Thursday, July 30, 2015

Today At The Desk....

It was great to be back in the children's department today :)  As much as I like doing storytimes and having more responsibility and independence with my new position in Outreach, I still feel homesick for the children's department.  There's just something about staying busy and being able to really interact and make a connection with the patrons like you can working a service desk in the library.  I love the variety, of people and issues; I'm so glad that I still get to do this at least one day a week!

Today it started out quiet, which I used as an opportunity to brush up on different features of the ILS and the summer reading database, straighten up the shelves and refill displays, and sort shelving carts for the night page.  Things gradually got very busy by the latter part of the day.  I had several summer reading finishers, and I always enjoy being able to give them their prize book and seeing what they choose.  Of course there were the usual tasks:  showing people how the catalog works, helping them locate materials, shelf checks, placing holds, checking books in, showing people how to use the self-checkout station, issuing library cards, and providing program information.  In particular there was one family who were from another country and English was not their first language.  The mom asked several questions throughout the time they were there, and kept apologizing.  I assured her there was no reason to apologize and that that's what we were there for, and that I was happy to help her in any way I could.

Later in the day I did have a little drama.  While I had a couple of people at the desk and the phone ringing, a younger teenage boy approached and said he needed help.  I told him I would be right with him as soon as I finished helping the people that were there first, which I was able to do quickly.  He said that some other kids were trying to start a fight with him.  I called security right away [I am so glad we have them!]  I thought he was probably being overly dramatic, but after the first security guard came and talked to him and checked out the situation, 2 others showed up to monitor the situation and be sure there was no trouble, and they felt he was indeed in danger. The boy called his mom to come get him (he had ridden his bike) and the guards waited until she got there so they could escort him out to the car safely.  It's a shame this kind of thing happens, but I am very glad this boy handled it appropriately and came to me for help, rather than escalating the situation.

We have so many kids that just hang out at the library because they have nowhere else to go and nothing constructive to do.  They don't read, they just play on the computers and run around the building and eventually get into trouble.  Most of them aren't bad kids; they are just bored, undisciplined kids with nothing constructive to do.  I wish we had some type of on-going program in the summer to give kids like this some badly needed structure and purpose. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Review of The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell

The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell.  June 2, 2015, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.  368 pages.  Ages 13 & up.

Seventeen-year old Abe Sora plays baseball, loves reading and learning, and dreams of being a professor and teaching others.  Then one day he collapses on the field, his legs inexplicably weak.  As the weakness worsens he undergoes multiple rounds of tests, only to finally arrive at the terrible diagnosis:  Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease).

In that moment, all Sora's dreams are dashed and replaced by a bleak prognosis of progressive weakness, pain, and helplessness, leading to death within two years.  Eventually he is unable to attend school any longer, and turns to books and the internet to fill his hours at home, using an online chat room as way to connect with other teens without his illness getting in the way.   He makes 2 new friends, first online, then in real life.  The three friends talk about their dreams and pressures, and give each other the support and courage to make difficult decisions about their futures.

As his condition worsens and the weakness spreads to his hands and arms and he becomes more and more dependent on his mother, Sora struggles with the issues of death and dying with dignity, and has to make the most difficult decision of all.

My Thoughts
I thought this was a beautiful, bittersweet, story of friendship, goodbyes, and making peace with the cards you're dealt.  Of course it was sad at times, but I liked seeing how the friendships between Sora, Mai, and Kaito developed, first from casual chatting online, then in real life.  I was glad Sora was able to find peers he could connect with, who, once they got over the initial shock, could accept Sora's illness without pity but with honesty and sincere friendship.  I liked how Sora opened up with them and could answer their questions honestly, without trying to put on a brave face or sugar-coating things like he felt he had to do for his mother.

While this can be a bit of a tear-jerker at times, I did not find it to be an overwhelmingly sad book.  While an obvious comparison would be John Greene's The Fault In Our Stars as they both deal with teens that have serious illnesses and their relationships, the plot of The Last Leaves Falling is more simple, with no real plot twists.  I would also compare it to If I Stay by Gayle Foreman, as both deal with teens making decisions about how and when to die.  Another novel of the same genre would be Chris Crutcher's Deadline, which also stars a teenage boy with a terminal illness deciding to live and die on his own terms.  I would recommend this book to readers who enjoyed any of the above, and those who are more interested in a thoughtful, character-driven story, rather than action and drama.

