Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Make It Safe Project

I just learned about The Make It Safe Project at Lee Wind's blog. I hope that you (yes, you, wonderful readers) will help support Amelia's efforts. Here's more about the project, as detailed at their website:

The Make It Safe Project donates books about sexual orientation and gender expression to schools and youth homeless shelters that lack the resources to keep their teens safe.

Giving: We donate books to K-12 schools, their Gay-Straight Alliances (a group that educates the school community about equality), and LGBT-inclusive youth homeless shelters nationwide. For information on how you can help give books or receive books for your school or shelter, please click here.

Support: If you are wondering what starting, leading, or joining a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) would be like, you can browse through stories written by teens who have been involved with GSAs here.

Advice: If you have experience starting, leading, or being in a GSA, you can anonymously submit a story about your experience here.

One book can save a life.

For every $100 raised, the Make It Safe Project sends a pack of GLBTQ books to a school or youth homeless shelter. The pack will include around ten of the books on the following list:

Fiction Books
Ash by Melinda Lo
Annie On My Mind by Nancy Gardener
Empress of the World by Sara Ryan
Luna by Julie Anne Peters
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan
Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger
Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez

Nonfiction Books
It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller
GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens by Kelly Huegel
Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge
Kicked Out edited by Sassafras Lowry
Like Me by Chely Wright
Let's Get This Straight: The Ultimate Handbook for Youth with LGBTQ Parents by Tina Fakhrid-Deen

If you are a student, teacher, parent, or principal at any K-12 school or a volunteer or client at a youth homeless shelter in the USA and your school or shelter is in need of books, please contact the Make It Safe Project.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Stupendous Dodgeball Fiasco by Janice Repka


With a plot line parallel to what's going on with this season of Glee, where Kurt's campaign platform for student government was to end dodgeball, this Middle Grade novel is a fast and fun read.

Phillip's dad is a clown. Literally. He's Leo Laugh-a-Lot. Phillip's mom is The Fat Lady. But 11 year old Phillip doesn't fit in at the Windy Van Hooten Circus. He doesn't want to be the guy following behind the elephants with the giant pooper-scooper. And everything 'circus' he tries to do ends in disaster. All Phillip wants is to be a regular kid.

So when he goes to live with his aunt and uncle in Hardington, the unofficial Dodgeball Capital of the World and home to The American Dodgeball Company, he thinks he's finally gotten his chance.

But there's a bully, B.B., who doesn't like him. Her dad is the hard-as-nails P.E. Coach. And every P.E. class is dodgeball. Every. Single. One.And Phillip is the #1 target.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Sidekicks by Jack D. Ferraiolo

After spending the past six year as sidekick to the famous superhero Phantom Justice, Bright Boy (real name: Scott Hutchinson) decides it’s time for a change. Scott still believes in saving people from evil villains, but can’t he do it while wearing something other than bright yellow tights? The tights are embarrassing to begin with, but when television cameras catch him getting a little, uh, involuntarily excited while holding the very attractive woman he just rescued, Bright Boy becomes a joke. Seriously, even the little kids at Scott’s school are laughing at Bright Boy.

It doesn’t help that Phantom Justice’s archnemesis, Dr. Chaotic, returned to town after a five-year hiatus (translation: he just broke out of prison). Dr. Chaotic’s sidekick, Monkeywrench, was always a thorn in Bright Boy’s side, and now Monkeywrench is back as well. Only Monkeywrench now has a brand new, totally awesome, costume.

So not fair.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick


The wolves will not stop chasing Ben through his dreams. They are wild and persistent, leaving paw prints in the snow next to Gunflint Lake, Minnesota: The boy's home.

Jump back fifty years. Rose lives just outside of New York City, where the bright lights and tall towers tempt her to visit--much against her parents’ wishes. Though separated by time, Ben and Rose are both looking for a place where they can belong. Thus begins Wonderstruck.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Mind's Prisoner

Sapphique, the sequel to Katharine Fisher's Incarceron, continues the story of two dystopic worlds: one, the Realm, artificially frozen in time roughly around the 18th century; the other, Incarceron, a failed uptopia set up for the incarceration and rehabilitation of massive numbers of The Realm's prisoners, which has instead devolved into a kind of organic-mechanical hybrid hell full of metal forests and half-mechanical animals. Travel between the two worlds (or even any sharing of knowledge) is forbidden for all except the Warden of Incarceron. One legendary figure, however, Sapphique, escaped long ago, leaving behind him a religious hope in both worlds fueled by tales of his exploits.

