Tag: david lubar

Miscellany: more library history, women ruining everything (again), and encouraging successes

Library history
A few months ago, the Library History Buff Blog did a piece on early children’s rooms in public libraries. While the piece was short, I thought it was especially interesting to see the motivations behind offering library services and facilities for young people:

Although various libraries including the Boston Public Library lay claim to having the first public library children’s room, the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts seems to have the strongest claim. Their children’s room was established in June of 1890 primarily to get noisy children out of the adult reading room. It was initially supervised by the library’s janitor.

John Cotton Dana of the Denver Public Library–the first to offer dedicated children’s services in 1894–did say, “If public libraries are of value, this form of a children’s department must be, if not the ideal thing, certainly an ideal thing.” But in 1896, Mary Wright Plummer found only 15 public libraries nationwide that provided services from a children’s room.

We’ve certainly come a long way in providing library services to young people since then, but how many libraries don’t have a dedicated teen space or even a dedicated YA librarian? (This seems like a good point to plug YALSA’s Teen Services Evaluation Tool, a rubric based on YALSA’s Core Competencies that you can use to assess your library’s success in having the resources and desire to provide great service to teens.) There’s always progress to be made!

Sarah of Glass Cases recently wrote an essay called “YA: Then vs. Now” with an interesting mix of history of YA lit as well as personal reflections on growing up with the YA lit of the ’90s and musings on some historically significant titles. In the essay, she’s trying to pinpoint when YA lit turned the corner from “writing about teens” to “writing for teens.” Especially since I’m about the same age, it was a pretty interesting read.

And man, if you want some vintage YA lit, check out the Mod-Mod Read-In Paperback Book List featured on Sara Ryan’s blog. It’s pretty groovy (click through for more scans and some analysis of the chosen titles):

You know what we need? More recognition of awesome women who rock out in their fields. While librarianship has historically been a women’s profession, anything to do with computers or programming has generally been branded as being for men (although one of the first computer programmers was a women!). But what about the people who exist at the intersection of libraries and computers? The Geek Feminism Blog recently featured Henriette Avram, who was a programmer who worked for the Library of Congress and who is responsible for the creation of MARC in the 1960s. Awesome.

Women ruining everything (again)
Of course, not everyone wants to recognize women’s accomplishments. Some would rather distance themselves from women in the workplace because apparently women defile everything they touch and even just being associated with women or what they do will ruin you and your career. At least, that seems to be the gist of Penelope Trunk’s blog post “What To Get Ahead? Stay Away From Women.” (It is possible that she doesn’t mean what she says, that she is writing these things ironically or sarcastically or in some other way where I can believe she’s not for real, but I don’t think that’s the case.)

Trunk’s starts with the idea of a “competition gap” wherein women self-select themselves into lower-paying, less prestigious fields, and that even within their chosen field, they go for “support roles” rather than competitive management positions, or–in her case–even if they are in a “man’s field,” they choose to focus on womanly things, like writing about women and their lives. This is true! We do value competition and men over nurturing and women. (And I’ve written about this before in the context of libraries.)

But rather than having a problem with privileging things that are labeled male over things that are labeled female, rather than trying to elevate the prestige of “women’s work,” she wants women to just stop complaining about this gap:

The thing is that Kimberly concludes in her post that women are getting ripped off. It kills me. I don’t want to be writing next to women who believe that women are getting a raw deal and then complain about it. I don’t buy it.

Women are getting a raw deal if they’re constantly being told that choosing things that interest them and that they value, that being a woman are bad things and that if they were just more manly, they’d succeed. So what’s Trunk’s advice?

Women: It is very bad to write stuff about dinner with family if you are trying to get ahead. Do not do this. People assume that if you have kids you will do less work. This may or may not be true – I mean, doing less work. But what is true is that you should not talk about family at work if you want to be in the all-boys departments.

But here’s the thing: I don’t want to be in the all-boys departments. I want to do work that is meaningful to me, and I want society to value that work. Every day, I work in a public library with teens–I think the only way it could be more women’s work is if I were working with children–and that work has an impact on those teens and on my community. I am proud of what I do. I’d like for other people to value that as much as they value technology, competition, and dudeliness.

Some encouraging successes
Wow, after that downer, let’s talk about some good things that have happened recently!

Michelle Luhtala, the librarian at the high school in the town that my library serves, is hands-down totally awesome. She’s really plugged into technology and the importance of tech in libraries and schools, she’s a webinar facilitator for edWeb.net, she’s been named Librarian of the Year by CLA, she was recently elected Director of Region 1 of AASL, she churns out instructional tools like crazy, and she has a great relationship with her students. Last year her library was one of two to be named AASL’s National School Library Program of the Year, and earlier this month Nancy Everhart, the president of AASL, made New Canaan High School her Connecticut stop on her nationwide tour.

