Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin

I’m a big fan of fairy tales. I especially love it when these beloved tales get turned on their ears. Well, that’s just what I got in Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff, one of the nominees for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Now, the story of Rumpelstiltskin has never been one of my favorites, but I may have to revise my thinking after reading Rump. This delightful book shows readers just what life was like for young Rump, how his name and abilities caused him nothing but grief, and how he found a way out of quite the magical mess.

If a person’s name is his/her destiny, what is a kid supposed to do with a name like Rump? Young Rump knows there’s more to his name, but his mother died before revealing that little tidbit to anyone…so he’s known simply as Rump. This twelve-year-old boy, slight for his age, is a target for the town bullies, and he worries that his life will always be working to find gold in the mines and trading the greedy miller for whatever scraps of food he can get. But all that changes when he happens upon his mother’s old spinning wheel…

As luck would have it, Rump has inherited his mother’s ability to spin straw into gold, but using such powerful magic comes with a price. And for Rump, the price is a seemingly unbreakable curse. A curse that leads to a horrible bargain with the miller’s daughter. A curse that drives Rump from his home. A curse that he’ll do just about anything to break.

Rump goes on a quest to escape his wretched curse. Along the way, he encounters trolls (seriously misunderstood creatures), loads of pixies, a tree full of poison apples, and a family he never knew he had. He begins to realize just what his ability means and what it will take from him if he can’t get out of the magical, tangled rumpel he’s in.

And, wonder of wonders, there might just be a way out of this mess, but will Rump find what he needs–his true name–before it’s too late? Will this boy finally be the master of his own destiny, or is he doomed to be just Rump forever? Find out when you read Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff!

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Rump is a great fairy tale retelling because it fills in a lot of the blanks in the original story. I remember reading Rumpelstiltskin as a child, and I always wondered why this little man wanted a baby in the first place. Why did he agree to spin all that straw into gold? Why did the miller say his daughter could spin in the first place? Rump answers those questions and many more.

If readers are paying attention while reading Rump, they’ll see nods to several other stories, the most notable being Little Red Riding Hood. (Red is Rump’s best friend.) Some other stories that pop up–in one way or another–are Snow White, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk (which is the subject of Shurtliff’s latest book).

I think Rump is sure to be a hit with readers who love a good fairy tale, enjoy a bit of fantasy, and just want a good story. It’s great for readers in third grade on up, and I look forward to talking to my students about this enchanting story. I hope they are as fond of it as I am.

For more information on Rump and other works by Liesl Shurtliff, you can connect with the author on her website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. You may also want to check out the fantastic Rump book trailer below! Enjoy!

 

Published in: on May 26, 2015 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Nothing but Shadows

Two days ago, Shadowhunter fans were graced with yet another Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy story from Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan. In case you’re not caught up, the first three stories are Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy, The Lost Herondale, and The Whitechapel Fiend. Get to reading, my friends!

For those who are still with me, the fourth tale, Nothing but Shadows, continues Simon’s journey through the Academy and gives readers a look at the relationship between James Herondale and Matthew Fairchild.

As Simon Lewis navigates the rather gloomy halls of the Shadowhunter Academy, he’s learning more and more about those who came before him. It seems he’s not the only one to question the absolute certainty that Shadowhunters–especially those born to the life–are superior to everyone else.

Many years ago, two very different young men also questioned things…and, even though they had a rocky start, they eventually formed a virtually unbreakable bond. These two Academy students were James Herondale (son of Will and Tessa) and Matthew Fairchild (son of Henry and Charlotte).

James, a rather serious boy, really just wants to make a friend, but he’s shy, unsure of himself, and often prefers the company of his books. Matthew, on the other hand, seems to be James’ exact opposite. Matthew is popular, witty, outlandish, and, no matter what shenanigans he pulls, everyone is charmed by him. Everyone except James.

When a shocking truth is revealed about James, his heritage, and his abilities, he retreats even further from his fellow students. He’s now a total pariah, and he thinks that no one will ever want to befriend him now. As it turns out, he’s as wrong about that as he is about what really drives Matthew Fairchild. When James learns just why Matthew behaves the way he does, he finds himself as drawn to this charismatic boy as everyone else.

