Wednesday, April 17, 2013

This Smart Cupcake Has Moved!

Hello all!  After exploring blogging platforms and chatting with some blogging friends, I decided to move over to a new blog on Wordpress.  This blog will remain up so all my older posts will remain accessible--there will just be no new content here.  I'm still figuring out all the tricks of Wordpress but I'm enjoying learning to use a new blogging platform and stretching my blogging & web development skills.

To keep following me, head over to my new blog at http://freshfromthestacks.wordpress.com.   

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Internet Is Alive--With The Sound Of Intelligent, Passionate Librarians Speaking!

Wow! It has been an amazing start to 2013 throughout library-land online!  Although I maintain this blog and a Twitter account, I've generally been much more of a consumer than a contributor to the wonderful world of librarian, educators, kid lit, and YA lit bloggers.  The simplest reason for this fact is the sad reality that I have yet to figure out how to balance a regular blogging schedule with both my job and my life beyond work. However, the more powerful (and less embarrassing) reason is that there is simply so many amazing librarians, educators, and authors sharing a plethora of outstanding material!  And as a young and still very inexperienced librarian, it's both intensely overwhelming and incredibly comforting.  I don't believe I could have survived either my adventures as a grad student intern in children's departments at public libraries or my first year and half as a middle and high school librarian without the wild and wonderful online community surrounding libraries.

So why am I writing this post now?  After all, I've been reading blogs and following Twitter feeds related to reading, education, kid/YA lit, and librarianship for about 3 years.  Well, it just happens that there has been a bumper crop of brilliant and incredibly relevant posts written about librarianship, youth services, kid/YA lit, and more over fews weeks.  And so I thought--why don't I pull together a bunch of these awesome links in one place?

As usual, taking time to check up on the latest from Liz Burns (@LizB) and Kelly Jensen (@catagator) on Twitter pays off big time.  Both pointed us toward a fabulous piece posted by Julie Jurgens (@himissjulie) about modern librarianship, the frequently skewed spotlight in the library world, and the under-appreciated daily realities of librarian life.  It's not only a very important piece of writing-- it's also a great conversation starter, provoking thought and discussion about very diverse and complicated world of modern librarianship.  As someone who got into libraries with the goal of working with children and teens and who did her first semi professional work in children's departments of public libraries, I have to say that the librarians working on the ground--especially those working with children and youth--do not always get the recognition they very much deserve.  Rehearsing puppet shows, leading toddlers through movements of a new storytime welcome song, helping a 10 year old decide on a new series to begin reading while he waits for the next Rick Riordan novel to be published, or showing a teen where the Sarah Dessen books are shelved--these do not sound like glamorous activities to many people.  But they are the backbone of libraries, of literacy, and of education in United States.  If we care about education, about children, and about our future, we absolutely must care about all libraries and librarians, especially those serving children and youth.  And we have to demonstrate that care though action and advocacy.  Because picture books and story times and puppets and children's series fiction MATTER-- even if they don't sound "cutting edge" or "sexy."

Whew! Anyway, that's my two cents on the subject.  There have been many more eloquent responses from librarians--check out Kelly Jensen's recent posts over at Stacked and Julie Jurgen's twitter feed (@himissjulie) to track some of them.

In other fun and fabulous librarian blog news, both Abby Johnson and Kelly Jensen recently wrote up some particularly wonderful posts as part of their regular features "Around the Interwebs" and "Links of Note."   Both collect a bunch of really great and diverse links that I will not try to recreate here--go check them out!  And then go follow the tags for those features and check out their past posts for even more online goodies.

Meanwhile the brilliant Jennifer LaGarde AKA LibraryGirl (@jenniferlagarde) posted a wonderful piece about neuroscience, affective learning, and libraries! Such a great example of taking recent research and tying it directly to real, everyday work in libraries!

Yesterday, awesome librarian Sarah Bean Thompson over at GreenBeanTeenQueen posted a really helpful piece about reading and writing critically about children's and young adult literature!  She not only gives some great advice (especially for newbies like me) but also references some specific professional books and links out Kelly Jensen's critical reviewing cheat sheet  as well as her posts on the value of critical reviews and on critical reviews & critical advocacy.

