Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review: Plague Land

Plague Land by Alex Scarrow
Read through NetGalley
publishing date December 1, 2017

No spoilers in this review...

Getting this review in under the wire! But.... Plague Land is GREAT! To be honest, I wasn't getting into it at first, but I soon couldn't put it down! And for those of you who don't like cliffhangers, this isn't one; though, it does leave itself open for a sequel!

Just enough science to make it scifi instead of fantasy, it is a story with a wide appeal. While the tension isn't too aggressive to scare off casual readers, avid fans of runaway virus stories won't be disappointed, either. The characters have depth - as far as the typical YA novel where the child is smarter than the parent goes. There is even international appeal as the virus goes, um, viral.

What's really appealing is the great descriptions of the evolving virus. Scarrow's adept as creating vivid images without details that drag down the storytelling.

I will definitely be getting this for my high school library!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

School librarians or Techbrarians

I publicly commented on this Facebook post, “Couldn't have made the argument without it being a sexist post?” and Nadine Bailey replied, “I’m not sure sexist - feminist yes. But backed up with data and taking about broad trends rather individual situations - and as I stated I’m in a fortunate position in my campus.” The Future Ready Librarians post was originally on
by Nadine Bailey, November 11, 2017.

In fairness to Nadine, she came right out and said,
And I’m wondering, not saying this is a fact, just wondering out loud, whether it has anything to do with the fact that so many of those leading this corner of the education landscape are male as are most of the leadership in schools?
Also in fairness and in resemblance to Nadine (and all of us), my personal background, too, affects my perspective.  First, I was biased since I just received my Google for Education Certified Trainer status on November 9, 2017. Secondly, I am a school librarian who is a past-president of my state’s school librarian association, and thirdly, I am a [probably] a member of what Nadine refers to when she said, “I’m not going to name names but it’s a biggie, and one of my fellow (male) librarians managed to convince the organisers to include a library strand.”

I’ll share how I began my own soul-searching about Nadine’s assertions: by looking up “sexist” vs “feminist.” My inclination was to think of ‘sexist’ as having a negative connotation, as representing an action as opposed to an idea, and as being oppressive, demeaning, and possibly illegal.  I viewed ‘feminist,’ on the other hand, as having a neutral or positive connotation, as suggesting a philosophy or morality to follow, and as being supportive, thought-provoking, and certainly not illegal. (11/12/2017) defined sexist as “pertaining to, involving, or fostering

  1. Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women.

  2. The belief that one gender is superior to the other, especially that men are superior to women.” (11/12/2017) defined feminist (feminism) as “ A person whose beliefs and behavior are based on

  1. Belief in or advocacy of women's social, political, and economic rights, especially with regard to equality of the sexes.

  2. A doctrine advocating social, political, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.

OK. That felt better. I have no disagreement with Nadine’s proffer and premise based on her perspective.

I entirely agree with Nadine’s suggestion, “... that the decline in school libraries and school librarians is inversely correlated with the rise in EdTech or Digital Tech or Digital Literacy teams and resources.” I have a few theories why as well, though they are exofeminist. Primarily, ‘tech’ is the sexy buzz prefix of the era. Risking the ire of my school librarian colleagues, I’ve even begun to call myself Techbrarian. My students ‘get it,’ and my teachers embrace it. I really believe they are more comfortable with the ‘tech’ in my title, since they intuit that I’m more than the “Book Lady” but aren’t sure why. Another of my posits arises from my philosophy of my role as a school librarian; my job is to ensure that the teachers get the resources they need to ensure student success. That gives me 125+ patrons, who in turn have 1,500+ clients. Here’s the problem created: if I’m doing my job correctly, I am practically invisible because I’m making the teachers look good. (And before you panic, don’t worry; I facilitate student learning directly, as well; the above merely explains a philosophy, not a practice, since students, teachers, staff, and administrators are all my patrons.) To offset this self-imposed invisibility, I also create an environment of public praise when a teacher is successful using something I’ve helped them achieve (an email to their supervisor, a mention at a faculty meeting, a good word at the lunch table, etc.). In return, my teachers tell their supervisors how I’ve helped them, suggest to their colleagues to come to me for similar help, and tell administration to present professional development opportunities to spread the knowledge.

Like Nadine, I also
...could use every iteration of word processing, presentation and spreadsheet tools from the very first most basic types. When I say I can use, I REALLY can use. I know how to use templates, make an index, do auto-intext citation, add captions, make data tables, pivot tables, look ups, statistical analysis, import addresses into labels etc etc. And what I don’t know I know how to find out how to do, either online or because I know people who know their S*** around this type of stuff. People of my generation and younger. I also have an Education masters in knowledge networks and digital innovation [I have two Masters: one in Secondary Education and one in School Librarianship,] follow all sorts of trends and tools and try everything at least once.  I can use basic HTML and CSS and find out how to do anything if I get stuck. I know how to learn and where to learn anything I need to know and I’m prepared to put in the time to do so. This is in a “just-in-time-and-immediate-application-and-use-basis”, rather than a

So why did I pursue the “merits of becoming Google Educator certified?” Because I’m invisible. Whether I’m invisible because my job is to make others look good or because tech is the new sexy or because of some other reason, including the possibility that our schools don’t embrace feminism, becoming a Google for Education Certified Trainer makes me visible. As a Google for Education Certified Trainer, I cannot comment on Nadine’s description of the process or the result (“...a couple of hours of mind-numbingly boring and simple video tutorials and/or multiple choice tests with or without a cheapish fee and then to add a row of downloadable certs into their email signatures…”), but I can admit I “played the game.”

