Monday, January 28, 2008

Reading Across Borders #6/
Non-Fiction Monday:
After the Wall

After The Wall is a quick-reading trip into the mysterious territory of communist East Germany, in the years just before and after the end of the Berlin Wall. Your tour guide is a young German woman - who until 1989 was a typical young East German teen. When Jana Hensel was 13 years and 3 months old, her childhood ended. The Wall fell, her country was no more, and an entire nation's identity as "East Germans" disappeared overnight.

First published in Germany in 2002, Zonenkinder was a smash best-seller, on the best-seller charts first in hardback, then in paperback, for over two years. The dislocation/disorientation she describes makes me think of someone born on February 29 - the birthday was real, the child is real, but the date vanishes. Unlike Leap Day birthdays, though, the GDR won't be back.

Feeling insecure and ill-at-ease compared to their better-dressed and worldlier fellow (former West German) Germans, Hensel and her peers tried hard to pass as "regular" Germans. The ease with with other Europeans moved through the Western world made them see what had been normal and everyday in the Eastern Bloc had been, in fact, very different from the world outside.

At the ripe old age of 25, Jana Hensel writes:
Now, when I look back on those years before the Wall fell and the whole world changed around us, it seems like a far-away, fairy-tale time. . . It's not easy for people my age -- the last generation of GDR kids -- to remember the old days, because back then we wanted nothing more for them to hurry up and end . . . Nothing remains of our childhood country -- which is of course exactly what everyone wanted -- and now that we're grown up and it's almost too late, I suddenly miss all the lost memories.
In many ways, Hensel's no different from most young adults, questioning identity and allegiance, and feeling nostalgic for the pre-responsibility life. Who am I? Where did I come from? Can I go back? For years they had wanted to be just German, and the wish was granted. For everyone who was once "East German," there is nowhere back to go.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Author Alan Gratz Coming to Paideia

The 2007-2008 school year is the first that the library has brought in authors at the junior high and high school levels. The first was Frank Beddor, author of The Looking Glass Wars, in September, sponsored by Little Shop of Stories in Decatur. Our second visiting author will be here next Thursday (January 31) and is Alan Gratz, former middle school teacher and Avondale Estates resident, now a full-time author living in Western North Carolina.

Alan's first novel is Samurai Shortstop, "the story of a boy in 1890s Tokyo who combines baseball and bushido, the samurai way of the warrior, to prove that his father's samurai traditions have a place in the new Japan." I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, an excellent work of historical fiction for teens that will appeal to baseball and samurai fans, devotees of Japanese history, and all readers who want an engrossing story of culture change, right and wrong, and fathers and sons. As Alan discusses in an author's afterword, who would have thought 19th century Japan played baseball??

The most recent novel is Something Rotten, which recasts Shakespeare's Hamlet as a contemporary murder mystery with an environmental twist. Wise-cracking teenager Horatio Wilkes noses around a rich family's skeletons and odiferous empire to discover who killed Hamilton Prince's father in Denmark, Tennessee. I was born in Athens, Tennessee while my dad was a forester for the Bowater Paper company (and I went to graduate school in Knoxville), so in addition to enjoying the story and placing the twists of character & plot, I could easily conjure up the setting and trademark smell that identifies the "something rotten in Denmark."

Alan is putting in a full day of teaching and talking -- in 3 of the junior high homebases, one high school lit class, and with members of the Literary Magazine and Forum staffs. His books are available to buy at Little Shop of Stories in Decatur (an awesome bookstore, mostly for kids but with something for everyone!).


More about Alan Gratz:
at The Edge of the Forest (newsletter interview, January 2007)
at Interactive Reader (blog interview, November 2007)
and . . . a Wikipedia page!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Real Families: Adoption Fiction for Teens

I researched, bought and filled out our collection last fall, in response to National Adoption Month in November. Below is a list of novels, mostly YA but some adult, that feature teens who joined their families through adoption. As I get around to writing about individual titles I'll link to those reviews. The list isn't exaustive -- a complete reading list of all adoption-related titles in our library can be found here.

First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover by Mitali Perkins.
Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent.
Adam & Eve & Pinch-Me by Julie Johnston
A Brief Chapter from My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You by Hanna Jansen
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
The Midnight Diary of Zoya Blume by Laura Shaine Cunningham
Somebody’s Daughter by Marie G. Lee
Harley Like a Person by Cat Bauer
Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Thursday, January 3, 2008

More Books for the Camel Bookmobile

Over the December break I finally made it to the Post Office with two more boxes of books to send to the Camel Book Drive in northeastern Kenya. The success of the book drive has resulted in the Garissa Regional Library receiving more than enough books for their current needs, so the donation focus was moved to a library even further out into the bush, to the town of Wajir.

Some of the books were donated by Paideia students and teachers. Some were extra copies of books we already have in the collection. Exciting additions to the shipment were two new picture books, In the Time of the Drums (a Coretta Scott King Award winner) and Dancing the Ring Shout!, written by Paideia parent Kim Siegelson. While collecting books to send, I had seen Drums on the Book Drive's "wish list." Cool! Kim graciously came to the office to inscribe copies of the books especially for the readers of Wajir.

The recent change in shipping policies meant that it costs a lot more to send the books (International Priority Flat Rate instead of the very inexpensive Mail Bag), but they travel much more quickly (by air rather than surface mail). I hope that they arrived before the current post-election violence.

The Kenyan librarians have reported that Garissa and Wajir are not experiencing the same level of unrest, but operations in the country are at a standstill. I especially hope for all the people of Kenya that the political situation is resolved and that peace returns to their daily lives.