James and Matthew eventually form a strong friendship, and, when James’ future at the Academy is called into question, Matthew is right there by his side. He doesn’t care that James has some odd abilities passed on from his mother. He doesn’t care that others are afraid of James. Matthew sees James as a friend, a parabatai…and a way home to his father.

When Simon discovers what James and Matthew experienced during their time at the Shadowhunter Academy and beyond, how will that color his own experiences (and his slowly returning memories)? Is there someone at the Academy–or perhaps back home–who Simon would ask to be his own parabatai? Is Simon, the former Daylighter, finally coming to terms with his own murky past by learning about the complicated history of the Shadowhunters? Stay tuned to find out…

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As most of you likely know, I adore all things Shadowhunter (except for the crappy movie adaptation of City of Bones *shudder*). Going into this story, I didn’t think it was possible to love any characters more than Magnus Bane and the casts of The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices. Well, I may have been wrong. (It’s too soon to tell.)

Granted, the glimpses I got of Will and Jem in Nothing but Shadows were amazing, but James and Matthew were definitely the shining stars (as they should have been), and I can’t wait to see more of them. James spoke to the shy bookworm in me, and Matthew was just too outrageous not to like. Their journey to friendship, though not without its bumps along the way, was a joy to witness, and I look forward to seeing how their parabatai bond changes how they view each other and the world around them.

I’m not sure James and Matthew will be shown in any other Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy stories, but I know we’ll see them again in Chain of Gold, the first book of The Last Hours (due sometime in 2017). A sixteen-year-old James Herondale is featured in the fourth book of The Bane Chronicles, The Midnight Heir, if you want to see him a few years after the events of Nothing but Shadows. What happened in those few years? At this point, I can only begin to speculate…

The next story in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy is The Evil We Love, and it will be out on June 16th. This story will tell readers about Valentine’s Circle and their time at the Academy. I am giddy* with anticipation.

*Not really. I don’t think anyone has ever used the word “giddy” to describe me. I’m way too reserved for that. At most, I’m simply eager to read the next story in this collection. Do with that what you will.

Published in: on May 21, 2015 at 3:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Crown of Ptolemy

Notice: Read everything Rick Riordan has ever written before proceeding. Seriously.

So, last night, I finally made time to read the third Percy Jackson/Kane Chronicles crossover novella, The Crown of Ptolemy. (For some reason, I didn’t post on the first two. Read them anyway. They’re awesome.) This story takes place after all of the action in The Blood of Olympus and The Serpent’s Shadow, and it’s told from Percy Jackson’s point of view…which basically means it’s full of sarcasm and snark.

The Crown of Ptolemy begins with Percy and Annabeth encountering some weird flying serpents on Governor’s Island in New York. These pests are hovering around Setne, an Elvis look-alike and Egyptian magician who’s trying to combine Greek and Egyptian magic in order to make himself immortal. Should be easy enough to stop, right? Yeah…not so much. Nothing ever seems to be easy when ancient magic is involved.

Percy and Annabeth call on Carter and Sadie Kane to help out with this mess before things get out of hand. Well, things kind of get out of hand anyway. Setne is on his way to uniting the two crowns of Egypt, becoming a god, and taking over the entire world.

The fearsome foursome of Percy, Annabeth, Carter, and Sadie must combine forces if they have any hope of stopping Setne. They’ll need to use every tool at their disposal–and some they didn’t even realize existed–to defeat Setne and prevent him from ripping the world apart.

Can Greek demigods and Egyptian magicians work together to stop this crazed madman? What unpleasantness will they encounter along the way? Find out for yourself when you read The Crown of Ptolemy!

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I love that this story was written from Percy’s perspective. Even when things got super-serious, he greeted the situation with his trademark humor and snark. Percy’s voice is so refreshing, and I really hope that we’ll see more of him in future books, novellas, whatever.

I also enjoyed the interactions between the four characters in this story. Percy and Sadie found kindred spirits in each other, and the same was true of Carter and Annabeth. Impulsive rule-breakers vs. methodical rule-followers. Each of them had their own way of doing things, but every member of this group, boys and girls, contributed equally (in my opinion) in their quest to defeat Setne, and that in itself was kind of magical.

