The good, the bad and such cuties!!

While composing a recent blog post, I needed to collect reviews on G. Neri’s Ghetto Cowboy. This was a post that gave me pause.  My unpleasant reaction wasn’t so much that the author didn’t care for the book, but what was written in the review about why it wasn’t liked. In trying to learn how to write a decent review, I can remember a list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ which include the instruction to never review what isn’t in the book. I fight so hard not to do that and it really isn’t easy. I hate to point fingers at another blogger in a negative way, but that review really struck me. I’m here to learn from you all in one way or another!

How do you express your dislike for a story based in reality when the author’s perception of reality differs from your own? I think Debbie Reese is pretty good at it. She just sticks to the fact.

I want to say that writing a bad review is hard, but sometimes it can be fun. Sometimes the book is so incredibly wrong that you can’t help but laugh and joke with it! Too often though, it is hard to admit dissatisfaction with a book so many others have liked, with a book that was so generously given to you, that is the author’s first attempt or that is the 53 book by a well established author. Sounds like something that’s not in the book is being brought to the review, doesn’t it?

Good reviews can be a challenge in a different way. I feel my vocabulary expanding as I search for new words to express how much I like something and even feel myself growing into finding ways to describe why I like something. When I really like a book, I feel like it’s an honor to write about it and I don’t want to do the book or the author a disservice. I don’t want my reviews to all sound the same and lacking in originality or reflecting the spirit of the piece.

Recently, at a meeting of other school librarians, I discussed with another school librarian/media specialist how books that were so popular a year or two ago are no longer being touch in the library. Perhaps this is because the books really weren’t that good in the first place. I think sometimes I really, really like a book as a general reader and don’t really review its literary merit. I think books with staying power are written on a different level and have themes, characters and complexity which often go ignored by reviewers such as myself. Should I ignore buying all the vampire books? the steamy romances? or the sports fiction? No, but maybe I don’t need to buy so numerous books in these trendy areas, and always should maintain copies of books that have become teen classics.

I’m wondering which recent works by author of color have staying power and are becoming teen classics?

Sunday Morning Reads

I’ve been back to school since 8 August. While my blog posts decreased prior to that with my laptop in the questionable hands of the Geek Squad (sorry, it wasn’t a good experience) my posting didn’t pick up when my machine was returned. Getting back into a routine that begins at 5 a.m is exhausting! Yes, I know I should maintain a 5 a.m. routine when I’m not working, but I am not now nor have I  ever  been a morning person.

You may remember that  much of my summer was spent looking for a new job in this tight job market. I’m glad to have a job to return to and I embrace the opportunity to effectively address literacy needs in my school, regardless of the challenges.

This year, we’ve become a boys and girls academy with the genders separated on different floors and time schedules. We actually have 7 time schedules which have students moving at different times depending upon their age.  Middle school students have block classes while upper classmen maintain a traditional high school class period.

The schedule definitely presents a challenge to bringing classes into the media center, but working with separate genders does even more so. Friday, I had classes of middle school boys. While I am truly impressed by their enthusiasm for books, I will have to work really hard to find ways to contain and direct the vast amount of energy these boys bring into the media center. I’m willing to work with their energy but they have to be willing to work with restrictions such as not going behind the fish tank, not running across the room and not using books as weapons. Just small stuff that’s part of growing up!

These changes cause me to grow by becoming different and better at what I do. This year just has a very steep learning curve! Thursday, these changes were confronted with an announcement from the state’s superintendent of education recommending that my school should be one of six in this district to have daily operations taken over by a turnaround school operator in the 2012 academic year.

I want the students at my school to be able to have not just a decent, but a dynamic, transformative education and I want to be able to do all I can to be part of that process. I think that’s what all good teachers want.

I do continue to grow outside my ‘job’. This past week I was able to present on the topic of ‘finding urban lit and manga’ to other school librarians. I loved to deliver the message that urban lit ¹  African American lit; that many, but not all students do love “drama”. I liked that one librarian said ‘It’s really just realistic fiction, right?” Yes! These books come from someone’s reality!!  I also introduced them to new books, POC books and blogs and a local vendor I recently met who is a good source for manga and comics.

I’ve been invited to speak at the 10th anniversary of the Indiana Black Librarians Network at Purdue University in October and I’ll also be presenting in November at ALAN with Ari and Lyn Miller-Lachmann. This past summer, I worked on a discussion guide for Ghetto Cowboy. It is an incredibly good book but I think my review would be a bit biased at this point, so I won’t be posting one. I can link you to these reviews of the book on GoodReads and this from Kirkus. And, I can say that writing discussion guides is a natural fit for a school librarian! I could certainly see doing that again.