SPOILER ALERT: To speak of Sapphique requires that we reveal some of the surprises of Incarceron. So if you are determined to have nothing spoiled, go read volume one now. Kelly Fineman has an excellent review of Incarceron here.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet is the long running graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi. The series began in 2008 with the Stonekeeper and earlier this year the fourth installment, The Last Council, was published.

The Amulet series began with a car accident and the tragic death of Emily and Navin’s father. When the family moves to live in the abandoned home of Silas, the children's grandfather, they are drawn into the world of Alledia where their mother is abducted by a creepy, walking, squid-type creature. Emily and Navin plunge into the world to save her. Luckily the children have the help of Silas’ inventions and find Silas himself, though he only has enough strength left to explain the choice Emily must make concerning a magical amulet she found in his house.

Emily accepts the power of the amulet to become a Stonekeeper, but it becomes a double edged sword. Emily must save the world of Alledia and finds that the amulet's motives are not always pure, much like the ring in J.R.R. Tolkien's epic series.

In the fourth book we find that Emily's crew has grown and she has seemingly succeeded in completing an important quest, which was to find the lost city of Cielis and receive help from the Guardian Council. There is, however, something wrong with the city with its scared residents and large prison. Emily decides to go along with the training program for Stonekeepers despite the uneasy feeling that they need to flee.

The real power of Amulet is not in the action and adventure, which is great, but in how Emily fares in becoming the leader of her family and working to navigate in a simultaneously beautiful and horrifying world she doesn't understand. Early in the book, Emily is told, "When you begin to realize the true weight of your actions you will awaken to become the person this world needs you to be."

Amulet is a wonderful series with emotional depth, exciting action and a fascinating world to explore. Fans of Jeff Smith's Bone and anything by Doug TenNapel will enjoy Amulet.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Ghosts of Ascalon by Matt Forbeck and Jeff Grubb

Books based on computer games? It’s the best of both worlds! Many different games have a literary component to their worlds: WoW, Starcraft, and Halo to name a few. With Ghosts of Ascalon, the PC game Guild Wars recently entered the list of games with novels based on their lore. You don't have to be a fan of the game though, or have ever played the game, or even be at all familiar with the setting to enjoy the book.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Inquisitor's Apprentice

I'll be honest, this past year I've stepped away from YA and MG fiction, taking some time away from kidlit just to recharge my batteries. This fall, though, I dove back in big time. Gorging on one kind of book (in this case, fantasy and science fiction), one genre can be a real recipe for burnout. But the really great books that rise above all others can excite in ways that aren't just about the thrills of one book, but the kind of thrills that make you eager to pick up other books because they remind you just how awesome reading can be. One of those books, for me, is The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty. Read on to find out why...

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

420, Scientific Atheism, and Street Photography

photo: Vivian Maier
Toward the end of the year I get this sudden urge to want to recommend all sort of books to people, mostly stemming from years of retail bookselling where that was all I did for the last six weeks of the year. And because publishers know this is where they can scoop up a large chunk of annual revenues the holiday season is full of all kinds of attractive new releases.

Many of which I want for myself.

This leads me down a path where I sometimes think holiday shopping can make us all a little selfish. But weeding through my various wish lists I find a number of things that would make interesting and inspiring gifts for teen guys, particularly creative, free-thinkers.

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Ready Player One

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Insert quarter. Ready Player One. Designed by Ernest Cline.

