This symposium was a really great experience. I had a lot of fun, met some awesome people, and learned a lot. And oh man the author signing and happy hour on Saturday afternoon was so great! We each got a tote bag and five tickets and once the doors opened and we were let in, we were able to exchange each ticket for a signed copy of a book by the authors at the symposium. I walked away with copies of Looks by Madeline George, The Social Experiments of Dorie Dilts: The School for Cool by PG Kain, Ash by Malinda Lo, Girl Coming in for a Landing by April Halprin Wayland (and I got to tell her I love her picture books, too!), and Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have by Allen Zadoff. I wish I’d been able to get Christina Diaz Gonzales’s The Red Umbrella or Ruta Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray, but alas, the lines and the layout of the room and the number of tickets conspired against me. I really, really appreciated that we got time to talk to authors and get their books without having to pay for an additional event.
Anyway, since I’m going to be going to both Annual 2012 and Midwinter 2013, I’m not sure yet if I’ll be able to go to the third YA Lit Symposium in St Louis in 2012, but I so hope I can go. This was such a fantastic conference!
Angie started us off with a discussion of the general dehumanization of fat bodies in our society and the distorted view of what is normal and acceptable in body shape. She then introduced us to the Fat Acceptance movement (which I didn’t know has been around since the ’60s). Since more than half of 18- to 25-year-old girls would rather be hit by a truck than be fat, and two-thirds would rather be mean or stupid, we need to address body positivity and fat acceptance in YA lit. Teens are looking for themselves in the books they read, so Angie summarized how fat characters are (and aren’t) portrayed in YA lit.
She took us on a tour of books that positively portrayed fat characters, books that had good intentions but didn’t quite make it, and books that were problematic in their treatment of fat characters. The books on the “positive” list had multifaceted characters whose fatness usually wasn’t the primary issue in the story, or whose fatness was completely unrelated to the character’s struggle. The “good intentions” list included titles that seemed to want to treat fat characters fairly, but maybe had them lose weight to be happy or had covers with skinny characters on the front or occasionally used a character’s fatness as a crutch. The “problematic” books were problematic because they focused on weight loss rather than health, put everyone in fat camp and then totally fell apart, or conflated fatness with being a slob or some other character defect.
Angie also shared with us adult titles that treated fat characters positively that would appeal to teens and books that dealt with disordered eating in new ways. All of these booklists will be available on Angie’s blog, Fat Girl Reading, in the next few days.
After getting a taste of the good and bad in treatment of fat characters in YA lit, we talked a little bit about other fat acceptance resources and how to promote positive body image among library teens. One organization in particular that’s working for a broader range of body types is Delta Delta Delta through their Reflections Program. Every year at the end of October, they sponsor Fat Talk Free Week, which aims to eliminate “all of the statements made in everyday conversation that reinforce the thin ideal and contribute to women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies.” This includes things like “Do I look fat in this?” and “She’s too fat for that dress” and “I need to lose ten pounds.”
In your library, you can make a display or host a discussion group during Fat Talk Free Week. One audience member suggested bringing boys into the conversation and talking about what it means to be a man, since men are expected to adhere to restrictive body shape options as well. Angie also suggested using–with a little adaptation–the Reflection Project’s “Things Your Chapter Can Do to Promote Positive Body Image” with your library teens, too. She also said that Operation Beautiful has been popular among teens in her library. But above all, you should advocate and integrate by including fat lit in booklists, book talks, and book displays.
