Trickster Drift by Eden Robinson

Trickster DriftTrickster Drift by Eden Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eden Robinson you have created such delicious characters. If Jared or Georgina or any of them knocked at my door and said, “There’s an emergency! The coy wolves are eating the dolphin people and they need your help!” I’d shape-shift into my amphibious alter-ego, take their hands and jump into another dimension. I want to believe and Robinson’s books have helped him get closer than ever.

Jared’s enemies are worthy of his gradual transformation in that they are both based in a harsh reality and so unspeakably evil that they must be fantastical. As Jared realizes his true self and increasingly gravitates towards magic, the revenge that the reader seeks becomes enticingly like a feast laid out on a table.

I devoured this sequel after picking it up like a true fangirl at one of Robinson’s more corporeal visits in Oakville last month. You know when you’re reading a great book and it calls to you when you have to leave it to go back to reality? This is that book.

If you’ve read and enjoyed (of if you’ve finished these two books and are waiting impatiently for the third like me):
Half World and Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

I hope Ms. Robinson gets to hang out with these authors, and if not, maybe we could arrange a party in her honour and I could simply serve canapes while eavesdropping on their banter. I am going to get everything else she’s ever written, right now.

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Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

Son of a TricksterSon of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A set of this book was generously purchased for our school by our First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI)consultant at the board office. 5 pages into it many of our teachers were too scared to teach it and put it down. Boldly daring to say “You can’t scare me!” Eden Robinson, I read the whole thing ….you know, with my ‘I love reading anything fantasy’ brain, not with my ‘I run a secondary school library and must consider my sensitive audience’ brain. And I loved it! Would I teach it to a whole class at once? No. But we summoned our courage to offer it as a selection to senior level English classes in a literature circle format, and it was chosen, read and students loved it.

And who wouldn’t? There’s a healthy amount of crass language, for sure, but that shouldn’t keep readers away from Robinson’s rich characters and the trouble that Jared encounters.

As an FNMI choice, Robinson introduces us to some Heiltsuk beliefs but not in an instructional way. I mean, I feel enticed to know more about the culture but not in a way that is pedantic or alienating. As a reader, I’ve been invited to participate in an immersive cultural experience set in modern day but with timeless implications for these stories. I think this approach will also be appealing to readers.

After hearing Robinson speak this month in Oakville, I hope she would be happy to learn that this book doesn’t belong in an FNMI canon of literature but instead as part of a canon of great writing. As someone who enjoys fantasy fiction, who is open to new ideas, cultures and language, and as someone who certainly wants to understand truth and be part of reconciliation, I highly recommend this book.

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School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6 – 12 by Leslie Preddy

School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6-12School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6-12 by Leslie B Preddy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a secondary librarian, without planning time, without my own students focused on design/construction/creativity, I’m launching a full-time makerspace this fall that is filled with mostly donated items from the now-extinct home economics and fashion programs at my school. We have a severe shortage of electricity because we were built when libraries contained only books and the occasional microfiche reader. Nonetheless, after successfully executing at least 1 makerspace per semester for the first two years, I’m confident that a full-time makerspace will bring two qualities to my library learning commons (LLC) culture that I struggle to maintain on a daily basis: creativity and community. What I mean by that is that libraries were made for consuming information and to truly understand the nature of manufacturing/designing/inventing we need to shift to becoming as much creators as we are consumers….in life, in general, for all people, but certainly for the students in my LLC. The other thing that students (if not all people) are sorrily missing is community. They need to have places to hang out and learn from each other while enjoying the company. Flashback to the quilting bee, the hunt club, or as I experienced it, the 4-H homemaking club.

So with these ideas already in mind, I approached this book, particularly excited because it’s aimed at grades 6 – 12 whereas so many other resources on makerspaces are targeted at elementary folks. I purchased the book after having listened to author Leslie Preddy speak at a library research conference called Treasure Mountain in Connecticut a few years back. Maybe I read it already, maybe I’ve picked up most of what Preddy has to say through other means, but I found that for a book devoted to secondary makerspaces, that it was lacking in innovation. I suppose what I wanted most was to feel a reassuring hug with a few sure-fire strategies for success and didn’t. In fact most of the book is devoted to Pinterest-style pages of what to do with very little. I already thought of that.

The meat of this book is in the first 8 pages where Preddy suggests creating library-style pathfinders with instruction videos on how to get started. This is an idea I’ll definitely take away. She suggests that signage and mentoring are the best ways to get students started. She also says that it might take some time for students to move to independent experimentation and to just keep the students coming back and soon it will take off. She briefly mentions some sort of badging or achievement system where students can move from novice to mentor, but doesn’t really expand on it.