And now she–and the teens at her library–have another feather to add to their cap: they won the 16-to-18 age category of the ALA’s Why I Need My Library contest! Michelle wrote last month on her blog about the creation of the video. Check it out:

More good news: at the beginning of this year, a controversy erupted when the director of the Enfield (CT) Public Library was told the library couldn’t show Michael Moore’s “Sicko” as part of their ongoing film program. The library was eventually allowed to show the movie, which was a victory in itself, but the director was also recently recognized by the Connecticut Library Association with an Intellectual Freedom Award.

There are lots of successes we have each day that are never officially recognized with awards but are just as meaningful. David Lubar recently wrote a LiveJournal post about an email he received from a parent about how his books had so captured her son’s imagination that he had gone from below grade-level reading to above grade-level–and that he’d begun writing his own stories. That’s really powerful stuff.

I’ve recently had a couple of those moments–maybe smaller, but no less encouraging–myself. I’m organizing a Minecraft competition at my library (I’m planning to talk about it in detail once it’s happened) and one of my TAB kids is helping spread the word to her friends on Facebook. Her post was attracting a few comments, and then one of her non-library-going friends wrote, “That’s actually like way too cool for a library to be doing,” and seeing that totally made my day. I am changing non-library users’ perceptions of what a library is and does!

And then last week, a former borderline troublemaker came over to me and out of nowhere said that I was doing a good job of standing up for teens and that I was making the library a better place for teens. He couldn’t have made me happier if I’d been feeding him lines to parrot back at me! And then he asked if he could join our Teen Advisory Board!

So you know, haters gonna hate–but I’m doing my job and it’s having an impact on my community and I feel good about that. And you should feel good about your work, too! What encouragement have you received recently?

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2 Comments May 26, 2011

Review: Attack of the Vampire Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales by David Lubar

The cover of David Lubar's short story collection Attack of the Vampire Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales. A sentient hotdog with wings hangs upside down from a tree branch in the foreground, while in the background other Weenies fly, loom just over the horizon, or make menacing faces. A full moon shines in the sky.

Attack of the Vampire Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales
Author: David Lubar
Publisher: Starscape (Tor)
Pages: 224
ISBN: 9780765323453
Publication date: 24 May 2011
Review book source: ARC sent by the publisher

From the publisher: A boy steals a ticket to an amusement park and gets the ride of a lifetime–literally. The first day of middle school turns into a free-for-all when the gym teacher offers a “get-out-of-gym-free” card. Sick of his sister’s vampire wannabe friends, a kid decides to teach them a lesson at their next party. But the tables are turned when some surprise guests show up. […] David Lubar is back with thirty more warped and creepy tales for fans of his bestselling Weenies story collections […]

My thoughts
Lubar’s stories draw on horror story and urban legend staples (ghosts, creepy abandoned houses, skeletons) as well as elements from kids’ day to day lives (school, sports, video games, lame older siblings) and the truly bizarre (mimes turned vampires, ants that become what they eat–and then hunger for more, and the perils of stealing cable from a witch). These elements are blended together with a healthy helping of humor to create a collection that will alternately creep you out and leave you chuckling.

The mix of horror and humor will keep kids reading, and the length of the stories (some as short as three pages) will reward reluctant readers. The shorter stories would also make great material for book talks to tweens, so take this with you when you visit schools to promote summer reading!

With many of the stories, some of the horror is in the initial cold chill when you realize what’s happening, but a lot of it also comes from contemplating what happens to the characters after the story is over. Many of the stories also end in such a way that you could ask, “What happens next?” to get kids telling some great stories of their own.

One of the delightfully silly passages I enjoyed comes from the setup for one of the fractured fairy tales in the collection:

A while ago–however long it actually was doesn’t really matter–a poor couple lived in a shack in the woods. They had enough money for a television, but they couldn’t afford cable. So they settled for watching the few shows they could catch on broadcast. When the wife learned she was going to have a baby, she got restless.

“Look there,” she said, pointing to the high walls that surrounded the witch’s home not far from their shack. “She has satellite TV. And all we have is broadcast.”

“I’ll fix that,” her husband said. He waited until night, then took his tools and sneaked over to the satellite dish. He spliced a second cable into the line and ran it to his shack.

“Now we can watch everything,” the husband said.

“Isn’t that stealing?” the wife asked.

“We’re not hurting anyone,” the husband said.

And so they settled down on the couch and watched the wonderful abundance of available satellite programming until their daughter was born.