I also want to include a link to The Nerdy Book Club, an awesome collaborative blog that I have only recently started reading regularly--shame on me! The posts in the last 5 days alone are all amazing and if you aren't already checking the blog regularly, start today!

Finally I just want to express my general thanks to all the wonderful librarians, educators, and authors sharing their insights, ideas, and advice with such generosity! Take it from one newbie librarian--your contributions are insanely valuable and greatly admired;  you make me proud to be a librarian and your examples constantly challenge me to be a better librarian.  Thank you! 

Check out my ever growing Diigo list of Librarian/Educator Bloggers to see why I'm so thankful! 


Monday, December 24, 2012

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Since childhood, Blue Sargent has been warned that if she kisses her true love, he will die.  She's long since convinced herself that she wouldn't fall in love--therefore avoiding the problem.  

Every April, on St. Mark's Eve, Blue stands in a chilly churchyard beside her clairvoyant mother, waiting for the spirits of the soon-to-be-dead to appear.  Since she didn't inherit her family's predictive powers, Blue has never seen any of these ghostly figures on St. Mark's Eve--until this year, when a boy steps into the moonlight and speaks to her.  His name is Gansey.  Her mother and aunts all insist that there are only two reasons that a non-psychic would see a spirit on St. Mark's Eve: either he is her true love or she will kill him sometime this year.  For Blue, both explanations seem equally possible.  Even worse, Blue soon learns that the mysterious Gansey is a Raven Boy--a student at the town's exclusive boys' school.  And Blue has always had a rule about the rich, trouble-making Raven Boys: stay away from them.  

But when their paths actually cross, Blue can't help feeling drawn to Gansey and his rag-tag group of strange, secretive, and devoted friends.  There's Adam, the scholarship student struggling with his resentment of the privilege surrounding him;  Ronan, the volatile boy constantly swinging between fury and despair; and Noah, the  mostly silent observer who sees and knows much more than he'll ever share.  And at the center is Gansey, whose seemingly ideal life hides a passionate longing for something greater--and whose charisma has drawn the others into an obsessive quest tracking hidden ley lines in the Virginia mountains to find the resting place of a long dead, wish-granting Welsh king.  Soon, despite her mother and aunts' warnings, Blue joins the boys' quest, growing more and more entangled in the strange and sinister fate pulling them together.

Whew! What a delicious and utterly spellbinding new novel!  Since I first encountered Maggie Stiefvater's writing in Shiver, her first Wolves of Mercy Falls novel, I've admired her many unique talents.  I've found that her work frequently stands out for its strong sense of place and its atmospheric quality.  I read Shiver in the middle of summer but quickly felt enfolded in a midwestern winter;  I remember feeling surprised to look up from the pages and see sweat-inducing sunshine outside instead of downy snowflakes.  Her bestselling Scorpio Races had one of the most intriguing and fully formed settings I've read recently.  Additionally, however, Maggie also creates incredibly rich characters--and portrays their complex relationships with each other with great accuracy.

The Raven Boys combines all these elements to create a compelling tale that plumbs the depths of human connection and emotion, exploring love, death, longing, and friendship.  While the town of Henrietta and the Blue Ridge Mountains stand out as intriguing settings, it is the characters that dominate this novel.  From the creative, doubtful, and fierce Blue and her house full of odd, loving psychic women to intellectual, earnest, oblivious, and passionate Gansey and his crew of loyal misfit Raven boys, each character is fully fleshed out and utterly believable.  I especially enjoyed getting into the heads of Blue, Gansey, and Adam, whose conflicted and tangled relationships with each other reveal fascinating and heart-wrenching truths about friendship, attraction, and social class.  The magical elements feel natural in the environment and world Stiefvater has created and enhance the characters' intertwined stories rather than distract from them.  Her language also continues to be poetic; The Raven Boys is a well-crafted and elegantly written novel.          

Reading The Raven Boys was a wonderful experience; from the moment I began reading, I was immediately immersed in the world and the lives of these characters and when I finished the last chapter, I wanted to go back to the beginning and jump right back in.  I'm very glad that The Raven Boys is a series opener because while I felt satisfied upon completing this novel, I am definitely not ready to leave Blue, Gansey, Adam, and the others behind yet.  I would (and have) highly recommend this novel to a variety of fantasy fans--and perhaps even readers who simply enjoy a rich tale.

