Stregas & Strategy: A Review of The Brilliant Death

brilliant deathThe Brilliant Death
Amy Rose Capetta
Viking Books, October 2018

Historical fantasy and romance collide in this captivating tale set in Vinalia, a fictional land inspired by mountain villages of old Italy. Teodora di Sangro is well aware of and versed in the di Sangro way of life, which places loyalty to the family above the self, and the opinions of men above women – but she yearns for more: the power of a di Sangro son, and to use the magic she holds inside of her. With her magic, she changes her family’s enemies into trinkets that decorate her room, but Teo knows she could do more, if only her father trusted the strega way in addition to practicing and teaching political strategy to his sons.

When Teo meets Cielo, a young genderfluid strega who can teach Teo how to use her power to become the di Sangro son she longs to be, Teo realizes there may be a way to be her true self and save her family from the Capo’s plans to weaken each of the Five Families of Vinalia. With challenges to traditional gender roles, exploration of what it means to feel at home and whole in your body, and poetically descriptive language, The Brilliant Death elevates a coming-of-age story into a thoughtful consideration of who we are when we let go of society’s expectations and trust the magic inside of us.

ILA Recap: Peoria is cooler than I thought!

Peoria Civic Center plaza

Back in the swing of things after a busy week of librarian-ing in Peoria and all I can say is, I can’t wait for next year. Despite the wild weather (82 degrees when I got there and 48 degrees when I left) and a packed schedule (the typical conference curse of one interested in sometimes vastly unrelated topics), I had a blast. From connecting with former co-workers to getting a glimpse of some amazing work DU alumni are doing all around the state, it was a wonderful three days of library fun.

Here are some of the highlights:

Book-nerd moment

Gene Yang

Opening General Session with Gene Luen Yang—Graphic novels weren’t really my thing, but American Born Chinese is one of the books that helped me develop an appreciation for GN’s and all they have to offer. Besides, as a self-confessed nerd, I always like to see someone own their nerdiness like Gene Yang does.

 

Inspiration moment

ILA President’s Program with Miguel Figueroa—As the Director of ALA’s Center for the Future of Libraries, Miguel Figueroa appears to have a keen eye for changes in the library profession and in society at large. His thoughts on the future being a “revolution” that brings people together and builds inclusivity were thought-provoking. Such an exciting opportunity for librarians and teachers who are so often already fostering those ideals.

 

Out of my comfort zone moment

Dungeons and Dragons dice“Looking for Group”: Engaging Teens with Dice, Monsters, and Stories—I purposefully picked a session about something which I know NOTHING, Dungeons and Dragons and similar role-playing games are that thing. The enthusiasm of the presenters and the way they use these games as a tool for social and emotional learning was fantastic and eye-opening. Thanks to Courtney Moore, Addison Public Library; Luke Rathburn, Grayslake Public Library; Emily Fardoux, Lincolnwood Public Library; Rachel Kaplan, Northbrook Public Library for the intro to the world of RPG’s and all their many sneaky teaching tools.

 

So excited to share moment(s)

Ok, let’s be honest, there were more of these than I can reasonably add to this post. So my top 2 sessions that I can’t wait to tell people about are:

Balance & Beyond: Work/Life Integration for Libraries—Working with the public can present emotional challenges to the strongest of us. How can libraries and library managers provide support for staff that allow them to be at their best in both their professional and personal lives? Kelly Durov and Laurie Prioletti, Northbrook Public Library; Brian Shepard, Indian Trails Public Library District; Regina Townsend, Forest Park Public Library provided a host of programming and policy ideas for creating a positive environment and supporting self-care for their teams.

Sort of Bilingual: Serving Youth and Young Adults from Spanish-Speaking Homes—With the help of an ALA Diversity Research Grant, Elizabeth Lynch and Kelly MacGregor of Addison Public Library set out to discover the strengths and opportunities of the kids in their community that come from bilingual homes. They discussed their research, the supportive program development that came from their learnings, and how they encourage a celebration of bilingualism at the library and beyond.

 

I am often in awe of the brilliant, generous, and dedicated librarians I meet in this small world of library-land—thanks to all for the inspiration!

Cheers!
Jen Clemons
Curator, BCLC

 

Will We See You in Peoria?

Headed to Peoria for the Illinois Library Association Annual Conference?
Want to connect with us while you’re there?

Screenshot-2018-10-4 Annual Conference

Visit us in the ILA Exhibits— you’ll find DU in the Peoria Civic Center at booth 214. Stop by to chat about what’s going on with Dominican, the SOIS program, and the Butler Center.