Such fractured fairy tales, new urban legends, and stories about strange and freaky things that no one would ever believe happened if you told them are mixed in with the traditional horror or campfire stories. Some are scary, some capture your imagination and stick with you, and some serve as cautionary tales of the dangers of avarice, revenge, and too much reality television. With all of them, I like the possibilities and twists that Lubar sees when he looks at the world–and as a bonus, a section is included at the end of the book wherein Lubar explains his inspiration for each story, which I appreciated and suspect young readers would as well.

Other little things I enjoyed about this collection: there is a Gretchen in this book! There is a story (“Gee! Ography”) that is entirely built on geography puns! And there are a handful of times when the kids in the stories do something to find information–everything from simple Internet searches to grabbing an encyclopedia because it’s closer than the computer to months of research at the library on smells culminating in the creation of an anti-stink formula. And for the most part, the kids who know how to do research well succeed and the kids who don’t get eaten or meet some other hideous fate. How’s that for library propaganda?

I think my favorite story was “Chirp” (about a boy who can briefly turn into a bird when he says “chirp”) because I didn’t see the twist ending coming at all, but the one that really stuck with me, that really horrified me, was “Family Time,” in which a kid and his family gather for a game and he finds himself completely at a loss as to what the rules are or even the correct vocabulary to learn, despite his family’s insistence that they’ve played before and he must know. To me, that sounded too much like the dementia that I fear will be my fate in old age: I’ll have no idea what’s going on and no way to find out, despite everyone telling me things are totally normal. That’s terrifying.

Lubar’s latest Weenies book is warped and creepy, yes, but also also funny. While not every story is a total slam-dunk (or a home run or whatever other sports analogy you’d like), those that fall flat only seem so because they’re surrounded by clever stories that make you wonder “what if?” or “what next?” A great collection for your tweens. 4/5.

More reviews

Bonus: David Lubar wrote a piece for the Starscape blog on how to write your own Weenies story. He also provided an excerpt from the title story and directions on how to get a free copy of the book (sort of) on his LiveJournal.

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Leave a Comment May 23, 2011

Review: ENTER THE ZOMBIE by David Lubar (Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series)

The cover of David Lubar's middle grade novel ENTER THE ZOMBIE, the fifth and final book in the Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series. The cover is a cartoony depiction of a boy with rotting green fingers and neck against a blue background removing his head from his body. He wears a tshirt that reads "TEAM MOOKIE". The title, series name, and author's name also appear on the cover.

Enter the Zombie
Author: David Lubar
Publisher: Starscape (Tor)
Pages: 192
ISBN: 9780765323446
Publication date: 4 January 2011
Review book source: I requested an ARC from the publisher

From the publisher: When Mr. Murphy finds out that evil organization RABID is using a student academic and athletic competition to recruit agents, he asks Nathan, Abigail, and Mookie to form a team and enter the contest. Things go terribly wrong when Nathan’s nemesis, Rodney the bully, forms his own team to go up against Nathan. Soon Rodney and his pals start to notice some very odd things about Nathan. Will they discover Nathan’s secret and expose his zombie identity to the entire world?

My thoughts
The vivid, so-gross-it’s-great puke-and-farts scenes that gave the first four books their character make fewer appearances here as Nathan is confronted with the escalating peril of his life as a zombie. The stakes have never been higher as he himself becomes a part of the mission to destroy RABID, but he’s also realizing that BUM’s interest in him is as a tool and not a person. In fact, about two thirds of the way through the book, Nathan recognizes that while they helped harden his bones, BUM–and Mr Murphy–have no intention of helping him un-zombify himself. Nathan muses to Abigail, “I don’t think it will ever be enough. […] There’ll always be more to do. I’ll be carrying out missions for them until I rot apart.” Nathan must decide if he’s willing to sacrifice himself and his life for the greater good–or if he has the right to live life as just a normal kid.

And while the gross-out bits are reduced mostly to a few choice emissions from Mookie, the real heart of the series–Nathan, Abigail, and Mookie working together to solve problems in their world and in their lives–beats strongly in this final installment. Abigail especially is in high form, tracking down a cure for Nathan, but it takes unique contributions from all three of the friends to advance in the Mind and Body competition. Abigail must draw on every ounce of her intelligence, Nathan’s got to push himself as hard as possible to do well in physical challenges without tipping anyone off to the source of his strength and endurance, and Mookie has to provide comic relief and encouragement at key points. More than in the first four books, teamwork and propping each other up in dire situations are what save our heroes.

And look! There’s an entire page wherein Abigail explains to Mookie that research without the Internet is totally possible:

“I haven’t found a single thing about the anima flower on the Internet,” Abigail said.

