Saturday, December 8, 2018

Looking Back After Shit Times End

A year ago, I was unraveling. It was a scary time. I felt like a husk of a person. I honestly can't believe that was only 12 months ago.

The morning of the surgery.
A month ago, I was terrified. In September, Ben discovered he had a tumor the size of a second eyeball growing in his eye socket. It was large enough that it was moving his eye out of place and, due to a small gap in the top of his orbital bone, was interfering with his brain. My husband, who lived in mortal fear of needles and tests, lived with constant needles and tests while we made preparations for a major surgery to get rid of the tumor and close up the disrupted bone. In a large way, Ben was processing his mortality. In a smaller way, he was perseverating on getting an IV before surgery. In a large way, I was processing the way this echoed the brain surgery my father never woke up from during the same week 21 years earlier. In a smaller way, I was feverishly planning every single thing I could to fake some semblance of control.

Even before he went under, we were wrapped in love. Friends and family
24 hours post op!
supported us with gifts of money, home cooked meals, and their physical presence- my mom and sister stayed with us for a week, taking care of the boys and making sure life ran smoothly so I could concentrate on Ben. Everyone had good words and good luck vibes to send. The prayer committee was working overtime. It was truly an embarrassment of riches, and support we wouldn't have survived without. And then every step of the process yielded a best case scenario. They were able to remove the tumor without going in from the top of his skull, which meant 3 hour surgery versus 8, and a much quicker recovery. He went home the next night. He was driving in two weeks. He goes back to work on Monday. The most relieving news of all? The tumor came back from pathology benign and unlikely to return. My mantra in all of this was "It will all be over by 2019!" And it came true. 

I am well aware that you don't get out of an MRI machine to a panicked tech telling you to go straight to the doctors and have the entire issue be cleared up within two months. That simply doesn't happen. We dodged a huge bullet. 

Thanksgiving Day, strategically posing to hide the incision.
It's a weird time to be reflecting. Maybe also an awesome time? I was thinking about how jumbled things were a year ago, how frozen I felt a month ago, and how interested I am to see how things proceed. All this hardship (which is relative, and mixed in with some extremely wonderful moments/stretches of time throughout 2018) teaches you a lot about what feels good. Knowing I physically couldn't take on the amount of work that slayed me in 2017 made me more thoughtful about how I spent my time in 2018. That felt good. Expecting that I would spent the end of 2018 caring for a significantly sicker husband than I ended up with, I cleared my schedule. We ended up using those empty days to spend family time- lots of dinners together, movie nights, and fires in the fireplace. That felt good. And I woke up this morning knowing I could do anything (It's Saturday, bless!) but I wanted to get my feelings down here. It's not Instagrammable and it won't build my freelance resume, but it will let me look back in a year and see what was happening in the aftermath of this big life event. I love going back and reading about what I thought was worth writing down at different times. That feels good. 

Maybe that's the plan for the new year- focus on what feels good. Not necessarily in the moment, but what actually feels good, as in strong, thoughtful, gentle, supporting. What will build a feeling of good that will outlast a moment of desire and help me get to where I want to be? I think it's things like appreciating family time, making sure to reach out and thank the people who helped me survive November, and looking back to celebrate the growth that happens whether you're paying attention or not. It feels good to write here, and have it all down. Thank you for reading it. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Coping Strategies for Shit Times

Some really scary health things are happening in my house right now. I never withhold information to be mysterious, but this isn't my story, and so I can't gush every detail the way I usually do. Everything is going to be okay, but this fall is shaping up to be different than I planned. I've never been more grateful that I took a semester off library school, that I freelance with an organization that supports it's contributors so gracefully, that I have family medical days at work, that my family is ready to swoop in and buy plane tickets and make me pumpkin chili at a moment's notice. I do not take this support network for granted. 

Still, I'm scared. I'm making connections to past trauma. I'm sad to see people I love in uncomfortable situations. I'm emotionally drained. My body is doing it's "let's-shut-down-shit-is-getting-heavy" thing. I can feel stress curling around the muscles in my upper back. All I want to do is sleep. Sometimes, that's the answer. But that's not going to get my family and I through the next few months. SO...

Here is a list of things I do when everything is falling apart. They might not be the things that YOU do when everything is falling apart. The goal for me has been to do things that serve future me- the me that will be stressed, sore, and scared PLUS have to go to work, or figure out the holidays for my kids, or take a block of time away from all responsibilities and be a caregiver. Typing this is list is a literally a way to shake off my depressive feelings and remind myself that there are clear-cut accomplishables that will help.

1. Move
I don't FEEL like it. But I know that movement is going to save me right now. I'm not calling this "exercise" because that conjures visions of working up a sweat, forcing yourself through drudgery...that's not the goal. If you can't afford to get a massage, STRETCH and give your muscles some kindness. If your body is feeling stiff and stifled, walk outside and let the cold wake you up. I am always happier when I read, but I haven't been prioritizing reading...getting myself on the elliptical with a book improves my mood and wakes me up and is generally A Good Thing. Putting movement on my list helps A LOT, especially in times of crisis when it's socially acceptable to let it slide. It's a reminder that moving your body is not something you have to do, but something that can help you.  