Given how this particular story ended, I have high hopes that readers will see more crossover stories from Percy, Annabeth, the Kanes, and even the other heroes in Riordan’s books (both past and future). It seems the lines between all of these “mythologies” may be blurring, and I’m thinking that everyone may need to work together to battle what’s coming.

For those of you who, like me, are kind of obsessed with Rick Riordan‘s work, never fear! There are a couple of his books coming out soon. Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes will be out on August 18th (and that reminds me that I still need to read Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods). The Sword of Summer, the first book in the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series, will be released on October 6th. And I haven’t even mentioned the graphic novel adaptations of Riordan’s books! This should keep us busy!

Published in: on May 19, 2015 at 1:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Snicker of Magic

Greetings, dear friends. I know it’s been a few weeks since my last post, but I promise I have very good reasons.

  1. I’ve been fighting a wicked bad sinus infection. When I’m sick, all I feel like doing is vegging out in front of the TV. Also, it’s difficult to get involved in a book when you have to stop every few seconds to sneeze or blow your nose.
  2. I’m wrapping up another school year. The beginning and end of the year are the absolute craziest times in a school library, and this has been one of the worst finales I can remember.
  3. My weekends have been jam-packed with birthdays, family celebrations, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Not going to apologize for that.

Anyway, I’m back today with another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. This one is A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, and, to be perfectly honest, it took me a while to get into this book. (The reasons listed above are partly to blame.) I actually only got really invested in the book last night, and I read 3/4 of it within the past 18 hours or so. (I even skipped watching Supernatural last night so that I could read more. That’s huge.)

So, even with a somewhat slow start, I found A Snicker of Magic to be a delightful, poignant book, and I can only hope that my students–and you–agree.

Felicity Pickle is a word collector. She sees words floating in the air, hovering around people’s heads, and zipping all around. She writes the words in her special blue book, and she carries the book with her everywhere. That includes Midnight Gulch, Tennessee.

Midnight Gulch, her mom’s hometown, is the Pickle family’s latest stop. Felicity’s mom has a wandering spirit, but Felicity is eager to call someplace home, and it seems like Midnight Gulch may just be the home she’s always wanted.

It is here that Felicity meets Jonah, a special boy who immediately becomes her best friend. Together, they learn about the magic that once existed in Midnight Gulch, and they try to figure out just how to bring that magic back.

Felicity soon discovers that the magic of Midnight Gulch is connected to her own family…and a mysterious curse that may be responsible for her mom’s wandering ways. If Felicity can figure out a way to break the curse, using the small snicker of magic still left in this small town, maybe she can finally have the home she’s always wanted.

But can Felicity overcome her own fears and break a curse that’s held Midnight Gulch in its grips for a century? Does she truly have the power–and the words–to make this place truly magical once again? Find out when you read A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd!

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Aside from A Snicker of Magic being a heart-warming (and tear-inducing) book about the healing magic of love, music, family, friendship, and forgiveness, I think it has great potential to expand readers’ vocabularies. The words that Felicity collects are descriptive of the people and places around her, and it could be a fun exercise for young readers to explore that a bit. What words do they associate with their friends, family members, teachers, school, home, and anything else in their lives? Like Felicity, they could craft poems or songs out of these words and create some magic of their own.

A Snicker of Magic is already a big hit in my school library, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Now that I’ve read it myself, I’ll definitely encourage others to do the same. I look forward to talking to my students about this spindiddly book and sharing the beautiful words and magic found within its pages.

For more information about A Snicker of Magic and author Natalie Lloyd, you can visit the author’s blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and even Pinterest.

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend

I’m amazed that I just got around to reading The DUFF (which came out in September of 2010), especially considering that I’ve been one for most of my life. (We really can’t count those preschool years, right?) I’m not going to go into my “duff” experiences through middle school, high school, college, and even into my adult years, but let’s just say that the title of this book alone speaks to me. What’s between the covers of the book…well, that’s another story.

Bianca Piper is fiercely loyal to her two best friends, Casey and Jessica, even when they force her to go to a local dance club with them. Bianca usually just sits at the bar and nurses a Cherry Coke, but on this particular night, she’ll engage in a conversation that will change how she views herself, her friends, and how the entire world looks at her.