“That’s not good. So it isn’t real?” I was glad I hadn’t gotten my hopes up about a cure.

“I didn’t say that. Not everything is on the Internet. There are some books I can check. There are all sorts of old newspapers and magazines that aren’t on the Internet.”

“Then how can you search them?” I asked.

“They have indexes,” Abigail said.

“On the Internet?” Mookie asked.

“No, in other books,” Abigail said. “People did research before there was an Internet. And even before there were any computers at all. They looked things up. They found information. It will be fun. I’ll go to the county library after school tomorrow.”

It may be pandering (and Lubar’s mom was a school librarian), but c’mon, how can you not support a book that sneaks in some indoctrination into the “libraries are awesome” cult?

In Enter the Zombie, Lubar deftly wraps up the loose threads, persistent concerns, and primary conflicts he established through the first four books. While he faces off against RABID for a final time, Nathan’s also grappling with the responsibilities his unique abilities and involvement with BUM confer and whether or not he can find a balance between those responsibilities and his own life. After all, as much as Nathan wants to go back to a life of eating, sleeping, and not rotting apart, to abandon an exciting life of spying and destroying evil entirely would be such a disappointment.

Ending on a strong note, the Nathan Abercrombie series is a perfect mix of gross-out moments and slapstick humor, great spy work with a twist, and a good heart beneath it all. Highly recommended.

More reviews
No other reviews seem to be available at the time of this writing. Keep your eye on Goodreads for reviews to come after the book is published.

Check out my interview with David about the Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series.

My reviews of the first four books in the series, My Rotten Life, Dead Guy Spy, and Goop Soup and The Big Stink.

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1 Comment December 9, 2010

An interview with David Lubar, author of the Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series

David Lubar was kind enough to let me interview him about Enter the Zombie, the fifth and final book in the Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series. We talk about the book, the series, his writing, and how Nathan would do against a unicorn.

A photograph of the jumbo screen at Coca Cola Park in Allentown, PA. Shown on the screen is author David Lubar reading aloud, along with a graphic of a man writing.

David on a jumbo screen at Coca Cola Park in Allentown, reading a story before a Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs baseball game

GK: Where did you get the idea for the Nathan Abercrombie series?

DL: My publisher, Kathleen Doherty, mentioned zombies to me back in November, 2007 when we were discussing series ideas. The idea intrigued me, but since then I’d be writing multiple books, I wanted to give it some thought before I plunged in. The next day, I was struck by the image of a zombie kid rolling his eye down a hall so he could spy on someone. That led me to think about all the ways a zombie kid could be a wonderful spy.

GK: Nathan’s a great protagonist, but it’s really the team of Nathan, Abigail, and Mookie that shines. How did Abigail and Mookie find their way into the story?

DL: They just showed up. I’ll often start writing, with a basic plot in mind, and see who comes to the party. I knew I’d need Abigail to set things in action, but I had no idea who she was when I put her at the pariah table in the cafeteria. Originally, I thought she’d just be a kid with a mad-scientist uncle. Then, I realized it would be so much more fun if she was the genius behind the disaster. Mookie was a gift from my imagination. It takes a special kind of kid to be best friends with a zombie. I love characters who hear not just a different drummer, but even a different chromatic scale.

The cover of David Lubar's THE BIG STINK, the fourth book in the Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series

THE BIG STINK, the fourth book in the Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series

GK: Who did the cover art for the series? What were your first thoughts when you saw the cover for My Rotten Life?

DL: The covers are by Adam McCauley, who also illustrated the Wayside School books. It was love at first sight. I think the cover for book four, The Big Stink, is my favorite. But all of them are great, and the decapitation depicted on book five should pique the curiosity of anyone browsing the shelves. I put a framed copy of the first cover on the wall in front of me for inspiration while I wrote the rest of the series. Tor does an amazing job with covers. I’m well aware how important that is, and how fortunate I’ve been.

GK: How did you like writing a five-book series rather than a stand-alone novel or a collection of short stories? Were there specific enjoyments or challenges in doing so?

DL: I liked being able to start subsequent books with established characters. One thing I enjoyed was that this wasn’t a formula story with five variations. It was a complete narrative arc, though each book can stand alone. I guess one of the challenges was giving the reader enough backstory in the latter books. Probably the biggest challenge was that I have a busy travel schedule. I did a lot of writing in airports and hotels Another challenge is that anyone writing a series has to live with the world as it has been created. I can’t suddenly make a sibling appear or vanish. I can’t change a character’s height or eye color. But it’s okay to paint yourself into a corner when the corner is part of a fun house.

GK: What initially made you want to write for middle grade readers and teens? And why humor writing?

