Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Wayward Blogger Returns; Or Failure Is an Option. Quiting Isn't!

So, if you follow this blog, you know I haven't posted for over a month. I apologize for that, but my writing time got squeezed a bit this summer and I choose to put the blog on hold so I'd have extra time for writing my middle-grade historical novel (which is a little more than halfway done... Yeah!).

revising

Now that the Fall semester has begun at my community college, my schedule is less erratic and I have set things up where I should be able to get more writing done, which includes this blog.

Over the summer, I helped out with freshman orientation and the main speaker for this event talked about the difference between growth mindsets and fixed mindsets.

book4 vs. 2 Brick Wall

For those who don't know much about this topic here are a few good articles/videos that will help deepen your knowledge:

Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset: An Introduction Video


Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset'

What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means

So what does this all mean for writers? Librarians? Students?

In short, success in academics and life isn't about how inherently smart you are, but rather how willing you are to increase your knowledge, learn from your mistakes/failures, and grow as a person.

The speaker had two main lines that stuck with me (and are the title of this blog post).

Failure is an option. Quiting isn't.

bangbreak

This is one of the main things that sets apart those with growth and fixed mindsets. People with growth mindsets, while they don't set out to fail, are okay if it happens because they view the whole thing as a learning experience.

This is an important idea to keep in mind as writers, librarians, or students. Writers know all about failures. Failed stories, plots that fall apart midway, rejected books, and other things that make you want to put your head in a bag.

Image result for bag on head emoticon

Librarians know how it feels to plan events that no one attends, to have a book you recommend turn out to not be liked by the patron you thought would love it, or any number of other setbacks that make you feel like you've joined the crew of the Titanic.

 

Students know about failing tests, being unable to finish papers on time, not understanding homework, and much more. And sometimes those failures can make you want to explode in frustration.

Explode

However, the growing writer, librarian, and student will take these failures in stride, dust themselves off and try again and again until they finally figure out how to succeed. It isn't an easy road, but it is one worth traveling because it leads not just to success, but also to more rounded, empathetic, and supportive people. After all, we understand what it is like to fail, but not to quit.

Lastly, I'll leave you with this quote, which I think sums up the growth mindset pretty well and reminds us of what it takes to be successful in life in spite of our setbacks.

"When I was young, I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures. So I did ten times more work." - George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Unexpected Twists and Turns: Or Haven't You Heard of Playing with and Breaking Expectations?

Recently, I've been watching a variety of anime. I got into the format because of my job as a librarian, but I've found it has a lot to offer people who love storytelling. One thing I noticed with the latest bunch of anime to come out over the spring season is that a lot of them had unexpected twists and turns that took many of their viewers by surprise.



One of those shows was Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto, a show about a young man who shows up in high school one day and becomes the center of attention of everyone because he is perfect in every way. He is as the opening credits say: cool, cooler, and coolest. This is a running gag comedy show about Sakamoto's perfection in everything and it definitely brings the laughs.

Laughing Out Loud

Each show focuses on one or more of Sakamoto's classmates (and a few other random people). Some are antagonists, others are avid fans, but all of them have something they can learn from Sakamoto. His interactions with them make each of them better people in some shape, form, or fashion.

This in and of itself would be a good show, but then the last two episodes of the season take a darker turn. This is when the show went from good to very good in my eyes. The writer could have let the ending of the series play out the running gag of Sakamoto's perfection, but instead we see how his perfection has distanced him in the minds of one of his classmates who desperately wants to be one equal footing as his friend. With some prompting from the story's main antagonist, the classmate takes drastic action that could lead to major trouble. And so a face-ff begins...

Duel

Needless to say, the last episode sees Sakamoto pulling off the perfect "save" of the situation. Again, this would've been a fine ending point, but there is one more twist to the story. A rumor starts to run through the school and it turns out Sakamoto is leaving the school. The official reason for his leaving is to take his place as a member of the "Mars migration project."

Beam Me Up

Now, with how perfect Sakamoto has been throughout the series this is almost believable (perhaps he really is an alien from outer space!), but it is clear that something else is the real reason for his leaving. What that reason is is left up to the viewer to decipher and I won't spoil it here, but I will say the clues for what is the real reason for Sakamoto leaving heavily indicate a particular outcome.

