Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My List of Top Ten YA Books of 2015


It's been a great year for YA books!  This year, I accomplished my goal of reading 50 books in different formats (I'm really enjoying the wonder of e-books) and among that list is the cream of the crop titles I absolutely got lost in.  These titles are a mix of fiction and non-fiction, graphic novel and short stories and everything in between.  These aren't in any particular rank or order (other than alphabetical), as all of these books were absolutely amazing!  There are more than ten I could absolutely put on this list, but I took my time and really thought about the titles I chose and why.  So walk with me through my top 10 best of the best book for teens....

1. All The Rage by Courtney Summers
What struck me about this book is the powerful theme it contains.  Romy, the main character, faces the most intense hardships of high school - bullying, isolation, and being taken advantage of against her will.  These take Romy to the brink of a breakdown but her strength, family and the few she can trust help her not only deal with what she went through, but also makes her realize her own self-worth.

2. All We Have is Now by Lisa Schroeder
When I can read in a book in one setting, I know it's a book that should be on this list.  Emerson knows she has less than 48 hours to live - not due to illness, but to a meteor bearing down on the U.S. This novel shows how not only what happens to her, but others who decide to live the rest of their lives by fulfilling lifelong dreams, falling in love, and granting forgiveness.  What grabbed me are the different threads of lives Schroeder writes about that begin to interweave in unusual ways leading to a beautiful ending.

3. The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks
This is one of those books that people either loved or not and that's why it made my list.  Brooks' novel evokes powerful emotions from readers and what ultimately happens to the group of people who are victims of circumstance in this superbly suspenseful book.  Another reason why I put this book on the list is that the ending is so climactic and unexpected, most of the teens I know who've read it can't wrap their minds around the ending of it all.

4. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Fantasy fiction has become (or still is) a popular genre, and while so many I've read recently take place in another time and world, this book doesn't. Rowell writes an urban fantasy with quirky characters and villains in today's world where wizards co-exists with Normals.  VERY reminiscent of the Harry Potter series, Rowell brings back the magical fun the characters and the school creates that makes it such a refreshing read.  It's all about relationships first, conflict second and the ability to combine lighthearted reading with some dark places the readers get to explore.

5. Drowned City by Don Brown
Brown brings back into the spotlight the horrors, mistakes and redemptive circumstances that created the disaster of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina.  This book tells the story not only through words but the powerful images depicted on the pages, allowing those to not only read it, but truly look at what happened and allow it to resonate in them.  This is one of the best graphic novels I've read not only because it brings an important event up in teens lives, but also because although it's a quick read, it stays there long after the last page is turned.

6. Hitler's Last Days by Bill O'Reilly
There are a few titles from O'Reilly's Killing series that have been adapted for young adults, and when there is, they become an important part of a YA collection because of the hidden history behind the event and person.  This is about Hitler, but also about World War II and how his decisions led to the ultimate downfall of one of the most evil people in history.  O'Reilly writes without any political motive, which makes this a book for all readers.  You may not like the author, but try not to transfer bias to a great YA non-fiction book.

7. Infinite in Between by Carolyn Mackler
Follow five teens as they enter high school and begin their four year tour. Any teen will be able to find a character to identify with, whether it be the most popular girl in school or the geekiest kid to enter high school.  Not only do you get to see how they change physically (case in point: freshmen year class picture to senior year) but also the relationships and conflicts that begin to create the person they are.  Its' definitely a St. Elmo's Fire meets The Breakfast Club kind of book you'll fall into.

8. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
It's not the flashy Marvel or DC graphic novel, but it's definitely a contender in attracting readers' attention through the clever use of dialogue and character.  Stevenson creates a meld of genres in this book.  She mixes a little fantasy with a bit of science fiction and adds a touch of historical fiction to create a fabulous graphic novel about friendships and enemies that holds a deeper meaning in what it means to be a true confidante and mentor.  I chuckled all the way through this book through Stevenson's dry and witty humor between the characters, especially Nimona and her unique talents.

9. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt
There have been books that have made me shed a tear or two because of it's emotional impact, but this one jerked them right out of me because of its plot of love and loss.  Blending difficult days spent behind bars with a love story with the beauty of  adoption and foster care, Schmidt creates a character that has the weight of the world on his shoulders as well as the promise of new beginnings.  This isn't a book with lots of pages (in fact, it won't take hardly any time to read) but it makes up for it through the large emotional reach it'll have once the last page is turned.