Because yes, Nadine’s right again. What Nadine calls advocacy, I see as the “push” industry mentality of school librarians, whereby our teachers run when they see us coming because we want to help them, and they just “don’t have the time.” I’m tired of us having to push ourselves on them to get them to use us, or even to keep us. Our industry should be a “pull” industry, whereby our services are so invaluable that teachers are clamoring at our doors to get to collaborate with us. I’m tired of school librarians being taught the how to collaborate with teachers, while pre-service teachers aren’t taught how to collaborate with school librarians. I’m tired of asking to be on the district’s tech committee, not only to be turned down, but to then have the committee disbanded. I’m tired of offering to provide professional development at the teacher-, department-, school-, and district-level only to be given five minutes at a faculty meeting. I’m tired of teachers going to the tech guy (with an Associate’s degree) to ask questions of how to integrate technology to make their lessons better rather than coming to me (with two Masters and National Board Certification). (Shoutout to my tech guy, though; unless they are asking an equipment question, he always refers them to me.😉)

Nadine’s more right than she knows. Not only are school librarians part of the Island of Misfit Toys and at the wrong table at the education conference, the parent organization of U.S. school librarians also seats us at the kiddie table. At their national conference one year, their get-to-know-you bingo card icebreaker listed every kind of librarian, including youth librarian (which is a public librarian moniker), with the exception of school librarian. This is even more heartbreaking considering I learn more relevant topics and issues at the national education conference than I do at the national school librarians conference.

Here’s where Nadine and I differ, though. Technology changed or eliminated many jobs over the years. We no longer need bowling alley pinsetters, switchboard operators, Daguerreotypists, town criers, or lamplighters. Likewise, think about jobs that didn’t exist 20 years ago until the technology developed, such as app developer, Uber driver, drone operator, and genetics counselor. Regardless of the gender neutrality of technology (or lack thereof), school librarians will either adapt or atrophy. I became a Google for Education Certified Trainer in order for the badge to speak for me when I’m otherwise invisible. Since our collective ability to advocate for ourselves isn’t working world-wide as Nadine acknowledged, I prefered to flourish rather than languish or perish. Although I played the game, I prefer to think of it as (11/12/2017) self-betterment: n. personal improvement in terms of education, prospects, etc.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Review: Recipe for Hate

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to preview yet another YA novel. This one, Recipe for Hate by Warren Kinsella, will be published December 5, 2017.

Because it is set in and around Portland, Maine, which was a favorite vacation spot of mine for 10 years and is where my husband and I met the son we adopted, I really wanted to like this more than I ended up doing. I think it's because, as far as storytelling goes, the setting overpowered the narrative. While the plot could have happened anywhere, Kinsella made Portland practically one of the characters. I would feel much more comfortable recommending this to my high school readers if I didn't think they'd be bored by all of the setting descriptions interrupting the flow of the story.

Other than that, though, when I could downplay the interference of setting descriptions, the story itself was compelling. Part cultural history, part murder mystery, Recipe for Hate helps today's readers understand the punk rock movement and see that the racism of neo-Nazis has been around for a while.

I required a bit of suspension-of-disbelief with the main character X as the hero.  As a character, X was part The Outsiders and part Fonzie from Happy Days -- a tough underdog who was feared and revered by his peers and adults alike. The coincidences toward the end, of the punks using their acquaintances with bikers as allies and the police choosing to apply the law where it benefitted them, added to the surreal impossibilities of this being a realistic and not hyperbolic tale.

Readers will relate to the way the teens in this book think and are thought about by adults. They will be interested in reading how Kinsella describes the murders, the friendships, and kidnapping. This is where Kinsella's attention to detail allows readers' creative imaginations to flow - and Kinsella writes some great descriptive images. Unfortunately, then, the fact that this is all taking place in Maine intrudes on the narrative progression. I understood the importance of the plot occurring in "Small Town, USA." As a reader, though, I needed to know why it was so important that it happened in Portland. A map of Portland on the end pages would have been more useful, i.e., less intrusive, than precise details of streets in Portland.

As I said, I really liked the premise of the story  - I just wish I hadn't been grounded to Portland or encountered a demigod-like X. (p.s. - I'm still not sure why the book is entitled Recipe for Hate.)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

NetGalley Badged Me!

NetGalley Badges!