This ending works especially well because it is not only consistent with the rest of the show, but also breaks the expectations of how a running gag comedy should end. It is this unforeseen turn, this unexpected twist that makes the show so memorable for me.

If you get a chance to watch this show (or read the manga), please do so. It is full of laughs and feels and like Sakamoto's classmates, you might just become a better writer and/or person for having meet the cool, cooler, and coolest high schooler in history.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Manga Madness: The Top 20 Manga Series for Teens

So, I've been working on a grant proposal for a Manga Madness event for the Fall Semester. This event would have our students vote on their favorite manga series each month. The series that win each round of voting would get an additional volume added to our collection and ultimately, the winner of the manga showdown will get extra volumes collected during the Spring Semester. Think of it like March Madness, but with manga series fighting it out for the top spot.

Duel

As I worked on this grant, I had to figure out which manga series should take part in the event. After a month or so of sleuthing, I came up with a list of candidates.

detective

The main source of information on the best manga was MyAnimeList. It's a great website for keeping up with all things anime and manga-related (and also allows you to keep track of the anime and manga you watch/read). Using MyAnimeList's Top Manga as a starting point, I then looked up the Amazon reviews of the top one hundred or so manga to see if there was a difference of opinion on each manga's appeal. For the most part, everyone agreed that certain series were the best.



Now, half of those series on my initial list were for mature audiences, but I wanted to create a list that people in the Kid Lit arena could use (librarians, writers, etc.). So I cut out the more mature series and put together a list of the Top 20 Manga for Teens. Most of these aren't the most recent manga series, but they are ones most everyone agree are the golden stars of the manga scene.

Gold Star

So, without further ado about nothing, here's the list:


Top 20 Manga for Teens

Each entry has the following:
Title (Percentage of 5-Star Amazon reviews; MyAnimeList Score [out of 10]; and Genres)
Shounen is written for teenage boys.
Shojo is written for teenage girls.

Fullmetal Alchemist (79%; 9.13 Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Shounen, Military)
Slam Dunk (90%; 8.97 Genres: Comedy, Drama, School, Shounen, Sports)
Yotsuba&! (88%; 8.90 Genres: Comedy, Shounen, Slice of Life)
One Piece (84%; 9.00 Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shounen, Super Power)
Death Note (85%; 8.81 Genres: Mystery, Drama, Shounen, Supernatural, Psychological)
Rurouni Kenshin (91%; 8.72 Genres: Action, Drama, Historical, Samurai, Shounen)
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin (100%; 8.67 Genres: Action, Drama, Mecha, Sci-Fi, Shounen, Space, Military)
Ouran High School Host Club (91%; 8.63 Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance, School, Shoujo, Harem, Gender Bender)
Your Lie in April (88%; 8.76 Genres: Drama, Music, Romance, School, Shounen)
Horimiya (87%; 8.64 Genres: Comedy, Romance, School, Shounen, Slice of Life)
Skip Beat (82%; 8.72 Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Shoujo)
Neon Genesis Evangelion (91%; 8.55 Genres: Action, Mystery, Drama, Mecha, Sci-Fi, Shounen, Psychological)
Dengeki Daisy (88%; 8.56 Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Shoujo)
Lovely Complex (88%; 8.55 Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance, School, Shoujo)
Bakuman (87%; 8.52 Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Shounen)
Kamisama Kiss (86%; 8.58 Genres: Comedy, Demons, Fantasy, Romance, Shoujo, Supernatural)
Black Butler (85%; 8.58 Genres: Action, Demons, Mystery, Fantasy, Historical, Shounen, Supernatural)
Magi (84%; 8.56 Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Shounen)
Noragami (80%; 8.61 Genres: Action, Fantasy, Romance, Shounen, Supernatural)
Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun (78%; 8.68 Genres: Comedy, Romance, School, Shounen)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Leaping into the Unknown: Trying out New Genres

I like to try new things when I'm writing. Sure, I enjoy writing a nice simple picture book text now and then, but I also like to stretch my muscles and try new genres.

Muscles

My first loves as a children's book writer are comedy, action, adventure, and fantasy. These are the types of stories I love to read. They are my comfort zone. However, sometimes the best stories we come up with are the ones that don't come so easily. They are the ones that make us stretch our imaginations even more and let our thoughts run wild.