10. Slasher Girls and Monster Boys edited by April G. Tucholke
This short story collection has the best YA authors that have written stories that are truly from the dark side.  This is horror at its best because it comes in small or large doses, depending on how much the reader can handle.  This isn't for those who get nightmares from reading YA horror and supernatural, but will definitely delight those who enjoy walking on the side tainted by dark evil and revenge.

And one to grow on....

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
This is a slice of science fiction that takes place completely in outer space. There aren't a hundred characters, planets and ships to keep track of.  One plot, one (or two) huge conflicts, and two main characters makes this book readable and enjoyable for those  who can't manage to keep track of too much.  The authors write the story through transcripts, text messages, secret documents and  file and this is what makes it a standout.  While reading this, I saw it as a movie in my mind...excellent sign of a great YA read!!

Now, bring on 2016!!!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Ten Ways Teacher Librarians Are Being Watched...and what you should do about it!

Ten Ways Teacher Librarians Are Being Watched

The big question school librarians need to ask themselves is, "What am I doing to drive students and teachers toward the library?"   

If your campus sees you reading, what are you doing with it? 

Tell them how you plan to share books with students. Create interactions between students and authors (in person, Skype, book festivals, comic cons).  Send out weekly book reviews via email, or get on your school television to play book trailers.  We always put out signs that say "Get Caught Reading."  We should also get caught.  Being a role model and getting excited about reading can only lead to more readers.

If your campus sees you on your computer, what are you creating or learning?

How do you share what you've learned with everyone? Email, infographics, word of mouth, posters…be creative!  Send out links to new tools you've used and let your campus know you're there to help them integrate it.  Use your technology in the library and halls by creating posters or anchor charts to help students as well as show off your mad skills

If your campus sees you behind the circ desk what services are you providing? 

Show them how you connect with people to create a user-friendly library. We are a customer-based service and they should always come first.  Make sure you always have a smile on your face no matter what.  Look at your signage and get rid of negative aspects and re-word them.  Give great eye contact instead of looking at your screen while they tell you what they need.  Patrons should ALWAYS come first.

If your campus sees you in the library, what are you doing with the space? 

Space is visual and shows people who the library reaches beyond just books and reading.  Makerspaces, learning commons, communal spaces, study areas are just a few.  Dress up the walls and shelves not only with books, but also with students projects.  And never let your displays go stale.  Change them up at least every month.  Students will notice...

If your campus doesn’t see you, where are you going? 

What types of professional development are you going to and how have you implemented it into the library?  Bring back ideas and implement them rather that tell everyone what a great conference it was.  Create an online resume to not only show what you've attended but what you've taught as well.  Professional development is two-sided, so make sure people know you're a teacher who CAN teach as well as a students who wants to learn.

If your campus sees you with a class what are you teaching? 

Work with teachers to create a collaboration of teaching, not a substitution for the teacher.  Together, create lessons on project based learning using technology, research, imagination.  Show off your skills by teaching new tools, talking about research in the 21st century...but most of all, be adaptable to ANY class, whether it's English lit or physics.  

If your campus sees you in the halls, why are you out of the library? 

Interacting with students and teachers outside of the library creates deeper relationships (and it makes them wonder why you’re “out of bounds”.) Be a mystery with a purpose.  Go talk to those teachers that never use the library and invite them in.  Ask questions about them both personally and professionally.  And don't be afraid to tell them about yourself both ways as well.  Bring handouts or bookmarks to give out during your walks to share library information and love.

If you campus sees you in a meeting, how are you involved? 

Being part of a team is the builder of great libraries and programs.  From leadership to PLC to virtual PLNs, get involved!  You are the voice of the library, one of those nebulous parts of the campus that doesn't have a department and only usually has one professional.  Make your voice count by showing how libraries can impact academics.

If your campus sees you online, what sites are they looking at? 

Make your online presence strong through the information you provide and accessibility to the sites you create or are a part of. Create a dynamic library website or use social media to show how the library can make a difference in students’ and teachers’ lives.  Take it from vitual to physical by creating bulletin boards centered around your social media.  Print out those tweets, posts and images and share them.

If your campus sees you between the stacks, what are you working on?

Reading is just part of what we do.  Displays, pulling books for resources, shelf talking are things that only happen between the stacks, and it’s an important space to invade regularly. Oftentimes students "hide out" in the stacks, perhaps to find a book, perhaps to hide.  Bring in your device and show them how they can find a book, download an e-book or follow your virtual bookshelf.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Bookface NHS Style

I did this project a couple of years ago and decided it's once again time to do bookfaces with newer titles.  So here they are (most of the are new..some are just classics)!