Level One: The story of Wade Watts in the year 2044, as the teen tries to navigate a cruel reality as he simultaneously navigates the much cooler virtual reality of OASIS, a massive multiplayer world that (think WoW X Second Life X Facebook, and then put an exponent around your product) everyone is playing and many have made their preferred existence.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Writing by Stephen King

I bought a copy of Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft when it first came out eleven years ago. It's an interesting sort of book - part memoir (pretty much to the point of being a personal exposé), part inspiration, part nuts & bolts writing advice, filled with the sort of humor you'd expect from Stephen King (if you've read enough of his work or have heard him speak, that is, and know better to expect only thrills and chills from his work).

Part of his memoir was included in Guys Write for Guys Read, an anthology previously reviewed here. That excerpt from On Writing is a painfully funny story about a babysitter named "Eula, or maybe she was Beaulah. She was a teenager, she was as big as a house, and she laughed a lot. Eula-Beulah had a wonderful sense of humor, even at four I could recognize that, but it was a dangerous sense of humor . . ." King relates a series of horrible-yet-funny stories involving this particular babysitter, including that "Eula-Beulah was prone to farts--the kind that are both loud and smelly. Sometimes when she was so afflicted, she would throw me on the couch, drop her wool-skirted butt on my face, and let loose. 'Pow!' she'd cry in high glee."

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel

You probably know Mary Shelley's classic Gothic horror, Frankenstein. Mad scientist creates monster, monster kills a bunch of people. And of course, we are left with the question -- just who is the monster in the story? I imagine that is one of the questions Kenneth Oppel asked when he started to write This Dark Endeavor, the first book in a new series exploring just what set young Victor Frankenstein on the descent into darkness.

It is summer in Geneva and it seems that 16 year old Victor Frankenstein, his twin brother Konrad, their cousin Elizabeth and their good friend Henry have nothing more exciting on the horizon than boating on Lake Geneva, riding through the countryside surrounding Château Frankenstein and putting on plays that Henry writes for the group. Then Konrad falls deathly ill. No doctor can help him. So Victor, Elizabeth and Henry, with help from mad alchemist and an old book they found in the château's Biblioteka Obscura, set out to find and make the Elixir of Life and cure Konrad. Of course, getting mixed up in alchemy, well, you know it won't end well.

I did not particularly like Victor as a character, but the best thing about Kenneth Oppel's writing is that he gets the details just right. He builds Victor into a complex and interesting character, and I even though I didn't like him and I knew how his story would end, I still found a lot in Victor with which I could sympathize. I had to keep reading, knowing tragedy was coming. But Oppel made me believe and hope that Victor could turn his story around.

I loved Frankenstein. I loved wrestling with the complex themes, but it left me wanting more, and This Dark Endeavor is an excellent companion to Shelley's classic AND an excellent story in its own right. I can't wait for the sequel.

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Saint George and the dragon: Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem

Saint George and the Dragon. In case we don’t remember the story: there’s a city, outside of which lives a horrific dragon. To stop him from terrorizing the city, the citizens periodically deliver their younger members as sacrifice. One day, George, knight in shining armor, arrives to save them from their oppression. He is baptized, takes the sign of the cross as his protection, and rides out to slay the dragon. He does, of course, peace is restored, and the people go on to healthy, normal, well-adjusted lives.

But let’s consider this story from another vantage. What if we discard the knights and dragons? What if this is a story about Christian modernity imposing itself upon—wiping out really—a native pre-modern system of beliefs? The dragon as the embodiment of all the druids and witches and wild, uncontrolled, earthly paganism that grew up out of the land. Saint George riding in on the productive rationality of a new era. For those of the modern persuasion, this a winning tale. Rationality, productivity, order: not bad things for your patron saint to represent. However, to the adherents of the pre-modern this is the end of a way of life - collateral loss in the inexorable onward march of Civilization.

Such is the moment at which we encounter “Rooster” Johnny Byron at the start of of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem. He lives alone in his trailer, inhabiting—squatting, really—a patch of woods at the edge of what has during that time become a nice, prosperous subdevelopment. One imagines rows of freshly-painted McMansions. A fixture in the village for decades, he’s known by all for better or worse, barred from every pub and the go-to for drugs and drink. As the dawn breaks, two policepersons are serving him yet another notice of complaint after yet another raging party the night before. When he finally emerges from the trailer, he runs through what appears to be a hangover-curing routine–cold water, raw eggs–while trying to piece together the blackout part of his night. He’s amazed to discover that he’s led the assembled in a cheering assault upon his flat-screen television, the pieces of which now lie scattered about the stage. This is our hero, this wild, reckless, drunken fool of a mess.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe, by Jane Goodall


There's no doubt in my mind that understanding human behavior is easier if you look at other primates too.