I’ll be continuing my quest for secondary makerspace guidance as Preddy’s book, for me and my needs, fell short of the mark.

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The Pain Eater by Beth Goobie

The Pain EaterThe Pain Eater by Beth Goobie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maddy is gang-raped by her masked classmates when she is alone and vulnerable but she knows another person was witness to it. At first, she is only able to calm her traumatic thoughts through self-harm. Going to school each day everyone notices the change in Maddy but only a few know why. In English class, they are assigned a collaborative novel to write one student at a time. The mean girls try to make the story about the rumours about Maddy, and Maddy is tormented through gossip and verbal harassment encouraged by her attackers. Slowly Maddy also develops allies in some of her classmates and the class novel becomes more and more about the redemption and triumph of The Pain Eater. It reminds me of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and E.K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear but with a unique angle on recovery.

As Maddy begins to put the puzzle together of who her attackers are, she wrestles with withdrawal, suspicion, rage and finally, a will to survive. Beth Goobie writes with an intensity that may be off-putting for some readers. However this raw and authentic exploration will appeal to anyone who can see through lesser writer’s tricks to avoid difficult conversations. Goobie tackles assault, bullying, self-harm and more head-on and young readers will appreciate her candor. I read this book as part of the Ontario Library Association’s White Pine program for teen readers and I will recommend this book to any student in my school library who likes realism.

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Subject to Change by Karen Nesbitt

Subject to ChangeSubject to Change by Karen Nesbitt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Declan’s family is falling apart as his single mother works beyond her limits to keep the family together, and his brother struggles with addiction as a way to avoid confronting responsibility. Declan battles with which of his family’s secrets to keep and which to keep secret until he is pushed beyond what he can handle. Thankfully thee adults in his school are first to notice that Declan is slipping away and assign him a tutor. Through his tutor’s own example of dealing with family struggle, Declan begins to gain hope that his family could come together. Declan’s story is both a story of surviving trauma and coming-of-age, in that through his family’s hardships he realized that his role is greater than his self. This realization transforms Declan from a child into a man, and he learns to appreciate the grey areas between black and white.

I read this book as part of the Forest of Reading White Pine program for grades 9 – 12. I have difficulty believing that a) this is Nesbitt’s first novel as it is so well crafted and still authentic and b) that Nesbitt is an educator as there is a lot of raw, crass exploration of the teen lexicon and lifestyle choices that make it feel as though she has lived it. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who needs hope or who needs to understand how much the average teen is hiding and dealing with on their own.

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The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman

The Magicians Trilogy Boxed SetThe Magicians Trilogy Boxed Set by Lev Grossman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do you remember how you felt at the end of the Harry Potter books…you couldn’t believe it was all over? Lev Grossman’s world renderings have left me feeling like I have been to another world and back again. Truthfully, I didn’t start enjoying Harry Potter as an adult until we got to #3 The Prisoner of Azkaban and things took a turn to the darker. Well, Grossman starts you with that delicious darkness right away by following the angsty college-age characters into the pits of their binge-drinking, malaise, and their general feelings of invincibility. It took me awhile to get Quentin Coldwater, our protagonist, as he begins as such an unlikeable character: weak, needy, low self-esteem and perpetually whinging. Hanging in there with Quentin means you get to enjoy Grossman’s foils: Julia, Eliot, Alice, Janet, Penny and Plum. Each of his friends is suprisingly complex and I looked forward to every encounter. Grossman isn’t gentle with his readers…he expects you to have a well-versed lexicon of pop culture and regularly twists icons of the fantasy world to his will. This is a reader’s book. There may even be an encyclopedia on The Magicians’ Lore and Easter Eggs out there somewhere….and if not then someone needs to conjure one. Of course I loved the Neitherlands’ library most and I’d like to spend some real time there if I just had the right button.

I think Grossman may be ahead of his time, combining this almost dystopian and back again version of the typical fantasy quest with very real struggles with mental health themes, the continuous search for identity and enough modern slang to quickly date this book. I will recommend it to everyone but I’m not sure it will suit everyone’s taste as it breaks all sorts of archetypal rules. And readers like their archetypes.

On a side note: I am not particularly enjoying the casting of Quentin Coldwater in the TV series and actually my favourite actor is the one playing Penny, who is grossly underused in Grossman’s The Magicians. Maybe Mr. Grossman will reward my loyalty by writing a spin-off series just about Penny? Or Plum…she’s awesome too.

