Category Archives: Teens

Talking about Terrier and Fantasy and Books and Reading…

In my last post, I talked about my struggles with the book Terrier by Tamora Pierce.  Today was the meeting of the teen book group, and I hadn’t finished reading the book; I only got to page 248 out of 561, which is a shameful thing.  I thought about my options: I could lie to the teens and tell them I read the whole book, or I could fudge my way through the book group, not lying outright but also not confessing my sin, or I could tell them the truth.  I chose the truthful option – I respect these teens, and they deserve the truth.  (Actually, every teen deserves to hear the truth from adults in situations like this, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Only half of the group made it to today’s meeting, due to play rehearsals and illness, but that half of the group had all read the book, some of them twice, and were very well-prepared to discuss it.  J—-, the teen who nominated Terrier as a book group choice, started off the meeting by saying that one of the teens who didn’t attend today’s meeting had not finished the book, “How could she not finish??!?!?!  This is such a great book!!!  How could she put it down without finishing?!?!?”  To which I gently cleared my throat and pointed to my bookmark sitting happily at page 248.  J—–, bless her soul, figured out what I was telling them, and said, “Well, for Abby it’s different – she has a full-time job.”  What a sweetie, that J—–, trying to give me some wiggle room.  But I told them, no, it’s not just that I work full-time and have had two oral surgeries in recent weeks; it’s because I don’t like high fantasy.  And that got us off and running on a great hour-long conversation about this book and high fantasy and books that we want to re-read and books that just don’t cut it for us. 

After defining high fantasy, we found out that only one of these teens dislikes high fantasy as much as I do, and that teen commented on how much fantasy we had read in the book group this year.  Which is true, and is something that has been bothering me; in the group in years past I used to always aim for a mix of genres, but that usually involved me choosing all the books.  This year I had wanted the teens to have control of the choices, and we ended up with all fantasy.  Maybe, I suggested, we should read some realistic fiction or historical fiction or a mystery this summer, and the consensus was that was a good idea.  I have a great mystery in mind that I’d love to foist upon the group, so perhaps that will be our choice.

And then the conversation  veered towards books that we choose to read over and over again.  Some of the members of this group are very fast readers, and plow through dozens upon dozens of books, and thus end up re-reading many books.  The Harry Potter books were popular choices for re-reading with these girls, and also certain books out of the Lightning Thief series (as I remember, the third and fourth in the series were labelled by the group as not being worth a second read, but the rest past the test).  The main reason given for choosing to read a book again was to discover a new element of the plot that had been missed before; or perhaps a book had been read before but was not very memorable, so another reading of it actually seemed fresh.  I mentioned that there are very few books I like to read over and over, and the only adult books that come to mind are Jane Austen’s novels – and that I read them again to savor her use of language. 

I wish, as always, that I could remember verbatim all that was said in today’s group; but I don’t.  I do know that I did very, very little talking in the hour-long meeting, and that today’s meeting was the epitome of an excellent book group.  Everyone contributed, we stayed mostly on topic (but all deviations were quite interesting), and civility was the rule of the day – no one even thought about talking over anyone else.  I love this group of teens (and yes, I did very much miss the teens who were absent today), and am so honored to be connected with this bunch of articulate, critical thinkers who love to read.  I’ll be so sad to see our two 9th graders graduate after the meeting in May – they’ll be moving on to Lisa’s book group for 10th to 12th graders this summer – and I’ll be hopeful that the rising 7th graders who will be joining the group in July will continue the streak of excellent, thoughtful discussion that has been the cornerstone of this teen book group for these past five years.

Demons of the Ocean

Jim and our friend Greg are working on the bathroom renovation this afternoon, while I do various library projects like download Skype for the upcoming author visit, read the book for Tuesday’s teen book group, and make a new feltboard story for the Cat storytime.  I’m really, really looking forward to the teen book group book, Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper, and I am so glad that it’s finally time to read it.  The book (and its sequels) have intrigued me since Lisa and I first ordered them for the library collection, and I’ve become even more psyched to read it since I’ve heard so much great feedback from the teen book group members.  Three of the teens in the group have made a point of coming to visit me in the children’s room to tell me how much they love the book.  In fact, they all have loved the book so much that they have gone on to read all of its sequels.  That’s really high praise from a discriminating bunch of readers.

And now I think I’d best stop writing and start reading.  I’ll let you know what my opinion of the book is once I’ve finished it.

Wolf Brother

This week, the Teen Book Group (which is grades 7 to 9) discussed Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother, the first in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series.  This was a book nominated by a group member, and voted on by all members of the group, which definitely boosted the conversation about the book (as opposed to the book I chose  for them at the beginnning of the year, Mortal Engines).  Interestingly, though, we spent a good amount of meeting time not discussing this book in specific, but rather addressing one of my pet concerns about contemporary children’s and young adult literature.