The second half of the session was an author panel with Megan Frazer (Secrets of Truth and Beauty), Madeleine George (Looks), Susan Vaught (Big Fat Manifesto), and Allen Zadoff (Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have). It was really interesting to hear from the authors what their motivation was in writing their books, what they hoped the books would convey to readers, readers’ reactions to their books, and some of the struggles they’d had in writing. Some of the themes I noticed running through their responses were:
feelings of being watched, being judged, and being acceptable
the “paradox of visibility” that Madeline especially talked about where being fat makes you both very visible and simultaneously completely invisible at times
books having alternate titles before being published: Big Fat Manifesto was originally titled Diary of a Big Fat Fat Girl, but marketing didn’t think that’d sell, and Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have was originally Invisible
covers not matching the contents of the book and publishers being unwilling to have fat characters on the covers of books
these books that didn’t stigmatize fatness weren’t about struggling with being fat: they were about finding where you fit, finding connection with other human beings, dealing with family relationships, handling change, and being lovable. Allen said of his protagonist, “it’s not his body that changes–it’s his eyes.”
a universal sense among all teens (and grownups, I think, if we’re being honest) of feeling different and unacceptable
This was one of my favorite sessions of the symposium. I thought it was a great introduction to fat acceptance and a good selection of good and problematic titles with excellent explanations of what makes for a positive or problematic story. And hearing from the authors about their motivations and why their books unfolded the way they did really reinforced a lot of what Angie had been telling us earlier. Themes of authenticity, visibility/invisibility, and moving beyond issue books also surfaced in later sessions.
Angie’s going to put handouts and booklists and resources on her blog in the next few days.
Today I had a hair cut with a new stylist, Tom, and in the usual first appointment smalltalk, my profession came up. Tom confessed that he hasn’t been to a library since he was in college (and even then it was only because he was forced to use the microfilm reader, which was kept in a moldy basement), so I spent some time explaining to him what libraries are really like, the idea of the library as a community center, how libraries provide free computer and Internet access and why that’s more important every day, and generally what libraries have to offer beyond books.
But then tonight while I was working my way through my Instapaper queue (I am never going to see the bottom of that), I came across “Why have libraries?” (and “Why have libraries? part 2”) at Something Different Every Day. Long-time children’s librarian SD Lempke argues that while many libraries are sniffing at being “warehouses for books” and embracing leaner, hypercurrent collections, being a warehouse for books is part of what libraries are meant to do–and that we can and should still be cultural storehouses while also being community gathering centers. Rather than fearing for our survival and chasing after what bookstores are doing, we need to stay true to our missions and “cultivat[e] library collections with care and discernment.” What do you think? Can we keep our “old” values as we embrace new ones? Are libraries abandoning their missions in the name of reflecting current trends?
Elizabeth Bird of A Fuse #8 Production recently highlighted an award I’d never heard of (and you probably haven’t either, which is sort of the point of her post), the Phoenix Award. It’s given annually by the Children’s Literature Association to a book published in English twenty years ago that didn’t win a major award at the time of its publication–books like The Devil’s Arithmetic (which I was sort of weirdly obsessed with as a middle schooler), Weetzie Bat (ditto, but in high school), and Howl’s Moving Castle (which you absolutely must read). For as prestigious as the Newbery is, let’s be honest: there are plenty of past winners we’ve all kind of forgotten about. The age of some of the Phoenix Award winners is probably part of what contributes to the award not being well-known, but it’s such a great way to recognize great literature that slipped through the cracks–and also stood the test of time.
Two more awesome things: first, Portland’s Heathman Hotel has a library of about 4000 titles. This by itself isn’t particularly noteworthy, but the selection criteria for inclusion in this library is: the author must have stayed in the hotel. Many of the books are first editions and all are signed by the author. They have books by Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, John Updike, Stephen King, Art Spiegelman, Annie Dillard, James Patterson and Ian Rankin. But just having the books isn’t really enough–they need to be listed and to be accessible to readers, right? So even cooler, while the library’s existed since 1992, it’s finally getting some publicity and use:
Sophie Soprani, an English major and aspiring writer who attends Portland State University, was hired last month [in August] to pull books out of the locked cabinets for guests and to build a database so the hotel knows exactly what’s in the collection.
Soprani runs the library a few hours Monday through Thursday, starting about 5 p.m. She talks with guests about books and writing, and makes recommendations. Until about 18 months ago, hotel guests had to ask for a book at the front desk. Then the hotel rotated staffing among four people before hiring Soprani.