2. Cook
When this bad news first crashed into the family sphere, my first impulse was to cook and freeze tons of dinners. It was a smart move. A big batch of a soup, a bunch of marinated meat...even when my brain was fried mid-week, there was no excuse to buy takeout that wouldn't nourish us- dinner was already set. This weekend I want to lay in bed and order lots of Chinese food (a prospect made more tempting by the fact that we were paid and could actually afford this), but I know that I'll be happier and feel stronger if I make a grocery list and chop up a bunch of veggies. THERE IS A TIME FOR is coming. But right now, but I'm going to type "soup" into pinterest and be a suburban mom in the best possible way.

3. Plan
Christmas and Thanksgiving are going to look different this year, full stop. I'm hating the out-of-control feeling I have not knowing where we will eat turkey or what our funds will look like mid-December. One way to handle it? Do everything possible to be ready for the most hectic time of the year RIGHT NOW. Your girl who is, at the mo, struggling to shower regularly has made a Google doc with a spreadsheet with every person we're buying a Christmas present for, a budget range, and gift ideas, as well as place to check off when the gift was purchased and when it was wrapped. I've already scooped up a few gifts using Halloween sales and made plans to take a family picture for our Christmas cards. I'm not usually this on top of things, but it's giving me a small sense of control in an out-of-control time. 

4. Comfort
If I'm good at one thing, it's comforting myself. I'm watching my comfort shows with zero shame. I'm turning to Christian mommy blogger podcasts with increasing regularity- I find them deeply soothing when I'm stressed, in particular ones that detail chores, housekeeping, and other homemaker-y routines. (This is strange to me, too, and I'm currently exploring this in another essay. Stay tuned.) I'm making time to play with stickers/washi tape/highlighters in my planner and on our family calendar, because it makes me happy AND makes me feel like we're more organized. Is is the BEST use of my limited mental bandwith right now? Actually, yeah. It comforts me.

5. Forgive
Yourself, when none of the above works. About half the time recently, these tenants above have kept me breathing and kept our family running. The other half, I've used my gym time to eat an entire box of Triscuts while sitting in my car, or took a two hour after-school nap while my kids play too many video games. It's survival, honey. It's not pretty. It's okay. Video games and Triscuts are coping methods, too. Do what feels good. When it doesn't feel good, reassess. Or write a blog post about what feels good. 

Pinterest is my friend right now. I have a private board which I am unlocking called BEST SELF. It's a board of reminders about who I want to be, what I am up against, and what I am capable of. I look at it once a day. I'm also stockpiling yoga stretches and soup recipes and cutesy stocking stuffers as I'm trying to be my most productive survivor self. If Pinterest is one of the things that further stresses you, DON'T CLICK. For me, it's almost like a weird template with ideas I can take or leave, and right now, it's helping.

How about you? What are some of your basic coping strategies when shit is hitting the fan? What strange thing comforts you? I hope you're doing okay <3 

Monday, September 17, 2018

This is not a library school post.

Last year, around this time, I started library school. All of my dreams were coming true at once, and I was so freaking optimistic. My kids were both in school full time. I had the job I had always dreamed of. I was in classes full of likeminded people. I was sure I had peaked- I felt weird guilt about how great every single part of my life was. Funnily enough, it wasn't the cakewalk I thought it would be. I overscheduled myself with grad classes and ended up having a really tough fall. I stopped all my medication and my mental health was a mess. I was out of touch with my family, and my marriage and relationships with my kids really suffered. And I stopped writing.

It wasn't useless hardship. I've come really far with self examination over the past year. Right around Christmas, when the shit was really hitting the fan, I set myself a group of goals, and they helped me prioritize my life. I pulled back on my classes and finished my first year as a Media Specialist. I got a great therapist and started taking a new medication that I never skip. I committed to communication, and I talk to husband and my kids a lot about things that bother me. I'm working really hard not to be defensive when they bring up the same to me. I'm still hard to live with at times. I still shut down when things get too real. I'm still scared to watch shows or movies that might make me feel emotions. But I'm working on it and I'm very happy in a real way- an earned way.

One really tough part of this past year is I completely stopped writing. My blog posts were just for library classes (sorry about that). I wrote very few Book Riot articles. And my fiction stories were completely abandoned. I dropped my writing group the second I got my new job, and I deeply regret it. There's no way I could have done them the justice they deserve on top of my courses and my scattered lifestyle anyway, but I miss them. I miss my friends and I miss reading each others' work and being deeply invested in the process of writing. I know I'll have it again, one day, and right now I'm trying to make that be enough.

This fall, I'm cautious and optimistic. We have a big huge calendar hanging in the kitchen, a shared Google calendar that we update religiously, and my personal planner- every detail of our lives is written down three times at a minimum. That helps. We have a weekly meeting where we talk about events and chores and every family member can bring up issues (Milo, day one: "I want to talk about how much you guys are on your phones." Ouch.) None of the classes I need are being offered this semester, so I'm taking a break, updating my paperwork with the Department of Education, and trying to be super organized so when classes pick back up, I won't fall to pieces.

I think all the time about what I know was the best year of my life so far: 2015. I had two kids that were so cute, a handsome husband who had just redone our back porch into a little writing oasis that made my heart soar. I had a job that I was good at, that I had been doing long enough that I no longer agonized over every single detail. I had friends I adored, and spent the fall being fawned over as I turned 30- shows, fancy hotel stays, luxurious meals, surprise parties. I ran a book club, blogged, wrote 500+ words of fiction a day, went to the gym regularly, tried new foods and beers all the time, and felt amazing. I felt amazing. 