When the vile, loathsome–and totally hot–Wesley Rush starts talking to her at the club, Bianca’s pretty sure there’s been some sort of mistake. She makes it pretty clear that she hates Wesley, so why is he chatting her up? Well, the answer is rather simple. He’s trying to hook up with one of Bianca’s friends, and he thinks that paying attention to the “duff”–designated ugly fat friend–of the group will win him some points. Bianca, of course, is livid at this description, so she throws her Cherry Coke in Wesley’s face. (Quite right, too!)

But the more Bianca thinks about Wesley’s description of her, the more she thinks…he may be right.

Being branded as a “duff,” though, is not the worst thing going on in Bianca’s life right now. Her mom is never around, her dad is a mess, and her ex-boyfriend (who completely crushed her heart) is coming back into town. So what does Bianca do to distract herself from her problems? She lays a big kiss on her nemesis, none other than Wesley Rush.

Well, the kiss with Wesley probably wouldn’t have been a huge deal…if she had stopped there. No, instead Bianca continues to escape her problems in Wesley’s arms, and she’s soon avoiding even the good things in her life to spend more time with Wesley (who has issues of his own that he’s trying to escape). Bianca still officially hates Wesley (who continues to refer to her as “Duffy”), but it’s getting harder and harder to convince herself of that, especially when he’s there for her during the most difficult situation she’s ever encountered.

So how can Bianca reconcile her growing feelings for someone she swears she hates? Does Wesley have feelings for her even though she’s supposedly a “duff?” Do these two kids have a shot at a real relationship, or will their various issues drive them apart? I’ll leave that for you to find out…

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So…first of all, let me say that I love Bianca’s voice in this book. She’s cynical, sarcastic, moody, and she doesn’t pull any punches. At the same time, she’s vulnerable and struggling with her parents’ crumbling marriage. Even when she’s being surly and self-destructive, Bianca is a sympathetic character. And even though I don’t particularly like how Bianca distracted herself from her problems, I can see where she’s coming from. Her mom escapes through traveling, her dad escapes into a bottle, and both Bianca and Wesley escape into each other. (I escape into books, Netflix, and food…which may go a long way in explaining why I still see myself as a “duff.”)

For those of you thinking of giving The DUFF a read, let me go ahead and tell you that the book doesn’t shy away from sex. Bianca and Wesley get pretty hot and heavy, and that definitely comes through in the book. Even when Bianca hates herself for turning to Wesley, she enjoys sex with him. (Why else would she keep doing it?) And I may get angry messages for saying this–especially here in the Bible Belt–but I think it’s important for teen readers to see examples of enjoyable sex lives in the books they read. I can’t think of many YA novels that make it a point to say that characters–particularly female characters–have positive, even fun, sexual experiences. Something to think about there.

So…given all of that, I would recommend The DUFF to teenage readers (probably age sixteen and up)* who like books with totally relatable characters, sexy times, and a rather happy–if somewhat unrealistic–ending. It’s also a great book for readers who sometimes struggle with their self-perception. (That didn’t narrow things down, did it?) All of us have thought of ourselves as ugly, fat, or some other negative adjective. Are we all “duffs” at one point or another? Maybe. But, as Bianca discovers, other people don’t get to decide who and what we are. Our identities are up to us.

*This is NOT a book for middle grade readers. Aside from the sexual situations, there’s also quite a bit of language and some other themes that may be more suited to mature readers.*

There’s another book set in the world of The DUFF coming out tomorrow! Lying Out Loud features Wesley’s sister Amy and includes cameos from the characters we’ve come to know and love. I, for one, look forward to seeing how Bianca and Wesley are faring.

For more information on The DUFF and other books by Kody Keplinger, check out the author on her website, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and YouTube.

**I know there was a movie adaptation of The DUFF released a couple of months ago, but I didn’t see it. From my understanding, quite a few liberties were taken with the plot, so I doubt I’ll see it now. If I’m wrong on that, please let me know, and I’ll give the movie a try.**

 

Published in: on April 27, 2015 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Whitechapel Fiend

Before proceeding, read everything Cassandra Clare has ever written. Seriously.

