Reading Challenge (BIPOC Authors) Update 3

Hello Book Blog World!

With all of the craziness surrounding back-to-school…and our remote/hybrid learning planning, I have found myself reading less and writing about books less. This is an unusual time, so I am gaining some unusual habits; habits that I hope to break.

Over the last few weeks, I have added: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds and Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum.

A multiple award winner and I understood why. The story was powerfully told in verse, in an elevator. I couldn’t put this one down.

I have been doing a lot of reading on racism, antiracism, and reading BIPOC fiction authors and this one made also consider my role as a white teacher with BIPOC students. Tatum gives important information on how racial identity develops in people (especially adolescents) and where some of the most common stereotypes come from.

I wish I could have taken her course in education school, but I got a lot out of the book for my students now.

Any other suggestions to add to my TBR?

On Reading Fan-fiction and a Review of Jo & Laurie

When I say I read everything, I mean that I read EVERYTHING.

One of my comfort reading activities, especially after reading or watching something that I really enjoyed or was unsatisfied with, is to take to Tumblr and find fan-fiction for that book or movie or a favorite character.

And, I am not afraid to admit it.

In high school, I stumbled upon LOTR stories and Harry Potter stories. After reading Cassandra Clare’s Draco trilogy, even today, I sometimes cannot separate her story from the Harry Potter canon.

I know that fan-fiction is not thought of as “literature” or as as a respected form of reading or writing, but I love it for what it is. How many budding authors have fine-tuned their craft while creating new universes and situations for beloved characters? How many characters have become beloved because the fan-fiction world took notice of them and gave them storylines they were lacking in a book or movie? How many of us have gotten to enjoy a continuation of our favorite series because someone took the time to write about it for us? How many of us have enjoyed a character/YN pairing that allowed us feel something?…whatever it might be.

Of course fan-fiction has its own issues: quality of writing, questionable themes, and even creating personas for real people, but on the whole, it is a fantastic concept. People are reading more, writing more and exploring more complex emotions through the genre. As an educator and a reader, I love that.

Now, I also love when authors create published fan-fiction…like Jo & Laurie.

Margaret Stohl and Melissa De La Cruz wrote this fun reimagining of Little Women, for readers like me, that maybe wanted a different ending to the book. Some critics of this book slammed it for being “glorified fan-fiction,” but that is exactly what made me enjoy it. I would be lying if I said that I never searched for fan-fiction where Jo and Laurie’s relationship ended differently when I was a teenager. I appreciate that two established and talented authors made something that told the story I was looking for in the early 2000s.

I really enjoyed this creative, new take on Jo’s relationship with Laurie, with her family, and with her writing. And you may too!

In sum, fan-fiction, I like what do….most of the time.

Reading Challenge (BIPOC Authors) Update 1

Today, I added another book to my total for the BIPOC authors challenge, bringing it to three. To complete the square “Coretta Scott King Award Winner,” I read Walter Dean Myer’s Monster.

This book has been around the “Own Voices” circuit for awhile, but I had not gotten around to reading it. I was instantly drawn into the story by the main character (Steven’s) choice to tell his story as though it was a movie. Withdrawing himself from his own incarceration and trial, he made a powerful statement about the current plight of some teens of color. It also made the story a quick and engaging read.

The only thing I wanted was a little less of the actual court procedure. I wanted more of all the very human characters in the the times outside of the court room and less of the constant objecting by the opposing councils. I understand the Steven observed this and that real lawyers do this, but these moments were never my favorite parts of the story.

Doing a BIPOC authors challenge or trying to diversify your TBR list? This book, while a little on the older side now in 2020, is worth a look and a read .

Book Review: Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists

ALERT: Great graphic novel by two BIPOC authors ahead.

Looking for a graphic novel introduction to the women’s history, look no further than: Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists by Mikki Kendall and A.D’Amico.

This is a great introduction to some fascinating, fierce, diverse female leaders throughout the history of the world, some that I had not heard of until I opened the book. Each page had so much to look at and gave me some new people to research. I had just been reading Stamped from the Beginning and A Woman of No Importance (Virginia Hall,) so it was also nice to see some familiar names, names that I am intrigued to read even more about.

The only thing that didn’t always work for me was the narrative surrounding and connecting the history bits. The class traveling through time to see these women was a very cool concept and often worked really well. I also liked the dialogue about race that the student’s had with each other, as they learned the history bits. However, sometimes the students asked a question and the instructor said “We will come back to that” or “You’ll find out more later” and they didn’t. I get that it was a lot of material to juggle and it didn’t ruin the reading experience. Just something I noticed.

Definitely worth a read and some book-inspired future reading.

On YA Tropes

Tropes get a bad reputation in the literary world. And I get it.

They are seen as “the easy way” out for writers and any book with these tropes cannot possibly have the same literary value as a text without them.