DL: When I started trying to sell short fiction in the 1970s, there were three viable markets – genre magazines, women’s magazines, and kid’s magazines. I felt qualified to submit to two out of three of those. My early sales were mostly for young readers or for the SF market. As for humor, that’s how my mind works. It’s a gift. And a curse.

The cover of David Lubar's middle grade novel ENTER THE ZOMBIE, the fifth and final book in the Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series. The cover is a cartoony depiction of a boy with rotting green fingers and neck against a blue background removing his head from his body. He wears a tshirt that reads "TEAM MOOKIE". The title, series name, and author's name also appear on the cover.

GK: There are some pretty awesome gross-out scenes in this series, especially the bleachers that turn into a “fountain of puke.” What is it about farts and barf that’s so hilarious?

DL: I don’t know. I took a course in college on comedy in literature, and discovered that there is nothing less enjoyable or amusing than trying to analyze humor. On the other hand, maybe I can answer the question with a single word: schadenfreude (which is German for “my psychotherapist just soiled his pants”).

GK: Has your history as a game designer and programmer shaped how you write or what you write about?

DL: I don’t think it shapes how I write (except that I need to write lots of book so I can buy lots of video games), but it does color what I write. My characters are often gamers, and some of my horror stories involve games that have gone awry. One of Nathan’s early traumas in the book occurs because of his lack of gaming skill. This sweetly reverses when his rock-steady zombie hands and unblinking concentration allow him to master a variety of games.

GK: Because of his zombification, Nathan doesn’t need to eat or sleep, so he can stay up all night playing games, reading, and thinking through life’s problems. If you no longer required sleep, what would you do all night?

DL: I would play video games, read books, and maybe slink through the back alleys of my neighborhood dressed as Batman. Or Borat.

GK: Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier recently compiled Zombies vs Unicorns, an anthology of short stories that all seek to answer the question of which creature is better. Are you on Team Zombie? How do you think Nathan would do against a unicorn?

DL: Not well.

GK: And while I’m asking silly “this vs. that” questions: ninjas or pirates?

DL: Ninjas, for sure. The ninjas would give the pirates some rum. Then the ninjas would get the pirates to chase them across the water. Ninjas can run on water. Pirates can’t (though rum makes them think they can). Glub, glub – ninjas win.

GK: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions! And if I can have just one more for the road: now that Nathan’s story has drawn to a close, what are you working on next?

DL: You’re quite welcome. I enjoyed the questions. As for the final one, I’ve started a novel for middle grade kids. I’m aiming for something that’s both dark and funny, which is not a great departure from the norm for me, but I’m hoping for wider swings than usual. I’m also writing stories for a sixth Weenies collection. (The fifth, Attack of the Vampire Weenies, comes out in May.) No idea what the title story will be, yet, though I’m pretty sure it won’t involve unicorns.

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Leave a Comment December 9, 2010

Review: THE BIG STINK by David Lubar

The cover of David Lubar's THE BIG STINK, the fourth book in the Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series

Author: David Lubar
Publisher: Starscape
Pages: 164
ISBN: 9780765323439
Publication date: 31 August 2010
Review book source: I requested an ARC from the publisher

From the publisher: It’s a stinky situation when Nathan’s school, Belgosi Upper Elementary, develops a mold problem and his class is forced to share space with the first graders. Soon the eighth graders show up too, including Rodney the bully’s older and meaner brother, Ridley. Could he be the reason for the stinky, putrid, rotten smell that seems to be following Nathan around? It’s up to Nathan, Abigail, and Mookie to solve the mystery of the big stink before it pollutes the entire town.

My thoughts
Nathan’s missions with BUM take a bit of a backseat to what’s going on at the school and in Nathan’s personal life in this fourth installment in the Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series. He does a few sessions training in doing dead drops and seeing how guard dogs react to him, and there’s a short mission at the end, but the nefarious doings of RABID aren’t as integrated with the two main problems in Nathan’s life right now: the close quarters at school and the stink that seems to be everywhere Nathan goes.

A spoiler: that stink turns out to be Nathan himself. He discovers that the putrid scent he just can’t seem to escape is actually the rotting of his extremities. He’s had to deal with a lot of different problems with his new zombie physiology–his fragile bones that break too easily but are repaired (painfully!) with custom glue, not being able to digest food and having to feign eating around his parents, and having to hide his lack of a heartbeat from medical professionals–but his body rotting is something new and altogether more dangerous. Abigail and Dr. Cushing set about using science to try to find a cure, and even Mookie helps, delving into comic book zombie lore in search of a cure, but will this be the thing that finally does Nathan in?