It’s been a big week for my fellow Shadowhunters. We get the news about the casting of Jace in the upcoming Shadowhunters TV series on ABC Family. (Thank you, McG!) And the third installment in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, The Whitechapel Fiend, comes out. (The first two stories are Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy and The Lost Herondale, in case you’re behind on your reading.) Good times.

I read The Whitechapel Fiend on Wednesday, but, as it so often does, life got in the way, and this this the first opportunity I’ve had to get my thoughts down. Basically, I loved it. (Shocking, I know.) How can you go wrong when you combine the world of Shadowhunters with Jack the Ripper? Answer: You cannot. It also didn’t hurt that this particular story let us spend a little time with Jace, Tessa, and even Jem.

In this third episode in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, Simon is continuing his grueling training to become a Shadowhunter. It’s by no means easy, and the newest lesson seems to be falling out of trees. He and his fellow students are instructed in this oh-so-important skill by none other than Jace Herondale. Simon’s friendship with Jace gives him a little bit of cred at the Academy…but not much.

Simon is also learning more about Shadowhunter history and how Shadowhunters have played a part in covering up or changing perceptions of things in the past. Case in point: Jack the Ripper. For this particular lesson, Tessa Gray, a woman who actually lived through this time in Victorian London, speaks to Academy students about what really happened. She talks about the fear that gripped the Whitechapel district, the grisly crime scenes, and how she, her husband Will Herondale, his parabatai, and their fellow members of the London Institute discovered who–or what–was actually behind these murders.

As Simon learns the truth about Jack the Ripper (and why this case seemingly remained unsolved), he also urges Jace to connect with Tessa. He doesn’t miss that Tessa was married to a Herondale, and Simon knows she could shed some light on Jace’s true family history.

Through all of this, Simon may even learn to deal with his own rather murky past before it does irreparable damage to his future. Time will tell…

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What else can I say about this story? Oh yeah…I. WANT. MORE!!! More Simon.More Jace. More Tessa. Definitely more Jem. I loved reconnecting with these beloved characters, and I can hardly wait to see more of them in the Shadowhunters TV series, The Dark Artifices, The Last Hours, and the other novellas in the Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy collection.

Speaking of this particular collection, the fourth installment, Nothing but Shadows, will be out on May 19th. In this episode, we’ll learn a bit more about James Herondale and Matthew Fairchild. Woohoo!

In closing, I’d like to thank Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson for giving us The Whitechapel Fiend. It was a great read, and their explanation of Jack the Ripper and his crimes totally creeped me out. In a good way. I’m guessing other readers will feel the same.

Published in: on April 24, 2015 at 2:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Half a Chance

Once again, it’s time to bring you yet another of the nominees for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. This time, we turn our attention to Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord.

Half a Chance is a quick, engaging read that I think will speak to readers in upper elementary grades on through middle school. The setting is appealing, the characters’ adventures may encourage young readers to do some exploring of their own, and their struggles are true to life. Most readers–young and old–are sure to find something to relate to in this book.

Lucy and her family have just moved to a lake house in New Hampshire. Almost immediately, Lucy’s dad, a famous photographer, jets off on a job, leaving Lucy and her mom with the tasks of unpacking and getting to know their new surroundings.

Before Lucy’s father leaves for his trip, he inadvertently gives Lucy both a chance to explore her new home and a way to find out if her photos are really good. Dear old dad is judging a kids’ photo contest–a scavenger hunt of sorts–and Lucy sees this as her chance to prove herself to her father.

Lucy looks for potential photo subjects everywhere, including next door. It is there that she meets Nate, a boy who visits the lake with his family each summer. Nate decides to help Lucy with her photo project and, in the process, introduces her to some of the best parts of her new home. They look for loons and their chicks (and try to figure out a way to protect them), they climb a mountain, and they work together to get the perfect photos for Lucy’s contest.

But one day, in Lucy’s quest for a great photograph, she snaps a shot that reveals more than Nate is ready to see. In it, Nate’s Grandma Lilah looks scared and lost, and her deteriorating memory is right there for everyone to see. Nate doesn’t want Lucy to use the photo in her contest, but Lucy knows that this particular picture is powerful, shows great emotion, and truly captures what Lilah is going through. How can she not use it?

