2.05.2016

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, 320 pp, RL: TEEN



Since I started working as an elementary school librarian I have not bee reading as much YA as I used to. As a bookseller, I shelved in the teen section and set the displays and was always reading the blurbs for the books - even the ridiculous fantasy titles I knew I'd never read. I have a few favorite authors like Publisher's Weekly invites publishers and editors working in the kid's book industry to share their favorites, which is where I learned about Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, winner of the William C. Morris Debut Author award this year! 

What draws me to the works of David Levithan and Rainbow Rowell over and over are the unforgettable characters and narrative voices they create along with the engaging, sometimes breathlessly so, sometimes achingly so, romances that unfold over the course of their novels. In Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Albertalli hits all these marks and more. Using first person narrative, emails, texts and tumblr posts, Albertalli creates Simon Sphere, an articulate, witty, occasionally carless, sometimes impulsive, and frequently self-absorbed high school junior who evolves over the course of the story, taking the occasional step outside the out of the inevitable bubble of narcissism that envelops most teenagers. The audio book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, is narrated perfectly by Michael Crouch.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda begins, "It's a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost don't notice I'm being blackmailed." But the story really begins at the start of school in August when Simon sees a post on the creeksecrets tumblr, a gossip (and bible quotes and bad poetry) feed where students from Creekwood High post anonymously, and he responds to it. The post is only about five lines long, but it was grammatically correct (something that most posts on creeksecrets aren't) and "strangely poetic." Blue, the poster, wrote about feeling both hidden and exposed about the fact that he is gay, and the "ocean between people," and how it seems like the "whole point of everything is to find a shore worth swimming to." The two begin a fast, intense correspondence, fueled by the fact that they don't know each other's identities. The beginning stages of their crush are exhilarating and Albertalli captures the flirtations and intimacies perfectly in their emails and Simon's eagerness and anticipation around them.

Martin Addison, fellow drama student and subtle blackmailer, has let Simon know that he forgot to log out of his gmail account while using the library computer. Martin has taken a screenshot and, in return for deleting this image, he would like Simon to "help him talk to Abby," the new girl in school who has bonded with Simon. This sets the story in motion, Simon struggling to protect Blue, who has not come out yet, and juggling his friends and their individual turmoils and his own evolving sense of self. Alebrtalli does an amazing job making the supporting characters fully formed, believable and integral to the story while also having their own story lines. From Simon's closest friends, the classic rock loving soccer jock Nick and the moody, anime obsessed, self-conscious Leah, to Simon's older sister Alice and younger sister Nora, and his almost-too-cool and possibly over-involved parents, these characters feel real and their struggles have meaning. And there is no extra baggage in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. As much as I love Simon's voice and Albertalli's writing and probably could have happily read/listened to an additional 50 to 100 pages of this book, I have the greatest respect to Albertalli and her editor for keeping it tight.

While the plot of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda hinges on Simon not wanting to be outed, the story is more about Simon and Blue's burgeoning relationship and the mistakes and missteps Simon makes along the way, than it is about coming out and being openly gay. That said, Simon's story subtly makes some points and asks some important questions. At one point Simon asks, "Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another and it shouldn't be this big, awkward thing whether you're straight, gay, bi or whatever." As a straight person, Albertalli's novel allowed me a deeper understanding of how it feels to be in the minority, to have people assume something personal and intimate about you. Like all brilliant books, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda allowed me to feel what it's like to be someone else.

I can't wait to read Becky Albertalli's next book, which features Molly, a chubby Jewish girl who lives in the suburbs of Washington DC. Molly is the cousin of Abby, the new student at Creekwood High School and her story takes place the summer after Simon's. With this connection, Albertalli has promised appearances by some familiar faces! For more details, read this fantastic interview
!

