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26

Apr
2013

In Reading Round Up

By Elizabeth Wroten

Reading Round Up: Rights Edition

On 26, Apr 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten

Over the past couple months I’ve come across several blog posts that deal with the rights of the patron and of learners. I thought aggregated they made for interesting reading.

  • This is a post from Designing Better Libraries about the rights of a patron as pertains to quality of service and experience. They seem obvious, but aren’t. I would add to it this post from Agnostic, Maybe in which Andy talks about there truly not being a stupid question. I think this is important to remember, especially in school libraries, as discouraging students and patrons from asking questions, or simply instilling a fear of asking questions, can be incredibly detrimental to the purpose or mission of the library (or classroom).
  • This isn’t exactly a list of rights, but it is something students should expect to get from their education/library. From Blue Skunk Blog, a list of six skills, broken down into what they entail, that all students should have by the time they graduate EIGHTH grade. Doug Johnson broke them down into separate posts so here are links to them:

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24

Apr
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

On 24, Apr 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

This is Not a TestFrom GoodReads:

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually wantto live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what doyou hold on to?

I am really not much of a zombie person, but I am not above enjoying a good creepy zombie read from time to time. This Is Not a Test was well worth the read. A few of the characters were pretty irritating, but I never felt like it was unrealistic (aside from the whole zombie aspect, of course). I think maybe I liked this particular zombie story was because it wasn’t actually about zombies. It was really about the characters and the baggage they brought with them to the situation. Especially Sloane. And because she has survived some pretty horrific trauma and a recent collapse of life-as-she-knew-it long before the zombie apocalypse, it made the perspective on the whole catastrophe and the pettiness of some of the other characters an interesting one.

I will say the writing style took me some time to get into, but after I got past it, I was pretty hooked. The telling sign for me was that scenes have replayed in my head since putting it down several weeks ago.

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22

Apr
2013

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Call a Spade, a Spade: Cyberbullying As Misnomer

On 22, Apr 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Almost a year ago now I went with my husband to Common Sense Media to help them create a toolkit for implementing a 1:1 computer program for schools. One of the other educators said something that was completely unrelated, but stuck with me. He said that he wished people would stop using the term “cyberbullying”. I didn’t think much of it at the time, except that you could wish that for any number of terms that become buzzwords. Then the other day my husband came home and told me about a bullying issue that the school where he works was having. This is, of course, just one incident in a long list of bullying incidents that go on at schools across the nation, but it rankled me because the school was attaching the term “cyberbullying” to it and were wanting my husband, the technology director, to respond. Suddenly Ed’s comment came screaming back to me and I couldn’t help invoking his name and wish as my husband and I discussed the issue.

Now, sometimes I like terms like this because they help articulate what it is you are thinking or doing. Things like “transliteracy” or “digital literacy”. Sure, they may not actually be new ideas or new concepts. It is possible and probable that these things have been around for ages, we’re just suddenly naming them and talking about them more. But when it comes time to explain what you  do or want to do, especially with someone who is not a librarian, having a succinct and clear way of labeling something can be really helpful. On the other hand, I don’t like labels because they get over used or become buzzwords. And when that happens I think it can detract from their importance and make people take the concept less seriously or treat it like a fad. For a good articulation of why using terms as buzzwords is a bad idea see here.

But “cyberbullying” is a totally different problem. It’s a misnomer. I am a huge proponent of calling spades, spades. Cyberbullying is bullying. By adding “cyber” onto bullying it lulls people into thinking it’s a problem with the technology and not the people involved with it. Social media and the Internet DO NOT make anyone bully someone else. Let me repeat, social media is NOT the problem. It does make bullying easier and maybe even more tempting because discovery is so much more difficult. But Facebook is not twisting people’s arms and forcing them to post mean or inappropriate comments.

Parents are already scared of technology. They don’t need the added fear that the computer (or Internet or Facebook or Twitter) is also making their child into a monster. Bullying, on- and offline, is a parenting issue. Which is not to say that the parent is making their child into a monster. Kids, even adults, are prone to teasing and picking on others. Some of this stuff is going to happen.