As the summer winds down, Lucy must decide what to do about the contest. Should she enter the photo of Grandma Lilah even though it could damage her friendship with Nate? Should she enter the contest at all, knowing that she could be disqualified for being the daughter of the judge? Will her father ever take her seriously as a photographer? Answer these questions and many more when you read Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord.

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Okay…first off, I love the photography contest featured in this book. My hope is that my students read Half a Chance and get inspired to do their own photo scavenger hunt. Maybe I’ll make that a library-based activity for students who read the book. I don’t know yet. I’m still playing around with things in my head, but what an awesome way to integrate literature and visual arts!

Secondly, I think this book could help readers to see and experience the larger world around them. Even Lucy, who usually viewed everything behind a camera lens, realized that some things simply need to be lived. One needs to be in the moment, taking everything in, and not worrying about capturing the perfect photo. (This applies if the photo is for a contest like Lucy’s or…maybe for a Facebook or Instagram post.) A lot of people could take this message to heart.

I also like how Half a Chance featured loons and talked about the many dangers they (and other animals) face in the wild. In this book, the characters decided to do something to spread awareness about loons, their habitats, and how community members could protect these birds. That’s a great example for young readers interested in protecting animals and the environment or just getting involved in their communities in whatever way they can.

Finally, this book takes a look at dementia from a kid’s perspective. (We see a little of what it’s like for Grandma Lilah, but the primary focus is on Nate and Lucy.) When I was a kid, I watched my great-grandmother slowly decline due to Alzheimer’s disease, so this really resonated with me. How great would it have been for me to read about a character going through the same thing? I’m guessing that other readers will be able to see themselves in Nate–wondering when his grandmother just won’t remember him anymore–and this book may help those readers to cope just a little better and look for ways to make this terrifying time easier for their loved ones and those around them.

Half a Chance is an excellent book, and I’m thrilled with its placement on next year’s SC Children’s Book Award nominee list. I hope my students feel the same way.

For more information on this book and other by Cynthia Lord, click here.

Published in: on April 21, 2015 at 12:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy

I am a fangirl. (This likely shocks no one.) I totally geek out over Star Wars, Harry Potter, all things Marvel, Sherlock, Doctor Who, Supernatural, The Princess Bride, Firefly, YA literature, and way too many other things to name. I make no apologies for my preference for fictional worlds over reality. It’s just how I roll.

So, when I got the chance to read something titled The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks, I jumped on it. (Thanks once again to NetGalley!) In this book, Sam Maggs gives her fellow fangirls a bit of a guide to navigating geek culture, often seen as somewhat male-dominated. She presents information on various different fandoms (sometimes oversimplified, but whatever), being a fangirl online, surviving and thriving at conventions, and what it may mean to be a fangirl feminist. Between each chapter are interviews with famous fangirls, each talking about what the term means to them and advice for their fellow geek girls.

In the very first chapter of this book, Maggs talks about some of the major fandoms: Harry Potter, SuperWhoLock (Supernatural, Doctor Who, and Sherlock), Lord of the Rings, Otaku (anime and manga), Star Trek, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Marvel, DC, YA literature, Whedonites, and gaming. (You may have noticed that I fangirl over many these.) Now, Maggs is the first to admit that she’s left out/glossed over quite a few fandoms, and that’s okay. What’s not okay, then? Well, in my personal opinion (for whatever that’s worth), as much as I love the idea of a potential meeting between Sam, Dean, Castiel, the Doctor, Sherlock, and Watson, each of these fandoms should be given their own space. They’re all great in their own right.

The Fangirl’s Guide also introduces noobs to “fangirl-speak.” I’m not going to go into all of that here, but it is a nice primer if you’re confused about the difference between canon and headcanon, wonder why “feelings” has become “feels,” or have no idea what someone is talking about when they go crazy over their OTP or ship.

Maggs wraps up the first chapter with advice on how to get involved in geek culture IRL (in real life). She goes into how to meet up with like-minded nerds, how to convert friends into fangirls, and how you can “let your geek flag fly.” All of her suggestions are great…unless you suffer from near-crippling social anxiety. Then, you’re better served by connecting online…which leads me to the next chapter.