Running

Right now, I'm working on my first historical/Christian fiction middle-grade novel. It is not in my wheelhouse. It's no where close to the type of story I usually read. However, the idea for this story is so interesting to me it cries out for me to write it. And so, I've put aside my anxieties of the unknown and plunged into this new genre full speed ahead. 

Submarine

Since starting this project, I've researched the time period and events around my main character's life and have hammered out a dozen plus chapters. My initial fears that I might be a terrible historical/Christian fiction writer have been replaced by a bit more confidence in myself as critique partners and my agent have encouraged me to continue the story after looking at the first chapters.

Now, if they had told me these first chapters weren't working, I might have scrapped the whole idea, but it seems the story is connecting with readers and so I have the boost I need to move forward into the unknown world that is historical/Christian fiction.

So, next time you get hit with an idea that is outside your comfort zone, don't be afraid to at least give it a shot. You might be surprised by the stories you can tell when you don't restrict your genre, but rather let your imagination and abilities carry you off to unexpected places to meet characters you never thought you'd write about.

Beam Me Up

For right now, that unexpected place I'm visiting on my computer screen is Ancient Capernaum in the time of Jesus and the characters I'm meeting in this formerly-quiet fishing village have given me a lot to think and write about.

Just remember, the old say, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

So go venture already!

Red Baron

Monday, May 16, 2016

Insights into the Reading Habits of New Adults

As an academic librarian, I get a different kind of patron than when I worked in an public library. First, I don't get many requests for children's books. This makes me a tiny bit sad because I think there are some excellent children's books that deserve to be explored in academics. Still, I understand that when faculty assign a book or young adults choose a book for class, their first inclination isn't to turn to children's literature. I know I was like that before I took a children's literature class later in college.

It wasn't until I took that class that I realized how much I appreciated and liked reading for children. I was always someone who read up. Even in high school, I read adult books. But then, I realized how well written children books are in comparison to the adult books I'd read. I was struck by how much more entertaining and fun the books were. I was hooked.

love4

So, a part of me wishes more students took children's literature classes in college. If only to remind them there is more to life than adult fiction and non-fiction.

Anyway, after working at a community college for three years, here is what I've noticed about the reading habits of my college-aged patrons.

First, of all the book displays I've ever done for the community college, the ones that have the greatest success are... drum roll, please:

Graphic Novels!

Batman

That's right! These things get checked out and read in the library all the time. Almost every day, I see at least one person sitting next to our small graphic novel section, reading whatever strikes their fancy.

When I first arrived at my current position, we had about 60 graphic novels that were spread out all over the library. After talking to my boss, I convinced him to let me collect graphic novels for the library. Since then we've added over 100 books to the collection. This is primarily thanks to a grant from the Meemic Foundation, which allowed us to add over 40 books to the collection. If you work in education, definitely look into their grant program!



These additional books allowed us to give graphic novels there own section in the library and make students aware that we had them. Of all the books I collect, these are the ones most likely to get checked out and not just sit on the shelves.

Secondly, when I get asked for book recommendations (which is very rare at my college), the patrons are almost always young women who are looking for a particular genre (romance, mystery, etc.). This type of request isn't as easy to do in a community college as it is in a public library. Why? Because academic libraries are not laid out with browsing fiction in mind. There are no "historical fiction" or "mystery" or "romance" areas. There is only literature in general. So trying to find certain types of fiction can prove a bit more difficult.

Technician

This is one of my pet peeves about library of congress classification, but I doubt it will change any time soon.

Lastly, whenever I do a student recommended book list, it is always a mixture of classics, best-sellers, and the Bible (which might surprise some people, but it is one of the top choices every time I do the survey). We almost always have Harry Potter and The Hunger Games recommended by our students. In addition, we have titles like Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, and The Hobbit.



Anyway, these are just a few insights I've gained into the reading habits of my community college new adults. Maybe you'll find them helpful. I know I do as I consider not only how to collect books for community college students, but also consider how to portray them in stories. After all, knowing what new adults read can only help us as writers when we try to portray them on the page.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Asterisk Wars: A Glimpse into the Life of an Academic Librarian

As an academic librarian, I don't get to purchase many children's books. From picture books to YA, I have to be very picky about the materials I buy. Personally, I'd love to collect a bunch, but budgets are tight and although we have a Children's Literature class, I can't go crazy.