Other Works By This Author
This appears to be Sarah Benwell's first book.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review of Armada by Ernest Cline

Armada by Ernest Cline, July 14, 2015. Crown Publishers, 368 pages.  Ages teen - adult.

Zack Lightman has spent much of his eighteen years wishing his life was different.  Not that he has it bad; he has a mom who loves him, a couple of good friends, an easy part-time job where he gets paid to talk about his favorite past-time, gaming.  But despite having a close relationship with his mom, he can't help but wish he had been able to know his dad, who was tragically killed shortly after he was born, and he has always felt his life was dull and mundane and he was destined for something greater.   

As Zack himself puts it, "... ever since the first day of kindergarten, I had been hoping and waiting for some mind-blowingly fantastic, world-altering event to finally shatter the endless monotony of my public education."  An avid sci-fi and gaming fan, he daydreamed about zombie outbreaks, super power-inducing accidents, and most of all, the arrival of little green men.  Then one day, in the middle of math class, he looks out the window and sees a flying saucer!  At first he thinks his eyes are playing tricks on him, but not only does it persist, as he gets a better view he sees that it looks exactly like the enemy fighter ship from his favorite videogame, Armada.  Now he begins to seriously doubt his sanity and fears that he is truly loosing his mind.

Then events quickly unfold that prove the situation to be even more dire, and somehow connected to his father.  Will Zack be able to uncover the whole truth? 

My Thoughts
I do not typically enjoy most science fiction, nor do I expect a lot of it, but I did like Armada.  As someone who came of age in the 1980's, I enjoyed all the references to 80's pop culture, and some of the older sci-fi movies and shows (I confess to being a bit of a Trekkie by marriage).  While it was an enjoyable enough read, I did find much of the story pretty predictable and not really all that original, though fairly well written.  I did feel the long, detailed descriptions of videogame play were boring and found myself quickly skimming past them; maybe gamers would appreciate them more, but they weren't necessary to the story.  I can see this being made into a movie, and it seems it was written with that in mind, as though there are numerous references to pop-culture, the plot does not depend on actual images and clips of many of them, thus making it more feasible to produce without out the licensing entanglements that Ready Player One will involve.

Cline's debut novel was such a hit, very original, well-written and fun, I was afraid Armada would be a huge disappointment.  While I don't think it was as good as his first novel or will have quite as wide an appeal since the first was not typical sci-fi and more of a quest or adventure, I still think it is a decent read.  I would recommend it for anyone who liked Ready Player One, Ender's Game, or movies such as Independence Day, The Day The Earth Stood Still, or the Star Trek franchise.  Also someone into gaming, especially the classics, or other children of the 80's like myself would probably enjoy it well enough.  I wouldn't buy it, but it's worth checking out from the library if you're looking for something to read on vacation.

Other Works by This Author
Ready Player One, a quest for a hidden "Easter egg" in a virtual universe soon has real-life consequences.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review of Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, June, 2015.  Dial Books.  304 pages.  Ages 9-12.

Ten-year old Micah Tuttle has grown up listening to his grandfather's fantastic stories about a wonderful, magical circus called the "Circus Mirandus".  There were stories about strongmen, fairies, fantastic creatures, and magical tastes and smells.  Stories about the Amazing Amazonian Bird Woman who could not only fly, but sang like an angel, using her voice to communicate with and control her flock of magnificent birds.  But what Grandfather Ephraim talked about most was The Man Who Bends Light.

But then things changed.  Micah's grandfather, who has raised him since his parents died when he was very young, becomes gravely ill and is dying.  Grandfather Ephraim's sister Gertrudis comes to help take care of him and Micah, but it becomes apparent that Gertrudis is not a happy person, and seems to take a particular dislike to two things:  Micah and any mention of magic or the Circus Mirandus.  Grandfather Ephraim sends a desperate message to The Man Who Bends Light, which Ephraim shortens to "The Lightbender," requesting a long-ago promised miracle.