I will admit that I was less than inspired for this meeting of the book group, having just gotten over last Thursday’s stomach bug – just in time to get this week’s sore throat and cold.  But I think that my less-than-healthy physical state actually helped to inspire a slightly different type of conversation than we usually have.  At first, I kind of sat back in a stupor and let the kids have at it.  They kept looking at me from the corners of their eyes, utterly astonished that I wasn’t complaining about the fact that they were comparing Wolf Brother  to Harry Potter (usually, I vociferously enforce my anti-Harry Potter ban in all book group discussions).  But as I sat listening to them take the discussion in this direction, I decided to ask them to talk more about why so very many children’s and young adult books are part of a series, and why so very, very few are stand-alone works.  Why do kids and teens prefer to read books that are a part of a series?  What is the appeal? 

The group members replied that a series is better because you learn more about the characters – the plots are better able to be described and fleshed out – and the reader isn’t left with a cliff hanger; all plot issues are worked out in full over the course of a series.  One member commented that he read a stand-alone novel once that ended with a cliffhanger, and he would have much preferred it if there was a sequel, since the book ended in an unresolved manner.  To my mind (something I didn’t say to the group), I prefer a book that leaves something to the imagination at the end.  I love finishing a book, then going to bed and dreaming about what might happen next to the characters.  I love getting so involved in a story that I can continue it for myself, in a myriad of possible directions.  But I didn’t say that to the group, though in hindsight I wish that I had.

Instead, I asked them the following: do the reasons that they stated for the value of series books mean that most children’s and young adult literature is about plot, not quality of writing?  And they immediately agreed, and said yes, most books they read are about plot.  One clever young lady raised her hand very high, looked me in the eye, and said, “Abby, I’d like to ask you: what is your definition of quality literature??”  Ouch.  Tough question to be asked as you’re sinking down in your chair, under the influence of a mega-sore throat.  But I replied that I love Jane Austen’s works (groans from the peanut gallery), and that I also love some books by contemporary authors, like Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere.  I also said that the definition of “quality literature” is obviously subjective, and that we each might have a different opinion.  But I thought that we could all agree that the Twilight saga is plot-driven but terribly (terribly!) written.  Thank goodness, they agreed, and then we tried to rank the book of the day’s discussion, Wolf Brother

We all agreed that the strengths of Wolf Brother lie in the relationship between Torak and Wolf, and most especially in the meticulously researched details about life as a hunter in Europe 6,000 years ago.  We all finished reading the book with the feeling that we had a sense of what life was like all those thousands of years ago, which is a big plus for the book.  But the writing is neither great nor terrible: it furthers the plot, but doesn’t excite the reader with its use of language.  I’d say that 90% of the group agreed that the book was a good diversion, but not our favorite, and that we wouldn’t bother to read the rest in the series (there are currently six sequels).  It should be noted that the book has one very big fan in our book group, who has read all seven of the books multiple times – and who was the group member to nominate it for discussion.  So of eight readers in attendance, Wolf Brother  has one very devoted follower, and seven readers who see its worth but don’t adore it.  That, actually, is not all that bad for a book.  And it did lead us to an excellent discussion, which I appreciate.  This teen book group is a smart, well-read, incredibly cool bunch of kids, and it was great fun having such a deep conversation with them.

Week in review

It was a crazy busy week (my favorite kind), with lots of attendees at the three infant storytimes, some book ordering, the first fall meeting of the Teen Book Group, and a bit of light at the end of my work tunnel.

Attendance at the infant storytime (for which I use the Mother Goose on the Loose curriculum) continues to be very strong, which makes me happy.  I love seeing my old friends who are growing up (some have even graduated to the Storytime for 2’s & 3’s) and also meeting all of the new friends who have found the storytime.  On Tuesday we smashed a record: the youngest storytime attendee EVER!  This baby girl, younger sibling to two storytime regulars, came for her first storytime at the tender age of five days old.  That’s right, five days old.  She is very, very cute, and her older siblings are sweet as ever and seem to be handling their new sister with great grace.

On Monday, we began the day with a sad note, as Susan and I arrived in the morning to find a dead bird lying on the ground next to the front door of the library.  Joanne, our in-house intrepid animal patrol person (Joanne has NO fear – she blows me away with her fearlessness) wasn’t due in until the afternoon, so Susan and I looked at each other, and I said that I would take care of the bird.  Using a snow shovel and a guide for voters, I scooped the bird up and placed it in the garden area behind the stone benches.  It was a very, very pretty little bird, and not a species that I recognized.  When Joanne came in for work later, we told her about the bird, and I took her out to see it.  She thought it was a type of thrush, and ended up taking the bird’s body home to identify it.  Turns out it was a Swainson’s Thrush, which Joanne told me are currently migrating.  We figure it hit one of the large windows and died upon impact.  Very sad, but what a pretty little bird.