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys: A Bloody Good Read!

Penguin, 2015

Let me begin by saying if you LOVE horror fiction, you MUST pick up this amazing story collection!  Written by some well-known YA authors (think Carrie Ryan and Jonathan Maberry to name a few), the stories compiled with make you cringe while you keep reading story after story to see what terror the next tale holds.

April Genevieve Tucholke put together an amazing compilation with the idea of writing a new story from classic ones not only from books, but also from movies and television as well.  Each author, at the end of their dark tale, lets the readers know what inspired them to create their short story.

But it's the short stories which are downright horror(ibly) amazing.  There are fourteen short stories altogether, but here's a quick rundown of my favorites:

The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Ren Suma: Three girls, all friends, think they know about the creepy guy who lives next door. Leonard may have the neighborhood fooled with his kindness and baked goods, but the girls get creeped out every time he looks at them.  And one night, Leonard brings a beautiful girl home and Tasha, Katie-Marie and Paisley see him sneak her in but they never see her again, except a few times through windows.  Something's not right, and they're about to find out how not right the situation becomes...

In the Forest Dark and Deep by Carrie Ryan: Cassidy has seen him in the forest since she was seven years old.  It all began when she discovered a most beautiful spot in the woods with a table in the clearing.  Perfect for tea parties!  But she felt someone watching her and out stepped the March Hare, the size of a man, dressed like a man, but not a man at all.  She knew he was watching her, but was it for good or evil?  Now at seventeen, she goes back to the woods but it's not longer tea she brings with her.  Cassidy thought the horrible tea party she became a part of was in the past, but then she sees the shadow of the March Hare again...

Sleepless by Jay Kristoff: Justin is in love, even though he's never met her.  He doesn't even know her real name, just her online one: 2muchcoff33_girl.  Neither of them sleep very well and their online conversations go from cameraderie to flirting to beginning to actually want to meet each other.  Of course, there are barriers Justin will have to overcome, like his overprotective mother, who constantly reminds him of how evil girls are.  But it doesn't matter.  He knows she was fated for him.  He's taken his time wooing his last three girl friends, even if the relationships didn't work out, and he's willing to try again  with 2muchcoff33_girl because he knows she's different and they'll work things out....

Stitches by A.G. Howard: Sage, Clover and Oakley lost their Ma, the gentle one.  Now all they're left with is Pa, who drinks to much, disappears too long, and hits too hard.  They live in the middle of nowhere with very little but themselves until they meet The Collector and he changes their world.  Pa got in trouble in town and The Collector came to help.  He wants to make Pa a better person, and for each visit he makes to the house, the children begin to see a definite difference in Pa.  He's kinder, gentler, not prone to drink.  But when Clover finally finds out the horrible truth about why, she's intent on revenge and goes to seek The Collector to exact it...

A summary of this story collection is best summed up by April Genevieve Tucholke's dedication,

                                        "For everyone who read Stephen King
                                         when they were way too young."

Recommended upper HS and beyond

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Top 10 (plus one) Non-Fiction Titles Teens Will Scoop Up

Non-fiction titles can be a scary place for teens to venture into.  They think most non-fiction titles are boring compared to fiction titles, where they can live vicariously through the characters and plot.  

But who’s to say you can’t do that with a great non-fiction title?  

One thing all of these titles share (besides the fact they are non-fiction) is that they are also pieces of history or social issues textbooks don’t write about. 

Some have lots of texts, others have very few.  Some are graphic novels, others are narrative non-fiction.  Whatever they choose, all of these are full of illustrations and photographs, which is the draw that pulls teens to non-fiction.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett

2015, G.P. Putnam's Sons

Ash is laying on the table, ready for another tattoo.  Rhys, her twin brother, can't stay beside her because he can't stand the pain or the sight of blood.  But their mother is there, putting another protection mark on her daughter...

Ash has seen the dead girl for quite awhile now. Although this frightens her, what's even more disturbing is how both she and the dead girl look alike.  No one else can see the dead girl, and now the sightings are becoming more frequent, even with the protection symbols on her body.

Ash and Rhys's mother spends most of her time upstairs in her workroom creating unusual and exotic perfumes to sell.  She also has quirky habits and tells the twins stories about a small town called Quivira and how she and their father were chosen to walk the corn in honor of Katia, who is an eternal being guarding the townspeople from being killed by Coronado, another eternal being who killed Katia's only daughter.  Ash and Rhys scoff at these stories and believe they sound more like a cult following than a quaint town.

