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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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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The Feedback-Friendly Classroom by Deborah McCallum

The Feedback-Friendly ClassroomThe Feedback-Friendly Classroom by Deborah McCallum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are so many hidden gems in this unassuming book. McCallum uses gentle prompts to stir up thinking about how we build trust, reliance and collaboration in our classrooms with the ultimate tools of feedback. If we could write the follow up to this book using some of the rich technology in education that we use every day, this book would take on new significance.

McCallum has reminded me to worry about depth of thinking and not breadth of curriculum coverage.  Her book has reminded me to make feedback part of my teaching practice every day.

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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 Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

The Jaguar's ChildrenThe Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Remember how when you studied Canadian literature we were referred to Margaret Atwood‘s book Survival? The Jaguar’s Children is a fine example of how this same theme is evolving in the year 2016 as our main character aims to travel to El Norte to escape the oppression of his homeland in Oaxaca, Mexico. I wish I could download this book into the brains of anyone involved in political discussions about free trade and immigration if only to offer a deeply personal perspective. This character-driven book offers masterful writing as Vaillant gradually reveals why his protagonist sacrifices all he holds dear for the hope of gaining access to North America. I particularly marvel at the way Vaillant invites the reader into the language and cultural history of the Zapotec through his family history.

Nominated for an Ontario Library Association Evergreen award, The Jaguar’s Children will leave you wanting more.

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Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Medicine WalkMedicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Masterfully written. This is my first encounter with Wagamese but certainly not my last. I admire his ability to weave the novel as the background stories reveal themselves. This is a must-read in the Canadian canon. I think anyone would like this book but especially someone who feels connected to our home and native land or anyone who has had to make personal sacrifices for family members or anyone who has defined their own family outside of the traditional norm. As a secondary school teacher-librarian, I will recommend this book to the senior students in my building for the adult choices that our characters have to make.

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Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day (Every Day, #1)Every Day by David Levithan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you think that all young adult fiction is about dystopias and shallow relationships, give Every Day a try. I found it really impressive that Levithan could carry this unusual format through the entire book. At first I was quite worried that the days would become preachy as every new body protagonist A inhabits has an identity that is less about humans and more about Levithan’s need to celebrate diversity …and there were very few days that came across this way. It reminded me both of Orlando: A Biographyand also Black Like Me in its scifi but humanistic approach to becoming an “other”. I will highly recommend this book to the teens in my secondary school library.

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An instant classic, The Girl on the Train is delicious from start to finish. With multiple narrators involved in the same crime, readers are sure to enjoy the twists and turns of reliability and complete dysfuntion that each voice brings to the tale. Each voice is female, and each suspect is male so I imagine that this will have wide appeal to women but nonetheless no one ends up looking heroic by the end.

I am sure to recommend this to the secondary students in my library as a good read. For style, author Paula Hawkins has taken a classic creative writing exercise of writing the same event in multiple perspectives and given it new life by extending it to a full novel. There are lots of sordid adult habits involving sloth, lechery and overindulgence, but nothing that an open-minded teenager couldn’t handle.

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Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Shadow Scale (Seraphina, #2)Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rachel Hartman takes us further down the rabbit hole in Shadow Scale as the political game between humans, dragons and the world in between. Our deeply mysterious protagonist, Seraphina, gets caught up in the brewing wars and must learn to master her own telepathic powers in order to travel the kingdom and bring together all the other half-dragons. She begins with our beloved Abdo, whose childish behaviour acts as a foil to Seraphina’s more subdued and refined actions. Hartman’s mythology in the kingdom of Gorred becomes more integral to the plot and the reader has to really keep track of many characters as Seraphina quests for answers. The last third of the book is a deeply personal battle that Seraphina must fight within herself and it was my favourite part of the book. Dragon lovers around the world are calling out for more Rachel Hartman and Shadow Scale trip doesn’t disappoint. As a second novel in the series though, it relies heavily on the more accessible first book Seraphina and will require a patient reader to remember the more complicated aspects of characters and Gorred history. There are students in my secondary school library who were willing to mudwrestle to take this book home for the summer.

I enjoyed the Audible.com version of this book.  It is really important to have the continuity of Mandy Williams’ voice to enhance my experience of Seraphina’s first person narration.  It was just excellent.

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A Game for Swallows and I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to ReturnA Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is such an important book because the voice of young Zeina is so authentic. She doesn’t know that life inside Beirut in the 1980s is unusual as it is as it has always been. The richness of her black and white cartoon-style drawings reinforces the stark contrasts of home life and war. The chronicles of Zeina’s everyday life where city’s infrastructure works intermittently, is juxtaposed with the comic events of her family and neighbours. This book must be in every school library for its art and its voice.

I Remember BeirutI Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this follow-up to A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return, Zeina takes us into a non-sequential look at the details of her life growing up in Beirut. She isn’t always the young voice represented in A Game for Swallows as her teenage self is developing. She expresses a hunger for new music, and freedom and contrasts this with self-deprecation and humility. Zeina also talks about coming out of the war and realizing with shock that there is a ‘normal’ worth fighting for. Told in the same black and white cartoon style, this book is a great accompaniment to A Game for Swallows, but relies on the reader having read them in order for context.

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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples

Saga, Volume 1Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I find it amazing how quickly Brian Vaughan’s characters can be developed in this short graphic novel. As usual, Vaughan’s visual aesthetic does not disappoint. However because there are about 4 pages of nudity and sexuality that are outside the limitations of my secondary school library’s audience, I cannot include it in my collection. Too bad because it’s a really good story and I look forward to reading the next volume.

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Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Grasshopper JungleGrasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Andrew Smith ‘s book Grasshopper Jungle came highly recommended to me as a secondary school teacher-librarian as something that would connect with those elusive, hard-to-read teens. Scientifically it checks a number of those ‘should-I-buy-it’ boxes: involves issues of gender-identity, bullying, marginalized characters, and it’s all set in a dystopian crisis.

I am a lover of the bizarre, characters on the fringe, and science fiction but this book did not connect with me. For one, the language is more like poetry as the main character, Austin, speaks wildly and tangentially connecting present-day with military experiments, family history, and far beyond. The rhythm of the poetry is continually interrupted by the action scenes of escaping giant man-eating praying mantis, and vice versa. It’s a science-fiction novel that is continually interrupted by the sexual appetite of a 16 year old boy whose bisexual tendencies are causing major friendship fiction. There are really only 2 characters who develop: Austin and his boy/friend Robby who star in the action of having to save their families from certain doom. We are left wondering about Austin’s brother/parents who are in a Germany military hospital; and Austin’s girlfriend Shann who is sidelined by her own concern for her family and a surprise pregnancy. Smith’s description wants to be cinematic but never quite achieves this. The book is both bleak and hopeful and only a strong reader is going to ‘get it’ although many will enjoy the sex-filled, swearing-filled, action-packed nature of the book. This book is not for the faint of heart and I’ll need major convincing to pick up another of Smith’s books.

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Book trailer:

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

We Are WaterWe Are Water by Wally Lamb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I often describe Wally Lamb as a writer who really gets in the heads of women so I was pleasantly surprised to see him prominent male characters in We Are Water. Like his other books, this novel delves into some heavy topics of neglect, abuse and the perpetual cycles of both. No character is perfect and each offers many facets. The issues didn’t speak to me personally as much as in She’s Come Undone or The Hour I First Believed, but I thoroughly enjoyed Lamb’s writing especially the historical subplot of the family home. There are many scenes of adult behaviour that I will caution the students in my secondary school library about, but overall Lamb presents complex issues and tests the limits of what any family can deal with.

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