Booking Through Thursday: Graduation

Booking Through ThursdayIf you were to give a book as a graduation present to some eager person ready to launch themselves into the world … what would it be?

This is a tough question! Don’t you feel like everyone gets a copy of Oh the Places You’ll Go for graduation? I do. Probably some people get multiple copies of it. Upon reading this question, I immediately had two thoughts: first, that I would want to give the graduate something useful – not inspirational, but practical; second, that I would want to give the graduate something fun – because you’ve worked hard to get to that point and deserve a break. So I’m going to give the graduate two books.

Lifehacker book coverThe first is Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, and Better. This book is full of little tips that just make life move more smoothly. If the reader is already familiar with the Lifehacker blog, it’s not going to provide lots of new ideas, but if they’re not, some of this will seem like a revelation. Reviews on Goodreads tend to complain that the book has become dated, but I’ve found that most of the tips in it include general principles that can be adapted to fresh technology.

Ms. Marvel coverThe second is Ms. Marvel: No Normal, the first trade paperback for G. Willow Wilson’s run on Ms. Marvel that began in 2014. Kamala Khan is a delightful character. She has to figure out how to balance school, family, friends, religion, and, oh yeah, super powers. For me, reading this comic is pure joy. I think it would be great fun for any graduate, and that the fact that Kamala is in a bit of a transition herself would resonate with the freshly graduated.

Booking through Thursday: Shakespeare

Booking through Thursday

Okay, show of hands … who has read Shakespeare OUTSIDE of school required reading? Do you watch the plays? How about movies? Do you love him? Think he’s overrated?

I first read Shakespeare in 8th grade. We were assigned A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and that was a smart move on the part of whomever made that decision. Thirteen-year-old me was ripe for a play about fairies and lovers. It was one of those interlinear versions with the original text on the left and a “translation” on the right. I loved it, though I frequently found myself thinking the “translation” was dumb.

In 9th grade, I was assigned Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar. Again, genius job, people who decide 9th graders should read R&J. Because developmentally speaking, they are supremely relatable characters when you’re that age. JC wasn’t so great – I’ve never been big on the histories, and it just didn’t grab me. I think that while the language is what makes Shakespeare remarkable, it’s the stories that have to be the gateway for somebody new to Shakespeare. If you can get them with the stories, then they’ll get over the challenges of the language, and maybe even find the beauty. My senior year, we read Othello, another one that didn’t grab me, again because I couldn’t relate.

In college, I chose to take a Shakespeare class to fulfill my English requirement. I hated the class because it was mostly the professor reading aloud to us, and he had a gravelly, expressionless voice. I think the most important thing to know about Shakespeare’s plays is that they weren’t designed as great literature. They were intended to serve as popular entertainment. This is why I think the very best way to experience Shakespeare is to see it performed – either live or in a movie. I am lucky enough to have the means and opportunity to see Shakespeare regularly performed at Playmakers Repertory Company.

If you can’t get to a theater, movies are the next best thing. Here are my top 5 Shakespeare adaptations:

  1. Hamlet, directed by Kenneth Branagh
  2. Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon
  3. Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Kenneth Branagh (not artistically brilliant, but a very fun time)
  4. Titus, directed by Julie Taymor
  5. The Merchant of Venice, directed by Michael Radford

And three honorable mentions:

  1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Michael Hoffman
  2. Twelfth Night, directed by Trevor Nunn

Plus there’s a great recorded stage performance of Twelfth Night directed by Nicholas Hytner.

If you think you don’t like Shakespeare, try the Whedon Much Ado. It’s probably the most accessible Shakespeare adaptation on film. It grew out of Shakespeare readings that Joss Whedon used to have in his backyard. Inspired by him, I hosted two of these myself, gathering friends, assigning roles, and just reading aloud. It’s so much better that way than trying to imagine it all in your head. Not everybody there was a Shakespeare expert, but you don’t need to be. Try hosting your own reading and see how it goes.

tl;dr: I haven’t done much extracurricular Shakespeare reading, but I do love him; watch Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Edited to add: One more thing! I forgot to mention that if you can neither get to a theatre nor find a film adaptation, you should totally check out Manga Shakespeare. Having the plays illustrated in a cool manga style with the original text is the next best thing to actually getting to see actors perform it. Romeo and Juliet on the streets of Tokyo with katana fights? Yes please!