I always say a good teacher is a good learner. I think you can see that I have been, and continue to do a lot of learning. I hope that helps makes me a good teacher!





book review: El Guero

"A fascination footnote to history, enhanced by unusually evocative soft-pencil illustrations." ~Kirkus Reviews

review: El Guero: A true adventure story

author: Elizabeth Borton de Trevino

illustrator: Leslie W. Bowman

date: Silver, Burdett, Ginn; 1989

main character: Porferio Trevino Arreola “El Guero”

El Guero  is historical fiction about Elizabeth Borton de Trevino’s father in law, Porferio. Some details are added to the story for continuity. Porferio and his family move to Baja Mexico early in the 20th century under the orders of Mexico’s new president. Transportation systems in the region are poorly developed, so his father, the judge, hires a company to move the family on mules. They travel from Mexico City to the Pacific coast where they book passage on a ship for the final leg of their travel. Ships are how Mexicans and Americans move people and goods along the coast.

The family settles in Ensenada which at the time was a small military outpost. While the judge builds a home for his family (literally) El Guero (“The Blonde One”)  builds what becomes lifelong friendships with local boys. What unfolds is the interplay of the dynamics between Native, Mexican and American forces. The book gives readers an adventurous introduction to a small part of Mexican history while tell how one small boy can make a difference.

Elizabeth Borton de Trevino also wrote I, Juan de Pareja which won the Newbery in 1966. She passed away in 2000. May perpetual light shine upon her.

I bought this copy from Half Priced Books. It has been reprinted by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Call for Proposals: JCLC

The 2nd National Joint Conference of Librarians of Color (JCLC)

“Gathering at the Waters: Celebrating Stories, Embracing Communities”

September 19-23, 2012 Kansas City, Missouri


Call for Proposals Opens on August 1st

Proposals needed for panels, workshops, and roundtables.

Program proposal deadline: September 15, 2011


Book Winner

The somewhat delayed winner of a copy of The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian is….

Karissa Williams


Congratulations!!  Please be sure to email me your mailing address.

book review: Under the Mesquite

title: Under the Mesquite

author: Guadelupe Garcia McCall

date: Sept, 2011, Lee and Low

main character: Lupita

In this her first book, Guadelupe Garcia McCall writes from memories of her own teen years to create this coming of age story. Lupita, the oldest of eight children has a very close relationship with her mother because of the responsibilities she has to help her family. This closeness makes secrets difficult and Lupita soon finds out her mother is seriously ill. The young girl worries about her mother and does more to help out at home while at the same time trying to come to terms with her own identity at school. McCall metaphorically uses elements of nature to describe relationships and characteristics not only in the title, but throughout the story.


At first what I missed most

were los girasoles,

my tall, unruly friends

with their bright yellow petals

and dark brown faces

always looking up

at the wide blue sky.

When Mami came looking for me

in the afternoons,

I used to suppress my giggles

as I hid behind those wild sunflowers.

It made me sad to know 

that from our new home

I could not hear their voices

if they sang my name to the wind.

And I doubted los girasoles

would understand me anymore

because now I was speaking

 a different language.

I swallowed consonants 

and burdened vowels with a sound

so dense the words fell straight

out of my mouth and hit the ground

before they could reach the river’s edge.

In Under the Mesquite McCall writes of all the elements necessary for a young girl to become a woman: the voices of matriarchs, the fathers, friends and teachers who each add to lessons that provide guidance along the way. She creates a character with whom readers can easily identify.

I reviewed an ARC sent by the publisher.


Kirkus Starred Review


YA Book Central


In the right Place at the Right time

Some of the things I saw today include

  • a woman driving a car with Alaskan plates
  • a woman near me about to pass out and I was there to catch her
  • Bertha Davis, the author of the book Coming of Age in Mississippi. I didn’t know that she’s a local author!
  • an interview with new to MG books author Sybil Nelson. Her book Priscilla the Great  was just released

And, I saw an interesting article by Robert Lipsyte on why boys still aren’t reading. In it, he says

To me and I think to many prospective readers, today’s books for boys — supernatural space-and-sword epics that read like video game manuals and sports novels with preachy moral messages — often seem like cynical appeals to the lowest common denominator. Boys prefer video games and ESPN to book versions of them. These knockoffs also lack the tough, edgy story lines that allow boys a private place to reflect on the inner fears of failure and humiliation they try so hard to brush over. Editors who ask writers of books for boys to include girl characters — for commercial reasons — further blunt the edges.

I think he’s asking for authenticity of the male/masculine experience just as people of color expect authenticity. Just who are books being published for? I think about the only group giving fair representation would be straight white middle and upper class females.

Before the day ends, I hope to ‘see’ more of the pages in Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac, another episode of Doc Martin and my next DVD of WestWing.   I hope you’re enjoying your day as much as I am mine!