Sophie may be an aspiring writer for now, but I think we may make a librarian of her yet!
And finally, Guys Read: Funny Business came out two weeks ago and if you don’t have a copy for your library yet, you gotta get one. Edited by Jon Scieszka, it contains contributions by Mac Barnett, Eoin Colfer, Christopher Paul Curtis, Kate DiCamillo and Jon Scieszka, Paul Feig, Jack Gantos, Jeff Kinney, David Lubar, Adam Rex, and David Yoo and is illustrated by Adam Rex. Adam also did the illustration for the cover. In another blog post, he shows off some of the ultimately rejected covers and talks about what went into the decision. And don’t forget this video wherein the contributors of Funny Business tell “The Joke”:
One more tiny piece of news: today I finalized the planning for the very first teen program I’ll do all by myself! I’ll write more about it after it actually happens, but man, I’m so thrilled to be doing exactly the work I want to be doing and taking the first steps in building an awesome YA program at my library.
This collection of links is going to be a real mix of things, but there’s so much interesting stuff I’ve seen lately!
YA lit and library news and trends
One of the things I’d like to see more of in librarianship in general and youth services especially is more rigor and research. YALSA is launching the Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults, an online, open-access, peer-reviewed journal, in November. They’ve put out a call for papers for the Winter 2011 and Spring 2011 issues.
Through 20 September you can also nominate librarians for the I Love My Librarian Award. The winners get a $5000 cash award, a plaque, and a $500 travel stipend to attend an awards reception in New York hosted by The New York Times, so this is a great opportunity for all of you library users to nominate a librarian who’s made a difference in your life or your community.
Alexie’s book has won a number of awards, but that did not sway the board.
“We can take the book and wrap it in those 20 awards everyone else said it won and it still is wrong,” said board member Ken Spurgeon.
Supporters of the book said it was chosen to get high school boys, particularly, interested in reading. Spurgeon said that was a mistake because the book’s reading level is low for high school readers.
Over at Closed Stacks, The Librarienne rails against the ALA for continuing to promote the idea that librarianship is a greying profession and that there will soon be a mass exodus of retirees leaving positions for new librarians to fill, citing the unemployment and underemployment she and her fellow graduates are suffering.
But in non-sucky news, Bitch Magazine recently interviewed Lia Friedman, he head of public services at the UCSD Arts Library, the staff librarian for make/shift magazine, and an active member of Radical Reference. Lia talks about the values of librarianship, stereotypes of librarians, and what Radical Reference does.
The team at Orbit had their summer intern do “a survey of cover art elements for the top fantasy novels published in the previous year,” and a few weeks ago they published their results. The summary in chart form:
I somehow fell behind on Internet stuff and have been working over the last couple weeks to catch up. I still have email to take care of and my Instapaper queue is a complete disaster, but I’ve finally caught up on all of my Google Reader feeds. Here are some things from the last month or two I found especially interesting.
“Life & Death in YA Lit” at Jacket Whys uses Wordle word clouds to pull out common terms in YA book titles and compare them to the common words in summaries of and subject headings those books. Covers featured “dead,” “dark,” “love,” and “life,” but the summaries and subject headings mostly focused on high school with dashes of friendships, certain ages, interpersonal relations, love, family, and the supernatural.
I wasn’t able to make it to ALA Annual this year, but the blog coverage of the conference was pretty thorough. I was especially bummed to not be able to attend the Printz Award ceremony since Libba Bray won with GOING BOVINE, which she talked about during the Genre Galaxy preconference at last year’s annual. But Stephanie Kuenn covered the Printz speeches for the YALSA blog, so I was at least able to watch Libba’s speech and oh man was it awesome:
Monica of Educating Alicetalked about summer reading as leisure reading while also making the case for quality literature during the school year. It was great to see an acknowledgement that all reading is reading, but that experts can still guide kids to well-written books–and teach them how to tell good literature from not-so-good.
