Monday, January 31, 2011

YAL Blog - "Mockingjay" by Suzanne Collins

Apologies for the lateness of this post - I had it done last week and life simply got in the way.

(I've wanted to review these books for so long.  And I'll probably add more here since it's a less-formal venue than the blog for my class).  Seeing as this is for the final book in "The Hunger Games" series, SPOILERS are a given.

Title - Mockingjay

Author -
Suzanne Collins


Publisher -

Date of Publication -
August 2010

Reading Level -
13 and up

Genre -
Science Fiction

Keywords -
Science-Fiction, Action/Adventure, Dystopian Future, War, Government, Entertainment, Family, Interpersonal Relationships, Mental Health

Plot Summary - In the third and final installment of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss Everdeen has been scooped up by the rebellion against the Capitol of Panem, headed by the mysterious District 13.  As a former participant and victor of Panem's annual Hunger Games, she becomes the symbol of the rebellion - the Mockingjay.

Comments - A sign of a truly well-written story is one that puts you in the shoes of the main character and doesn't give you time to take a breath, even when those shoes come untied. As I read Mockingjay (for the third time, now), I felt as though I was Katniss, seeing the rebellion through her eyes - watching people she cares about make sacrifices for her success, debating whether to become the symbol of the rebellion, realizing that so many sides were manipulating her and others in order to get the outcomes they wanted. The most intriguing part - Katniss isn't even sure what she wants because everything she wants has been taken from her.

This is a fitting end to the trilogy, which started out intense and fast-paced and that trend continues in Mockingjay. Tracking Katniss' journey from the moment she takes her sister's place in the Hunger Games, through Catching Fire and now Mockingjay is a sobering experience - showing how much the characters depend on her when she's only sixteen-seventeen throughout the series. There are light-hearted moments interspersed throughout (from the flirtations of Finnick Odair to the "Crazy Cat" game Katniss plays with her sister's cat during a bombing raid on District 13), but they serve as a contrast to what Katniss is fighting for. I see why these books are so popular, in spite of many criticisms being raised against them (too mature for young adult audiences, too violent, etc.) but I think that teenagers can handle more than adults give them credit for. It's not just the first-person narration Collins employs and it's not just the action that sucks the reader in - it's the reality and empathy Collins creates in this world. The reader believes that they would act the way Katniss would - or maybe how Peeta or Haymitch or even Coin would act. The reader comes into the story and becomes one of the characters - and I think that, above all, inspires kids in no other way.

Extra Commentary I Didn't Give on the Class Blog - I love these books so, so much. It took me until this third reading of Mockingjay to figure out why - and it's not just the action or the shipping or any of that stuff. What kills me the most is that Katniss and Peeta and all these kids are just kids. No older than my sisters or the kids I teach at school. I know it's just a book, but reading all the things they're put through - not to mention how very real the action is - it breaks my heart.  I've said it before - I love stories that make me part of the action and evoke emotion from me.  "Harry Potter" does that.  "Doctor Who" does that.  And now, "The Hunger Games" does it.  I can't imagine that Katniss and Peeta live any sort of "Happily Ever After" and certainly the epilogue of Mockingjay does not pretend to the contrary - but they do try.  And I think that honesty is the best thing you can give to kids.  Life is not always happy and it kicks you in the head so many times - but that's no reason to not try.

Next Up: "Powder Monkey" by Paul Dowswell

Thursday, January 20, 2011

YAL Blog - "Golden" by Cameron Dokey

(I didn't think I'd actually finish this today, but I did, so here is the first installment of the YAL Blog, cross-posted from Blackboard)

Title: Golden: A Retelling of "Rapunzel"
Author: Cameron Dokey
ISBN: 1-4169-3926-1
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing (Imprint: Simon Pulse)
Date of Publication: June 2007
Reading Level: 12+
Genre: Fantasy/Romance
Books in Print suggested these: [Books in Print is a library cataloging database]
JUVENILE FICTION / Fantasy & Magic

These are the ones I thought of before I looked at BiP:
Folklore, Fairy Tales, Heroes, Fantasy, Family Relationships, Romance, Adoption

Plot Summary: Before Rapunzel was born, her parents make a deal with the sorceress, Melisande, when she catches Rapunzel's father in her garden.  If Rapunzel's mother cannot love the child when she is first born, the baby will go to Melisande.  When Rapunzel is born without any hair, her mother declares that she does not love her child and Rapunzel is raised by the kind sorceress.  When Rapunzel turns 16, Melisande tells her adopted daughter of Rue, Melisande's biological daughter, who was locked in a tower by an evil wizard.  Rapunzel must help Rue break the enchantment keeping Rue in tower in two days or they'll both be cursed.