5 BIG STARS









Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Teen Read Week: A Rookie's Second Run.

Our "It Came From The Library" display of scary & spooky books.
When I started at my current job last fall, Teen Read Week had not previously been part of the programming schedule in our school library.  Considering I had about a month to pull together a range of activities that work with our very crowded school schedule, I felt that our first ever TRW celebration went really well.  I hit on a few easy but fun programs that work well with our population and started giving the library an even more prominent and (I hope!) positive presence on campus.

This year I knew that the planning and implementation process would be a little different, especially because we now have a Student Library Advisory Board.  Our SLAB (as they've taken to calling themselves) was formed at the very end of the school year in May; I put out an application and was thrilled to get great responses from some fabulous kids.  However, since the group is newly formed and they are all busy kids with a somewhat jammed school schedule, our meeting times have been somewhat rushed and infrequent.  So I knew that Teen Read Week would be a bit of gamble in terms of their levels of involvement, especially in the implementation.  However, despite time crunches, bad weather, and crazy schedules, TRW2012 went really well if I may say so myself.  To perhaps inspire your future TRW programming, here's a little breakdown of what was happening at our humble library during TRW this year!

What makes a good Teen Read Week at our library?

  • LOTS OF SUGAR!  If there's one thing that nearly all the students and faculty now know about me, it's that I love to bake--and I am unafraid to utilize my skills in the kitchen to "encourage" involvement and participation in library-related activities!  One sugar-related activity we held during the week came directly from one of my very enthusiastic SLAB members: Book Checkout Trick or Treating.  We filled a plastic cauldron bucket with candy and kept it at the central desk all week; every time anyone checked out a book (or DVD, etc), she could grab a piece of candy.  Note that using a cauldron bucket instead of a plastic jack o'lantern allowed me to label it the Checkout Cauldron, which satisfied my deep enjoyment of cheesy, alliterative titles.    
  • STUDENT CREATIONS! One of the simplest but most enjoyable activities we've done during Teen Read Week for the last two years combines a couple of our students' favorite things: cookies AND creativity.  I created templates of mini-posters with the following questions on them:
    • What do you read for fun?
    • When do you read for fun?
    • Where do you read for fun?
    • Why do you read for fun?  
 I copied these templates on colored paper and then I proceeded to go home and bake my little heart out!  Several of my students baked cookies as well.  On the appointed day, we ran our Reading Is Sweet campaign from the beginning of classes through the library closing at 5pm.  Throughout the day, students (and faculty!) decorated posters with words and/or drawings in response to one of the questions--in exchange for a delicious homemade cookie.  I've now hung all the posters up as a garland through the library and I see students and teachers suddenly pausing to look up at them all the time--our student tour guides point them out while showing potential students around the school!
Get a taste of the awesome responses we got from this activity! 
  • CONTESTS AND LOTS OF FREE STUFF!  We continued to provide opportunities for students to tap into their creative instincts by running a scary story writing contest, open to both middle and upper school students.   Additionally, I held raffles for copies of several recently released books--a consistently popular and easy to run activity.  
  • MOVIE NIGHT--AND MORE FOOD! As requested by my advisory board, we concluded our TRW celebration with a scary movie night in the library.  One of my board members suggested that we let the upper school student vote on the movies and so we created two short lists--one of traditional horror/scary movie and one of nostalgic, Halloween classics.  Then I sent out a Survey Monkey with both lists about two weeks in advance.  As the same student suggested, we added a bonus question to the survey: students could choose to type in their name and be entered a raffle for a half dozen homemade Halloween cupcakes.  Using our library and a nearby lounge space, we were able to show the winning movies from both categories simultaneously, allowing attendee a choice.  I purchased drinks and snacks--and baked more goodies, of course.  And despite a sudden rainstorm and cancellations of earlier evening sports games, we had around a dozen kids come out to this first ever evening movie night.  Most importantly, all who attended had a wonderful time and the buzz--even from a smaller group of attendees--was highly positive! 
But how do we really measure the success of our Teen Read Week celebration?

