot of these people, eclipse glasses were the first thing they came to the library for in a long time. Maybe the first thing they ever came to us for. And we had to turn them away.

It’s great that so many people came to the library. But if they came to us, and were disappointed, the chances of them coming back the next time they need something are lower. And we have so much more we could offer. Maybe we could help them solve their next problem, but they’ll never know, because they’ll remember the last time they asked us for something and heard no, and not bother to ask us again.

I don’t have any answers here. I’m just frustrated by how many people we had to turn away, how many people of all ages left disappointed. We applied for eclipse glasses from STAR_Net to do a good thing for our community, and yet so much of our community feels let down.

I hope they see how much we can and do offer them every day. And I hope they come back the next time they could use our help.

Eclipse glasses line.

The line outside my library of people waiting to pick up eclipse viewing glasses Friday morning. They started lining up more than an hour before we opened.

Books about social justice

Social Justice Reads.After the past weekend, I feel like now is a good time to share a list of books exploring themes of social justice. If you have titles to add to this list, please share in the comments!

I’m sure there are many more, so please share your favorites in the comments!