I also really loved Sarah’s GreenBeanTeenQueen post about what characters in YA books read. She was disappointed that in so many books, characters who mention how much they like reading or how important it is always seem to be reading “the classics” and not great YA books. And while she admits that there’s nothing wrong with teens reading grownup books, I totally agree that having literate characters not reading YA novels misses a great internal advertising opportunity. Great YA lit should be recognized as great and not always put in second place after what grownups read.
Rob Beschizza toured the the Preservation Research and Testing Division and the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center of the Library of Congress recently and posted gorgeous high-res photos (and a couple videos) and descriptions of a lot of the preservation technology on BoingBoing. He talks about both the preservation of old print materials and digital items–everything from the Gettysburg Address and the 500-year-old Waldseemüller world map to nitrate film and RCA Selectavision and DVDs–touching on some of the issues involved (damaging an item to learn about it, DRM, digitizing vs maintaining old technology) and explaining some of the different tools and the science of preservation. Preservation nerds will love this, but everyone should click through just to check out the photos.
A piece of strange, sad news: a public library in Dover, New Hampshire recently discovered 5,000 anti-public school bookmarks tucked into books in their collection; staff spent 30 hours removing all of them. The bookmarks espoused the ideals of the School Sucks Project and Freedomain Radio and were strategically placed in books in certain sections of the library. Other nearby libraries have also found the bookmarks in their own collections. And lest anyone think the library was trying to censor the School Sucks Project’s message,
Although Beaudoin said she didn’t want library patrons to think the library supported the messages on the bookmarks, she wouldn’t have denied a request to post a poster or literature on a public board or display.
But library policy prohibits the dissemination of information through bookmarks in books, she said.
“If I had found 5,000 bookmarks staying ‘Stop the oil spill in the Gulf,’ a message I think everyone can get behind, I still would have pulled them,” she said. “It’s not what it was about, but that the act was done.”
Brigham Young University recently took a page from Old Spice’s book and put together this fantastic video, “New Spice: Study Like a Scholar, Scholar,” in which BYU student and comedian Stephen Jones extolls the virtues of studying at BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library. So many elements of the Old Spice commercials are nailed so perfectly and it’s a great mix of silly and accurate and man I love this video.
Earlier this week someone posted to the listservs saying she’d read a review for Wendy Toliver’s LIFTED and thought the cover seemed familiar but couldn’t place it. Other listserv members remembered that EVERYTHING IS FINE by Ann Dee Ellis and SAFE by Susan Shaw both use the same photograph–different parts and with different color treatments, but still the same photograph.
Someone else also pointed out that while THE GUARDIAN by Joyce Sweeney and FUNNY HOW THINGS CHANGE by Melissa Wyatt have different photographs on the cover, they’re the same kid in the same outfit.
I wrote a little earlier on the depiction of larger female characters on book covers and touched on the “disembodied parts” look that seems popular on books intended for girls. Karl of Txt-based Blogging wrote a post on the depiction of boys vs. girls on YA book covers (inspired by Codes of Gender, which I watched earlier this year!), concluding that, as in most media depictions, girls and women are shown as passive and off-balance whereas boys and men are given more active, strong poses. He posted a link to this post on YALSA-bk and it generated quite a bit of discussion. What do you think?
Did you see OCLC’s announcement earlier this week about an iPhone app, pic2shop, that lets users scan book barcodes and then see which local libraries have the book? I know that this won’t benefit all library patrons and that the digital divide is very real, but it’s still a neat way to get people who do have iPhones to consider the public library when they’re looking for a book–and for libraries to keep their WorldCat records up to date.