The plethora of positive responses from our teens! 

We had lots and lots of excited teens passing through the library all that week.  Students continue to look up at the little posters waving above their heads in the library, pointing their own out to friends or giggling at particularly funny creations.  Best of all--the positive student responses have continued.  The recent issue of the school newspaper included TWO articles about the library: a piece about Teen Read Week that included interviews from me and from a couple students and a piece about our Student Library Advisory Board that contained quotes from me and from one of our Board members.  

How did all of you celebrate Teen Read Week?  

And a Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Truth Is Still Out There: Adaptation by Malinda Lo


In the skies over North America, large flocks of birds suddenly hurl themselves into planes, causing dozens of deadly crashes and forcing airports to shut down acroos the continent.  Reese Holloway, her debate partner and crush David, and their teacher are trapped at an airport on their way back from a debate competition when the nation enters a state of panicked emergency.  During their harrowing drive home to San Francisco, a bird flies in front of their headlights and the car flips, landing them in a ditch along a dark Nevada road.

When Reese wakes up in a strange military hospital a month later, she finds her body mysteriously and miraculously healed of any injuries and her mind confused and full of questions.  What exactly happened in that hospital?  Why can't Reese or David tell anyone anything they remember about the place? 

And after Reese returns home to California and meets the mysterious and alluring Amber Gray, her questions only grow.
What is the government hiding about the thousands of dead birds? What is Amber hiding? And who--or what--has Reese become since the accident?

A large amount of the science fiction recently published for young adults usually fits into the popular dystopian, futuristic, or speculative fiction molds.  But here, in her first foray into the genre,  excellent fantasy writer Malinda Lo, dives right into more traditional, fierce, and frightening science fiction territory: government conspiracies, medical experimentation, and possible contact with forces beyond our planet.  Adaptation presents a scenerio that could happen anytime in the next few years; it's immediate rather than futuristic and in many ways, this fact automatically increases the suspense and the fear factor.  Additionally, novel has a plot that hits the ground running during the opening pages and doesn't stop twisting and turning all the way up to the book's final lines.  The story is action-packed and full of intertwined mysteries that will keep the reader guessing along with Reese as she struggles to make sense of the strange turns her life has taken.       

However, Adaptation is more than a thrill-ride.  Lo continues to demonstrate her distguished ability to create and maintain a richly diverse cast of characters, without ever making any of them seem like a stereotype or a token representation of multiculturalism.  Her characters live in a much more realistically multicultural world than that frequently imagined in fictional visions of the United States.  None of the characters of color or  LGBTQ characters are defined purely by those pieces of their identity.  And in the midst of a science fiction thriller, Lo paints an excellent picture of the fluidity and process of discovery inherent in identity development for young adults.  Moreoever, her characters and their relationships are complex and emotionally resonant. 

Between conspiracy theories worthy of the best X-Files episodes, non-stop action, and truly interesting characters,  Adaptation is a novel you won't be able to put down once you pick it up! 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fresh Females of Fantasy

I work in a school library serving girls between the ages of 12 and 18.  While I think that many outside the worlds of youth services and young adult literature continue to associate the genre of fantasy, especially 'high fantasy,' with a male rather than a female readership.  But as a long time fantasy reader,  I have always known this perception to be false.  And now that I work with teenage girls on a daily basis, I know that I am not an exception to a rule in this area.  It's true that large portion of my middle school students continue to demand more dystopian fiction (or as they say: "Do you have something else like the Hunger Games?") and realistic fiction;  I see a distinct growth of interest in realistic fiction, especially with romance as a key aspect or focus, among 8th graders.  High schoolers scatter into an even wider range of interests, including both dystopian fiction, realistic teen fiction, a variety of adult fiction, and non fiction.  But a voracious and vocal group of fantasy fans remains in my middle school and high school populations;  in fact, many of my most demanding and committed readers are among that group.

