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.


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.


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.


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,

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.


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.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

One Stop Poetry Shoppe for Writers and Lovers of Words

In case you didn't know, April is National Poetry Month.


As an academic librarian, I'm often asked to hunt down good resources for patrons. So to save you some legwork and celebrate National Poetry Month I've gathered twenty of my favorite poetry resources for you to enjoy.

Academy of American Poets
Poetry Foundation
Poetry Society of America

Poets and Poems
Famous Poets and Poems
Favorite Poem Project
Poetry Magazine

Ebooks and Databases
American Verse Project
Bartleby Verse Collection
Project Gutenberg Poetry Page

Reference and Resources
Library of Congress, Poetry Resources Guide
Modern American Poetry Guide
Poetry & Literature, Library of Congress
Rhyme Zone (Rhyming Dictionary)
Scansion: The Basics
Understanding and Explicating Poetry

Writing Poetry
How to Write Funny Poetry
Rhymes and Misdemeanors
Rhyme Weaver
Writing Stories in Rhythm and Rhyme

Whether you want to find out more about poetry organizations, hang out with your favorite poets, explore poetry collections, learn how to properly scan poems, or even write them there is a link on this page for you. So I hope you'll make use of these resources to grow your appreciation for poetry and/or improve your writing craft.

And now... for a random dance party!

Party Time

Why? Because there weren't enough emotes in this post.

Oh, and one more thing... a silly poem for writers.

Stories are read, poems are too.
Writing is sweat, but worth the dew!

You may commence with the throwing of things at the screen.


Friday, April 1, 2016

It Takes a Village to Raise a Writer: Success Isn't Just Personal

As my manuscript nears the point of being submitted to publishing houses, I thought I'd take time to reflect on how the act of writing might be solitary, but the bettering of a book is (at least for me) a communal act.

Like the wave at a ballgame, it is a chain of individuals working together to create something special.

The Wave

Without my critique partners and agent (and her lovely assistant!), I would be a much worse writer. They constantly give me new perspectives on my own writing and I learn from them each and every day. The coolest thing is that I learn from my critique partners not just when they comment on my stories, but also when I critique theirs.

Sometimes a critique partner's comment leads to a bolt of inspiration.


Other times pondering another person's story gives me unexpected insights into my own writing, where I'm strong or weak and how I can improve. Even beyond improving my craft is the fact that I'm helping the others to improve, too.

With a good group, you can watch as slowly, but surely, everyone in the group grows. Then, one day, one of the members announces getting an agent or a book deal and you know you helped get them to that point in some small... or even big way... just with a few comments. An hour or so out of your day.

Having others in your writing life also helps when times are tough. Life likes to catch us up in whirlwinds great and small.

Caught in a Tornado

It can whack us over the head with rejection, personal problems, life changing events.


Our critique partners and agents can help us through these rough patches. They can give us the reassurance and support we need to overcome our doubts, fears, and anxieties. Their cheers can drown out the jeers we might be hearing from others or from ourselves.


So for me, I really do believe it's important to have a good group of supporters in my writing life. Without them, I'd be lost, but with them, I can leap over the hurdles in the way of my writing and sail the stormy seas of life with the knowledge that there are people right there with me... buoying me up when I'm in need. People I can do the same for and together, some day, we'll find our publishing paradises and enjoy the fruits of all our labors.

drinktoastPalm Tree

So to everyone who's helped me become a better writer, critiquer, and human being, I say:

You Rock