In the meantime, there’s plenty of school drama–bullies, kids of all ages crammed into one school, and a sabotaged kindergarten pageant–and family drama to keep Nathan on his stinky, rotting toes. Throughout it all, Mookie and Abigail work with Nathan to solve problems and make the world a safer, happier place.

As in the first three books, this fourth of five books offers plenty of gross-out humor. Nathan’s stink is described in particular detail, and Mookie is always on hand for some sort of bodily function in the face of danger. The vomit levels were especially ramped up in this book–there’s even a double-puking-gym-teachers scene–and Nathan’s mission with BUM has him swimming through massive piles of trash. All of this delightfully gross humor is supplemented with wry observations, puns, and a touch of slapstick that will keep older elementary and younger middle school readers gagging and giggling.

More reviews
I actually couldn’t find any other reviews. Maybe we’ll see more on Goodreads after the book is published.

Previously: my reviews of the first three Nathan Abercrombie books

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1 Comment August 26, 2010

Review: MY ROTTEN LIFE, DEAD GUY SPY, and GOOP SOUP by David Lubar (Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series)

The cover of David Lubar's MY ROTTEN LIFE, the first book in the "Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie" series. Illustration shows a boy staring at his hand--which is turning green and missing a thumb--and screaming. He is surrounded by an overweight boy with glasses, a girl with brown hair, and a mad scientist-type character holding a flask.

MY ROTTEN LIFE by David Lubar (Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie #1)

The cover of David Lubar's MY ROTTEN LIFE, the first book in the "Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie" series. Illustration shows a boy's upside-down face. He is missing a few teeth and his ear is green and detached from his body, but the boy is grinning.

DEAD GUY SPY by David Lubar (Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie #2)

The cover of David Lubar's MY ROTTEN LIFE, the first book in the "Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie" series. Illustration shows a boy who is missing a few teeth and whose eyes are different colors and pointing in different directions. He wear a hat and is covered in green goop.

GOOP SOUP by David Lubar (Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie #3)

In MY ROTTEN LIFE, Nathan Abercrombie thinks he’s having a pretty rough day: he was humiliated at lunch by the most popular girl in school, he was picked last in gym class, and then everyone made fun of him for his poor video game skills. So when Abigail, a girl in his class, tells him her uncle is working on a substance that can keep him from feeling bad, he eagerly accepts the offer to be the first test subject. But then instead of receiving a few drops of Hurt-Be-Gone, Nathan is doused in it–and soon begins to turn into a zombie. While it’s cool to no longer sleep or feel pain or need to breathe, when body parts start falling off, Nathan realizes being a zombie might not be the best life (or living death). It’s a race against time before the transformation is complete and he can no longer return to being human, and he’ll need all the help he can get from his best friend Mookie and from Abigail.

Spoiler alert: Nathan winds up staying a zombie. In DEAD GUY SPY, he’s getting used to being a zombie and learning how to hide it from his parents (pretend to shower, pretend to eat, pretend to go to the bathroom, pretend to sleep) and discovering some cool new talents that come along with his living death. His body can’t heal, though, so he needs to be careful–especially in gym class with the sadistic, success-driven Mr. Lomux in charge. But when he realizes he’s being watched, Nathan starts to worry his secret might be out. He’s approached by a secret organization called BUM (the Bureau of Useful Misadventures) that wants to recruit him as a very special spy because of his new abilities. But his contact at BUM is very secretive about the organization and things just aren’t adding up and again it’s up to Mookie, Abigail, and Nathan to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

Another spoiler alert: BUM turns out to be the good guys and Nathan starts working for them on secret missions to protect the world from sinister plots. In GOOP SOUP (released at the end of April), Nathan’s finally starting to get some spy training and to pinpoint what his zombie nature contributes to his spy abilities. For the first time since his living death, though, Nathan’s running up against some limitations, so he’s not sure he’s ready to take on RABID, a secret organization bent on sowing the seeds of chaos. To make matters worse, his mother has made a doctor’s appointment and Nathan, Abigail, and Mookie have to figure out how Nathan can fake normal human vital signs before time runs out and his spy career–and his life–are over.

When David Lubar spoke at the Genre Galaxy preconference for ALA 2009 about humor writing, he cracked us up with a reading of a passage from MY ROTTEN LIFE where Nathan has an unfortunate run-in with Mookie’s fork in the cafeteria and discovers he’s a zombie. While this series has a creative premise and good storylines, the real strength is in the humor. Characters crack jokes, Nathan makes funny observations, and there’s a lot of situational humor among the action scenes.