Chapter two, Geek Girls Online, discusses the various platforms for connecting with other fangirls (or fanboys), writing fanfiction (or creating any other type of fan art), and what to do about the loathsome Internet trolls. While I didn’t get a ton of new information out of this chapter, I do think it has loads of great advice for those somewhat new to being a fangirl. What’s important is to find the right platform for you and interact respectfully with your fellow geeks.

The third chapter, How to Survive Conventions, filled me with so much anxiety that I can’t even. Just the thought of so many people in one place gives me hives. That being said, Maggs gives a quick run-down of the major cons and their associated fandoms, what to expect at a con, planning and packing advice, choosing the perfect cosplay for you, and coming down from your time at a con. A great resource for someone looking for the ideal con for their interests.

I was pleasantly surprised to see one on the list that I actually do attend–YALLFest, a free YA book festival in Charleston each November. There’s just one problem, though. This festival is in SOUTH CAROLINA, not North Carolina. Hopefully, the author, editor, or someone else caught this pretty major error before this book went to print.

Chapter four is all about Geek Girl Feminism, something that’s been getting a lot more traction lately. With things like GamerGate in the news, it’s no wonder. (Look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) As a longtime feminist, I truly appreciate this chapter and its message of equality for all. Geek culture is something that’s supposed to be all-inclusive. After all, we know what it’s like to be excluded, ridiculed, bullied, and the like. Do any of us really want to have a part in making others feel that way? In this chapter, Maggs talks a bit about some fangirl feminist terminology that people should be familiar with (privilege, mansplaining, objectification, male gaze, etc.), myths about modern feminism, and kick-butt female characters in comics, books, TV, movies, and gaming. She also encourages her fellow fangirl feminists to call our fandoms out when they show misogynistic tendencies.

The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy wraps up with some resources for further exploration. Most of these are blogs, shops, or YouTube channels that lead fangirls to new ideas in all sorts of geek culture: math, coding, science, fashion, cosplay, and much, much more.

All in all, I think this guide is great for fangirls who may be new to geek culture…or those who just want to know what in the heck the fangirls around them are talking about. If you’ve been a girl geek for a while, some of this info may be old news, but it never hurts to have a refresher. Even I–a fangirl for more than 30 years–learned something new in this book. I’m guessing you will, too.

The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy drops in stores and online on May 12th. I think this book would be an especially great addition to high school libraries. In fact, any library that serves a large YA population should add this book to its collection. Your patrons will thank you.

For more information on this book and author Sam Maggs, you can connect with Sam on her website or Twitter.

Have fun out there!

Published in: on April 19, 2015 at 9:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Boy on the Porch

Today, I bring you yet another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. My latest read, The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech, isn’t a very long book, but it packs quite an emotional punch. It is sweet, heartwarming, suspenseful at times, and it leaves the reader with a feeling of contentment. If I’m being totally honest, though, I think adult readers will appreciate it more than children will.

One day, John and Marta step outside, and they find a boy asleep on their porch. They don’t know why he is there or who left him. The boy, Jacob, doesn’t speak, so John and Marta don’t know where he’s from, who his family is, why they were chosen to care for him, or when someone will return for the boy. So they care for him as best they can.

John and Marta grow rather attached to Jacob. They love him as if he were their own…and Jacob seems happy with them. He still doesn’t speak, but he makes music, he paints, he enjoys time with the couple’s animals, and he communicates in his own way. He thrives in this young couple’s care.

But John and Marta are always waiting for someone to return for this boy they’ve grown to love…and one day, it happens. This young couple doesn’t want to say good-bye to Jacob, but they seem to have no choice. Even when Jacob leaves, they let him know that he is welcome to return at any time.

As days go by, John and Marta miss Jacob, and they look for ways to help other children who need special care. They open their home and their hearts to kids who need a little extra love, and they always remember the boy who started them on this journey. And they hope that one day, their beloved Jacob, the boy on the porch, will return to them once again.