I think by calling it cyberbullying, you also relinquish some measure of control. Parents (and educators, too!) are already frightened  and feel powerless when it comes to their children and technology. By blaming social media you just affirm their impotence. By calling it cyberbullying you also relinquish some degree of culpability.  Not only do they feel like they have no control, parents and educators give themselves a pass on dealing with the issue head on. They just block the website and hope it takes awhile before their kids find another one. Or worse, naively assume that they won’t find another site. And that’s why we need to stop calling it anything but bullying, plain and simple.

In terms of the incident that happened the other day at school, the school handled it very well. They spoke to the kids about making good choices both on and offline. They also informed the parents that it was an ongoing, team effort between the parents and school to raise respectable people.

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19

Apr
2013

In Reading Round Up

By Elizabeth Wroten

Reading Round Up: Gadgets

On 19, Apr 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten

I recently came across a few things that I thought would be pretty cool integrations of technology. The first was this projector app for your smartphone. It projects an image into a storybook that actually interacts with whatever is on the page. Watch the video, it’s short and very neat. Just one more thing you could keep up your sleeve to enliven storytime from time to time.

The second isn’t really a gadget per se, but it sounds interesting. From Turnitin, a rubric that helps students evaluate online resources. “Turnitin worked closely with educators to design The Source Educational Evaluation Rubric (SEER), which is built on five criteria: Authority, Educational Value, Intent, Originality, and Quality.” I haven’t had a chance to see how it works, but I am all for anything that will help students evaluate their sources. They are terrible at doing that.

Finally, via Walking Paper, the Escondido Library is offering Pop Up Podcast which is a space that: “…provide[s] a fun, creative environment for teens to engage with audio recording technology and explore their own self-expression and presentation skills.” I thought this was a very clever idea. Although they have a more elaborate set up I think that a lot of libraries could do something similar with some very simple equipment.

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17

Apr
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

On 17, Apr 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

From GoodReads:

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

This one took my by surprise. I really, really enjoyed it. So much that I didn’t really want to start another book after it, actually. And I’m hoping there will be a sequel.

Normally I am not a huge fantasy reader. At least not high fantasy and I would probably shy away from anything with dragons. I can’t really say why. Maybe because the world building gets a bit complex or intricate? Maybe because I start thinking of people who dress up to play Dungeons and Dragons? But Seraphina was so effortless to read and the characters are all so engaging. It’s just a well written story with well-fleshed-out characters and a world that is easy to slip into. Plus the mystery and intrigue is very captivating. I appreciated that the ending didn’t come abruptly and didn’t work out exactly how I would have expected. It definitely left me wanting more.

As a side note, this book made me think a bit of the Patricia Wrede series Dealing With Dragons which I read in middle school and absolutely loved. This was a bit darker and quite a bit more complex, but satisfied me in the same kind of way.

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15

Apr
2013

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Something about forests and trees

On 15, Apr 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

In my reading lately I’ve come across a few blog posts (and articles) about The Future of Libraries. I know I have eluded, subtly and not so subtly, to my opinion about that future, mostly in regards to education and ebooks, but I’ve tried to stay out of the fracas for the most part. However because of some of these articles, I feel compeled to synthesize my thinking on this issue and my reactions to these posts.

The first post was from David Lankes. You can read it here, and really should, but the gist of it was that we need to ignore minutia and have bigger conversations about librarianship (i.e. fixing a broken education system or using books to make a difference). Because right now in librarianship and libraries, it’s those big questions that are going to “save” us. (Update: I am only now becoming aware that there was a controversy over this post. When I read it, I did not read that controversy into it and took away something completely different that was related to other things I was thinking about in libraries.)

The second was a guest post from the author Cory Doctrow, you can read it here, which was not strictly about the future of libraries. It was really about makerspaces in libraries, which not only serve as great community building spaces, but also as places to encourage learning and creativity (things that are sadly lacking in our schools!). The beginning of his piece really nicely puts how I have felt about libraries for years now, but didn’t say everything I wanted to say.

The final blog post was from Jenica Rogers over at Attempting Elegance, a librarian I much admire despite the fact that I have zero interest in being either a library director or a college librarian. She gave a keynote at a conference titled Moving Beyond Book Museums. I HIGHLY recommend you read this post. It’s brilliant. And so true. Just the title alone sums up a good portion of how I feel about the Future of Libraries. She tackles some pieces that I agree with, but don’t have much experience with.

I actually think to call “The Future of Libraries” an issue is incorrect. There was never a question in my mind that libraries would continue to be both relevant and vibrant. So where does this argument come from and why are we having it?