I even stumbled upon a checklist of tropes and how to avoid them in writing.The blog post claims that readers of YA are sick of them (and some are) and avoiding them or innovating them can help make your writing better (very true.)

As a reader who reads often reads for comfort and enjoyment, I think I like tropes. Well…some of them. They are predictable, relatable, and deliciously cringeworthy. There is something to be said for knowing how something is going to end.

My favorite tropes are “All adults are useless,” especially in a boarding school setting and “The love triangle.” As a 32 year old adult and teacher, I shouldn’t like these tropes. No one is ever in a love triangle basking the symbolism of choosing between their past and present or two sides of themselves through a romantic partner. And, I am an educator! I would never leave students unsupervised long enough for them to solve a murder. It is our job to pay attention!

However…

What I like about these tropes is that they allow for the ultimate literary fantasies to be played out. Isn’t it wonderful to immerse yourself a world where the main character can prove their daring and intelligence, running around and solving conflict without interference from overbearing adults with no sense of fun or visible moral compass? If you are a teen, this trope reinforces the idea that you have a voice and that you can change the world. Isn’t it also wonderful to imagine that you have the choice between two great partners that represent different sides of yourself, choosing who you really want to be with and choosing who you really want to be in the process? Oh, to be young and fictional.

If all of that is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

I do hate forehead kisses and fainting to change the scene…but that is for another day.

How do you feel about tropes? Favorites? Least favorites?

Book Review: What If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli

A few years after its publication, I finally got around to reading What If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli. After reading it, I realized why it took me so long to get to it.

What If It’s Us tells, in alternating POVs, the story of the ultimate meet-cute. Ben and Arthur run into each other at a post office in New York. Ben is mailing things back to his ex-boyfriend and Arthur followed him into the post office, because he thought Ben was cute…duh. Sparks fly. A flash mob starts. They lose track of each other and spend the rest of the book trying to find each other. Cute right?

Ehh.

I love me some teen drama, but this was almost too much drama. I felt like no one in the book had any fun ever. But that is just me! I appreciated all of the Broadway allusions and the meet-cute was super cute, but I just wasn’t a huge fan of the book in general.

Also, I wish that the book alternated fonts with POVs. Sometimes, I lost track of whose POV it was supposed to be.

Maybe I am not the target audience for it and that is okay. Check it out because it might be for you!

Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Once again, I picked up a book thanks to a list. This time it was a list of Queer YA Books, from Buzzfeed. So much love for Buzzfeed Lists. The premise looked great and I am a big fan of the author. I saw them speak at Book Con in 2015 and just had to devour everything they write.

In Dark and Deepest Red, McLemore deftly wove magical realism, contemporary fiction, and historical fiction. The novel followed the POVs of three characters connected by family, by Romani culture, and by the dancing plague of the 1500s. Two characters were modern teens and the other, a teen from the 16th century.

I do not say this often, but I loved, loved, loved this book.

I was drawn in the magical worlds, the magical words, the culture, the history, the diversity of love.

I cried. I squealed. I sighed.

I’ll probably think about this one for awhile.

That being said, if magical realism is not your thing or if you, like some of my wonderful bookish friends, cannot get through historical fiction, this may not be your thing. But, if you are like me, and love a little magical realism with a little historical fiction, this book is for you.

On Graphic Novels

Now that it is summer time, I fill the void of a highly scheduled teacher life, with a highly scheduled personal life. It is how a Type A person like me survives.

There is time for reading, for walking, for lifting, for watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race, for socializing safely, for writing, and for taking professional development classes. Currently, I am enrolled in two classes. One is on using graphic novels in the classroom and the other is on using reading to support socio-emotional growth. As a teacher and a reader, I approach courses with the same mindset: ‘Okay, how do I use these concepts in my classroom and don’t those books sound fun to read and review?” Are those thoughts at odds? I think not.

As a reader, one who revels in reader response theory, I want to enjoy what I am reading and feel all of the feelings that come with it. As a teacher, I am often asked to put that aside and think about literary devices and standardized testing. However, I find that my students are the most engaged when I do both. I give them something to enjoy, that we can also talk about, analyze, and write about.

One of my courses has gone into great detail about how graphic novels are misconstrued as not challenging texts. Is this another situation where something fun (like romance novels) is not considered academically worthy? Perhaps. I love recommending graphic novels to reluctant readers and I love reading graphic novels. I love being immersed in the complex world that each author and illustrator creates. The colors and style can help to set the tone, sometimes even faster and more effectively than straight text.