On paper, my life is "better" now. We bought a bigger house. I got my dream job. My kids are older, out of diapers, in school all day with childcare significantly less difficult. It's all "better," but so, so much harder. And that annoys me. Why is it harder now? It's obvious. I leveled up. I can't have a cozy, lived in feeling in a house automatically- that shit takes work. I can't be an expert at a job in the first year- that shit takes work. I can't anticipate my kids' every need when they're in a completely new section of their development- that shit takes work. 2015 was so great because I had reached the ceiling for that part of my life. I'll think of it fondly for a long, long time. And now, back to work.

(Art via Pinterest by Camila Rosa- her work is absolutely amazing and you should buy some of it.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

LBS 850- Module 12 THE END

It's the last day of my Emerging Technologies for Libraries class, and we're revisiting the Top Ten Tips lists we made at the beginning of the summer. While my big ideas haven't changed, I have definitely acquired a ton of new tools to help me reach my goals. I have two major take aways- I need to make time to stay on top of these tech developments, and focus on the TYPES of tech, because there are too many tools to keep track of without sorting them.

As far as making time is concerned, I know it needs to be a part of my routine in order to take root. Last year I was very worried about staying on top of age=appropriate titles for elementary school when most of my pleasure reading was YA. I implemented a daily silent reading timing as a part of my routine and when the students were reading, so was I. I used the time specifically to read things I would want to add to or recommend in the library. I'm going to set up a similar daily time period to stay up-to-date with tech. MY administration mandates a consistent typing practice, so during the class typing time, I will research or work on tech tools. 

For the sorting, Barb organized things for us during Module 3 into ORGANIZE YOUR STUFF, FIND NEW STUFF, and FIND NEW BOOKS. For my students, I might choose categories like "FIND NEW INFORMATION, ORGANIZE YOUR INFORMATION, PRESENT YOUR INFORMATION" Being able to describe the tools and figure out what category they belong to will help students realize how the tools will be used and if they need it or not.

Below is the list I posted at the beginning of the semester. It still stands, but thanks to this class I have a ton of new tools to flesh out the list and meet my technology goals.

10. Don't overwhelm yourself. Pick a technology that you're already somewhat familiar with on a personal level and leverage that for use in the classroom. Then move on to new things.

9. Focus more on the types of technology (communication tools, research tools, databases, etc) than the actual products. Products change, but the needs remain the same.

8. Give yourself time to play with new products.

7. Give your students time to play with new products.

6. Seek out professional development about new apps/tech- so much is available, a lot of it for free!

5. Use social media (Instagram and Twitter!) to seek out other educators who are doing similar work- these connections will inspire you and keep new tech on your radar.

4. Figure out the curriculum connections before you choose the tech to teach- use these tools to enrich the education already taking place.

3. Check and find out what your students already know before you plan your lessons. Especially in this 2018 tech-heavy world, students already know A TON. Check in before you plan to teach them.

2. Ask students what they wish they could learn. Ask them how they would use the tech they want to learn. In general, involve them in this process.

1. HAVE FUN! The future is now.

Friday, August 3, 2018

If you're new around here...

Welcome! I'm Ashlie, an elementary librarian and writer who LOVES books and fat people. This is a space where I've word-vomited about everything from whale-inspired bathroom art to body acceptance to books by ladies. It is also a space where I currently post a bunch of stuff for my library grad classes cause I GOTTA GET THAT LICENSE. I use Instagram (@ashlieelizabeth) and Twitter (@mygirlsimple) a lot, I live for Goodreads (ashlieelizabeth) and I'm a contributing writer for Book Riot. I also have a freelancing website at check me out! 

Monday, July 23, 2018

LBS 850 Module 9- Teaching Teachers

This week, our task was to create some professional development for teachers. I was excited for this project, as I believe it will be really useful to implement in real time when I'm back in school. This is a technology class, so I struggled with whether I had to be making up professional development that taught a form of technology or if I could teach any topic as long as I used technology. I finally settled on teaching technology because it felt like the biggest stretch for me and I want to get as much as possible out of this class. I'm proud of myself because I really wanted to do a webpage dedicated to helping teachers find diverse books and use tech tools embedded to leave mini-reviews and network about which lessons and standards they were able to meet with each. I'll tuck that idea away for another time.

We talked a ton on the discussion boards this week about how useless a lot of PD is, and I've heard this from numerous sources during my 10 years as a teacher. I'm really proud of how my district has been moving away from pointless PD- a teacher-led committee solicits ideas and sets up mini workshops for staff to choose from at the beginning of every year, but through out the year the building principal usually has the final say on individual days of PD. In general, if you can prove that what you're doing is standards-based and building professional knowledge, we're given a lot of space to make the best choices for our personal practice. I know that's not the case everywhere, so I feel really lucky.

I think, in my actual real-life practice, my best bet is going to be things I can explain via screencast and/or protocol document and then leave up on a website for teachers to access on their own time. I'll also continue to make myself available for one-on-one time helping teachers, if anyone ever has enough time to take me up on it. Meet them where they're at and give them what they need!