Edited to add, 2: I failed to mention Branagh’s Much Ado, which is what first set me in love with Beatrice. Because Emma Thompson is INCREDIBLE. Consider it to be #1.5 on my list of top 5 adaptations.

Review: Pull Down the Night

Pull Down the Night CoverPull Down the Night by Nathan Kotecki. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from the publisher. Buy it from IndieBound or Powell’s (affiliate links).

Bruno and his brother Sylvio are the new kids at Suburban High this year, but they quickly make friends with the remaining members of The Rosary, a clique steeped in elegant, dark music and culture. Sylvio has always had those interests, but Bruno finds himself suddenly drawn to them – perhaps because of his powerful attraction to Celia, the protagonist from The Suburban Strange. Through his connection with Celia and his interactions with the school librarian, Bruno discovers that his intuitive understanding of maps has a supernatural source. He has to use these skills and his new understanding of the supernatural realm of the Kind and Unkind to help him solve two mysteries: why students around school are receiving “kiss notes” from a ghost and then discovering loved ones betraying them, and why kids all over the school are suddenly finding themselves deeply depressed.

My relationship with the author:

You should know that I can’t be unbiased about this book. Nathan Kotecki is my friend (see more about how we met in my review of The Suburban Strange). I’m listed in the acknowledgments. So if you’re looking for an unbiased review, you probably want to look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for the honest perspective of the friend of the author who’s also a former high school teacher and school librarian, well, you’ve come to the right place.

What I love:

  • The supernatural stuff starts right away with Bruno mysteriously finding himself in the Ebentwine, a liminal space with a definite Wonderland vibe.
  • The references to dark music and culture flow fast and free, just like in The Suburban Strange. But this time, I didn’t find myself wishing I’d had goth friends to shepherd me around, probably because I got that out of the way in the first book.
  • There sure is a lot of time spent in the school library hanging out with the school librarian, who is so much more pleasant than adults in YA literature often are.
  • Bruno has a geography teacher who won’t let him coast, but gives him the opportunity to work on an individualized project that also helps him expand his supernatural skills.
  • Marco. Marco Marco Marco. He’s a featured player in this book, and I love him, and it makes me so happy.
  • Everybody, Bruno included, seems to love Celia in a way that makes her dangerously close to a Mary Sue, but there is an actual explanation for why everyone loves her so much.
  • Bruno and Sylvio have a very positive relationship. I love siblings who get along most of the time. Of course they don’t get along all the time, but they never seem to deliberately annoy each other or snipe at each other.
  • All the little ways in which you know this book comes from the same world as The Suburban Strange, but it really is its own story.
  • Bruno and Sylvio’s dad, who is a minister, but understands that his sons need to explore faith at their own pace.
  • The whole mythology of this world. There are Kind and Unkind, talented people who have the opportunity to use their supernatural gifts for good or ill. And these aren’t things like super strength or throwing fireballs, but things like literally traveling through the pages of a book, or being able to shape reality through drawing it.

How my wish from last time got fulfilled:

  • I said I wanted to see more menace in the school setting, and boy did Pull Down the Night deliver. This is the eeriest school library since they built Sunnydale High on top of a hellmouth. (We put that in lowercase, since we know there’s more than one of them.)

What I need to warn you about:

  • While this book is much quicker-paced than The Suburban Strange, it’s still not an action/suspense thriller. So if you’re looking for that, maybe pick up a different book, and give this to your goth friend.
  • You’re going to want to find all of the music that goes with this book. But you don’t have to, because Nathan made a Spotify playlist. I highly recommend listening to the playlist while reading the book, if you’re the kind of person who can have music going while you read.