Ephraim tells Micah that all his stories are true and that the Circus Mirandus is very real, and that he has requested his miracle from the Lightbender.  Micah sets out to find the Circus Mirandus to plead for his grandfather's miracle, believing that he has asked The Lightbender to save him from dying.  With the help of his skeptical friend Jenny, Micah actually finds the Circus and sees all the wonders his grandfather had told him about, as well as discovers a secret about his family tree. 

Micah also discovers that The Lightbender does not have the power to save his grandfather, nor is that the miracle his grandfather had asked for, and has to make a leap of faith in order to ultimately fulfill Ephraim's last wish.

My Thoughts
Circus Mirandus is a fantastical tale about love, friendship, faith, and of course, magic.  It reminds me of the adult novel, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, in many ways.  It has the same sense of mysticism and illusion and some of the same elements, without the romance and deadly competition.  It is entertaining and has you rooting for Jenny, the protagonist's skeptical friend, to become a believer.  While the ending is pretty predictable for an adult, I think most young readers will be kept guessing.

I think this book would appeal to those who aren't in a hurry to grow up, and still want to believe in a little magic.  I would recommend it to those who like imaginative stories about magic and fantasy, such as fans of Roald Dahl's books, Peter Pan, fairy stories, and Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain series.  I think it would probably be more appealing to the younger end of the recommended age range, as most 12 year olds I know are already into darker and more dramatic dystopian or fantasy fiction.

Other Books by This Author
Circus Mirandus is Cassie Beasley's debut novel

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Review of Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee. July, 2015.  HarperCollins. 288 pages. For adults or mature teens.

Twenty-six year-old Jean Louise Finch leaves New York to return to her small hometown of Maycomb, Alabama, for her annual visit to see her remaining family and her oldest friend, Hank.  However, this visit unexpectedly proves to be a turning point in her life and in her relationship with her father, Hank, and the whole town.

Jean Louise has always idolized her father, Atticus, believing him to be perfectly honorable, just, fair, and decent.  She has always loved Hank, and despite not being in love with him, thought that she might someday marry him, an idea that scandalizes her Aunt Alexandra because Hank is not "their kind".  Hank came up from what proper Macomb society views as "trash" and has had to work hard for everything he has and now works with Atticus in the practice of law.

Over the next few days, Jean Louise witnesses things that cause her to question everything:  her upbringing, her relationship with the woman who helped raise her, Hank, and above all, her father's morality and integrity.  As she wrestles with this crisis of identity and conscience, she remembers and re-examines various events in her childhood and her relationships.  Finally, it comes to a head and she confronts Hank, then Atticus and ultimately finds herself.

My Thoughts
I liked To Kill A Mockingbird so much, I was almost afraid to read this book, especially amid all the controversy.  But they are really two very different books, so much so, that it's easy to forget Jean Louise is Scout.  Whereas To Kill A Mockingbird also deals with racism, it is treated more simplistically and not the sole focus of the whole book.  The book is also full of funny childhood exploits, and the endearing relationships between Scout and the reclusive neighbor who ended up saving her life.  I found To Kill A Mockingbird to be a more *enjoyable* read, but Go Set A Watchman to be a more *powerful* read.

Go Set A Watchman is set amid the turmoil of the civil rights movement, and shows how truly complex equality, racisim, and civil rights are, and ties them into the age-old arguments of federal versus states' rights, big government versus the individual.  It also shows the emotional turmoil Jean Louise feels when facing that the father she has always idolized is not perfect and has opinions about people and race that she finds immoral and is viscerally opposed to, and feeling that she no longer fits in with the people and town she grew up with.