Monday, July 16, 2018

LBS 850 Module 8- Top Tech Tools

This week our class took a look at integrating tech into lessons for our students. The natural culmination of familiarizing ourselves with these tools is to apply them to our teaching. We were also challenged to look at the tools that are most important to us and rate our absolute top five. I'm struggling between tools I already use all the time and ones that I would like to develop my practice with, so I did a little of both.

Twitter/Instagram: My social media in the library is still developing- I post to Instagram more often and Twitter rarely, but I find this way of connecting very important and am definitely working to use it more.

Flipgrid- I'm hoping to use this tool more in the coming year. I love the idea of students making videos of 90-second book reviews.

Biblionasium- I can see this tool supporting the development of our school reading culture, which is a major goal of mine. Safe, fun, social reading community? I'm sold.

Kahoot- I've heard amazing tales of student engagement skyrocketing when using this quiz app, and I would love to get my kiddos that excited in the library!

Scratch-  This has been a goal of mine for at least half the year. This coding curriculum is already very popular at my school and these are skills that can be developed from a young age!

Monday, July 9, 2018

LBS Module 7- Social Networking and Gaming

This week we looked at games! While I found the gaming information interesting, I was really stuck on the importance of the social component for teens especially. I think it's crucial to honor what our students are doing with their time and give them tools to be safe and successful. Basically, my bottom line is that the internet is here, kids are using it, and our job as Library Media Specialists is just to train them up right. Judgement-free zone necessary because frankly librarians need to stay cool and relevant and anyone harping about "kids these days and their gaming!" is not helping our image!! Below are some resources I really like for talking about digital citizenship with kids.

Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Curriculum
Great classroom posters here
Pause and Think Online (adorable song and video)

BrainPop Digital Citizenship Curriculum

Dot by Randi Zuckerberg, illustrated by Joe Berger

Once Upon A Time Online by David Bedford, illustrated by Rosie Reeve

But I Read It On the Internet! by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa

The Pirates of Plagiarism by Lisa Downey, illustrated by Kathleen Fox 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

LBS 850 Module 5

In the library, one of my big goals to grow a pleasure reading culture, which is something that can be tough in an environment where barriers to learning are many. One of the ways to pump it up is to make book recommending exciting. Students were wild for a unit on emoji book reviews, and I'm taking it to the next level next year by trying out 90 second book review videos using Flipgrid.

I've done a test video to get started, which you can find by going here: You Don't Have To Take My Word 4 It and using the password Swicker18 to see the topic starter. If you're feeling adventurous, I'd love to have you record a book review in response to my demo! Any age level of book is fine, as I won't actually use this one with my students when we roll this out. What do you think?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

LBS 850 Module 4- Applications

This week we did more exploring, this time of applications that provide one singular use. This was another “don’t fall down the rabbit hole!” week, and I spent most of the time trying to keep my interest surface level, as I am a person who can get hyper focused on a single thing and the world is too full for that!

In organizing these apps, I’m trying to find a single “frame” to have things fall under. I’m spending some summer PD time on developing my Google skills, because my school uses Google a ton. I want students to be able to track reading and share presentations that are NOT Google slides (because they use this a lot in the classroom), as well as more of a social outreach in general. This brought things like Flipgrid to mind, for sharing information and book reviews- I really want students to replicate the 1 minute book review format that Reading Rainbow has at the end of each episode- and Voki, for reenacting historical situations we might learn about. I would also love to share more student work on our Instagram and website, and I can see that apps that let you create graphics, like Piktochart, could be helpful here.

Ending my first year in the library, I’m in reflection mode and this is the perfect time to be wading through these apps- I know what I got to this year and what I hope to focus on next year. I’m trying to find apps to strengthen the goals I’ve already identified and resisting the urge to add a million more projects. Mastering things one at a time!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

LBS 850 Module Three- Tools

“Men have become the tools of their tools”
Shut up, Thoreau, we're trying to learn here...

The above notes from our class materials made me laugh. This week we delved into tools and apps, a huge umbrella under which so many different things can fall. We roughly split things into three types of tools- things for organizing, things for finding new things, and things for keeping track of your books.

I'm going to be honest- this type of week/exploration can be very overwhelming for me. So many great resources and as I explore each one, I start to ping around- "I could use this for X, Y,  and Z, and should probably go check with administration right now let me immediately sign up." To avoid this, I tried to be very selective with what I dove into, but I also was worried that I'd have some FOMO about the other apps I didn't spend time with this week. For that reason, I am going to group some resources in general lists below so I can revisit.

Even though is is an area where I have a lot of organization already in place, I was really drawn to the book organization tools shared this week. I'm already an active Goodreads user (my account is here!) and I was really excited when a classmate shared that you can set up your email signature to show your currently reading selection. This is such a good idea. I also use a reading spreadsheet developed by a Book Riot contributor, Rachel Manwill, to keep track of my statistics within a year. I wanted to share it here so others might experience the magic I have this year tracking so far! There are tons more details in this article.

For further tool research, I felt most comforted by the articles and posts that rounded up a ton of links for exploring down the road. The list of best websites for teaching and learning from AASL is definitely one I'll be returning to. I was also really drawn to Livebinders- especially the examples set up to walk students through certain units or summer reading programs. This is something I can see myself setting up as I gather resources for grade levels or teachers around standards and yearly projects.