But also, the fantasy fiction that remains most popular among my students can fit into a more distinct sub-group;  they like to read stories with strong, complex female protagonists.  So I am always on the look out for fresh new fantasy novels featuring richly imagined worlds, exciting plots, and fierce heroines.  And this past year has been a fabulous year for fantasy books featuring girls who kick butt! Here are a few of my favorites:


The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza has grown up knowing that she is the chosen one—marked for some great destiny since birth as the bearer of the Godstone, embedded in her navel.  But so far, Elisa only seems remarkable for how very un-remarkable she is.  She is the younger, less attractive, and more ignored of two princesses; she can’t fit into the royal role or the royal attire like her slender and elegant sister can. She can't imagine ever doing anything remotely special.  Then, on her sixteenth birthday, Elisa is secretly married to a handsome king desperate for the political alliance and potential power that she can bring.  Suddenly, Elisa is traveling far from home into an unknown country on the edge of war and quickly finds herself tangled in a dangerous adventure of political intrigue and magical battles.  Now, Elisa must find her confidence and learn to understand the power within her in time to save a nation and its people, risking both her life and her heart in process.

There is nothing better than discovering a new voice in young adult literature through the publication of a fierce, unique, and fabulous debut novel.  I had heard good buzz about this novel and the jacket flap sounded promising so I snagged our copy when it came in last year and read it in about 48 hours.  It has everything I love in a fantasy novel--and a novel in general.  There's a rich and refreshing world, based more on Spanish history than on the more familiar Northern European cultures usually mined for fantasy world building.  The plot is action-packed but thought-provoking, incorporating realistic questions about religion, politics, cultural clashes, and war into a thrilling adventure.  Elisa is also one absolutely fantastic protagonist.  She starts the novel as an unsure and sheltered young woman; she isn't good at being a royal figure and she turns to food for comfort.  She hopes that her new husband will have some kind of physical flaw so that he won't be too disappointed that he's marrying an overweight and nervous 16 year old.  But thrown into the fire of political games, national unrest, and a possible civil war, Elisa discovers that she has strengths and abilities; when pushed into uncertain circumstances, she struggles but rises to the challenge.  I had this one off to all my fans of Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore with great success!   


Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
It's been eight years since the violent and sadistic psychopath  King Leck was killed by the powerful Gracelings Katsa and Po and so permanently removed from the throne of Monsea.  His ten year old daughter survived and became queen.  Now, at eighteen, Bitterblue is still trying figure out how to rule a long-tramatised and still broken nation.  Suspecting that her advisors have been shielding her from the real problems in Monsea, Bitterblue begins sneaking out of the palace at night, disguised as an ordinary citizen.  In the evening streets of her own city, Bitterblue discovers a whole new world and begins to realize that eight years has not been nearly long enough for her country to escape Leck's grip.  Soon the young queen must risk her life, her heart, and her sanity to unravel her father's twisted secrets and send her nation--and herself-- on the path to true healing.

To be perfectly frank,  I must state openly that I am a MASSIVE fan of Kristin Cashore.  So when I heard that she was publishing her third novel, especially one that revisits the characters from her brilliant debut Graceling, I might have done a fairly embarrassing dance of joy.  Maybe.  The best part?  Bitterblue completely lived up to my expectations.  It is long and less obviously action packed that Cashore's either novels.  But it is just as beautifully composed and elegantly constructed as both Graceling and Fire.  Bitterblue is a rich, multi-dimensional young woman struggling to come to terms with her potentially powerful role in the world, her horrific parentage, and her identity as a woman and a leader.  The story twists and turns and spirals in intricate and elegantly plotted mysteries.  The novel explores the difficult realities of grief, recovery, and healing for both individuals and a nation following a horrific experience.  We get to see familiar beloved characters and discover exciting new characters to love--especially Bitterblue herself.  

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Despite forty years of peace, the kingdom of Goredd exists as a divided land; dragons and humans continue to distrust each other and the tension between the two groups remains high.  Dragons fold themselves into human shapes to act as ambassadors and scholars in the human world, lending their superior rational and mathematical skills to the businesses of government and education.  Now, with the anniversary of the monumental treaty between dragons and humans approaching, the capital is buzzing with anticipation--both positive and negative.  Seraphina Dombegh, a brilliant young musician recently hired to work at the royal court, has several reasons to worry in particular--and most of them have very little to do with her new, higher profile job and much more to do with her own deeply hidden secrets.  When a member of the royal family is killed and the evidence appears to point to a dragon as the murderer, Seraphina becomes involved in the investigation alongside the Captain of the Queen's Guard, Prince Lucian.  But will the investigation lead Seraphina too close to the truth behind her extraordinary musical talents--exposing the secrets and past she has tried so long to bury? 