Jane Goodall looks back Through a Window to tell us what she learned studying chimpanzees for thirty years. Her earlier book, In the Shadow of Man, was good, but this one's importance is hard to overstate. It's not easy choosing what to quote, but here goes:

Often I have gazed into a chimpanzee's eyes and wondered what was going on behind them... I shall never forget my meeting with Lucy, an eight-year-old home-raised chimpanzee... Lucy, having grown up as a human child, was like a changeling... I watched, amazed, as she opened the refrigerator and various cupboards, found bottles and a glass, then poured herself a gin and tonic. She took the drink to the TV, turned the set on, flipped from one channel to another then, as though in disgust, turned it off again. She selected a glossy magazine from the table and, still carrying her drink, settled in a comfortable chair. Occasionally, as she leafed through the magazine she identified something she saw, using... American Sign Language...

Chimpanzees can plan ahead... at Gombe, during the termiting season: often an individual prepares a tool for use on a termite mound that is several hundred yards away and absolutely out of sight.

...chimpanzees possess pre-mathematical skills: they can ... differentiate between more and less. They can classify things into specific categories... separating a pile of food into fruits and vegetables on one occasion,
and, on another, dividing the same pile into large versus small items, even though this requires putting some vegetables with some fruits.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer

“I closed my eyes again and saw myself back at the foot of my parents’ driveway. The enormous jar of pickled garlic was just where I’d left it. I walked up the path to the front door. There was Claudia Schiffer, seductively scrubbing herself with a sponge in a tub of cottage cheese. I opened the door and turned to the left, and inhaled a noseful of the fish that was still laid out across the strings of the piano, curing in peat smoke. I felt its flavor on my tongue. I could hear the high-pitched chatter of those haughty wine bottles on the couch, and feel the three pairs of luxurious cotton socks on the lamp brushing softly against my forehead.”

What is this—a passage from some lost surrealist novel or a scene from a movie aping early Buñuel? Nope, it’s a memory palace.

And what, pray tell is a memory palace? That’s a better question.

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More Classic Dystopia!

In the real world, you want to avoid dystopia (a society, culture, or environment in which it is extremely unpleasant to live), but in fiction, bring it on! Last month I looked at Ninteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, the two most famous works in the genre. Today, I'll explore few more contemporary classics.

A Clockwork Orange, written by Anthony Burgess in 1962, takes place in a world driven by violence. Its protagonist is a young gang leader names Alex who nightly sates his desire to commit "ultra-violence" by cruising neighborhoods with his gang hurting people. Eventually he is captured, imprisoned and "reformed" through a process that strips him of virtually all passion. Sent back out onto the street, Alex is now defenseless and becomes, for a time, a victim of the very type of crimes he previously perpetrated.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Thank you for helping Ballou!

We are closing out the Holiday Book Fair for Ballou High School and want to thank everyone for their support. The final tally is 110+ books off the Powells wish list and we are mighty pleased. I will be in touch with Melissa Jackson at Ballou and let everyone know how it all looks from her end but please know how much your books are appreciated and what a big difference this will make in the lives of a lot of teens. Behind the cut, check out what some folks bought.

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ICO: Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe

ICO: Castle in the Mist is a novelization of the PS2 game ICO, a game largely renowned for being a highly abstract, stripped-down platform-puzzle game. The book and game both center around Ico, a child born with horns offered up as a sacrifice to a mysterious, shambling Gothic castle. Once left alone, Ico quickly discovers another captive of the castle, a girl in a cage who does not speak his language, and who is pursued by shadow creatures who emerge from the castle floors and attempt to pull her down into the castle with them. In the game, Ico must then solve a number of puzzles, fend off the shadow creatures and guide the girl—Yorda—by the hand through the labyrinthine castle.