And Lubar knows his audience: there’s plenty of gross-out humor in these books with missing body parts, farts and burps, sewage, and splattered pig guts, but despite some truly amazing passages (the climactic scene in DEAD GUY SPY includes the single-sentence paragraph “The bleachers had turned into a fountain of puke.”), it never really crosses the line. The combination of bodily functions, quick-paced plots, and humor will be a good fit for reluctant male middle grade readers especially.

On a much more personal judgment sort of level, one of the things I really appreciated was the contributions of the secondary characters. While Mookie is mostly around for the farts and goofy comedic interjections, he does provide ideas at crucial times, and Abigail turns out to be a secret science whiz who is the driving force behind a lot of the solutions to problems that Nathan encounters. The story is about him and his zombie adventures, but his friends are indispensable to his continued survival.

More reviews:

Book sources: MY ROTTEN LIFE from my local public library, DEAD GUY SPY from the publisher at PLA, GOOP SOUP as an ARC from the publisher at PLA.

(If you’re a David Lubar fan, be sure to check out his LiveJournal.)

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1 Comment May 4, 2010

Reflections on ALA Annual

One month from today I’ll be headed to Portland for PLA’s 2010 National Conference! I’m really looking forward to more opportunities for professional development and meeting other cool librarians from around the country. In anticipation of PLA 2010, I thought I’d reflect on the highlights of my experience at ALA Annual 2009, which was the first conference I ever attended.

I was really lucky last year; it was my first year in the SLIS program and ALA was in Chicago, so I was able to attend at the student rate, not pay airfare, and not pay for a hotel (I have friends in Northwest Indiana so I stayed with them and took the train into town)–all of which made the conference affordable. And it was such a fantastic experience! By last summer my experience in actual libraries was pretty limited: most of what I knew I knew from class readings, homework, and discussion. Going to ALA showed me how much more libraries could be.

My first day, I attended YALSA’s Genre Galaxy, which covered different genres of YA lit: what makes them appealing, what books are out there, and how to sell them to teens or program around them. But the best part of this preconference were the authors who spoke to us about their work, including James Kennedy (whose appearance was all done in-character and involved local teens re-enacting a scene from his book–Elizabeth Bird of Fuse #8 did writeups and posted videos here, here, and here), Dom Testa, Simone Elkeles, David Lubar (whom I also got to speak with during a break–he’s such a cool dude!), Patrick Jones, Libba Bray, and Holly Black. Honestly, I was a little bit star-struck after a day of hearing these YA lit rockstars talk–and getting to talk to them one-on-one during breaks! The giddiness of being able to meet people whose work I enjoyed so much really impressed on me how great it’d be to be able to bring that experience to teens and children through author visits.

I also attended a bunch of sessions that blew me away with how incredibly awesome and proactive libraries could be. Scott Nicholson talked about gaming in libraries and did a great job explaining why gaming is good aside from just the way it brings kids into the library, and he explained the importance of being able to back up gaming in your library with your mission statement. Different librarians also talked about how they’d implemented gaming in their libraries–and it ranged from something as small as just having a teen-organized gaming collection in a tiny public library to a huge program with classes and guest speakers on how to create games at NYPL.

I also attended the panel discussion on Teen Advisory Boards and again had my mind blown (see my earlier post about my class presentation on TABs). The only Teen Advisory Board I’d seen in action was just a group of kids the librarian could bounce ideas off of. I’d never even considered how TABs could be harnessed to make a library better and give teens leadership opportunities, or how they could very nearly run a teen department with the right development work from the librarian. More than any other session, this panel discussion got me really excited about being able to work in a library and really make an impact with what I did there.

I sat in on a presentation on sex in YA literature that challenged notions we all have about teens and sexuality and the books they read. Laura Ruby‘s talk about writing for children and then writing for teens and having her books challenged gave interesting insight into the author’s side of things, and Marty Klein did a great job of putting things in a historical and psychological context and examining the state of teen sexuality and teen sex education today.

I also went to the panel discussion on graphic novels that included a representative from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Neil Gaiman, Terry Moore, and Craig Thompson. Again, it was interesting to hear from the creators of works that get challenged, works we feel we need to defend. The consensus seemed to be that they don’t set out to be controversial; they just write and draw the story they want to tell and it’s only after it’s been released that the work starts to get categorized and analyzed and challenged and loved. They also did a good job of making the point that just because it’s a graphic novel doesn’t mean it’s for children–and that’s something we need to keep in mind as librarians. I also enjoyed their conversation about how graphic novels differ from other media like film or text.