People who tend to argue that libraries will be obsolete think of them as “book depositories”, as Doctrow called them, or “book museums”, as Rogers named them. I would hope that as librarians we see our institutions as more than that, but I think when we argue about the Future of Libraries we fall into their rhetoric and believe that we are only about books. We need to look at what the underlying mission of libraries is to get out of that habit. Maybe I’m wrong or overly idealistic, but I always thought it was to be a bastion of learning and education (in all their forms) and to be a center of the community. Sure we’ve specialized into academic, public, school, special libraries, and many others. But don’t they all essentially have the same mission when you strip away all the superficial differences?

Personally I think libraries have never simply been about books, so we need to stop discussing something that isn’t true to begin with. Libraries are about education and community. Education can be a lot of things depending on what type of library you are in, but I am referring to teaching and learning in a broad sense. Teaching and learning through reading, through other people (the community), through books and periodicals, through the Internet and visual media, through listening and through experience. Teaching and learning through more traditional pathways such as professors and school teachers and classes. Community can also vary depending on the institution. Academic libraries strive to provide a community for their students and faculty through the scholarship and materials they provide.Public libraries with their 3-D printers encourage people to interact with other creators in their community or bring book lovers together in book clubs. School libraries provide professional development classes to the teachers and spark discussion. They also frequently house after school activities and meetings- a literal hub of community activity. Education and community.

Lankes, in his blog post, noted that librarianship at its most fundamental level is not about how we integrate Common Core or how we suggest a book or catalog. It’s about the questions we ask and the thinking we do. There will always be the day-to-day programming and tasks to deal with. But broad questions guide us, make us think, make us question everything we do and why we do it. They make us change and adapt and continue to meet the needs of our patrons and even predict those needs before they even know they have them. They create our philosophy and ensure we are sustaining our mission.

I say being a librarian of any kind isn’t about teaching reading or simply putting a book (or article) in a patron’s hand or even about giving them access to the Internet. It’s a lot broader because it’s about education and community and we need to be asking big questions that make sure librarians are ensuring these principles are being upheld. What is the purpose of having a librarian? What does the library and what do librarians offer that the classroom teacher or professor or home environment doesn’t? I think the answers lie in the fact that libraries are a lot of things-community hubs, print collections, Internet access, staffed by people who are a mile wide and a mile deep- not one thing: a book museum.

If you can answer the big questions, I think you can begin to break the philosophical stuff into more manageable and doable parts. If libraries are about education, then I think libraries are about providing access to knowledge and encouraging its creation.  We need to ask ourselves: how can I help my patrons, be they professors, students, or blue collar workers, be successful in a 21st century environment? Education is never going to go out of style and so how you go about answering that question is going to propel you and librarianship forward into a secure future.

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29

Mar
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

On 29, Mar 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

From GoodReads:

Oct. 11th, 1943–A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.
When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.
As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

I chose this book because it was getting such good press and I will allow that it was a good book. And there is one scene that keeps playing over and over in my mind; a scene that really shook me because I know I have a friend like that. But ultimately, I went against my nature reading this book.

I do not like World War II books. There I said it. I’m sorry, I just don’t. I don’t find it to be an overly interesting time period. The whole war was a fiasco and a tragedy of epic proportions and we have a lot to learn from it, but that doesn’t mean I need to enjoy reading lots of upsetting fiction. It’s not even that I am against fiction that upsets me, it’s just that I’m not into WWII upsetting me.

All that aside, this was a good book. It took me awhile to really like the two narrators, but I did eventually come around. They’re plucky girls with very different personalities, but they are good girls and I liked them in the end. It was also a rather “astonishing” story about friendship (as the cover blurb says). The girls don’t really spend that much time together and at first I found myself questioning, well how good of friends can they really be if they only spent a few months together and then spent a couple years writing to each other? Then I realized that that, in a nutshell, is a description of my best friend and me. (Trish, are you reading this? This is you and me.) And after that little revelation, I had a whole new appreciation for this book. It reached out to me in a way that I wouldn’t exactly expect it to for all readers, but most people have a good friend. Plus there are spies and bombs and planes and women’s rights to recommend the book too. Something for everyone. Even people who don’t like WWII.

