Sunday, November 22, 2020

CYBILS Nominees: Elementary Nonfiction Roundups: The Next President and The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver

I am fortunate to be continuing my participation with CYBILS this year again--this is my tenth cycle this year! I cannot believe it. I am currently in my second year serving as President, and with everything 2020, we had some tough decisions. We made the decision over the summer to reduce the number of categories by pausing or combining some to ease the amount of participants as well as to help publishers and participants needing access to books. It was a tough decision, but we felt it was the best decision we could make for the health of CYBILS.

This year along with this role, I am also serving as Nonfiction Chair. Nonfiction is one of the categories we decided to combine into one category. So as Chair, my amazing group of participants will be reviewing nonfiction books of all ages, with the goal of building three shortlists in Round 1 then Round 2 will take over with picking three overall winners: one each from elementary, middle grade, and high school. 

This will be the first post in a series of reviews I will be posting to collate my thoughts on books as I look at them with the two key components in mind: literary quality and age appeal our two criteria of CYBILS. I will of course not be referencing whether I think the book should be considered for the shortlist for the age group (I am a Round 2 judge anyway) or if I would rate this high on my overall winner probability list. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

End of the Year Book Tag

I'm sure if you have been on YouTube/BookTube lately you have seen many people answering the End of the Year Book Tag. It is hard to say which is the first one I watched this year as this tag has been around for awhile, but it had me thinking so I decided to go ahead and write up my answers. Without further ado, here you are my answers:

1) Are there any books that you started that you need to finish this year?

No, I tend not DNF books--I will put a book down and walk away if needed because it just may not be the right time to read it. I will try to read it again. If at that point I cannot get into, then I will DNF it and be fine with it. 

It really has only been within the last few years that I have realized that it is just fine to walk away from a book. I encourage my students to do it--when it is not for a class, so why do I not do the same thing for myself?

2) Do you have an autumnal book to transition you to the end of the year?

I have never really considered that myself a seasonal reader, but 2020 has been a weird year so this fall I have been in the mood to read more of the thriller-mystery books, but that has been more of 2020 in general. I think it is because the chapters are shorter, they are designed to keep your attention and the shorter chapter usually leaves you with something that makes you want you keep reading (aka a hook). Obviously, thrillers/horror is what many people read this time of year because of Halloween. But what do you read in November?

I was thinking about it a little more over the course of the day as I let this sit in my inbox and I realized for me, family centered books might be good transitional books to bridge the spooky/mystery/thriller books of October to the winter/holiday themed books you might want to read in December. So I think perhaps any books with a family theme might be a good fit for this time of year. Perhaps next year I might try to incorporate more of those into my November plans along with nonfiction (see more about it below). 

3) Is there a new release you are still waiting for or are there any outstanding 2020 ones I haven't read yet?

There are so many books I initially planned or considered to read this year and I have not yet gotten around to reading. Isn't that the same for everyone? More on planning reading below, but I always have way more books on my TBR and my yearly possibilities list based on reading prompts in groups I try to do (again, more on that below). I also try to follow some books that are being published (librarian--it is part of my occupation), but I am not so bent up on reading books the year they are published any longer unless it is for an award committee--then that is obviously a requirement. I do try to keep knowledgeable because I do feel that is vital to my job to keep current on books.

As far as the second component to this question, what books published this year that I want to read? I would like to get to:


Again, I have a list running of books I had debated on reading this year and have not managed to as of yet, but I am trying not to feel guilty. I hope I will get to the ones above. Hollowpox I have to wait until I can listen to it with my family--we have been doing them together as audiobooks when we travel, but obviously long road trips have not been happening since March. We will see what happens, if I can get to them great! Otherwise they will go onto my TBR idea list for 2021.

4) What are three books you want to read before the end of year?

Uhh I have so many books I want to read but I do not necessarily have any ones I have to read before the end of the year.  I need to read by the beginning of December is Maid by Stephanie Land for my staff book group. 

With us being in the middle of CYBILS season, I am trying to get ahead and reading nominated titles for my category--Nonfiction. I have many books to read for it. I am both Category Chair, and judging in Round 2 (and I am currently the President of it as well). So there are many of those titles I want to finish up before the end of the year. 

