Thursday, February 26, 2009

Finding Nouf:
An Alex Awards Read

Unlike the amazing readers who commit to (and follow through on!) reading a book a week, I have taken on a more modest goal for myself -- read and at least briefly review all ten of the 2009 Alex Award winners by Summer Reading checkout time at the end of May. I've already read The Good Thief, and have just finished Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris. Eight more to go.

Finding Nouf is at heart a mystery set in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, with four main characters: Nayir, an honorable bachelor and skilled desert guide; Katya, who as an educated, single working woman, engaged to a man of her own choosing, is breaking many of society's rules; and Nouf, daughter of a very wealthy family, found dead at 16 after a mysterious disappearance. The fourth character is Saudi Arabia's conservative Islamic gender laws, enforced both by official religious police and vigilante watchdogs.

There's nothing startlingly different about this novel's storyline -- pregnant teen runs away, family secrets and cover up, accident or murder? What's really fascinating and different is that Fourth Character, shown through the development of the male and female lead and supporting characters. Katya, who at first seems to be cast as female support to Nayir, pursues the investigation as a personal search for truth, even though she risks her job, her upcoming marriage and possibly her life to do so. This is a 28-year-old woman with a keen mind and a PhD in biology, restricted to working only in a segregated female-only environment, not allowed to drive, who can't run even routine errands without a male escort/chaperone. So much potential to contribute to the entire society, restricted and rejected by religious limitations on her gender.

Nayir is a gentle, thoughtful, deeply traditional man, and something of an outsider (Palestinian, orphaned, raised by an eccentric sort of uncle). He is respectful of women and wistfully wishes for a wife, but has no family to make marriage arrangements for him and is reluctant to pursue marriage otherwise. Working with Katya makes him uncomfortable, intrigues him, and unsettles his assumptions about appropriate behavior, expectations and futures, both for women and for himself.

If you like literary mysteries (√), strong female characters (including teens) (√), and novels with a window into an unknown culture (√), Finding Nouf will deliver the goods.

Monday, February 23, 2009

READ with Paideia

READ is an ongoing poster series dreamed up a couple of years ago. The "Readers of the Month" have been fantastic, and the posters are a lot of fun. One year I made a calendar! This slideshow highlights all of the Readers of the Month to date.

Stay tuned . . . Mr. March will be unveiled next week.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Gone to the Dogs:
( It's That Time Again)

This morning Martha and Elisa's class (3rd & 4th graders) brought in their architect projects for display. It's an annual project -- each student studies an individual architect, and creates a posterboard display and a research folder from their findings. But the real fun is for the canines -- a mini-doghouse designed and built in the style of the chosen architect.

They are all so cool and crazy that I never can decide on a total favorite, but this year one architect stood out for me. When a student came to ask for a book on Leila Ross Wilburn, my librarian's heart hated to say that we didn't have one. A little research uncovered that Wilburn was singlehandedly responsible for designing much of residential Decatur around Agnes Scott College -- that's my neighborhood (more or less)! Who knew?

Turns out that a lot of folks knew, and so should you. Here's a brief bio of the architect in the New Georgia Encyclopedia, and a page about her contribution to the architecture of Decatur's MAK (McDonough-Adams-King's Highway) Historic District, complete with links to PDFs of many of her pattern books. Readers on campus can access this article, "Leila Ross Wilburn: Plan-Book Architect," from Woman's Art Journal, through our JSTOR database.

There's always something new to learn. Come by the library to see all the cool Dog Dwellings on display. A few of this year's featured architects are:

James Stirling
(the lucky Chihuaua above's house)

Fumiko Maki


Jorn Utzon
(of the Sydney Opera House)


Philip Johnson

and many, many more. See you in the Library!

Monday, February 9, 2009

2009 Alex Award Books are Named

Yikes -- it's ALA book awards time!

The Alex Awards, named for beloved Baltimore young adult librarian Margaret Alexander Edwards, were created by the Young Adult Services division of ALA "to recognize that many teens enjoy and often prefer books written for adults, and to assist librarians in recommending adult books that appeal to teens."

Alex Award books are popular at Paideia, as lit choices and for summer reading among the high school population. And this year there are a couple of Paideia connections to be excited about: Hannah Tinti (The Good Thief) is a writing workshop friend of JH teacher (and award-winning short story writer himself) Greg Changnon, and Hillary Jordan (Mudbound) is a Wellesley College classmate of mine.

I've read The Good Thief, thanks to Greg's insider recommendation, and Over and Under is already in the collection. It's time to place an order, and start reading!

The 2009 Alex Award winners are:

  • City of Thieves by David Benioff
  • The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick
  • Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris (review)
  • Three Girls and Their Brother by Theresa Rebeck

Friday, February 6, 2009

PiLibrarian's Best YA Non-Fiction for Adult Readers

Why read non-fiction for teens when there's so much out there written especially for you, a grown-up?

I offer several reasons, aside from the best one of all, Quality Reading.