Source: Purchased Audio Book

2.04.2016

I Like to Draw / I Like to Write by The Small Object, 144 pp, RL 3


I have a serious problem. I love to buy books like I Like to Write / I Like to Draw by The Small Object and then, overwhelmed by the creativity and charm of the book itself, along with the frightening permanence of what I am supposed to put on the page, I never, ever make use of the amazing, gorgeous, fantastic book in my hands. But, I have a two-fold strategy for I Like to Write / I Like to Draw: I am going to coax myself into actually using this brilliant book by telling myself that I can use these prompts with my students during the 90 minutes a day each grade spends with me AND I can also nudge myself into using it as a way to fulfill my goal of drawing every Saturday and sharing it on my new Instagram account where I am posting every day about a different book that I read or am reading.



So, why do I love I Like to Write / I Like to Draw? Writing and drawing in one book, for starters. For elementary school kids, and myself as well, I find that these two things go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Sarah Neuberger, the multifaceted creative mind behind this book, is an illustrator, designer, wedding cake topper maker (see below) and stamp maker. In 2009 she started working with Chronicle Books on en ever-gorwing collection of gift and paper products that are worth checking out. For I Like to Write / I Like to Draw, Neuberger, devised categories for each half. In I Like to Draw, these include, Picture This, Imagine That, Create Here, Nature Observations, Personal Perspective, Dream Big and Pattern Play. Sometimes a sentence or two will appear at the bottom of the page, giving artists further ideas. A Complete the Scene page with golden swirls on it invites readers to "Draw more golden clouds and imagine how it would feel to walk through them." Enjoying this book is definitely an immersive experience!



The writing portion is happily, wonderfully visual, with a sketch or two on every page. The nice thing about I Like to Write is the nice combination of story writing and other writing exercises. One page with two word bubbles invites writers to create a conversation. Another invites writers to pretend that they work at a paint company and are charged with coming up with the names of twelve different swatches on the page, with the instructions to use two words per name. "A Taste Bud's Story" includes a reproduction of a "guest check" that a waitperson uses in to take orders and invites writers to write down items from a favorite mean and what made it so memorable on the check. There are the backs of postcards with writing prompts, a page of mostly blank fortunes from fortune cookies, rebus puzzles as story prompts, free associations with words like, "whistle, tree, magnetic, chair," and map the connection prompts with words like "notebook" and "library." There are so many more super cool prompts I want to share here, but really, just go out and buy this book. Buy two - one for yourself and one to give to a creatively minded kid in your life!

Source: Purchased


Sarah Neuberger has also been creating personalized Wedding Toppers since 2008! 







2.03.2016

Little Bitty Friends by Elizabeth McPike, illustrated by Patrice Barton


Babies love to look at babies. And even though there are no more babies in my family, every few years or so, there is a book that comes along that reminds me of how much babies love to look at babies and how wonderful the perfect book filled with babies can be. Little Bitty Friends, written by Elizabeth McPike and illustrated by Patrice Barton is one of those books. McPike and Barton also created Little Sleepyhead, which is due out in board book this spring. Both books pair repetitive, mellifluous rhymes with equally charming illustrations of toddlers that pop thanks to crisp white backgrounds. In Little Bitty Friends the setting moves from bedtime to the natural world, which, after babies, is the second greatest thing babies love to look at.


A trail of ants, a fuzzy caterpillar, a field of flowers and a snail leaving a trail fill the pages of Little Bitty Friend along with a diverse array of adorable, bright eyed, big headed babies. The sneeze of a cat, the chitter of chipmunks and the nibble of a mouse are the sounds of Little Bitty Friend. As the cadence of the book winds down, a basket full of baby rabbits, "nuzzle while they nap," and a toddler and a puppy snuggle on a blanket under a tree. The final spread, above, has to be one of the sweetest I have seen in a long while and one that will always make me smile and remember when my own babies were small enough to tuck their heads under daddy's chin. 

Little Bitty Friends, and Little Sleepyhead, are the perfect gifts for anyone welcoming a baby into the world, from moms and dads to grandpas and grandmas, and anyone lucky enough to have a baby in their lap!






Source: Review Copy