Go Set A Watchman is a very compelling, profound, and well-written story that even now can make one re-examine one's beliefs and shed new insights on race-relations in the South, and I was not disappointed after all.  While To Kill A Mockingbird is often read and enjoyed by teens and middle-grade readers as well as adults, I think Go Set A Watchman would be best for adults and older teens with the knowledge and maturity to understand the true complexities of racism and the civil rights movement, as well as the emotional journey Jean Louise goes through when separating herself from her father.  There is nothing horribly inappropriate (there is the brief mention of incest, a reference to the rape case in the prior book, and mild language); I just think much of it would be lost on younger readers.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoyed To Kill A Mockingbird, someone who is interested in states' rights, civil rights, and racial equality from a cultural or historical perspective, or someone interested in stories dealing with the struggle of adult children to separate from their parents and establish their own identity or reconcile reality with their idealized childhood perceptions.  I also should mention that I didn't think Atticus was portrayed as negatively as I was expecting from what I had heard prior to reading the book.

I don't know what to make of all the controversy about the discovery of this manuscript and whether Ms. Lee was competent to consent to publication; I can only say I certainly hope everything is on the up and up and she was not taken advantage of or manipulated.  While I am glad that this story was not initially published (otherwise we would have missed out on the wonderful story of Scout and Jem in To Kill A Mockingbird), I am glad to have had the opportunity to read it now.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Awkward Situation of the Day

Yesterday was my first official day working the children's desk as a library assistant, and though it was initially slow, later on it got really busy (of course after the librarian went back to her office and left me on my own).  But relatively uneventful; just the usual reminding noisy tweens/teens to keep it down or they don't get anymore computer time, dealing with the *ALWAYS* malfunctioning games computers, and straightening up the DVD shelf for the billionth time, plus the usual questions, check-out assistance, and phone calls.  All in a day's work :)

But one awkward situation did come up, thankfully while the children's librarian was still at the desk with me.  A little girl approached the desk and asked the librarian where such and such book was.  When she could not find it in the catalog, the librarian asked if she knew the author, to which the little girl replied "My Mimi wrote it", but she couldn't provide the name.  We were both inwardly cringing, expecting what we were about to hear, as the mom explained it was a book her mother-in-law had written, [self-]published, and "donated" to the library about a month ago, and she would think it should be on the shelf by now. 

I held my breath, my mind whirling with possible explanations, and wondering how much we should, or could, even tell them since *they* weren't the author.  If it was actually sent in as a "donation", it would have gone straight to the Friends for selling in the bookstore or to be recycled if deemed not sellable.  If it was sent in through proper channels as a submission for consideration to be added to the collection, then it would have to be reviewed by the youth services manager and children's librarians for each branch to determine if it met selection criteria.  Most of these self-published books end up being politely rejected.  Of course at that moment, we had no idea what had happened in this specific case, and you don't want to tell a little kid that Mimi's work might not have been up to snuff or could have been discarded like trash!

In the end, the librarian made the best possible choice in the situation and just truthfully said she didn't know what had happened to it, or where in the process it might be, and "they" just may not have gotten to it yet, without going into the possibilities, which is what I would have done as well.

But, it got me to thinking how others might have handled it, and how self-published books are handled in general, so I posed the question to an online group of children's librarians and other youth services professionals, and got a variety of answers.  Many commiserated with the uncomfortable situation of dealing with self-published books that often are not very good; it seems everyone thinks they can write a children's book these days.  Others felt torn, wanting to give new authors a chance, especially local ones, but were uneasy about adding such books to the general collection.  And a couple took a different tact, feeling that all local authors should be celebrated and promoted, by displaying their books prominently on a special shelf for local authors.

I do like the idea of having a local author shelf and helping to promote local talent, or at least give them a chance, then letting the public decide what stays and what goes via circulation.  I think this is a great idea for small-town libraries, but I wonder if it's feasible in larger libraries/systems?  How local is "local"?   And should there be *any* standard for inclusion?  After all, not all self-published authors have talent just waiting to be discovered like Christopher Paolini (whose self-published book Eragon was brought to the attention of a publisher by author Carl Hiaasen after his son read and enjoyed it); some are real stinkers!  I fear our system would be quickly over-run if we put every book written by any author in the greater region we serve on the shelves; there are already so many new picture books published by the major houses every year.  Maybe e-books would be a viable alternative?  

Any thoughts??

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review of Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson

Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson, illustrated by Natalie Andrewson.  June 2015.  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 336 pages.  Ages 8-12.