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Baltimore, Vol. 1: The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola

Baltimore, Vol. 1: The Plague Ships (Baltimore, #1)Baltimore, Vol. 1: The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s dark and dingy but it has this throwback, homage feeling to it that really appealed to my sense of design. The story uses many archetypes and predictable twists and turns as there is a plague, and zombie-esque creatures and vampires, but really our hunter is fighting evil, and that never really goes out of style, does it? My favourite part is when the pretty sidekick (who just can’t seem to keep her blouse on her shoulders) escapes the onslaught of the zombies by hiding inside a submarine full of corpses. I’ll have to see what my secondary school readers think of it as they are always craving more brains….errr, zombies. More zombies! More zombies!

Baltimore reminds me more of something about the same age as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde then a modern day graphic novel. If you like fog and death, you’re going to love it.

Image result for baltimore the plague ships

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The inauguration in my school library learning commons

“Our approach to freedom need not be identical, but it must be intersectional and inclusive.” – Janet Mock, writer, TV host, transgender rights activist

Today I feel compelled to put into words my choice to broadcast the inauguration of the 45th U.S. President in my school library yesterday.

Living on the other side of the U.S. border has its challenges for a small town teacher-librarian.  While we dance around the idea of Canadian identity and what that means when our culture is represented, Canadian publishers in all media forms are still driven by American markets and American values.  So populating a library with well-loved material of  CanCon isn’t always what pleases the staff and students because we’ve been  gorging ourselves on the fire hose of American content.  But the direction of Trump’s politics is certainly affecting my library just 150 km from our border.  It is our mandate to give equal weight to the voices in my school respectfully, responsibly and compassionately.

When my principal put forward the idea of livestreaming the inauguration in our school, I was all for it from the beginning.  Generally, when I’m faced with a situation that feels precarious in the library I have to resist that flight feeling and instead push through.  I gather my community for support and so we put it to the staff that we were going to livestream the inauguration throughout the halls and in the learning commons.  We received the full spectrum of reactions…some who thought it was important and some who thought it was giving support to the wrong values. After some discussion back and forth we decided to show it in the library only and I think now it was the right decision because of the wide range of opinions and emotions in the school around this momentous occasion.   The dilemma seemed to be whether or not we should be giving hateful politics any space at all in our school community. Better to have staff on hand and nearby for students who are wrestling with the same strong emotions we’re having. I side with providing information openly first and then we can work through our disparate reactions together.  That’s my job and it gets me out of bed every morning.

We didn’t make any announcements at all, but I started to set up about an hour before Trump’s speech and the students just started pouring in. We have simply not had the technology before now to do this before and it was surprisingly easy.  I put up a question trying to focus on a critical thinking aspect of whatever we were about to see.  “What words does he use to persuade the audience?”  That was as neutral as I could manage.   I also made sure that the students knew they didn’t have to stay and that there was a quieter area in the lower library.  As the speech began I estimate that we had 150 students and 7 staff members watching.  We spoke quietly with the students asking what they thought of the words being used.  The end of his speech really enflamed some passionate responses but everyone was in control and respectful.  Just before the end of lunch, the videostream ended.

It inspired wonder!  Curiosity!  I heard:

“I wonder why they chose January 20th to begin his presidency?”

“I wonder how Trump’s changes will affect our economic relationship with the U.S.?”

“Is that racist?” “Are those all of Trump’s children?”  “Are there any black people in the audience?

I know it was the right thing to do.  This is why civic places exist in democracy.  It may be difficult to work through the issues we all feel are most important, but on my watch my library will continue to be a place where issues and voices can co-exist.

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” – Audre Lorde, African American writer, feminist, womanist, lesbian, and civil rights activist

They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson

They Left Us Everything: A MemoirThey Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first became interested in Plum Johnson’s They Left Us Everything as it has won the Ontario Library Association’s 2016 Evergreen award for best in Canadian adult fiction. This book is my surprise read of the year. Aging parents and all their stuff? The topic doesn’t really sell itself, does it? But then I engaged with Plum’s story as it speaks to the changing nature of family dynamics. Her family is challenged by her father’s Alzheimer’s disease, her brother’s cancer and the general decline of her mother. As her parents age and pass away, she is left with a monument to their time on Earth that seems psychologically insurmountable to deal with. Each item that Plum touches resonates with a history sometimes obvious but more likely it’s true meaning isn’t revealed until Plum has a series of serendipitous moments. This book spans the time it took Plum to deal with each item, the family disagreements about how to deal, and the time of putting it all to rest. This book is filled with the things that we think and don’t say and in joining Plum in her memoir, I feel better about the future challenges in my own life. It is descriptive and concise, and a true tribute to family dysfunction in all its glories. If I could, I’d buy a copy for each family member with a card attached that says “Fair warning.”