Poetry Friday: Swim Your Own Race

The Poetry Friday roundup is over at The Poem Farm today. Our host, Amy, shares a poem about diving. I myself have been thinking a lot about swimming lately, and researching the Total Immersion method and my own options for pool membership. So I thought I’d look for a swim-related poem myself.

NPR obliged me with the beautiful “Swim Your Own Race” by Mbali Vilakazi. I’m just going to share some lines from the opening. Head over to NPR to read the whole poem.

Beneath the surface tension
of shattered
bones, dreams and splintered muscles
things broken
and those that may never be replaced.

Pulling the weight of it,
you do not tread the water wounded
and in retreat

By the determined strokes of fate
you swim your own race

Poetry Friday: The Naming of Cats

My husband has a cat that he generously shares with me. Or perhaps it would be better to say the cat has him.

We confuse people because we regularly call him “The Kitty,” but his name is actually Laertes.

I explain this by saying that “The Kitty” is the name that the family use daily, but “Laertes” is his name that’s particular, peculiar, and more dignified. Of course, we’ll never know his deep and inscrutable singular name.

The Naming of Cats

by T. S. Eliot

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo, or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey —
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter —
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkstrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum —
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover —
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

Review: The Suburban Strange

The Suburban Strange CoverThe Suburban Strange by Nathan Kotecki. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from the author. Buy it from IndieBound or Powell’s (affiliate links).

Celia Balaustine is entering her sophomore year of high school, but it’s her first year at Suburban High. She’s all set to spend the year trying to be as invisible as possible, with only her sketchbook for a friend, when fellow artist Regine takes her under her wing and introduces her to a clique called The Rosary. The members of The Rosary are interested in dark alternative culture, including literature, fashion, and music. They pride themselves on being different from the other kids in their school. But as different as her friends are from the rest of their classmates, Celia can’t help but be drawn into the school’s drama as young girls begin to be gravely injured on the eve of their sixteenth birthday. She wants to stop these incidents from happening, as well as protect herself from becoming the curse’s next victim. But can she?

My relationship with the author:

Before I jump into telling you what I loved about this book (and there’s a lot), I need to tell you how it came to my attention. My former supervisor Emily (whose old job I now hold) contacted me and told me that her friend was having his first book released soon and would love to get a big name to be present at his book release party, and she knew I had connections in the YA lit world and thought I might have some suggestions. After some back and forth, Emily and Nathan and I sat down for lunch so he could pick my brain for my expertise as both a kidlit blogger and a school librarian (by training if not position). Over the course of the conversation it came out that we are both seekrit goths, me coming at it more from the fashion angle and him from music, with both of us crossing over into the other interest some. I confessed my lack of education on the music part of things, and he assured me that he could fix that. So, yes, I do have mix CDs that serve as, essentially the soundtrack for this book. Yes, the author treated me to lunch since I am helping him with publicity. Yes, I felt like it would be good if I liked this book.

So know all of that, because I don’t want to deceive you about my relationship with this book.

What I loved:

  • Celia’s friends in The Rosary are darkly glamorous. They discuss music, art, and literature in ways that some reviews have suggested aren’t realistic for teenagers, but as a former high school teacher, I found this eminently believable. Kids are into all sorts of things, and some of them are beautifully pretentious. Mostly they grow into pretentious but self-aware adults, the kind of people I like to spend time with.
  • This book has a gay couple in the most stable relationship in the whole book. And it’s not a huge deal. They’re just a couple, who both happen to be guys. And they’re probably two of the most fully-realized characters in a book full of interesting people. They’re my favorites.
  • The curse has a component whereby girls who are virgins seem to be the only targets. This leads to a lot of frank but not vulgar discussions of sex, its importance, when you should do it and who you should do it with. I think books that model this kind of conversation are far preferable to those that ignore it or make it all gross.
  • The members of The Rosary are immensely studious. Yes, they do party at Diaboliques (described in Colleen’s review as a fairytale goth club and I can’t put it better than that) until three in the morning, but they also encourage Celia to do her homework as soon as she gets home from school.
  • There’s a romance in here that is a slow burn, which is exactly my kind of thing (both in my own love life and the stories I like to read). There won’t be any flailing and crying, “I love you, but also I want you to be my dinner!” here – the obstacles to romance are external reactions to internal circumstances and I kind of love that.
  • The decadence of description of the clothes, atmosphere, music, and Celia’s emotions. I spent a good chunk of this book being a little sad that I didn’t have a tightly-knit group of goth friends to shepherd me through school. (I had a tightly-knit group of diversely-interested friends who were wonderful, but I was one of only two of us you could categorize as goth, and not at all aware of it as a genuine subculture rather than just a cruel label folks gave spooky kids.)
  • The quiet menace of the supernatural. You know the whole time that supernatural stuff is going on, but it’s not the focus until far into the book.
  • The subtle way in which this fits the mold of a classic Gothic novel, going as far back as The Castle of Otranto and Jane Eyre and as recent as Rebecca or even The Thirteenth Tale.

What I’d like to see more of:

  • The school setting as a menace itself. This is definitely present here, but I have hopes that it will be even more present in future books in the series. I was lucky enough to hear Nathan speak to a young adult literature class at UNC’s School of Information and Library Science (my alma mater!) and he mentioned that the school itself would serve as a unifying thread throughout the series. I hope he explores the relationship of this place with the supernatural mythology he’s building more as the series goes on.
  • More supplemental materials (appendices, maybe?) consolidating the myriad cultural references. But I’m a librarian, so it’s likely I’ll do a re-read and pull together literary and musical references (perhaps even create a Spotify playlist) and share that here.

What I need to warn you about:
This book is deliberately paced. There was definitely a point at which I thought, “Okay, I see why the Amazon reviewers complained about it being slow.” That said, it’s all leading somewhere and it’s all valuable. If I were doing reader’s advisory, I wouldn’t hand this to somebody looking for fast-paced action. I would hand it to somebody looking for atmospheric spookiness.

The big climax and resolution of the mystery are not why you want to read this book. They are of course very important to have, but what’s going to keep you interested is the mood and the world-building. Don’t jump in here expecting a typical suspense thriller. If you ran the numbers, I suspect you’d find mystery resolution takes up a very small percentage of pages or words here. But the supernatural element is woven throughout.

My favorite quotes:

“We’re a set of small black shiny beads who string around together, finding beauty the rest of the world has overlooked.” (p. 5 in the ARC)

“We’re in high school. Of course we’re egocentric,” Ivo replied matter-of-factly. (p. 83 in the ARC)

Who should read it:
I would recommend The Suburban Strange to readers who like books with a lot of atmosphere, a little mystery, and a slow but sustained reveal of supernatural elements.

Nonfiction Monday Review Roundup: Written in Bone

Nonfiction Mondayreview roundup happens when I read a book but either didn’t have the time to write a review or read it so long ago that my memory about it isn’t good enough to write a review. I gather links to other reviews in the kidlitosphere and share excerpts from them. These are reviews of books that I know darkly-inclined young people will enjoy. 

Written in Bone CoverWritten in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker. Carolrhoda Books. 2009. Library copy. Buy it from IndieBound or Powell’s (affiliate links).

In Written in Bone, Sally M. Walker explores what scientists learned from excavating graves in Jamestown and Colonial Maryland. They book examines not only burial practices, but also the evidence these excavations provide about lifestyles in the Colonial era.

Spooky Factor: Any time the pitch for a book begins with, “So, we exhumed some corpses…” your spooky kids are going to be on board. I myself think it’d be fun to read this, then write an essay called, “What I Learned from Dead People.”

On to the reviews!

A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy:

Did you know that sometimes people used their cellars not to store food but as a trash dump? An archaeologist explains, “people lived upstairs and dumped fish parts and pig parts and chamber pot contents and goodness knows what else down there.”