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27

Mar
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

On 27, Mar 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

From GoodReads:

Scheduled to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the Titanic, a topic that continues to haunt and thrill readers to this day, this book by critically acclaimed author Deborah Hopkinson weaves together the voices and stories of real Titanic survivors and witnesses to the disaster — from the stewardess Violet Jessop to Captain Arthur Rostron of the Carpathia, who came to the rescue of the sinking ship. Packed with heartstopping action, devastating drama, fascinating historical details, loads of archival photographs on almost every page, and quotes from primary sources, this gripping story, which follows the Titanic and its passengers from the ship’s celebrated launch at Belfast to her cataclysmic icy end, is sure to thrill and move readers.

I was not originally going to read this book for the YALSA Hub reading challenge, but after I read their interview with Deborah Hopkinson here, I immediately put in a request for the book at the library. I was not disappointed. As terrible as it is to take delight in such a tragedy, this was a fascinating book. I recently came to learn a lot of the details and events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic through a research project I helped put together in the library, but I think Hopkinson made a wise choice focusing on the people on board. It made the disaster much more horrific. While I wanted to keep reading I had to keep putting the book down to take a steadying breath.

It was funny for me to think that even though I knew how the book would end (the boat sinks!), it didn’t make it any less exciting, riveting, or nerve wracking. There were a lot of characters to keep track of, but as the book wore on I got into the swing of it and could hardly put it down. Even if you aren’t especially interested in the sinking of the Titanic this book is worth the afternoon it will take to read it.

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25

Mar
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Flight of Angels

On 25, Mar 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

From GoodReads:

The diverse mythology of angels is explored in this lushly painted graphic novel from high-profile fantasy authors including Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles) and Bill Willingham (FABLES).Deep in the woods outside of a magical kingdom, a strange group of faeries and forest creatures discover a nearly dead angel, bleeding and unconscious with a sword by his side. They call a tribunal to decide his fate, each telling stories that delve into different interpretations of these winged, celestial beings: tales of dangerous angels, all-powerful angels, guardian angels and death angels, that range from the mystical to the mysterious to the macabre.

I had a hard time with this one from the get go. It starts out with a really contrived “voice over” narrative that I found nearly impossible to get into. It got worse when the stories began reading like an exercise in angel lore rather than a fluid story. Quite frankly, it all felt like it was trying a little too hard.

That being said, I’m not much of one for angels so I was probably predisposed to not click with this book. I think the idea of stories within stories is really interesting and the ending has quite a twist to it. I can certainly see why this might appeal to the reluctant reader who likes fantasy, especially fantasy with darker undertones. The differing art from story to story was also an interesting concept.

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22

Mar
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

On 22, Mar 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

From GoodReads:

Fierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences.

Almost one hundred forty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him. For generations, love has resulted in death for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? With Ezra’s help, Hester investigates her family’s strange, sad history. The answers she seeks are waiting in the graveyard, the crypt, and at the bottom of the ocean—but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago.

In deciding whether I wanted to read this book or not I read a number of reviews on GoodReads and found a lot of people complaining about mermaid fiction. I was totally unaware this existed (for the most part). I was sort of vaguely aware of mermaid lore from the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean movie and from a couple other books that had them in it, but, whoa, have I been missing out. Mermaids are awesome! And rather creepy!

For me this book fell into the category with The Diviners. It’s totally awesome, I wanted to read it in one sitting, but didn’t want it to end. But it’s not a serious-coming-of-age-with-heavy-themes kind of awesome and I always feel funny grouping those books together in the you-must-read-this category. But that’s just me.

I kind of felt like the general mystery was predictable, but the details really didn’t come together until I had read it all the way through which kept me turning the pages. Switching back and forth between the present and the past was also a great way to keep the tension building and Fama did it without ridiculous cliff hangers.

The characters are also interesting. Hester is afraid to throw herself into a relationship where she might get hurt and I think this is a very relatable fear for teens, even if they aren’t cursed. Syrenka is kind of complex. Clearly she’s in love and is willing to do what she needs to to be with Ezra, but as the story continues you realize some things about her, her past, and about mermaids that I felt made her a lot more sympathetic. I think the male characters could have been a bit more fleshed out, but I didn’t really notice that fact detracting from the story in any way.

I should warn you there is a rape in the book. It isn’t overly violent or described in detail, but it’s a rape nonetheless.

 

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