Comments: This is a very solid retelling of "Rapunzel" with some surprisingly modern themes.  The idea that the sorceress in this story is actually Rapunzel's adopted mother may appeal to young adults who have been adopted or who are in foster homes.  In fact, adoption comes up again with the introduction of Harry, a boy whose parents have died and he has been raised by a traveling tinker names Mr. Jones.  Melisande's reasoning for taking Rapunzel from her parents is explained (whether or not it's to the satisfaction of the reader) is given in the fact that Melisande's power is that she can see into the hearts of others and see what people really treasure and cherish.  Rapunzel, though not Melisande's biological daughter, inherits this gift which helps her save Rue from the tower.

I quite liked the twist of making Rapunzel completely bald.  It makes for some nice character development in the story.  The townspeople don't trust Melisande and it only gets worse when Rapunzel's kerchief falls off and everyone sees she is bald and only assume that she was cursed by the sorceress.  This makes the friendship of Mr. Jones and Harry that much more important when they are finally introduced.

I did get a little lost in the middle where Melisande and Rapunzel travel to the tower where Rue has been locked away (Rue is the one with the long golden hair in this story).  Some of the mechanics of Rue's curse were a little fuzzy, so I didn't quite get what Rapunzel was trying to do when... well, I don't want to spoil the ending.

Overall, a very good read with some wonderful characterization.  This book is part of the larger "Once Upon a Time" series, so if you're looking for other classic fairy tale retellings, there are at least twenty other titles in the series (many are also written by Cameron Dokey, if you are a fan of her style).

YAL Blog - Combining My Usual Nerdiness With Actual Schoolwork

This semester, I am taking a Young Adult Library Services class.  Unlike my other classes this one is completely online, so there are some attributes quite unique to this course.  One of my assignments is to read one YA novel a week and post a review about it on our class Young Adult Literature (YAL) blogs.  This is to help us all become acquainted with many different YA titles, though I can already tell you that it will be rare to see me without my nose in some book (whether it be a textbook or novel) or typing on my computer.

I'm actually quite excited about this assignment because I like YA literature and this is basically reading fun books for school credit!  Plus, every Wednesday, the English PolyCom class has set aside 30 minutes for the kids to do some silent reading.  The main teacher also has a book to read and he's told me I could do the same, so I could read while I'm at work and write my review when I get home (one more reason why working at the high school is such fun).

Also, since I have been less-than motivated (or inspired) to blog with any kind of regularity, I have decided I am going to cross-post my book reviews from my school blog to this blog.  I think this will make it more fun for me and also give my loyal readers (all five of you) something enjoyable to read from me.  Just as a heads-up, there is a certain format I need to follow for my class, but I don't think any of you fine literate folks will have any trouble following my train of thought.

In other news, I regret to inform you all that I have turned to the dark side.  Yes, it's true - I have a Twitter account.  I have several reasons for this: (1) - Some of the blogs I follow haven't updated lately, but they have posted new things on their Twitter feeds, so I figure if I want their updates, I should have a place to do that.  (2) - I have been anything but positive toward Twitter, but without actually trying it out.  I came to the conclusion that I should at least try it out before I throw it completely out the window.  If, after a month or so, I decide I have no real use for it, I will delete my account and will need never deal with the Twitter-sphere again.  But who knows - maybe I'll actually come to like it (I can hear Twitter junkies all around the world laughing maniacally).  In any case, if you're interested in following me, my username (handle, tag, thing, whatever) is @wildcat_media.

There goes the phone again - I swear, it's rang about five times since I began this post.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Self-Reflection, Professional Development and Verbage

My graduate classes started up again last week.

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension

Seriously - I'm stoked. I've got three classes this semester instead of my usual two, so I'm going to be busier than usual. But it's a good kind of busy.

My first assignment is a reflection of myself in the program so far. It's supposed to be kind of informal - no real page limit. It's billed as a chance for me to look at how far I've come and what I still want to learn. Which is nice to start off the semester with a little fluffy assignment - just to get myself back in the groove of working, but it's not enough to send my brain into over-fried-overdrive.

But... (yes, there's always a "but," coming, isn't there?)

When I start to actually writing this reflection, I can't help but get into the high-stilted, beat-around-the-bush, take-a-million-years-to-say-hello, writing style that I inevitably land in when I write for a class. I can be informal and relaxed on my blog - even with a SERIOUS BUSINESS topic - but sitting down to pen any kind of academic writing turns me into Wordy Wanda.

For example, this is an actual excerpt from the rough draft of my reflection:

"I find that kids who are good at academics, sports and/or arts get lots of recognition and encouragement for their talents, as well they should. But I’ve noticed that kids who have less-traditional talents, such as construction, welding, family-consumer sciences or other so-called vocational fields, get less encouragement – they may not see their interests as something practical in life."