Twelve-year old Tabitha Crum has a lonely existence.  Her self-centered and neglectful parents don't seem to care about her and treat her like a servant, dressing her in ill-fitting, drab second-hand clothes.  Her shyness and appearance set her apart from her classmates at school, and sometimes make her a target of teasing.  Her only friend is Pemberly, an orphaned mouse she saved as a baby.

Then one day, everything changes.  Just as her parents are planning to abandon her at an orphanage and leave the country, Tabitha and a classmate each receive a mysterious invitation to spend the weekend with the reclusive Countess of Windermere, who is known for her charity and generosity, along with four other children.  Once there, the children are shocked to find out they were all adopted after being abandoned on the doorstep of an orphanage, and the countess believes that one of them is her long lost grandchild and heir. 

The more time Tabitha spends at the Countess of Windermere's estate, the more she suspects things are not as they seem.  The Countess's odd behavior, the death of an elderly former maid, the disappearance of two of the other possible heirs, mysterious sounds and rumors of ghosts, accompanied by the discovery of hidden passageways and peepholes.

Will Tabitha solve the mystery before anyone else dies or disappears?  Will she ever have a real family that loves her?  Is the house really haunted?

My Thoughts
This story, set in 1906 London, has all the features of a traditional English mystery:  a gathering of seemingly unrelated people, mysterious deaths and disappearances when the lights go out, an inheritance, and secret passageways in an old manor.  While the plot is fairly predictable to an adult, younger middle-grade readers will probably find it full of suspense and unexpected twists and turns.  I would recommend this to Roald Dahl fans and any younger reader who likes traditional mysteries.

This book reminded me of The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart in some ways:  a small group of children receiving mysterious invitations, long-lost relatives and unknown twins, hidden rooms and passageways.  While The Mysterious Benedict Society is set in modern times and involves recruiting children to be an elite team of special agents, I think fans of one will enjoy the other as well.

Clue In The Castle Tower:  A Samantha Mystery by Sarah Masters Bucky is also a historical mystery set in early 20th-century England with a female protagonist visiting an old castle with it's own mystery and ghost stories.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Customer Service

What is good customer service?  And how do we provide good customer service in the library?

I think that's a hard question to answer, maybe not quite as subjective as saying what is good art, but it is a bit nebulous and often times situation-specific.

I would say that good customer service in a nutshell is providing prompt, courteous service in way that the customer leaves with a positive feeling, and feeling that their issue was resolved to their satisfaction, or at least that they were heard and understood and the issue would be forwarded to the appropriate person and addressed. 

Good customer service is being friendly and welcoming, approachable, patient, and knowledgeable.  Good customer service means finding a way to help the customer, or finding the person who can.  Good customer service means anticipating what customers may need, and recognizing when they need help but are shy about asking.  And, in my opinion, sometimes good customer service means having to enforce the rules so that one patron does not infringe on the ability of other patrons to use the library, but in a way that is positive and friendly.  But then again, good customer service sometimes means making exceptions to the rules.

Some of the practices I use in customer services are fairly basic: greet people when they come in, smile, make eye contact, ask if they need help or have a question.  While I am busy doing something like sorting carts or shelving, I make sure to keep open body language and face the front, and to still be aware of when customers enter the department.  If I am the only one in the department, I will circulate among the stacks every so often, just in case I missed anyone coming in.  I find that patrons often approach me while I'm in the stacks shelving rather than ask whoever is working the desk since I am already there, and in general many are shy about asking for help, but seem relieved when you offer.  I discreetly observe patrons while they are in the stacks to see if they seem to need help, but I make a point not to hover or ask them if they need help every five minutes.  If I ask, and they say "No", I just smile and say "Okay, just let one of us know if you need anything or have any questions" and may mention any upcoming programs or special displays we have that might interest them.