Imagine that. Imagine dumping that refuse in your cellar. Wouldn’t it smell? How healthy would that be? Why would you do that? And then I thought about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the books where the Ingalls were snowed in for days and days and days. As a grown up rereading the series, I’d wondered, where did they put the trash? Go to the bathroom? Is that why a basement was used as a trash pit? And then… as the chapter reveals… a body was buried in the basement. Treated like garbage. Hidden. Unknown. For hundreds of years, until the secret was revealed. What was it like, to live in that house? To know that body was there?


When I first had heard about this book, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I am pleased with this and found myself really fascinated with what archaeologists do with human remains. I think that this book has a huge appeal, both to those interested in history and science, as well as those interested in the all-too-common “something different.” Oh, and boys will eat this one up! This is a book about people doing something and it gives boys tools to learn with (I mean, there’s also really cool images of skulls and bones, too).

librarian by day:

Colorful pictures and flowing prose explains the process of excavating and studying a grave site, and explains how the details observed and analyzed tells us about life in colonial Virginia and Maryland.


…profusely illustrated with photos of skulls and skeletons…

Book Review: Social Media for Social Good

Social Media for Social GoodIn Social Media for Social Good, former social media consultant Heather Mansfield, principal blogger at Nonprofit Tech 2.0, provides a guidebook for nonprofits entering the social media world for the first time. Mansfield divides the Web into three eras: the Static Web (1.0), the Social Web (2.0), and the Mobile Web (3.0). She explains the importance and value of online tools in each era, explaining that each builds on the era before it. She also identifies specific tools such as Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube, and gives best practices for using these tools. At the end of the book, she includes “Your Nonprofit Tech Checklist,” a step-by-step map for planning your organization’s social media strategy.

Mansfield provides a wealth of information and enhances her own advice by providing Nonprofit Examples of Excellence at the end of each chapter and a “Google This!” section with recommended search terms for more information and examples. Social Media for Social Good has both breadth and depth. I purchased it to support my work with the Durham Savoyards as we enter our 50th Anniversary year; the time seemed ripe for launching our organization into Web 2.0 and beyond. Mansfield focuses on suggestions that at first glance would work only for large non-profits with the budget to hire a social media manager, but with some tweaking, the work can be spread across a range of volunteers.

I highly recommend this book not only for anyone working with a 501(c)3, but also for anyone working in education. The principles are applicable to any organization that relies on external participation and support to succeed at its mission. I think they are especially relevant in the field of education, where providing readily-accessible evidence of the good work we do helps us demonstrate the need for continued funding and personnel support. For example, Mansfield suggests having the Board or staff of your nonprofit create a “Thank You” video for supporters. At a school library, you could have students create a video to thank donors or volunteers. In a classroom, you could create a Flickr pool for your Donors Choose project and post the URL in the project description so donors could follow your students’ progress through the project. Social Media for Social Good provides many more suggestions and best practices that will enhance your organization’s online marketing strategy. Check it out at your library or buy it today!

Social Media for Social Good
by Heather Mansfield
McGraw-Hill 2011
ISBN 007177081X

Summer Blog Blast Tour Recap

Here’s a complete list of this week’s interviews:


Tara Altebrando at Chasing Ray
Shirley Vernick at Bildungsroman
Jack Ferraiolo at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen at Writing & Ruminating


Sean Beaudoin at Chasing Ray
Neesha Meminger at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Rachel Karns at Bildungsroman


Sarah Stevenson at Chasing Ray
Emily Howse at Bildungsroman
Ashley Hope-Perez at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich at Vivian Lee Mahony (Hip Writer Mama)

Tessa Gratton at Writing & Ruminating
Micol Ostow at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Maria Padian at Bildungsroman
Genevieve Cote at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Vera Brosgol at lectitans


Genevieve Valentine at Shaken & Stirred
Stacy Whitman at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Alyssa B. Sheinmel at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Matthew Cody and Aaron Starmer at Mother Reader