When fourteen-year-old Lizzie Summers slips up and reveals on camera that being the daughter of a supermodel isn’t always glamorous and wonderful, it sparks a huge fight between her and her mom, but it also prompts a photographer to ask Lizzie to model for her. All her life Lizzie has felt that her crooked nose, frizzy red hair, and bushy eyebrows have made her the beast to her mother’s beauty, though, so she’s not sure she can accept the offer, even if the photographer specializes in “new pretty,” regular people whose flaws make them beautiful. Lizzie also doesn’t know if she can operate in her mother’s world–or if her mom will even let her do it.
Complicating matters further, Todd Piedmont, Lizzie’s childhood friend and the boy with whom she shared her first kiss at eight years old, has just moved back from London and she’s getting mixed signals from him. He seems to be interested in her–he even tried to kiss her before his party–but now he’s dating Ava Elting, the snobbiest girl in school.
Through it all, Lizzie knows she can always count on her friends Carina Jurgensen and Hudson Jones. Carina’s dad runs a media empire and Hudson’s mom is a famous pop star, so they know what it’s like to always be in a parent’s spotlight. Together the girls figure out who they are beyond just being their parents’ daughters and make sense of boys and social politics at school.
Gossip Girl/Clique/Mean Girls-style books aren’t usually my thing, but I liked the twist here that the parents are famous, not the girls themselves–something Philbin must know herself from experience, since she’s the daughter of Regis Philbin. THE DAUGHTERS was also less racy than I was expecting; although one character is accused of “hooking up” with a girl we never meet, the main romantic arc culminates in nothing more than a knee-watering kiss. And in general the characters here were nicer than I was expecting. Maybe all of this gentler content is because the characters are fourteen and the book is aimed at readers 12+.
At some points the writing relies on clichés (Lizzie’s friends are a Brita filter, the clouds are fluffy like cotton candy, someone’s jaw actually drops open) and the romantic part of the plot is fairly predictable and the cliffhanger seemed a little cheap (Lizzie’s story is wrapped up pretty nicely but the last page and a half introduce a new crisis in Carina’s life).
Overall, though, it’s a good first novel that I really warmed up to as I read on. The characters are what make the book interesting: they’re genuinely trying to figure out who they are and to stay true to themselves. Rather than focusing on status and scandal, Lizzie and the other daughters affirm reliability and the importance of friends and family.
A note on the cover: the ARC I have is a similar design, but the three girls are all clearly dark-haired (the girls in the story are a blond, a brunette, and a redhead). The updated cover reflects the girls’ different looks and gives them more interesting outfits. The cover was actually my biggest problem with the book, so I’m glad to see it fixed. I’m still not a fan of the umbrella, but at least the cover models look like the characters.
If you’d like to read this book, I’ll send you my ARC. You have to promise, though, that you’ll either post a review online or send one to the publisher and that you’ll pass it on to someone else when you’re finished with the same conditions attached. Whoever emails me first gets it!
Goodreads has a list of books people have judged by their covers and I was kind of surprised to see how many of them are YA book covers. Does this just reflect the Goodreads userbase, or is it indicative of the ability of YA novels to draw people in with their covers?
Since librarians and hardcore fans are the primary consumers of hardcover novels, they’re the audience publishers consider when designing the cover the first time around. But since libraries mostly purchase hardcover books, the paperback covers are designed to appeal to book store browsers and changes often reflect that. This is my no means scientific, but it seems like a lot of the time when books written for girls have their covers redesigned for a paperback release, the cover features a shot of a real girl on the cover rather than an illustration or an inanimate object. This may be related to the hypothesis proposed by a friend in my earlier post touching on the depiction of larger female characters on book covers that publishers think women need to identify with the protagonist.
I like the illustration style for the hardcover versions a lot, but beyond that they’re distinctive. The paperback versions just reminds me of every other medieval-style fantasy book I read growing up a decade or two ago, especially CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY and THE MIDWIFE’S APPRENTICE. I suppose publishers know what they’re doing–their profits depend on it–but the paperback covers of YA novels, especially those aimed at girls, often disappoint me. I guess I’m not the target demographic!