More for further reading later:
Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. 31 Educational Web Tools Every Teacher Should Know About. Links to an external site.
Google Tools for Educators - Links to an external site.
Joquetta Johnson. Google LiveBinder. - Links to an external site.
In summation, from the Kellet article: If you have multiple tools/apps to do the same job something is wrong. DAMN!

Basically, I'm going to need to secure my learning targets before I commit to certain tools. I'm far too susceptible to the flashiness of new things to trust myself as all this terrific technology is presented to me. Teaching on a weekly schedule in the library as opposed to teaching on a daily schedule in the classroom really lets me set up units and use universal design to set up my year. For my first year in the library I kept a printed monthly calendar and a single paper notebook, keeping notes as things popped up that I either wanted to avoid, repeat, or anticipate for next year. As I look ahead for 2018-2019, I'll return to both my notes and these posts to pick and "perfect" (as much as possible) the tool I want myself and my students to use.

Monday, June 4, 2018

LBS 850- Assistive and Adaptive Technology

This week we were asked to explore Adaptive and Assistive Technologies from a librarian’s point of view. We reached out to experts and point people in our district, read articles about the need for accessible and welcoming spaces, and were encouraged to begin crafting a plan for evaluating accessibility in our Media Centers.

There were two articles from Janet Hopkins, both of which included punch lists of actionable items to help librarians ensure accessibility for all their patrons. The first one (written for the journal Teacher Librarian in 2004) gives background on what Assistive Technology is and then shares very simple steps that librarians can use to evaluate things in their own spaces. These tips are very elementary, and I suspect this is on purpose. Asking librarians to start by reaching out to special education colleagues and commit to viewing the library space from other perspectives is non-threatening and reinforces the idea that, while very important, this change will not happen overnight. Librarians are given permission, in this article, to seek professional development before diving deeply in.

The following article, written two years later, seems to encourage librarians to reach further beyond the planning stage. This article has more explanations about aspects of AT in the media center and planning for a longer haul commitment. Although the articles are framed differently and weren't published consecutively, they really compliment each other and continue to urge librarians to go further in providing accessibility.

I also spent some time this week exploring Project Enable, a service through Syracuse University specifically targeted to librarians. While the 20-hour training seems very intriguing, the resource list is also extremely helpful.

At the intersection of the book world and the need for accessibility is an issue that came up this weekend at Book Expo, one of the largest publishing conventions in the country. One of the invited authors, Tee Franklin, uses a wheelchair and accommodations were not taken into account when she was asked to speak on a panel about comics. She arrived to the panel with no way to join the other authors on stage, in an embarrassing position in front of the audience already gathered. This is the emotional video she posted on Twitter soon after she chose to leave the panel and sign her comic elsewhere. It's a real life face on these issues we discuss academically, and extremely important.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

LBS 850- Top Ten Things Educators Should Know About Technology

For my latest Library Science course (Emerging Technologies for Libraries), we were asked to browse this thread technology "musts" for educators. People generated top ten lists and gave advice to educators who might be nervous starting out with technology. You can find the list here.

While I browsed the lists, I tried not to glom onto any one piece of advice. I'm hoping that I have lots of space in my mind for the new ideas I'll be introduced to over the course of this class. We were assigned the task of creating our own list of top ten tech tips which we'll revisit at the end of the course. Here is where I am as of today.

10. Don't overwhelm yourself. Pick a technology that you're already somewhat familiar with on a personal level and leverage that for use in the classroom. Then move on to new things.

9. Focus more on the types of technology (communication tools, research tools, databases, etc) than the actual products. Products change, but the needs remain the same.

8. Give yourself time to play with new products.

7. Give your students time to play with new products.

6. Seek out professional development about new apps/tech- so much is available, a lot of it for free!

5. Use social media (Instagram and Twitter!) to seek out other educators who are doing similar work- these connections will inspire you and keep new tech on your radar.

4. Figure out the curriculum connections before you choose the tech to teach- use these tools to enrich the education already taking place.

3. Check and find out what your students already know before you plan your lessons. Especially in this 2018 tech-heavy world, students already know A TON. Check in before you plan to teach them.

2. Ask students what they wish they could learn. Ask them how they would use the tech they want to learn. In general, involve them in this process.

1. HAVE FUN! The future is now.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Week 15- What You Read As A Teen

This is so FUN. Even though we spent a semester talking about books and our childhood connection to them, and even though this specific prompt was fodder for an awesome week on the discussion boards, looking up titles for this post took me down memory lane.

Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix
This was one of those titles that I remembered REALLY fondly, but had forgotten the cover and the name. The details tickled the back of my brain for years, and when I saw the movie THE VILLAGE in the early 2000s, I was so offended, because that "original, groundbreaking" plot basically ripped of this book chapter-for-chapter. Haddix mixes all things I loved as a girl in the 90s- thriller with zero gore, historical fiction, fearless teen heroine. I recently ordered a copy for my adult bookshelf.