Beyond the sessions I attended (and there were more–those were just the ones that I found particularly inspiring or interesting), I had time to check out all of the vendors on the convention floor. I got some neat free stuff including books and bags and pins and a Polaroid of me hugging the Cat in the Hat and ARCs (see my earlier post on ARCs)–including one of CATCHING FIRE, which was fantastic and exciting. Especially since this was my first conference, this part really was overwhelming at times. There are just so many people and so many booths and so much stuff everywhere. I was shielded in part by not actually having any sort of purchasing power, and it did give me a good idea of what’s out there for when I am working in a library and go to conferences representing my institution.

Part of visiting vendors was being able to meet authors and illustrators and get signed copies of their books. I got to meet Mo Willems and tell him what a fan I was and have him sign a few books; I met E. Lockhart and briefly discussed Frankie’s mix of psychopath and awesome while she signed my copy of THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS (now out in paperback with a much more boring cover); and I not only met and received signed books from MT Anderson but was able to have a surprisingly long conversation with him. He turned out to be a super-nice guy and I really wish I’d been able to talk with him even longer. I also ran into Lori Ann Grover of readergirlz right before the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet and had a chance to learn more about how she started readergirlz and all of the great things they’ve done so far.

And finally, I got to attend the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet and the Michael L. Printz Award reception. The Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder event was so elegant and the acceptance speeches were moving and inspiring. I especially loved Ashley Bryan‘s story of growing up black and wanting to illustrate and his energetic, expressive group recitations of Langston Hughes’s poetry.

While the Printz reception was a more casual affair, it felt more personal, too. I enjoyed hearing from the honor books’ authors as well as the winner, and I especially liked the chance to mingle with the honorees afterward.

My first conference experience was a little bit overwhelming and exhausting (I really packed in every activity I could while I was there), but more than that it was incredibly inspiring and energizing. Through the sessions I attended and the people I met, I got to see what kinds of rockin’ awesome things librarians are doing. I came away from the experience feeling really excited about my profession and really motivated to learn more and do more.

So with PLA quickly approaching, I’m looking forward to being able to re-energize myself in my work, especially in a more focused framework since PLA will be about public libraries specifically, and I’m looking forward to everything I’ll learn and be inspired by and inspired to do. The one way in which I felt like my ALA experience was lacking was that I didn’t get to meet as many new people as I wanted, and I’m hoping to do that at PLA–in just one month!

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Leave a Comment February 24, 2010

From the listservs: dictionary controversy

News broke early this week of an elementary school in California removing a dictionary from the classroom when a parent complained about the dictionary’s inclusion of the phrase “oral sex.” Here are the essential facts:

  • The offending dictionary was the tenth edition of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. It was being used in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms.
  • The parent was a classroom volunteer who discovered the word on her own and submitted a written complaint to the school.
  • The school board’s policy is to immediately remove the book and convene a committee within 30 days to determine whether or not the book was appropriate and report its decision within 15 days.

Author (and game designer!) David Lubar posted to the yalsa-bk mailing list a short piece of satire he had originally written in 1997 that bore some striking similarities [reposted with permission]:

Felicity Dour, spokesperson for PAWN (Parents Against Words that are Naughty), triumphantly announced the removal of all dictionaries from classrooms in three more states. Calling the book, “Satan’s toolkit,” Ms. Dour read several samples of the kind of unacceptable filth that can be constructed from its contents.

Lubar observed in his email, “The scary thing is that a lot of the stuff that was amusingly ridiculous back then is now so close to the truth that it won’t work as satire.”

By Tuesday, a committee had decided to offer both the original dictionary and an alternative dictionary for concerned parents and the school clarified that at no time had the dictionary been “banned” (as many news reports–The Guardian’s, for example–were saying. The school would send a letter home to parents allowing them to decide which dictionary their child should be allowed to use. What’s interesting to me is that the majority of that article (and the entirety of another) weren’t about what was happening with the dictionary, but with what was happening with the media attention the school was getting and the misinformation on the book being banned that was being spread. Furthermore, I saw a lot less–from librarians and non-librarians–about the resolution of the situation than the initial “oh no they’re banning books!” emails and tweets.

On Wednesday (the day the letters would go home to parents), Courtney Saldana, a librarian in Onario, California, shared with the listserv a summary of a radio interview she’d heard on KRQQ with a spokesperson for the Menifee School District. One part of the show she specifically mentioned was when the radio host indicated that looking up “oral sex” in a dictionary was much more appropriate for fourth- and fifth-graders than Googling it, and I think that gets to the heart of this issue. Parents want to protect their children, but isn’t the dictionary one of the safest places to find answers? And really, wouldn’t you have to know what you’re looking for to find it in the dictionary? Kids are certainly technologically literate enough to know that there are answers on the Internet, but they’re going to find a lot more objectionable material there than in a dictionary.

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Leave a Comment January 29, 2010

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