Ash is prone to blackouts when she sees the dead girl and after having one, she rushes home knowing something is wrong.  Once she gets to their apartment, she and Rhys open her mother's workroom to find it filled with black crows, a dark omen, and the absence of their mother.

Ash has a gut feeling her mother is in danger and decides to drive to Kansas to find Quivira and bring her mother back.  Rhys is more reluctant, thinking they're driving into a dangerous cult and although he tries to dissuade her, it doesn't happen.  When they get to the point on the map where the town should be, they find themselves surrounded by corn fields with no town in sight.  Now they must walk the corn...

Kim Liggett has crafted a fantasy horror novel that takes the reader into two very different worlds - one we all know and understand, and the other a place that's more reminiscent of the 1800s and completely set apart from all humanity.  Her novel is also one of opposites.  Families within Quivira, the twins, Ash and Dane, and even the eternal ones all create a divide where the reader isn't sure who is telling the truth and who is lying.  As the novel progresses, so do the characters and with this progression, all is revealed with a surprising twist.  

Friday, December 4, 2015

Best of 2015 - Booklists for Young Adults

At the end of every year, booklists start coming out.  Many of them are booklists that have been created by organizations such as ALA and state associations.  These titles have been vetted, read, discussed, and selected based on literary merit as one of the main driving forces creating certain lists. 
Others are quite different in that they're created by users and readers.  They aren't part of a committee and are part of a voting poll or survey to see what they feel is the best of 2015. 
Regardless of type of booklist, they're out!  It's also interesting to see how many of the same titles can be found on each list.  So how many of them have you read? :)

Here's a list with link of many of those booklists:

Morris Award Finalists (debut YA authors)

YALSA's Best of the Best Top Ten lists (from six different lists)

Texas Library Association TAYSHAS list (best YA books 2016 list)

Texas Library Association Maverick list (best YA graphic novels 2016 list)

National Book Award Lists (excellence in YA poetry, fiction and non-fiction)

Publishers Weekly Best YA Books of 2015

School Library Journal YA Best Books of 2015

Goodreads Best YA Fiction (based on readers' votes)

Goodreads Best YA Fantasy and Science Fiction (based on readers' votes)

The Telegraph's Best YA Books of 2015

Amazon's Best Books of the Year (So Far 2015)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Alive by Scott Sigler

Random House, 2015

Em woke up panicking in the dark.  She doesn't know where she was, doesn't know who she is, doesn't know why she is here.  Frantic, she broke out of the coffin she was in to find even more coffins in the same room. 
Some survived, others didn’t.  Those who did survive have five things in common:   

The last thing thing remember is their age: 12 years old
They are all wearing the same uniform, now too short on their grown bodies
Today is their birthday
They only know their last name (because of a label on the caskets)
They are all branded with a unique circle on their foreheads.

Savage.  Spingate. Bello. O’Malley. Yong.  Aramovsky.

The survivors find their way out of the enclosed room they came from only to find themselves in another terrifying mystery.  Outside, there is death and complete destruction.  Nothing is alive as they look at their escape route – a long hallway to nowhere containing other halls and rooms filled with the same details as the one they escaped.  Only no one in those rooms survived.  Then begins their walk to find their way out. 

Questions and memories begin to start conversations.  They remember vague things like their parents, a particular food, or a talent they possess but have no idea how.  The biggest question looming is who could possibly want to bury them alive for years and try to keep them alive?  They have so many things in common, but commonality doesn’t always weave a perfect pattern.

Long hallways and five strangers begin to strain their tenuous hold with each other.  Who can they trust?  Who should they follow?  Which one is dangerous?  But more importantly, where can they find food and water? 

Scott Sigler knows how to grab readers’ attention and hang it by a thread.  The readers follow these survivors on their harrowing journey knowing only what they know.  There is no omniscient perspective allowing the reader to know more, which makes this book such a suspenseful thrill ride.  We are more like the tail end of the line, watching what happens next, and what the reader does see are the personalities of each survivor coming more into focus.  One is the leader, the other is the lieutenant; the others are followers, willing or not.  It’s not until the reveal that the reader finally understands what is happening and why survival is so important.  The first chapter will grab you, the next ones will keep you in the story.  And then BOOM….realization finally happens and you’ll race to the end to find out the final ending.  First in a trilogy. 
Recommended upper JH/HS