Time - A well-written, engaging 160-page book (with pictures!) is a great way to start learning about something new. If you are hungry for more at the end, there's always the 500-page biography for later.

Appeal -
If you tend to be a novels/fiction-only type, good YA non-fiction is perfect for you. The narrative is often written as a story (rather than an analysis of an event or person), with character and plot development. And did I mention lots of pictures? Russell Freedman's photobiographies (Martha Graham, Marian Anderson, Abraham Lincoln and several others) simply can't be beat. They're also easier to share with differently-aged people in your house than are many adult-targeted books.

Variety - Young adult non-fiction includes a range of really interesting topics, presentations or formats that aren't usually found in the adult market: a blank-verse biography of George Washington Carver, for instance, or the life and death of Malcolm X in comic book (graphic novel) format. Also, the page design itself offers more variety: unlike in adult books, where the pictures are often bunched together in 8 page sections, in YA non-fiction, text and illustration appear on the same page, working together to entertain and inform.

Price - Books published for teens are usually $5-$15 less expensive than similar books marketed to adult readers. Important if you're not among the millions of clever folks who get most of their reading from the local library.


In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke

A first-person account of everyday resistance and heroism, written with Jennifer Armstrong, author of several notable YA non-fiction works. Opdyke was seventeen, blonde, Polish and fluent in German when WWII began. Captured by the Russians, she escaped and returned home to Poland. Pressed into working for the Nazis, she had access to food, supplies and information, and hid Jewish refugees in the basement of her employer, a Nazi officer.

Irena's Vow, a play based on Opdyke's story, premiered in New York last fall and opens on Broadway in March 2009.

Good Brother, Bad Brother by James Cross Giblin

A dual biography of brothers Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, two of the most commanding stage presences of the late 19th century. Edwin was dreamy, moody, and an outstanding classical actor. John was dashing, impulsive and a ladies man. Imagine if today, one of the Sheen or Baldwin brothers shot the President! Using historical documents, Giblin re-creates in detail the plot to assassinate President Lincoln and the intense manhunt for John Wilkes Booth. United States history was changed forever, as was Edwin Booth's life. Despite great later success on the stage, the ghost of his disgraced
brother overshadowed all.

The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler is another outstanding title by Giblin.

Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX by Karen Blumenthal

In 1972, Congress passed a little law with a little name, Title 9, that said any school receiving government funds couldn't treat boys and girls differently because of their gender. Originally written with math & science classes in mind, the law soon reached outside the classroom, and schools who wanted to have sports programs for boys became required to offer sports for girls too. You know the Olympic women's gold medal soccer teams? The WNBA? This is where those stories start.

Carver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson

In 1864, a slave girl named Mary and her infant son George were stolen from Moses and Susan Carver. Only the baby was found by the bounty hunter.
When I handed him to Missus Carver,
you never seen such a carrying-on.
All that over a puny black baby.
You'd have thought that Mary
was her sister or something.
Carver give me his best filly as a reward.
The Carvers raised George, who grew to be a botanist, an artist and a gifted teacher. George Washington Carver spent most of his adult life at Tuskegee Institute, working to find solutions to black poverty through better agriculture and new uses for common crops. The poems are illustrated with photographs of Carver and important people & places in his life.

Marilyn Nelson has written other non-fiction works in verse. Find them via the Library Catalog.

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marion Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman

How did a quiet, hard-working woman who lived only for singing become a seminal figure in the Civil Rights movement? Marian Anderson's voice was so beautiful, strong and compelling that everyone, black and white, royalty and commoners, wanted a chance to hear her sing. Racism denied her an indoor auditorium in the Nation's Capitol, so First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, thumbing her nose at racist society, arranged a alternate. On Easter Sunday, 1939, Anderson gave a stunning, record-breaking concert from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, to a crowd of 75,000, plus a national radio audience. She later came to take her own stand against racism, and because she refused to sing for a segregated audience, in 1955 Anderson became the first African American soloist at the Metropolitan Opera.

Freedman is the author of many other award-winning (and highly recommended) photobiographies. Add his books on Abraham Lincoln, Martha Graham, The Wright Brothers, Eleanor & Franklin D. Roosevelt, Crazy Horse, The Declaration of Independence, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott to your youth non-fiction must-read list. The Library Catalog shows all the Russell Freedman books we own.

Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography by Andrew Helfer and Randy de Burke.

The short life and times of charismatic civil rights fighter Malcom X, in words and sharp black-and-white drawings. The narrative draws heavily on The Autobiography of Malcolm X (written with Alex Haley), but also points out the inconsistencies in X's self-reported history. Compelling reading for both those familiar with the autobiography and readers new to his story.

America Dreaming; How Youth Changed America in the 1960s by Laban Carrick Hill

Almost as big as an LP cover (remember them?), this book is a illustrated portrait of the Boomer generation. It includes full-page photos, captions, sidebars, and chapters on the several civil rights & protest movements, the Kennedys and Camelot, the Space Race, and fundamental shifts in society that took place during this nation-changing decade. A great introduction to the era for readers who lived it, and those just visiting for the first time.