My First Three Badges

10 Book Reviews... Frequently Auto-Approved... Professional Reader

10 Book Reviews Frequently Auto-Approved Professional Reader

Review: All the Wrong Chords

All the Wrong Chords 
by Christine Hurley Deriso
Publication date December 12, 2017

This book is spot on! I can't wait to get it for my high school library!  First of all, the characters had depth and believability. I understood their motives, which were well supported by the plot and background information. The main character, Scarlett, could be any teen who is drawn to the bad boy in spite of the overt and covert clues around her to stay far away from him. The storyline was well thought out and provided enough twists and surprises to maintain interest (hint, I speculated on the biggest surprise and was rewarded when I turned out to be correct.) The treatment of drug addiction and its stigma was well handled with sensitivity and a philosophy to not blame the victim. I highly recommend this title for all YA collections.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Review: Blood and Ink

Blood and Ink

Pub Date  

Read through

It took me a while to get "into" the story, but once I did, I was compelled to read. I think the fact that this is not only historical fiction but partially historical fact, as well as timely, makes it a good read.

I often wonder whether the notes afterwards should be read before or after reading the story. Since the book's syntax isn't too difficult, it might be a good suggestion for reluctant readers to read the notes as a motivator.

At the risk of making this into a book that teachers require in order to initiate discussions, I think it's subject matter might make for a good connecting read to studies of culture or terrorism.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: The Wendy Project

The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne; publisher PaperCutz/Super Genius on July 18, 2017.

Here's what I told the publisher...  "Highly dependent on knowledge of the original Peter Pan story, but made quite relevant to today's teenage experience. Multi-layered nuances will make for deeper exploration than this story could be told in just words. Sometimes over-exaggerates the "clueless adult" stereotype."

Familiar enough with the Peter Pan story, I got through this graphic novel unscathed. However, I'd like a couple of more read-throughs to get to the bottom of a few parallels...

  1. Peter Pan and Mr. Peters
  2. Tinkerbell and Jenny Wren
  3. Captain Hook and the police
  4. The innuendo of the Lost Boys
  5. Any connection with the rock-throwing kids
Yadda yadda...

I would also like to explore the use of color, where it was or wasn't used, as well as which colors were used when and why.

The reader roots for Wendy, partially because the adults have been stereotyped as clueless, inflexible, and distracted. But there were also many times where I thought to myself, "That's EXACTLY what a teenager would think!" This made Wendy's story fantastically realistic (fantastical realism).

Little things made this a fun visual read, such as the onomatopoeia of the siren sound and the gestures of our first encounter with the police.

In spite of all of these avenues to explore in this brief but compelling story, I'm still not sure to whom I would recommend this book. It's multi-leveled layers make it as easy or difficult as a reader chooses to make it, but I'm not sure who that reader might be... fairytale readers? graphic novel readers? fantasy readers? I'll try 'em all and see what sticks.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Comic Book Story of Video Games

The Comic Book Story of Video Games by Jonathan Hennessey and Jack Mcgowan, published by Ten Speed Press, publication date October 3, 2017.
This is my first non-fiction review, so be gentle on me :o)  
I'll begin by saying how surprisingly interesting I found the subject to be; I intended to read this to see if my high school Manga-loving students would like this. I've decided that, even if they wouldn't, the robotics-, engineering-, and coding-type gamers would! There were so many interesting factoids in the telling of this history. (I'm tempted to leak a few to you here, but I wouldn't want a spoiler alert tagged to this review.) Suffice it to say, that in 181 pages of story, I annotated 24 or so places with 'interesting factoid.'

The vocabulary might be a bit elevated for some high schoolers, but those with an interest in this topic will probably glean or look up the meanings of the unknown terms; it doesn't happen often enough to turn off a reader. There were a few places where I felt a chronological disconnect to the unfolding of the history, almost as if the author thought the relevance of a fact was more important in deciding its placement than pure chronology; if only that were always the case... at least twice I needed to reread sections because I thought I had 'missed' something, but rereading didn't clarify the information placements. Still, it was historical, so I tried just to absorb the significance of the information without the need to strictly enforce the chronology.

The storytelling depends heavily on Moore's Law without ever explaining it. (see if you, too, don't know Moore's law.) There were also a few places where I would have liked to have been told the source of the information being touted as fact since I practice a healthy skepticism of weighted adjectives that appear alongside data.

The distractions described were fairly minor to my overall enjoyment of the history of video games (hint: my first personal awareness of video gaming coincides with page 87 or so). I thoroughly enjoyed the many pop culture, political, and historical gaming evolutionary connections the author made throughout the story. Psychology, marketing, politics, war, engineering, computers, electricity, culture... the author included something with which a multitude of readers could engage. (Simply put: something for everyone.)

My enjoyment was OBVIOUSLY enhanced by the clever, detailed, and engaging drawings in this graphic novel. At least twice I full-stopped reading just to appreciate the humor and allusions the drawing provided to heighten the experience. The pictures were not merely embellishments; they sometimes were the story! Some of the best pictures were enough to jog my memory, explain something new, or complete a written explanation. Note: The cover doesn't do the inside any justice:

I'm looking forward to recommending this title to my non-fiction readers as well as my computer, gaming, coding, and Manga-ing students (and teachers!)