I read this one as an e-galley through Netgalley last spring and I loved it so much that I bought my own, old fashioned hardcover copy as soon as I could!  Dragons have been a standard in fantasy novels for generations and they have been reinvented over and over again in new and exciting ways.  But Seraphina stands out to me as one of the most original conceptions of dragons I've encountered in recent years.  The dragons here can become human in form--yet they remain distinctly draconian in a variety of ways.  Seraphina, as a musical prodigy of sorts, has had extra positive contact with dragons, whose mathematical abilities frequently give them a special gift with music; she has developed a close relationship with her dragon tutor and musical mentor at the university--or as close to a true emotional bond as can be developed with a highly rational dragon.  For this, and other reasons I will not reveal here, Seraphina exists in a confusing and awkward position between the dragon and human worlds. On top of the interesting discussion of prejudice and cultural & racial conflicts, the novel also offers readers a wonderfully complex characterization of Seraphina, a longing-filled romance in the making, a fascinating mystery, and slowly revealed family secrets.  What more could you ask for?              

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Every October, the capaill uisce--water horses with taste for flesh--begin to emerge from the sea surrounding the island of Thisby.  Then every November, the Scorpio Races take place.  Riders attempt to control their recently captured, deadly mounts long enough to cross the finish line.  Some succeed.  Others die.  Only one wins.  Both Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick are desperate to win this year.  Quiet and solitary 19 year old Sean is the current champion but this year he has to win or he'll lose his chance to keep his beloved water horse.  Puck Connolly never planned to take part in the races but her older brother wants to leave Thisby and since her parents's death, her two brothers are all that Puck has left.  So, determined to prove herself and gain the rewards that might convince her brother to stay, Puck and her cherished land horse begin training to become the only female rider and normal horse to enter the races.  But the race is only part of Sean and Puck's interconnected journeys towards finding independence and a true sense of home.      

I was privileged enough to hear Maggie Stiefvater talk about this thrilling novel during an event at Politics and Prose here in DC.  I have always liked Maggie Stiefvater's work and after hearing her person (twice now), I also like her.  She did a great job describing the origins of this particular novel and, after reading it, I also found that she was especially good at pinpointing the novel's unique aspects.  She stated that she'd wanted to write about the carnivorous water horses in Celtic mythology since childhood but had failed for years.  With this novel, she found herself focusing on the island and its people rather than on the water horses--and as a result, it finally clicked.  And it's true--while the capaill uisce are fabulous, supernatural creatures and a great selling point, the novel is truly about Thisby, its people, and its unique rhythms.  Sean and Puck are great characters; their growing connection with each other and Puck's relationships with her brothers all resonate with emotional realism and sincerity.  And Thisby has become one of my top fictional destinations.  A wondrous new land to lose yourself in and characters you will cheer for from the first page.    

Friday, August 17, 2012

Book Bites: Expectations Failed and Expectations Exceeded Edition

Here's a set of 3 quick reviews in an attempt to catch up on all the reading I've been doing summer vacation!

Island's End by Padma Venkatraman

Uido is thrilled to be chosen as her tribe's next oko-jumu--spiritual leader.   Living on their beautiful and isolated island, the community's connection to and understanding of spirit world is critical to their survival.  But while Uido is excited with her new role, others (like her older brother and her best female friend) do not respond as positively.  Meanwhile, strangers from another island have begun to visit their shore, bringing with them gifts that tempt the tribe to leave in search of different life.  When Uido's little brother becomes deathly ill, she will have to use all her abilities to save him while also finding a way to bring her tribe into the future without losing their past.