Fearless by Francine Pascal
I happily read all the Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books by the time I left middle school, and in my first year of high school, I found Pascal's more "grown up" series. I have posited before that I think this was my first exposure to a trope I see a lot in YA: the gorgeous girl with lethal fighting skills who can save the day when faced with evil but doesn't know that she lovely and hopeless with love. That's a thing :) There are about 36 installments in this series, I think? I only remember the first ten or so and mostly I remember swapping them with friends. I tried to reread them a few summers ago and they didn't age well, but the memories are nice.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
Oh man, this one. I know there's a whole incredibly mystery and that is the magic of the story, but I loved the details of how Claudia pulled off the escape to the museum. Several random descriptive sentences have stayed with me powerfully for 25 years: the distaste Claudia has when Jamie eats mac and cheese for breakfast, even though she recognizes they had to eat something filling to get the most bang for their buck, and a line about how hard it is to hold on to a thought when you're starting to fall asleep. A descriptor about Claudia pinching the corner of an accidentally-discarded train pass and grimacing as she removed it from the trash- I can still see that. I don't have my copy out and haven't reread this in years, so Konigsburg's writing style has definitely stuck with me. I don't know if this one would hold up but man do I love it.

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B Cooney
Quick bonus title- OMG THIS BOOK! I know this baby holds up because I have fifth grade girls fighting over it right now. A girl eating lunch in the cafeteria sees her baby picture on a milk carton ad for missing persons. There are a bunch of companion titles that I also read, and a made-for-TV movie starring Kelly Martin that I'm not sure I ever saw but I feel like I did. I had to include this book!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

2018 Intentions

At the very end of 2017, I thought about what I wanted for this year. I went about this differently than I normally do- I usually review the year, then think about 10-15 amazing things that I want to add in, come up with ambitious plans about how to get better at the things that are messy/floundering/failing, and then create a shiny road map, a couple of Pinterest boards, and ultimately crumble within two months.

Last year, however, things were such a disaster at the end of the year that I was too stunned to do any of my scheming. I was over scheduled with a new job and classes and was late on most things (like seriously everything). I had stopped taking my medications a few months earlier, with pretty bad results. I was unhappy at home and plastering a smile on at work. One night I started crying and I couldn't stop. I wrote this blog post. It was one of the scariest times in my adult life. 

I went on a trip to Florida, a death in the family forcing me to fly down early with just one of my kids. This maybe saved me? I had such a tenuous grasp on my sanity that for the first time in my life, I literally could not do more than get through the next moment. I remember packing snacks to keep my son quiet during the funeral we were attending, using every ounce of my concentration to find a ziploc bag and fill it with Goldfish crackers. It was the kind of thing I did at home mindlessly, while also making dinner, checking Instagram, scanning the Book Riot Slack channel to snatch up an article idea, planning out my next discussion board post, and reminding a kid to hang up their backpack. It was something my hands could do without any permission from my brain. But on this day, in my mom's kitchen in Florida, it was a singular task. Snacks in bag, make sure you have wipes, find his shoes, find your shoes. For the first time ever, I was ready on time. 

I see the trip to Florida (I trip I was dreading, because trips are messy and tiring and I was already so messy and so tired and I just kept thinking, HOW WILL I SURVIVE THIS because even in serious crisis I am dramatic) as a reset button. That time where my only, seriously ONLY responsibility was getting my son and I dressed for whatever was happening next will always be precious to me. We were joined by my husband and other son a few days later, and I had calmed enough to enjoy them, to enjoy our family, to feel prepared for the rush and excitement of Disney at Christmas. The drive home was not awful (no amount of personal growth will let me cherish getting from FL to MA in two days), but on our actual return there was another shock. Walking back into our house was like walking back into the nightmare I had just slipped away from. Everything looked as frantic as I had felt in the days leading up to the emergency get away to Florida. Piles, unvacuumed carpets, mouldering birthday cake, a shedding Christmas tree. Homemaking was never my strongest skill, but I knew something needed to change. It was a second rude awakening. 

All of the above was on my mind when I tweeted out the intentions I shared above. This was not a declaration made after a ton of reflection- I did not comb through all of 2017's posts and carefully select the way forward. I went from the gut, something I am just learning to listen to and trust. I wrote one and then another until I realized that those feelings truly summed up exactly what I hoped this year would be. At nearly halfway through 2018, I find myself referencing these ideas ALL THE TIME. Some of them are already highly developed: we've completely redone the living room and everyone in the family has routine jobs with the end goal of feeling comfortable and happy when we walk in the front door, which is the last thing I felt in January. I changed medicines and found a therapist I really like. I only took one library class this semester, one that does not require me to rack up observation hours, and is actually just reviewing children's/YA books. I love it. I am reading with the boys and spending a bit more time with Ben. I need to do a better job of carving out time for pleasure writing and I need to do a better job of prioritizing exercise, but I'm getting there. I'm balancing. 

2017 knocked me off my axis, and being aware of that is harder than ignoring it. I could keep my head down and keep adding things to my plate, telling myself not to be dramatic and using a whole host of different things to keep myself numb, and I could maybe get a whole other year in before I had another breakdown. But instead, I've been using 2018 to examine, and question things. To take situations down to the studs and rebuild them. It's hard and messy, but it way that has results, so the mess doesn't feel like a complete waste. I'm figuring out what is important to me and what I can live without. It's so weird but I am ending up so happy. 

Nothing is perfect and I definitely still have my moments, but I am more able to put them in perspective than I was six months ago. I'm getting through 2018 very deliberately, mostly using eight off-the-cuff tweets to guide me, and so far, so good.