Being that it is November, I am also loosely participating in Nonfiction November, the movement to read and appreciate more nonfiction books. With chairing Nonfiction for CYBILS I certainly will be reading more of those this year--children's and teens. I still want to make sure I do read at least one or two more adult titles. Maid will certainly help with this goal too. 

5) Do you think there is a book that will shock you and become a favorite of the year?

I am not one of those people that necessarily sets out to find my next favorite book or reads a book with the intention of it being a new favorite. I am a mood reader largely when I reading for myself, meaning not while I am on an award committee, so I like to be surprised. Sure I know that I have some favorite authors that are usually going to be dependable selections, but even then my reading tastes have changed over the years. What I used to love has evolved and I find myself needing something different from a book. I think that is natural in our reading evolution.  So for me to pick up and hope that the next book or even a book that I have is going to be a new favorite is hard. I am always open to the idea, but it just depends on what I am reading for and what I hope to gain from my reading experience. 

6) Have you already started making reading plans for 2021?

I have because I start an award committee again in 2021. Technically it has started now with the preparations. I am serving on CYBILS as I mentioned. I am also on AASL's (American Association of School Librarians) University Presses Book Selection Committee. I will be selecting titles to be put onto the University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries bibliography. It is my first committee with AASL and I am honor to have been selected to serve on it. This will be taking a chunk of my time the beginning part of the year.

I will also be starting a graduate class for my Certificate of Advanced Studies (I already have my Masters) in January too so I will have large amount of articles and several educational related books to read for it. 

After those two things, I will of course be listening to audiobooks--those will be my lifeline to sanity but, I will also be sure to keep reading fiction titles as a way to decompress and destress. After the AASL committee is finished midyear, I will have more time to read fiction come the summer too. Depending on where the world is at, we have planned our vacation again this summer--hopefully that will happen. If so, I will have lots of travel time to read on it. 

Along with all of the above, I usually loosely participate in several online reading challenges that give you prompts to find books to fulfill. These include Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge, the Around the Year GoodRead's Group that I am more of a quieter participator than a vocal active one, Popsugar Challenge and lastly, a Facebook group I am apart of. I know--I am pretty insane. Those are all last on the list of priorities so if I can make the books I read fit those prompts than I do. However, I find looking at these prompts encourages me to read out of my comfort zone, which I find rewarding because I never know what might just be a new favorite. :)

So there you have it, my answers to the End of the Year Book tag. I would sure love to read or watch you answer this tag. If you have done this tag or you decide to do it after reading my answers, please do share your link below. 

If you do not want to do the tag, will you share with me the book you are most looking forward to reading yet this year below?

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Audiobook Review: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land
By Elizabeth Acevedo
My Rating:

Acevedo is back to her roots with her next verse novel, Clap When You Land and after her Odyssey (and Printz Honor) winning title The Poet X, I knew I would not want to experience this title in any way other than through audiobook.  This particular novel is two points-of-view, Camino and Yahaira, and instead of Acevedo reading both parts herself, this also has dual narrators--Acevedo and Melania-Luisa Marte.  I loved this decision! 

This is the story of two girls finding out that their father led two lives--one in the Dominican Republic and one in New York City. Every year he spent the summer months in the Dominican Republic and the remainder of the year in New York City, with each daughter believing he was away for business. He is one of passengers on the American Airlines flight 587 that crashes into ocean with no survivors. After the crash and his death, the girls are left to pick up the pieces of their lives and figure out how to grieve, while continuing to move forward--especially when they learn about each other's existence.

Acevedo's writing is exquisite--the raw emotion and heartbreak breathes off the page. The flow of the story is well paced, leaving moments for readers to catch their breath interspersed in moments of heartbreak, sadness, and moments that infuriate you. The ebbs and flows of this story will at times break you but just when you think you cannot bare anymore, you are left with a sense of hope to continue forward. 