:crazy

So, that means I spend a lot of time each year creating a list of the best children's books of each year based on a variety of criteria.

First, I keep track of all the starred reviews. This used to be a tedious task, but then I found Jenn J of the Spreadsheets, who has a wonderful resource for all librarians (or book lovers) who collect children's and YA books. Each year, she keeps track of all the starred reviews from the major reviewers (Booklist, Bulletin, Horn, Kirkus, PW, and SLJ) and puts them into this spreadsheet.

Thank You Jenn!

I add all the books that get four or more starred reviews to a document and put a number of asterisks next to it equal to the starred reviews.

Gold Star

Second, at the end of each year, I keep track of all the best book of the year lists that come out. Each time a book is on one of those lists, I put another asterisk next to it.

Third, I look at Amazon and see what "normal" people are saying about a book. I've seen some six star books have low ratings on Amazon. However, I don't let that hurt the overall score. Instead, if I see a book get 80%+ 5 stars (there needs to be at least ten reviews), I give the book another asterisk.

Party Time

Lastly, when award season rolls around, I straight-up purchase the winners of the major awards.

Congratulations

So, in 2015 here are what the top five books in each category looked like on my collection development sheet:

Picture Books and Early Readers

***************Last Stop on Market Street Matt de la Peña, illus. by Christian Robinson.
(Stars: Kirkus, Horn, PW; Best Book: Bookbag, Good Reads, Horn, Kirkus, NPR, NYPL, NYT, PW; Newberry Award winner; Caldecott Honor)

***************Waiting Kevin Henkes.
(Stars: Booklist, Horn, Kirkus, PW, SLJ; Best Book: Amazon, Horn, Kirkus, NPR, NYPL, NYT, PW, SLJ; Caldecot Honor)

*************Sidewalk Flowers JonArno Lawson illus. by Sydney Smith.
(Stars: Booklist, Kirkus, PW, SLJ; NYT Best Illustrated Book; Best Book: Good Reads, Horn, Kirkus, National Post, NYPL, PW, SLJ; +80% on Amazon)

************Finding Winnie Lindsay Mattick, illus. by Sophie Blackall.
(Stars: Booklist, Horn, PW, SLJ; Best Book: Bookbag, Horn, NYPL, NYT, PW; Caldecott winner; +80% on Amazon)

**********The Princess and the Pony Kate Beaton.
(Stars: Booklist, Kirkus, PW, SLJ; Best Book: Amazon, Goodreads, Kirkus, National Post, NYPL, PW)

Middle Grade

****************March: Book Two John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.
(Stars: Booklist, Horn, Kirkus, PW, SLJ; Best Book: AV Club, B&N, Forbes, Good Reads, GQ, Horn, Kirkus, NPR, PW, Washingston Post; +80% on Amazon)

****************Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
(Stars: Amazon, Bulletin, Kirkus, PW, SLJ: Best Book: Amazon, Good Reads, Kirkus, NPR, NYPL, NYT, PW, Washington Post; Kirkus Prize Winner; Newberry Honor)

***************Goodbye Stranger Rebecca Stead.
(Stars: Booklist, Bulletin, Horn, Kirkus, PW, SLJ; Best Book: Amazon, Good Reads, Horn, NPR, NYPL, NYT, PW, Washington Post, SLJ)

**************The Thing about Jellyfish Ali Benjamin.
(Stars: Booklist, Kirkus, PW, SLJ, VOYA; National Book Award longlist; Best Book: Amazon, Good Reads, Kirkus, NPR, NYPL, NYT, PW, SLJ)

**************Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras Duncan Tonatiuh.
(Stars: Booklist, Horn, Kirkus, PW, SLJ; NYT Best Illustrated Book; Best Book: Horn, Kirkus, NYPL, SLJ, Washington Post; Kirkus Prize Finalist; Sibert winner)

Young Adult

********************Nimona Noelle Stevenson.
(Stars: Bulletin, Kirkus, PW, SLJ; Eisner Nomination for Best Webcomic; National Book Award longlist; Best Book: Amazon, AV Club, B&N, Bookbag, Comics Alliance, Forbes, Good Reads, GQ, Kirkus, NPR, NYT, PW, SLJ; +80% 5-star rating on Amazon)