As I was searching, I found this article about the home itself filled with marvellous descriptive pictures that match the ones in my head: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/a-lakeside-home-well-stocked-with-history/article622715/

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The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Being a librarian, I rarely buy books anymore just for me but every now and then one leaps out at me, circulates through my family, and then makes its new home in my library where I recommend it to my secondary school readers. The Library at Mount Char reminds me of….American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips and The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric….with the style of Tom Robbins in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Is it just me or is there an emerging genre of gods living among us?

I can barely tell you about the book without spoilers but let me say something about the most enticing bits ….the library is THE library containing all the knowledge in the world (including resurrections, for example. …there us unspeakable violence and the threat of an approaching apocalypse and our antihero Carolyn has to learn all this while living with her 11 adopted brothers and sisters who are each mastering their own catalogue and experimenting on each other. It takes sibling pranks to a whole new level.

I will recommend this book to any student in my library who I suspect lives a double-life or has their sights on anarchy.

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Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Secret DaughterSecret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m gradually working my way through the Amnesty International Book Club recommendations and this book This book is written in a simple style, at times, overstating the emotion involved in this heartwrenching tale of gendercide and survival as Asha searches to find the meaning of family.

I once took a class on culture and literature and my insight was that fighting for gender equity isn’t going to go away until we tackle class disparity. This is very much represented in Secret Daughter. I was very relieved to see that there are no simple answers in this book, and there is a lot of grey area between culture and human rights as these are complex issues. I will recommend this book to anyone interested in the plight of female children in poverty and it will fit nicely into many of the literature studies in my secondary school library.

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Punishment by Linden MacIntyre

PunishmentPunishment by Linden MacIntyre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

MacIntyre masterfully combines a serene small town setting with the incestuous secrets of the past. Tony, a retired guard from the nearby penitentiary, returns home to create some space between himself and the drama of his former employment only to discover that his past won’t let him alone. White lies and half-truths abound in the community around a murder, a drug ring and the ex-convict living nearby. Tony is compelled to get further involved than he ever imagined. MacIntyre combines clues and red herrings so skillfully that the reader will never see what’s coming. Nominated for the 2016 Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen award, this gem is sure to thrill readers of all types.

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The Daughter of Smoke & Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor

Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3)Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

The entire Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy is just delicious. For anyone new to fantasy it gently eases the reader into the world that author Laini Taylor builds by starting us with our protagonist, Karou who is an art student in Prague with a mysterious past and an unusual upbringing. She has untapped magical powers and only realizes her potential when she is threatened. Once everything about Karou’s ultra-cool life is under attack, she has to make some very difficult decisions about what is important to her. In the truest nature of a modern fantasy, she chooses a forbidden lover, above all else. The differences between good and evil are constantly blurred which I found very satisfying as it adds layers upon layers to the character development and the age-old feud unfolding. As with any trilogy, the action gets much darker before we see light at the end of the tunnel so teachers need to be aware of mild sexuality and violence throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed the strong female characters in this book that value their identities and families as much as the action of fighting for their lives. I just loved this book and the students who are picking it up based on my recommendation are whispering about it everywhere!

picmonkeycollage

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A Spy in the House (The Agency #1) by Y.S. Lee

A Spy in the House (The Agency, #1)A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mary Quinn finds herself in a bit of a Nikita situation….as she reforms her life, she is given a proposal to give up her traditional woman’s destiny and become part of The Agency. The really interesting part happens though when Mary is forced to acknowledge her past and there are some surprises there for the reader. This book just tripped along and I really enjoyed it. I look forward to reading the next one in the series. I would recommend this book for anyone in grade 7 and up…Mary does have to fend off unwanted male attention and there is some violence.

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The Art of Getting Stared at by Laura Langston

The Art of Getting Stared AtThe Art of Getting Stared At by Laura Langston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book as it is nomineed for an Ontario Library Association White Pine Award. I have been criticized for praising books too highly but honestly, the White Pine selection committee does such great work. I loved this book and I was surprised when it brought me to tears a number of times. The way the Langston interweaves Sloane’s discovery of her onsetting alopecia with the calls from her mother’s volunteerism in the Sudan and Sloane’s own volunteerism at the local child hospice unit speaks to the complete spectrum of mental health stresses that humans deal with. Sloane authentically struggles not only with the onset of her immune disorder but how to weigh her grief for her hair with the grief she feels for the patients that she visits. As a teacher-librarian, I would recommend this book for anyone grade 7 and up.

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