The following is a discussion post that I submitted for the course to answer a question about how to use graphic novels in the classroom. I share it because my thoughts about how to use them as a teacher reflect how I see them as a reader:

As a sixth grade teacher, I am fortunate to have some creative freedom and to teach a population of students that are still excited about school and learning ( a devastating but true sentiment.). They want to have fun and from what I can see, graphic novels would be academically valuable and fun resources. I read that graphic novels can provide a rich and challenging reading experience, even though they have less text than a traditional novel.  Students in my class could use a graphic novel to discover character traits and types of conflict, without being bogged down in the comprehension of a difficult text (especially my students with language disabilities or my english language learners.).  I am also excited by an idea in “In Defense of Graphic Novels” to use graphic novels for complex analytical tasks.  The article says, “Eric S. Rabkin discusses how he uses graphic novels to focus his class’s attention on how narrative time unfolds. He explains that he will have “students in turn focus on a single frame of a graphic narrative, speak aloud whatever they see and whatever they infer, including their reflective and proleptic understandings of how the frame fits into the flow of the larger narrative” (Hansen 2012.)  One of our standards in sixth grade is to discuss how a scene in a book affects the plot or overall theme.  We do this with episodes in The Phantom Tollbooth, a novel with some pictures, and the exercise is fairly simple.  Doing the Rabkin exercise with a frame of a graphic novel, would allow for more complex thinking from our students, as they infer actions. traits, themes, etc from text and complex illustrations. And of course, graphic novels are inherently more fun.  They seem, to students, to be not school work, because they have pictures and are related to comic books.  When students see pictures, they often connect them to their own sources of entertainment (like cartoons, movies, comics, and video games.). Completing school assignments using a medium that they consider fun will encourage and excite students.  Sixth graders want to have fun in school and using graphic novels can bring that fun, with valuable learning experiences. 

As I wrote this, I realized that I could substitute “Students” for “I or me.” I am always more engaged in something when it seems fun, vibrant, or interesting. Graphic novels never cease to pull me into a story and are often the first things that I recommend to my struggling or reluctant readers.

How do you feel about graphic novels? Do you have any favorites?

On Trilogies

Three is the best number of books to read in a series (or movies to watch.)

Controversial thought. Yay or nay?

Many of my favorite book series (and movie series) are trilogies. There is just something about the set-up in the first book. The real drama of the second book. The cliff hanger that brings you into book three. The neatly wrapped-up plot of the three books in the third. On a reread of the series, there is only three books to read.

I know that sometimes a series is good if there are more than three books (but name one…I’ll wait.) Often a series becomes more complex and unbelievable, moving away from the story told in the first few books. Of course, a well plotted series can support more than three books. As a reader, I just find trilogies to be the sweet spot. For me.

Now that I am on summer break, I am re-reading Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy. It is a fabulous YA series that follows the daughter of two brilliant scientists through parallel dimensions to avenge her father’s killer. Of course, there is futuristic London, a version of imperial St. Petersburg, and swoon-worthy heroes. I am not always a sci-fi fan, but this trilogy does not really feel like sci-fi.

Some other favorite trilogies include:
1. The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare (do or don’t judge me. Your choice.)
2. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
3. The Summer I Turned Pretty series by Jenny Han
4. The Caraval Series by Stephanie Garber
5. The Little Lady Agency series by Hester Browne
6. The Dark Days Club series by Alison Goodman
Of course there are others. I also have favorite series that have four books or 22 books. Some, I even thought were trilogies and was confused when plot points were not wrapping up at the end of book three (looking at you The Raven Boys.)

You know that there is no shame on this blog. You know that I believe people should read what they like and love. So, get out there and read some of your favorite trilogies. Or don’t. Read a stand alone. Read a book of short stories. Read a series that won’t end. It’s your reading life. So live it.

Leave a comment below with your favorite trilogies or your ideal number of books in a series.

YA Book Review: Mirage

I am allowed to read Young Adult books.

We are all allowed to read this genre. Some of the most moving and interesting stories that I have encountered in my adult life have been about teenagers. There seems to be this freedom in the genre for the authors. Perhaps they don’t feel that they have the limitations of adult literary fiction and they have a less critical audience. Whatever the reason, us benefit from their ability to indulgence in their own imaginations.

I pretend that I read YA for my job. I mean, I DO read YA for my job, but often read it for me. Last week, I read Mirage by Somaiya Daud. Here are my thoughts about it.

 

Mirage

BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 3.5 Stars.

In Mirage, the main character Amani, is kidnapped by an evil regime due to her resemblance to its princess. Amani must try to impersonate this princess or risk the lives of her family and herself. While she does does enjoy the benefits of living in a palace, rather than her poor village, she is always in danger of being discovered and losing everything.

I did not do enough research on this one before I read it and did not realize that it was scifi/fantasy. That one is on me. I am never good with world building and trying to picture a new world always makes the reading experience a bit challenging.

Setting/genre aside, I really like the main character and her gradual development of confidence and sense of identity, even as she was trying to learn to become someone else. The mythology and poetry were gorgeous, as was our main love interest Idris.

I am not great with books that take place on a variety of planets, with new technology, but I enjoyed everything else about this one. I probably would have loved it, if I was more of a sci-fi/fantasy fan.