On Tuesday, the Teen Book Group met, minus several members who had field hockey or soccer games, and discussed a book I chose for them, Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. Though it is a good book, it’s not a great book, and only one of the teens finished reading it (the rest of them read about half of the book).  But there was a little bit of method in my madness of choosing this book: I had just read the book for my own edification, and decided I’d give myself a bit of a break by choosing a book to discuss that I’d actually already read; and, more importantly, I was hoping to inspire the teens to come up with some book suggestions of their own.  My earlier email pleas for book suggestions had disappeared into the ether, with no response, so I figured that if I chose a fairly good book for the October meeting, but not a great book, that the teens would decide to help me out with some titles of books that they actually want to read and discuss.  The trick was that the book had to be good enough to get them to come to the meeting, but not good enough for them to trust me to choose the books for the rest of the year.  Sneaky, huh?  It worked, too – we have enough book suggestions to last us through the summer.  But I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading Mortal Engines, because it is a good read, best for a more mature reader (translation: adults will like this book more than teens) and for someone who really likes science fiction and is willing to try out a bit of steampunk. 

The week was also successful in other ways, as I work to get caught up after being out for those many days.  The Cultural Council grant application is finished, a bunch of books have made their way down to Susan for processing, and an order for new books has been placed.  My desk is as clean as it gets, storytimes are planned out for the next four weeks, my first class visit has been scheduled, and the feeling of panic has subsided down to the usual stressed-but-ok feeling.  Phew.  And now, with a long weekend ahead, I’m planning to make some feltboard stories…and to enjoy the gorgeous weather that has finally arrived.

Trickster’s Choice

At the risk of oversharing, I’d just like to excuse my lack of posts in the last couple of weeks – I’ve been fighting a wicked case of acid reflux, and haven’t felt much like blogging when I get home in the evenings.  Thus ends the oversharing.

But it has been quite busy at the library recently, and I do have lots to write about; I’ll start today with a quick post on Tamora Pierce’s Trickster’s Choice, which was the book selection for last Tuesday’s Teen Book Group.

I was very, very, VERY glad that I had the long holiday weekend to read Trickster’s Choice, since it’s one of those books that is impossible to skim and read quickly.  I did try to skim its 400-odd pages, but every time I skimmed, I missed some very important detail and had to backtrack to find what I had missed…thus slowing me down even more.  I wish that I had liked the book more, because I wouldn’t have begrudged the laborious reading process if I had liked it, but I’m just not a huge fan of high fantasy.  Pierce’s strength lies in the creation of her fantasy world, which is great for readers who like high fantasy, but her writing style tends to be overly-detailed and clunky.

Pierce does have a huge and loyal fan base, though, which is how we came to read this book for the Teen Book Group.  After four years of hearing teen girls rave about Pierce’s books it seemed only natural to choose one when it was proposed by a book group member.  Ten teens (nine girls and one boy) attended last Tuesday’s meeting, and the majority of those attending loved the book.  Two of the book group members have read every single one of Pierce’s books already, and I’d guess that at least five of the others will be seeking out Pierce’s other books.  (Two girls hadn’t read the book at all – I do serve a yummy afternoon snack at the book group – and I couldn’t really tell what the boy in attendance thought of the book.)  So our meeting became a Tamora Pierce love-fest, and the book generated one of the best discussions we’ve had in a long time. 

One member mentioned that this book needs to be read slowly, and almost all of the teens who had read the book cited this as a positive attribute.  There are a lot of fast, avid readers in the group, and they were glad to have a book that slowed them down and forced them to read every word of the text rather than skim.  Seeing that one or two teens got a little quiet here, I spoke up and said that I’m a slow reader, and I spent hours upon hours reading this book; and the quiet teens looked relieved as they nodded in agreement with me.  And then the discussion continued on to other things the teens loved about Trickster’s Choice: the characters, the setting, the descriptions, the unpredictability of the plot.  The teens who have read other books by Pierce also raved about how Pierce’s quartets of books interconnect and overlap with each other.

I’m glad that I’ve finally read a book by Tamora Pierce, and glad that I have a better sense of her appeal for teens, specifically teen girls.  I won’t be seeking out any more of her books for myself, but now I can better steer library patrons towards her books, and I better understand how her various quartets work together (an issue that had confused me in the past).

Next month’s teen book group book:  The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo.

On teens and communication

My brother has just posted an excellent entry on his blog that summarizes a presentation that he attended on teenagers and how they communicate and use media.  As a children’s librarian in a library that often swarms with teenagers in the after school hours, I found his post to be enlightening and helpful.