Monday, April 30, 2018

LBS Week 14- Nutritious Books

I feel like this week is cresting the wave of the magical library knowledge I one day hope to embody. While I feel comfortable talking books for pleasure, I'm very interested in finding ways to connect titles to curriculum to support teachers and their students. This is where I can't rely on my personal reading, so I've really appreciated several articles where teachers share their best picks for curriculum-connected reading. This article from Cult of Pedagogy is a roundtable where teachers share their best practices and titles for using graphic novels in the classroom- from this conversation, I found this master list of graphic novels, including the subjects they support and a rough grade level suggestion. I also enjoyed this interview with a special education teacher who built a graphic novel lending library in his office that has changed the reading lives of many of his students.

These suggestions below are *nutritious* with the curricular connections they can support, but I definitely feel this is an area where I have a lot more exploration to do.

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up For Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai and Patrick McCormick

Malala Yousafzai is becoming a household name, and that is absolutely magical. This Young Reader's Edition of her autobiography only covers the short part of her life that had already been lived, but in doing so covers activism, terrorism, Pakistani culture, and the inspiring power of a single girl who is making a real change in real time. This could be used as part of a study of biographies, or as a compliment to lessons about geography or the effects of modern-day terrorism.

Americus by M.K. Reed and Jonathan Hill

"Neal Barton just wants to read in peace." This graphic novel about a young man and a youth services librarian facing off against a conservative Christian group trying to remove a fantasy series from the public library seems important not only in the high school civics classroom but as a compliment to our librarian training. Covering issues of censorship and activism, this novel has rocketed to the top of my TBR.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan is known for his other-worldly illustrations and quirky, charming subjects- The Arrival embodies all of this. This wordless graphic novel follows an immigrant as he tries to make a better life for his family. This wordless book is a perfect entrypoint for students who struggle with reading or who are learning English- their spoken interpretations will allow them to join class discussions in a meaningful way. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

LBS Week 13- Scary Books

I don't like scary things- not one bit. That being said, I do have quite a few YA favorites that could toe the line. I've already mentioned Evil Librarian and The Diviners, two books that can be adored while also dishing out serious willies (the latter more than the former, but chills and gore in both). For these latest picks on the blog, I stayed with a traditional definition of scary books, which is by the far the most common request I get from students in 3rd-5th grade. When Mary Downing Hahn becomes too tame (actually never if you're me- Wait Til Helen Comes is still on my shelf and still scaring the piss out of me), these YA horror picks just might fit the bill.

The Awesome by Eva Darrows
Did I buy this book based solely on the badass cover? Well...maybe. This edition is gorgeous, and the premise is divine- Maggie Cunningham helps her mother with the family business. Hunting vampires. She's not like other girls (my least favorite phrase about females but it works here) and she's totally fine with it. Except there is a certain rite of passage that must be fulfilled if she wants to get her professional vampire hunting license, a certificate cannot be obtained while one is in possession of virgin blood. That's right- Maggie has to lose her V card, and she has to do it quickly. Read this book for awesome creepy monster fights and a protagonist that you'll love as much for her toughness as for her vulnerability. I will cop that there are some serious plot holes (enough that I assumed a second book would fill some things in but there don't seem to be plans for another...) but the book is definitely fun enough to enjoy on it's own!

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Despite some extremely chilling descriptions and tense ghostly scenes, this is one of my perennial favorites, a book I take out every Halloween no matter what is going on in my reading life. Cas is a ghost hunter who moves from town to town with his mother, finishing the interrupted work of his father- sending disruptive ghosts to their final resting place. Cas doesn't expect anything unusual when he hears the legend of Anna Karlov, the ghostly girl haunting a house in his latest stop, but as he gets closer to completing his goal of ending Anna, he finds it more and more difficult to follow through...

YEAH HE ACTUALLY FALLS IN LOVE WITH THE GHOST! And it's somehow not corny! And there is a second one (Girl of Nightmares) that I love just as much. It's incredibly fast-paced and leaves you wanting a third. I know Kendare Blake is getting a lot of popularity for her current trilogy but I always hope she'll return to Cas and Anna.

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
This is the only book I'm recommending that I haven't read. Goodreads is completely split on how scary this is, which makes me assume that it probably toes the line. I'll sometimes scan the Goodreads comments, but they never really match with how I feel about books I've read, so I take it all with a grain of salt. The Girl from the Well is based on the same Japanese legend as the movie The Ring, but this plot has the ghost of the murdered girl spending her time hunting people who hurt children. When she comes across a boy who she cannot save, she uncovers a depth of spirits and doll magic unlike anything she's seen in her three hundred plus years.

Monday, April 16, 2018

LBS 803 Week Twelve- Geeky Books

This is kind of my happy place. I reside comfortably in the YA/Chosen One/Girl of the Future/Savior of Her People/Minimum-Three-Book in the Series/Sci-Fi/Fantasy world, and a lot of my favorite reading experiences are from this grand tradition. I'm glad I chose Warcross by Marie Lu as my novel for the week, as it's definitely something I'm enjoying and comparing to a lot of my favorite reads. My blog post this week is unusual in that I've read all of these suggestions, and have rabidly loved them for various different reasons.