******************Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War Steve Sheinkin.
(Stars: Booklist, Bulletin, Horn, Kirkus, PW, SLJ; National Book Award longlist; Best Book: Amazon, Bookbag, Horn, Kirkus, NYPL, NYT, PW, SLJ Washington Post, YALSA; +80% 5-star rating on Amazon)

***************Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
(Stars: Booklist, Bulletin, Horn, Kirkus, PW, SLJ; Boston Globe/Horn Best Fiction Honor; National Book Award longlist; National Book Award winner; Best Book: Bookbag, Horn, Kirkus, NYPL, PW, SLJ)

**************Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad M.T. Anderson.
(Stars: Booklist, Bulletin, Kirkus, SLJ; National Book Award longlist; Best Book: Bookbag, Boston Globe, Kirkus, NYPL, NYT, PW, SLJ, YALSA)

************Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda Becky Albertalli
(Stars: Amazon, Booklist, Bulletin, Kirkus, PW; National Book Award longlist; Best Book: Amazon, Good Reads, Kirkus, NYPL, PW; Morris Award Finalist)

*************Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans Don Brown.
(Stars: Booklist, Bulletin, Horn, Kirkus, PW, SLJ; Best Book: Horn, Kirkus, NYPL, PW, SLJ; +80% 5-star rating on Amazon; Sibert honor)

You may have noticed that graphic novels have a few more opportunities to gather best book of the year awards, this is because I also collect for the graphic novel section and so I can squeeze some of these children/YA graphic novels into that budget so they get some extra love on my personal list.

Hearts

Anyway, if you are looking for some of the best books from last year to read. These are an excellent starting point. Hope you all find this post helpful, if you do, let me know and I'll try to do some more like it in the future.

Best Wishes,
Joseph

Monday, April 11, 2016

Where the White Rabbit Leads: Thoughts on Metafiction

As I've explored various stories through writing and reading, I realized I enjoy metafiction quite a lot. If you don't know what metafiction is, here's a quick definition from wikipedia:

Metafiction is a literary device used self-consciously and systematically to draw attention to a work's status as an artifact. It poses questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, usually using irony and self-reflection. It... forces readers to be aware that they are reading a fictional work.



I am familiar with the term "meta" since there is a whole class of gamers called metagamers. Another quick definition from wikipedia:

Metagaming is the use of out-of-game information or resources to affect one's in-game decisions.

As an avid gamer, I make use of metagaming quite often through the use of various resources my characters would not have access to such as walkthroughs, character builds, etc. There are some gamers who do not use these types of things, preferring instead to experience the game without any knowledge beyond what they experience in the game.

Both ways of playing are perfectly fine. There are times I don't metagame at all because I want to experience the story of a game without worrying about the mechanics, but other times I want to know what my character doesn't so I can make the best use of my character's time, resources, and decisions. In short, I don't want my game to be sunk by a poor choice early on.



In some books, the best way to make use of the story's elements is to also think outside-the-page and use metafiction. In the story I created that got me my agent, I wrote about a book that is too tired to tell a story. The first page is a letter to the reader asking them to come back later.

The story immediately jumps into metafiction, but will the intended audience (kids!) really think that way? Some, maybe, but the wonderful thing about children readers is they don't limit there thinking to "meta" or normal. They are much more accepting of all possibilities... even a book writing a letter to them.

Write5

Maybe I like metafiction so much because it stretches the imagination of young readers, while respecting the intelligence and experience of older ones.

As a child, my first experience with meta-fiction was The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone. It's a story that stuck with me from an early age and one I've shared with my niece and nephew, who also enjoy it immensely (along with The Book with No Pictures, and other metafiction stories). Why do all three of us enjoy these types of tales?

The humor is probably the biggest draw and interactivity is another. Many metafiction books engage the funny bone and/or involve the reader in some way in the story. They draw us into their blatantly fictional worlds and make us part of them. They help us suspend our disbelief by shattering the fourth-wall between us and the story. They draw us down the rabbit hole... into a Wonderland where anything is possible... a tale about a monster who worries about the monster at the end of the book, a picture book without any pictures in it, or even a book that is too tired to tell a story.

Bunny Run

So, has the white rabbit lead you to any good metafiction books lately? If so, then share them here as I'm always looking for more to read.