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I can’t help but think that The Boy on the Porch is a must-read (and a great gift) for foster parents. This book shines a light on the sacrifices many of these people make to care for children in need. They often provide a safe, loving home for kids who’ve only known the opposite. Many, like John and Marta in this story, give children a voice in a world that doesn’t really understand them. This poignant book honors that and shows that the love that foster parents get in return is more valuable than diamonds.

Now, having said all that, I will admit that I don’t think this book will be a huge hit with my students. It doesn’t read like a “kid’s book.” Yes, it’s heartwarming, sweet, and all that other mushy stuff, but, in my opinion, it comes across as a short book for adults. The story is told from the adults’ perspectives. It’s not Jacob’s story. I doubt most young readers will be able to relate to the struggles of a couple tasked with caring for a young boy. Maybe I’m wrong, but this may be one book I market to the parents of my students rather than the students themselves.

So, while I enjoyed this book and think some of my students will pick it up solely because of its length, I sincerely doubt that most 2nd-5th grade readers will be able to pick up on the subtle–and even the more obvious–messages in this book. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you disagree.

If you’d like to learn more about The Boy on the Porch and other books by Sharon Creech, click here.

Published in: on April 14, 2015 at 1:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Almost Super

A couple of months ago, the South Carolina Association of School Librarians released the nominee lists for next year’s state Book Award program. When I first glanced at the lists, I was surprised by how few of the nominees I’d already read. Since I’m an elementary school librarian, I focus most of my attention on the Picture and Children’s lists, and, until recently, I’d only read two of the nominated titles on those lists. (One of those, Zane and the Hurricane, I’ve already posted on.) Today, though, I was able to check off one more nominee on the Children’s Book Award list, Almost Super by Marion Jensen.

Almost Super is sure to be a big hit with elementary and middle grade readers who enjoy movies like The Incredibles and Despicable Me. This book introduces readers to a family of superheroes…but what will they do when they realize that the supervillains they’ve been battling for years are just like them?

“At 4:23 in the afternoon, on February 29, any Bailey age twelve or over gets a superpower.”

This year, brothers Rafter and Benny Bailey will finally get the superpowers they’ve been waiting for. Will they be able to fly? Have super strength or speed? Shoot fire or water out of their hands? What powers will they get to aid in their family’s fight against the Johnsons, the evil family of supervillains?

When the clock strikes 4:23, Rafter and Benny finally get their long-awaited powers…and they’re total duds. No, they couldn’t get useful powers like flight, strength, speed, or even super-smarts. Nothing useful like that. No, Rafter now has the astounding ability to light matches on polyester, and Benny can turn his belly button from an innie to an outie. It doesn’t look like these two boys will be much help when it comes to fighting crime.

Rafter is shocked by how worthless his new power is. Why did he and Benny get such dumb powers? How can they possibly help the family fight evil with powers like these? Rafter becomes determined to find out just what is going on, and his quest leads him right to one person–Juanita Johnson. (Yes, of the evil supervillain Johnsons.) Did she get a worthless power, too? Or did this embarrassment somehow skip the Johnsons?

As Rafter and Benny learn more from Juanita, they begin to realize that maybe the two families–who’ve been fighting for decades–aren’t all that different. Maybe they both see themselves as superheroes. And maybe there’s an even bigger problem that they need to work together to solve.

Join Rafter, Benny, and Juanita in Almost Super as they uncover a plot to manipulate both of their families and learn that one doesn’t need superpowers to do something truly heroic. Sometimes, being almost super is enough.

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I found Almost Super to be a quirky, witty, thoroughly entertaining read, and I look forward to sharing it with my students. I think this will be a huge hit with those who love comic books and all things superhero. A fun writing exercise to go along with this book may be to have students come up with their own “dud” superpowers and figure out a way for those to be used to fight crime. I’ll have to think a little more about that.

Almost Super does end with a bit of a cliffhanger, so I’m thrilled that the next book, Searching for Super, is already out. I’ll definitely add that one to my next library order!

Within the next week or so, I’ll try to create a book trailer to go along with Almost Super. (I do this with most of the SC Picture and Children’s Book Award nominees. Those I can’t find videos for, anyway.) Check my library YouTube channel periodically to see when it’s posted. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Almost Super as much as I did.

Published in: on April 12, 2015 at 7:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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