The audiobook production brings another level to this book, not just because Acevedo herself narrates half this book but because her writing begs to be performed. Her writing is magical and lyrical and her slam poetry background adds such richness and depth to the production. Marte holds her own too--she is not overshadowed by Acevedo, bringing as much life and depth to Camino as Acevedo does to Yahaira. The moments when they needed to breathe and slow down to give the readers time to pause, they did. When the emotions are building to moments when they threaten to eclipse everything, they both allow you to feel the emotions so much so that you swear you are there with them in the sand of the Dominican Republic or the train in New York City experiencing it with the characters. The audiobook also helps those who do not read or speak Spanish have an access point into the book as a nonreader of Spanish, as it can feel challenging to grasp the meaning with out the enunciation and emphasis that they bring to the words as it helps give context. (Side note: Moments such as this always brings it home to me how those who are learning English might feel when they are only presented with English titles with no audiobooks to help them learn to read English, with not grace or help in figuring out a complex language or rude words such as you need to learn English now). 

Of course Clap When You Land is focused on teen characters, but even adults will find some in this book. I appreciate the character arcs in this book, because I cringe at decisions made but I know that is me as an adult. The decisions each girl made feels age appropriate and impulsive--much like what a teen would make when faced with similar decisions. The voices of the characters do not feel inappropriate for the ages--not childish nor too sophisticated, which is often times a challenge for adult narrators voicing younger characters. While at times the both girls' voices are quite similar, I do not feel like this detracted from the audiobook in my opinion, but added to elements that even though the grew up over 1,500 miles apart, they have similarities. I highly recommend this audiobook and book overall to all readers--teens and adults alike. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

Review: All Boys Aren't Blue

All Boys Aren't Blue
By: George M. Johnson
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

This memoir is a delve into Johnson's childhood, teen years, and college years as he struggles with learning his identity as a Black queer man, growing up in the 90s and early 2000s. It is both strong and raw, unflinchingly honest and moving, and it is the type of book that teens need to be able to read because it is the book might help them to see that life has a way of working itself out--even when it feels that the world is stack up against you. 

Johnson takes into his tight knit family, telling stories of his Nanny, his parents, brothers, cousins, and additional extended family welcome and embrace his identity, never making him feel out of place or less than a person. If we could all have a family like his, the world be a much better place. Johnson does not take his family for granted and often points to statistics about the steep uphill battle queer teens face, especially transgender teens (though Johnson is not transgender he does have a cousin that is). 

He takes us through his romantic relationships and his line relationship with his fraternity brothers. He discusses with frankness navigating what it is like being black, queer, and how both make up his identity and how often times each will not accept the other identity--while both are equally important to Johnson's identity. With the same frankness, he delves into the need for better and equal education into queer relationships and sex education in schools and how we are doing a disservice to our students by not allowing or discussing healthy queer relationships.  Our queer students deserve this as much as our hetero normative students do and until we normalize these conversations, we cannot show that we openly support our students. 

This book will make some adults uncomfortable without a doubt but as George Johnson shows--it is life, it is what our students are living and breathing. As he states in the Afterward, "there were no roadmaps or guidelines for the journey" and that is why this book is so vitally important for libraries to put in their collections--for students such as George to find in their collections to find the hope and to learn how to grow, learn, and most importantly, to thrive. 

Note: I elected to experience this book via the audiobook. This book is narrated by the author himself, which I am glad this decision was done. This is a deeply personal story and I appreciate his willingness for putting himself out there doing it. However, I am not electing to review the audiobook format itself, but the book overall. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Mini Reviews: Diverse Nonfiction Reads --So You Want to Talk About Race and Between the World and Me

So You Want to Talk About Race
By Ijeoma Oluo
My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Furthering my understanding and education is an important goal and it should be for all of us and this book breaks this important topic down into questions you might find yourself asking yourself when approaching race relations. Enough is enough and there is no excuse for you not to open yourself up and exam your own understanding and ask yourself to being willing to learn.

Between the World and Me
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Such a powerful book to read right now as we less than a month until one of the most pivotal elections in our country's history. Reading and listening to Coates speak his truth and the words he wrote to his son, that he blessed us with too, will stay with me long after I finished the audiobook and I put down the book.