I picked up Island's End earlier this month as part of a hunt for middle grade/young YA books with young female protagonists taking traditionally male roles.  The summary blurb sounded as though it might fit into my general theme and the setting was unique and intriguing.  However, I found that my overall reaction to this novel was disappointment.  Venkatraman writes elegantly, providing rich and loving descriptions of Uido's world, bringing the lush island's diverse landscapes and Uido's visions of the spirit world to life for the reader.  The series of events portray the issues of cultural growth and shifts and the need to balance the values of long established traditions with survival in the modern world without harshly villifying or deifying any particular group.  Yet despite the technically exciting events that form the plot, the novel's pacing felt a bit off to me.  The climax and conclusion felt rushed, especially since the situation had the potential to be very thrilling.  Finally, I also had a little trouble feeling fully connected to Uido despite her first person narration.  Overall, the interesting setting didn't add up to an equally thrilling story.  

Deadly by Julie Chibbaro

Prudence Galewski wants something more out of life.  She wants more than her education in feminine refinement offered by Mrs. Browning's School for Girls and more than the meal ticket of a job as proper governess, secretary, or (ideally) wife that education will buy her.  Prudence is not like other girls; she's fascinated by the human body, by the emerging science of disease, and by the reasons that some people survive illness or injury while others do not.  When she takes a job as secretary at the growing Department of Health and Sanitation, Prudence gets her chance to be part of something bigger than her own limited daily grind.  Soon Prudence finds herself entangled in the Department's revolutionary and complex investigation of New York's quickly spreading typhoid outbreak.  

I'm a lifelong fan of historical fiction so I was intrigued by Deadly from my first glance through the inside flap summary.  A novel exploring the lesser known details of a significant historical event through the eyes of a unique protagonist?  Yes, please! In some ways, Deadly lived up to my hopes.  Prudence is an exciting protagonist, a young Jewish woman in early 1900s New York City with an interest in science and a determination to challenge the status quo.  As a librarian at a girls' school, I'm a big fan of interesting stories about women in science.  The diary format works well generally, especially because Prudence's anatomical sketches are woven into the novel as well.  The elements of real historical events including the experimental methods of the Department of Health and Sanitation to track the spread of disease and the experiences of the real 'Typhoid Mary' are fascinating and provide a decent amount of tension throughout the narrative.  However, despite all of these positive aspects, I would have difficulty recommending this one to a large number of students.  The pacing occasionally felt off, especially during the conclusion.  The narrative wound up too abruptly and much of the potential excitement was lost.  The promising premise just didn't pan out into a consistently interesting reading experience.  I might recommend this to some historical fiction fans or young scientists.                

Close To Famous by Joan Bauer

Foster McFee has big dreams: she dreams of becoming the next big celebrity chef and having her own inspirational cooking show.  Her mom Rayka dreams of using her big voice for more than backup singer gigs and they both dream of finding a new life after Foster's dad's died in Iraq.  But so far, neither of their dreams seem to be working out.  After fleeing Memphis in the middle of the night to escape Huck, Rayka's mean Elvis impersonator ex-boyfriend, the McFees find themselves starting over in the tiny town of Culpepper, Virginia where nearly everyone seems to have a big, unfinished dream.  Now, Foster's undefeated optimism and exceptional baking skills will truly be put to the test as she works to make her--and everyone else's--dreams come true.

As my username here may indicate,  I have a pretty big cupcake obsession.  I spend as much time trolling my favorite baking blogs and messing around in my very tiny kitchen as I do reading YA novels or prepping book talks.  So I was obviously drawn to Joan Bauer's newest middle grade novel from the moment I spotted the cover.  However, I soon found that the story and the character were even more delightful than the baked goods on the cover!  Foster is a great young protagonist whose narration illustrates her unique combination of optimism and realism;  she's already experienced some really difficult, frightening, and discouraging parts of life but although she recognizes that happiness and personal success aren't easy, she remains firm in her belief that both are possible.  Foster's embarrassment about her dyslexia and her worries about her mother are achingly real; she jumps right off the page as a wonderfully complex and likable middle school heroine.  The plot is full of interesting little twists and turns and emotional highs and lows; the supporting cast of characters are quirky and diverse, as usual with Bauer's work.  I thoroughly enjoyed Close To Famous and am working on a book trailer of it to share with my 7th graders this fall!