I also try to really give them my attention and provide a personal touch.  Instead of just pointing or directing to where something is, I walk them over personally.  If they need help with adult fiction, I help them even if it's not my department.  When you are walking through the library, patrons don't know what department you work in; they just ask the first staff member they see.  If it's something I know, I go on and help them myself; if it's not, then I walk them over and introduce them to the appropriate staff member with a brief explanation of what they need.  I try to remember repeat customers' names, especially the children, and what kind of books they like and what I have suggested for them in the past.  Patrons really seem to appreciate this more personalized, "concierge-type" customer service, and I believe developing such a relationship between the customers and the staff fosters a greater sense of customer loyalty, and more frequent visits to the library, which in turn results in greater circulation and program attendance.

I really enjoy helping people, whether it be finding a book they need, suggesting titles, or helping them with their accounts.  It is so gratifying to see a child's face light up when you find the right book, or to hear from a parent that their child really liked the book you suggested.  I like that I get to interact with lots of different people, and all ages.  I enjoy seeing our regular patrons as well as introducing newcomers to our services.   I hear some people in other service fields complain about customers, but I have been very pleasantly surprised at just how appreciative people are for the least little things, and how patient they are when it is busy and they have to wait for help.  While all customer interactions are not so pleasant, the good far outweigh the not so good, and I couldn't imagine working in a position that did not afford me the opportunity to work at a service desk at least some of the time.

And what about the not so good?  I think I will devote a separate post to that later on....

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Review of Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver. March, 2015. HarperCollins. 368 pages.  Age - Teen to adult.  Review copy from local library.

Sisters Dara and Nicole have always been nearly inseparable, with such a close bond they almost seem like twins, though Nick is older by 11 months.  Dara is the wild-child party girl, always the center of attention, and Nick is the more reserved and responsible one.  Nick excels at being ordinary and has always felt out-shined by her sister, while Dara feels that Nick is the "good one," the "smart one" and therefore casts herself in the bad girl role. Then there is Parker, the boy next door, who has been their best friend since childhood.  As long as Nick can remember, it has been the three of them.  But now that they are teens those bonds begin to be tested and strained.

First, Dara and Nick's family is broken when their father decides to move out, divorce their mother, and become involved with another woman.  Then, without warning, Nick discovers that her sister and Parker have suddenly become a couple, leaving her feeling excluded, jealous, and confused.  Then one night, everything falls apart when the sisters are involved in a terrible car accident while Nick is driving, leaving both of them broken and scarred, though Nick's scars are mostly emotional.  The sisters have not spoken since the accident.  Can Nick and Dara work through the guilt, jealousy, and resentment?

In the meantime, a 9-year old girl goes missing, and several days later, Dara cannot be found, either.  As Nicole tries to figure out what game Dara is playing and goes through her journal and phone, she finds lewd photos of Dara sent from an unfamiliar number and begins to suspect Dara was mixed up in something sinister, and that the disappearances of the two girls are linked.  Will Nick be able to find her sister and mend their relationship?  Can she and Parker ever be best friends again?

My Thoughts
This multi-layered and compelling story accurately portrays the complicated relationship that siblings, especially sisters, can have.  The author does a good job of drawing the reader in by revealing in turn each sister's most intimate thoughts and feelings, and adding in the drama of a love triangle and mystery of the young girl's disappearance.  Also included are snippets from news reports, police reports, and e-mails between Dara and Nick's therapist and their parents, as well as some photographs.

This story had elements of drama, mystery and psychological suspense, and was a compelling read with a plot twist I did not see coming at all.  It deals with love, friendship, jealousy, guilt, grief, and dysfunction.  I would recommend this to a teen or adult who enjoys realistic fiction that is compelling and dramatic, with deep relationship issues and emotional journeys told in an intricate plot line.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is also a multi-layered, non-linear emotional story with similar elements of guilt, blame, love, and family conflict and also involves a serious accident and a dramatic plot twist.

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin also has a compelling story with mystery, secrets, and plot twists told from multiple points of view.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Review of Paper Things by Jennifer Jacobson

22747802Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. Grade 5 and up.  Candlewick Press, February, 2015. 384 pages.  Review copy from local library.

Eleven-year old Arianna Hazard has a secret.