Mmm 'kay - so, what I was trying to say is that there are kids with talents that almost always get recognized while there are kids with other talents that are just as good that sometimes get overlooked. Sort of like "You want to be a cook for a living? Why?" Part of what I want to do is encourage kids with those "secondary" talents to work at it and develop where their interests lie and never mind what chess club, piano lesson or dance class they're signed up for this week. But I can't say it like that in my academic writing because... I really don't know why.

I hate, hate, HATE when I want to just write one sentence or phrase and it turns into a long wordy piece of crap. One thing that I can't stand about writing business emails for my dad is that I think the people he's writing to must be idiots because he's had to tell them THE SAME STINKING THING at least three or four times, just with different wording. Good grief, how many different ways are there to spell "cat" before you realize he's talking about a small household pet that sheds all over the furniture but is still pretty good at catching mice? (that's a metaphor, JSYK) Personally, I just want to shoot them one line - "Can you please lend us this much money? Our credentials are attached. Many thank yous" - and be done with it (given, I left out the gratuitous butt-kissing these emails often include, which I'd be happy dispensing with altogether).

So, back to my writing assignment - I should just go back and rewrite it. I'm no where near being done, but what I have is crap. Make no mistake - the ideas are fine, it's the execution of the idea that sucks. At least I have until Friday to finish.

Monday, January 10, 2011

You Know What REALLY Ticks Me Off?

When you've got some psycho nut shooting people, six dead, 13 people on their way to the hospital (including a US Congresswoman) and not two hours later, the county sheriff is looking to blame someone other than the guy who pulled the trigger.

I expect this garbage from the goons in the media and some politicians, but not from a guy who was elected to uphold the laws that protect his constituents - and that includes those victimized in this senseless tragedy.  He ought to be working to bring the guilty individual to justice, not vainly speculating on what led to this event, especially when nobody - AND I MEAN NOBODY - has any of the facts.

One victim I see reported on a lot is the little girl, Christina Green.  Maybe it's her name (we like Christinas around here) or the fact that she's a very adorable little girl and her family talks about her being a go-getter and having a lot of goals for herself - but her death is the one that gets to me the most.  My heart goes out to her family and the families of the other victims.  She and the other victims did not deserve this and they sure as hell don't deserve to have their deaths be used as pawns in this stupid political game.  Get all the facts and convict the true guilty parties.  Let people grieve in peace.

I get upset and angry about a number of things, but violence never solves any problem and anyone that thinks that it will is crazy.  And while violence is probably the number one course of action that doesn't solve anything - blaming random people before you have all the facts comes in a close second.

Sheriff Dupnik owes Congresswoman Giffords' family, friends and staff - as well as the innocent victims and their families - an apology.  And he damn well better call a press conference to do it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My New Pet Project

With a new year comes a new semester (more or less) and I've found something new to do that's going to take up the better part of my time and sanity (but it's all for a good cause).  The high school library has a shortage of shelving space.  I could invest in new shelves... but then I got looking at some of the books that are taking up all the space and the kids don't read them.  Actually, nobody reads them.  Ever.  Most people just request new titles and I buy them (hence, why I am looking for more shelf space).

In a somewhat unrelated twist, the librarian before me had begun weeding out old titles and taking them out of the system, but she didn't know what to do with all the old books.  She thought about a few things, including a book sale, but if people want to buy books, they can go get new ones from Barnes and Noble or Amazon.  So, we've got at least three huge boxes of old books in storage with no idea what to do with them (I say "at least three" - I think there are others stored elsewhere.  I haven't had time to go on an exhaustive search, but that's for tomorrow).

Here I come - bright-eyed and full of idealistic... ideas.  I haven't been able to implement very much (lack of money, lack of time, lack of people), but I did find an interesting place to take our old books.  One of my classmates in my graduate program has connections with the library at the state penitentiary and brought up Books Inside, a not-for-profit group that provides books to prison libraries.  Looking at their website, it looks like they don't really care what condition the books are in because the inmates can repair them and they're always looking for more books and things.

You can all see where this is going, can't you?

Pending district approval, all our old books are going to the prison.  On the surface, it seems like an odd place to take our stuff, but I have the feeling that most of these inmates are serious about paying their debt to society and they'll be better people when they get out.  Besides, they could probably do with some good books to pass the time while they're incarcerated (according to my classmate, the library is one of the most-used facilities in the prison).

Now - I have to finish the weeding process, de-catalog (is that even a word?) the old books, box them up and get them to the Books Inside people.  And I'll finally have room for the new stuff.  Everyone wins. :)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy Who Year!

Because this is too brilliant not to pass around:


Virtual New Year's cupcakes go to the first person who gets it.

(Swiped from here, who in turn swiped it from somewhere else - I told you it was too good not to share!)