An Ember in the Ashes (a quartet) by Sabaa Taahir
I've listened to this series exclusively on audio, and Steve West's voice in particular stops me in my tracks. The narration on the first switches between the main characters Laia and Elias, and the second in the series brings in a third, Helene. The world building is delicious, but the violence (both physical and sexual) can be a little much, although I am pretty sensitive to these things, and can still really enjoy. Laia ends up taking on an undercover role as a slave in order to convince a resistance group to help her brother. Elias is one of the top students at a school supported by a world he completely hates. They're drawn together repeatedly while dealing with the enormous stress of their responsibilities  Two are already out with a third coming this summer!

The Raven Cycle (a quartet) by Maggie Stiefvater
This is another four-book series, this one completed, dabbling in ancient Welsh myths, mystical ley lines, tarot readings and scrying, a dead king, a dreamer who brings things back when he wakes, and a girl fated to kill the boy she loves when she kisses him. This fantasy series is heavily lined with romance- I tried harder than Blue not to fall in love with Gansey, but it's the romantic developments in the fourth book that I most appreciated. Very dark and no nonsense, this series is often reread by yours truly.

The Diviners (a quartet) by Libba Bray
I'm sensing a pattern here...I guess good fantasy is easily tied up in fours. The Diviners series is another that dabbles in the mystical and fortune, similar to The Raven Cycle in that it brings its fantasy elements into a the already-existing world, but the similarities truly end there. The Diviners books are relentlessly researched historical fiction, bringing the 1910s to life in vivid color. A hearty cast of characters with together to understand themselves and various mysteries taking place against the backdrop of prohibition New York City. They take forever to come out because they are SO detailed and well-researched, but they are worth the wait.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (a trilogy) by Rae Carson
Full disclosure, I have not finished this trilogy. I didn't even finish the second book. But I really loved the first, and I have to include it, because INCREDIBLE FAT REP ON THE PAGE! Elisa is a fat heroine who does not suddenly acquire flashy fighting skills but uses her knowledge of strategy to save the day. Also, the gem-growing-in-your-belly-button is the coolest way to mark a Chosen One ever.

The Darkest Part of the Forest (stand alone) by Holly Black
This should not have been stand alone. Holly Black paints these really amazing worlds where the supernatural creatures exist in an uneasy truce with contemporary humans (see: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown) and this novel is no different. Hazel and her twin brother, Ben, have always made up stories about the sleeping prince in the unbreakable glass box, and while the seeming whimsy of the situation draws tourists, Hazel knows how dangerous the fae in the forest can actually be. My only complaint about this book is that TOO MUCH happens- there are storylines about romance and bad family situations and parental pressure and stolen identity and faerie courts and changlings- it's too much for one relatively slim novel. There's a new series that just began by Black- The Cruel Prince is patiently waiting for me when this class is over- and I'm hoping that with more space, we'll get more of these themes with more space to breathe!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

LBS 803 Week Eleven- Sexxxy Books!

This week in class we talked about Sexy Books, and the title of this unit is actually a super-clever
branding move on the part of our super-clever professor. Want to talk about romance but want to grab the attention of your teen (or adult) audience? Call it Sexy Books and suddenly everyone is all ears. I'm loving the aspect of this assignment that calls for physical touching of books- I've been making a point to browse in the actual bookstore, and it makes such a difference in the things that cross my path! As usual, the below are a mix of personal favorites and new releases that caught my eye.

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
This book, the second in it's series, made the list for it's eye-popping sexual content. A multi-layered high fantasy YA series, this particular storyline from Maas includes sex as a plot point, a ruse to hide true intentions, and the pinnacle of deeply romantic relationships. While the first book in the this series made me roll my eyes quite a bit (some my the tropes were too tropey, even for my trope-loving heart), I got drawn into the interesting politics as the series progressed, and the second is where the shipping (the act of hoping two characters will get together) and the fiery content really upped the game! A note when recommending- I would stick with the upper end of YA and people who won't be offended by gratuitous love scenes- Maas does NOT cut away!

A Totally Awkward Love Story by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison
This cover JUMPED out at me in the bookstore. I love the font and sweet colors and the blurb that promises me "raunchy hilarity." Reviews from some of my favorite Goodreads friends spoke of "sexual frankness" and "seriously awkward" situations and this really sells me. Starting the summer before college, Sam and Hannah spend a PERFECT five minutes together at a house party- then get separated without even getting each other's names. A cycle of will they/won't they missed connections makes up the rest of the plot. Definitely looking forward to checking this one out.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
I have a huge blind spot when it comes to Rainbow Rowell- she's my...favorite. So when she was releasing a romantic ode to Harry Potter and fanfiction that was coming out on my actual 30th birthday, I was foaming to read it, and have read it a few times every year since. This book is FULL of forbidden romance, badass girls, stubble-chinned kisses, and obsession that seamlessly transforms from passionate hatred to breathless snogging in mere moments. The wizarding school/lead up to the final battle/destiny trope is flipped on its head when the protagonist falls in love with his number one enemy.

A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen
Another book that called to me because of it's sweet cover. Goodreads and the blurb for this one promise a romance with the girl next door, a science-obsessed protagonist, and lots of really cool diagrams. Interesting points about this one include a time period that goes from age 13 to age 19 and the quest to prove whether love can be scientifically explained. Good luck, kids. This one is going on my TBR for at least a good flip through- the scientific drawings intrigue me!