There's a bit of dialogue that explains some basic story—primarily that Yorda is the daughter of the Shadow Queen, the castle's ruler—but the game is largely left open to each player's interpretation of the events. This reliance on interpretive storytelling makes novelization particularly challenging—you're competing with everyone's interpretation, rather than expanding already established story. So I was a little skeptical when I noticed that Haikasoru would be translating ICO: Castle in the Mist—and then I noticed that the novelization was by Miyuki Miyabe, author of the 800-page RPG-as-coming-of-age epic Brave Story. I figured it would be a good book, if not necessarily a particularly good adaptation. Plus LOOK AT THE PRETTY COVER. (yes I know it's just the original game cover, but we didn't get the original game cover here in the US, so there.)*

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Awesome sale books left on the Holiday Book Fair for Ballou

We are winding down the Holiday Book Fair for Ballou High School at the end of the week and wanted to highlight a few remaining titles - all of which are on sale - that we hope can be considered for last minute purchasing. The fair has gone very well; it's our first foray into the holiday season and we are so grateful to all the folks who have spent a few of their shopping dollars to stock Ballou's library. They need books, lots and lots of books and every little bit that each of you have done is much appreciated. You all rock, seriously. Now please pass the word on these ridiculously cheap books begging to be purchased, (Revolution is Not a Dinner Party for $3.75 - in hardcover!!!), and help us make the fair end with the best possible bang.

Always Running: La Vida Loca Gang Days - $7.98
Animals Make Us Human - $10.98
Best Art You've Never Seen - $15.95
The Big Sea (by Langston Hughes) - $7.98
DC Noir 2 - $7.98
Dragon's Child - $11.29
EONA - $8.98
Inventory (by the AV Club) $8.98
Jack: Secret Histories $6.98
Magical Life of Long Tack Sam $6.98
A Northern Light $4.98 (!!!!!)
Pilgrimage (by Annie Leibovitz - this is $15 off the cover price) $35
A Place to Stand (by Jimmy Baca) $7.98
Red $6.98
Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party $3.75 (there are 2 separate sale prices - grab this one!)

The Salt Eaters $5.98
Secret History of Moscow $7.98
This Boy's Life $7.98
Three Across $12.50
When Fish Got Feet.... $9.95

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The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
"It's 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They've been best friends almost as long - at least, up until last November, when Josh did something that changed everything. Things have been weird between them ever since, but when Josh's family gets a free AOL CD in the mail,his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they're automatically logged onto their Facebook pages. But Facebook hasn't been invented yet. And they're looking at themselves fifteen years in the future.

By refreshing their pages, they learn that making different decisions now will affect the outcome of their lives later. And as they grapple with the ups and downs of what their futures hold, they're forced to confront what they're doing right - and wrong - in the present."- summary from Amazon

You have no idea how much I loved this book. The 90s nostalgia alone is just amazing, but factor in the whole Facebook aspect, an awkward friendship, and a dual narrative and you have made me one happy blogger.

Reading Emma and Josh's story was such a quick, compelling read; it was so hard to put down. The dual narrative really helps and it was interesting to see both sides, especially when the friendship was strained and awkward because it really gave the reader a good sense of what's going on in both of their heads. Both characters go through a fantastic journey and are clearly changed for the better by the end of it.

Going back to the 90s nostalgia, I just loved it- the Macarena, watching Friends and Seinfeld when they were new, not knowing Ellen DeGeneres was gay (by the way, her 90s sitcom was hilarious- you should all check it out), and so many other things. The authors make it so that even if you weren't very aware of the late 90s, you can still understand the references in a way based on the context. I will say there was a funny part for me when I was reading and I forgot it took place in 1996. Emma was in her car and said it didn't have a CD player but she had found a cassette tape of a Green Day album to play. I was like “How did you find a cassette tape nowadays?!” and then I remembered it was 1996 and not current day. Also, interesting fact I found out on Pop Up Video- the phrase “cassette tape” has actually been removed from the dictionary.

Overall, just a fantastic book and a wonderful collaboration between Asher and Mackler. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

FTC: Received ARC from publisher.

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