Ari has not had an easy life.  Her soldier father died before she was even born, then her mother became sick and died just a few years later, leaving Ari and her older brother Gage orphans.  Their mother had two dying wishes:  that Ari and Gage would stay together, and that Ari would attend Carter Middle School like every other member of their family.  While her mother was sick, Ari developed a game to occupy her time and help her cope with the upheaval in her lift.  Using pictures carefully cut out of catalogs, Ari makes her own paper doll family, which she refers to as her "Paper Things."

For the last four years, Ari and Gage have been living with their legal guardian Janna, an old friend of their mother's.  Ari likes living with Janna and feels at home with her; however, Gage and Janna constantly butt heads and get into heated arguments. Things finally come to a head, and Gage, being over eighteen, decides the he and Ari are leaving and moving into their own apartment.  Ari is not as eager to leave, but feels she must go with Gage because of her mother's last wish, and because he is her brother and she loves him.

While Gage has good intentions, after they leave Janna's, Ari finds out that he has not been completely honest and does not actually have an apartment yet.  He plans on staying with friends in the meantime, but finding an apartment proves to be much more difficult that he thought and days drag into weeks of bouncing around between friends and the teen shelter while Gage tries to find a job and an apartment.  Though Ari might be a little old for paper dolls, she clings to her familiar Paper Things as a way to escape and find a sense of peace, at least for a little while.  Their nomadic lifestyle begins to take it's toll on Ari; she has trouble keeping up with her schoolwork, personal hygiene, and friendships, yet can't bring herself to tell anyone what is happening in her life.

As the situation worsens, Ari is faced with a very difficult decision.  Does she honor her mother's wishes at all costs and stay with her brother, or do what she knows will give her the safety and stability she needs?

My Thoughts
I think this book was well-written and tells a very compelling story.  I think it would help children to understand a little bit more about homelessness and how it could affect someone close to you without your even knowing it.  It might help kids be a little more empathetic and compassionate towards those who might seem "different" and stop and think that there could be a reason behind someone's "odd" appearance or behavior.  It also touches on the subjects of loyalty, friendship, civil disobedience, and how people don't have to live together to love each other and be a family.  I would recommend this to a middle-grade reader who enjoys reading about other kids overcoming difficulties and obstacles and stories that allow them to "walk in another person's shoes".  As with most children's literature, everything gets resolved a little too easily and neatly to be realistic, but kids can learn to deal with stark reality when they get a little older.  Let them have their happy endings for now.

Where I'd Like To Be by Frances O'roark Dowell has a similar theme of children longing for parents and a stable home life who use their imaginations to help them cope.

Unhooking The Moon by Gregory Hughes also has orphaned brother and sister surviving the streets with the help of others they meet, while they search for their long-lost uncle.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine also gives insight into what is really going on behind the main character's "odd" behavior and the issues she is dealing with at home and how she overcomes them.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Where To Begin?

Very first post, the pressure!  I've already given my background and the reason for this blog on the "About Me" and "About This Blog" pages, so where to start with the first post?  Ah, I know; I'll start with my first Customer Service award:

 I received this from a young man named Peter one morning recently.  He and his younger sister Helen and their parents are regulars at the library, and are the absolute perfect patrons.  They come regularly, perfectly behaved, check out all kinds of books, know how to use the catalog and Dewey decimal numbers, and attend programs (they are awesome to have at dance parties in particular).  I have gotten to know them fairly well after the last two years and have sometimes helped them locate materials that weren't were they were supposed to be or made book suggestions, or asked them about school.
On this morning, I had just come up from circulation and was happy to see that they had come in.  My supervisor told me Peter needed to see me, and I went over to him expecting to help him find a book or answer a question.  Instead, he presented me with this picture, saying that he had missed seeing me (evidently they had been in a few times when I wasn't working)!
I was so touched, I almost cried!  It was so sweet and unexpected.  The librarians and associates who do storytimes get cards and pictures every now and then from the kids, but rarely does anyone give the pages much thought.  And if you look closely, you'll see that those aren't just ordinary stickers, those are GOOGLY-EYE stickers, and you don't give googly-eye stickers to just anybody!
I will always treasure this, and anytime I feel unappreciated I'll look at it and remind myself that the patrons do appreciate what I do, and that is what is most important :)