OR

Meet up at the Dominican iSchool Alumni Reception. Join fellow Dominican grads and prospective Dominican grads for a chat, a snack, and some networking. You’ll find us on Tuesday, October 9, 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. in the Cheminee Ballroom in the Marriott Pere Marquette Hotel.

Better yet, try both. Hope to see you there!

Jen Clemons
Curator, Butler Children’s Literature Center

Slight Frights and Daring Scares: Nine Spooky Books for Middle Grade Readers

October is here, and with it come ghosts, goblins, witches, and monsters. Today we’re looking at a few of this year’s spooky reads for middle grades – books with slight frights that won’t give you nightmares.

sgirllockedThe Girl in the Locked Room: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn
Clarion Books, September 2018
Cover: 👻👻👻👻
Content: 👻👻

The cover and title of this story make it seem far scarier than it is in reality. Narration shifts between Jules, whose family has just moved into an abandoned house, and the “Girl,” Lily, whose family lived in the house decades ago. Both girls are curious about each other, and of their respective time periods, and their friendship might be just what Lily needs to find her final resting place. This is gentle ghost story, for readers want to ease into the season.

sturnkey
The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery by Allison Rushby
Candlewick Press, July 2018
Cover: 👻👻👻
Content: 👻👻

Less a ghost story, and more historical fiction featuring supernatural characters, The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery’s scariest features are the German soldiers and the threat of a bombing looming over the action of the tale. In London during World War II, young ghost Flossie Birdwhistle is in charge of keeping the cemetery’s buried souls at rest, but a mysterious soldier – also a ghost – draws Flossie into England’s war efforts. Readers who prefer their ghosts to act with integrity and honor will find it easy to support Flossie and her ghostly friends.

scityghosts
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
Scholastic Press, August 2018
Cover: 👻👻👻👻
Content: 👻👻👻👻

In this first novel of a new supernatural fantasy series, Schwab creates a world similar to ours: a reality TV show featuring two “ghost hunters” travels to Scotland to film their pilot episode. They are faking it: though the “Inspectres,” as they call themselves, truly believe in and want to see ghosts, they just don’t. Their daughter, Cass, does – and has even befriended the ghost who saved her from a near-death experience several years ago. The ghosts of Scotland aren’t nearly as friendly, and it will take another young “In-betweener” to help Cass realize her full powers as someone who can cross the Veil. There’s plenty of good versus evil in this ghost-hunting adventure, with humor and heart to balance out the action.

spoplar
The House in Poplar Wood by K.E. Ormsbee
Chronicle Books, August 2018
Cover: 👻👻👻
Content: 👻👻👻

Lee and Felix Vickery are twins, but the only thing they do together is travel to town on Halloween, the one night that Death allows. For the rest of the year, they go about their lives in Poplar Wood, on opposite sides of their house, as the Agreement states. Felix helps his father, who is an apprentice to Death, and Lee does the same for his mother, who is Memory’s apprentice. It’s not the best life, but they make it work – until the daughter of Passion’s apprentice is killed, and Gretchen Whipple, the mayor’s daughter, and sworn enemy of the Vickerys, decides to get to the bottom of a feud that has controlled the lives – and deaths – of everyone in their small town for years. Lee, Felix, and Gretchen form a friendship as strange as their living arrangements to set things right. Poetic descriptions give this book a contemplative feel, though the action ensures it’s never bogged down in too much detail.

sbegone
Begone the Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan
Walker Books, February 2018
Cover: 👻👻👻
Content: 👻👻👻

This first book in an forthcoming trilogy creates a world where witches live across an invisible border and live by a set of ancient rules. Mup, her mam, and her brother cross this border to save her her dad after he is kidnapped by the creator of these rules – her grandmother. Reminiscent of other fantastical journeys taken by young women to rescue those they love and get back home, Begone the Raggedy Witches gives its readers characters to care for and a magical world to explore. The villains are just cruel enough to resent, but good witches abound as well, and Mup’s fight becomes more than just a rescue mission – she must save Witches Borough itself from her grandmother’s control.

sfakeblood
Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner
Simon & Schuster, September 2018
Cover: 👻👻
Content:👻👻

Nia Winters likes vampires. AJ likes Nia, but since he isn’t a vampire, he can’t seem to catch her attention – until he decides to become a vampire himself. Then he realizes it’s not that Nia likes vampires – she slays them. Suddenly his great idea could be the death of him, if he can’t convince Nia it was all a ploy, and that a real vampire of Spoons Middle School is still out there. This graphic novel is more silly than scary, with all of its parodying of other well-known vampire tales. The illustrations add a level of fun, and the relationships between AJ and his sister and AJ and his friends are sweet with plenty of goodnatured needling. For readers who would rather laugh at monsters than be terrified by them, Fake Blood will satisfy.

scryptid
The Cryptid Catcher by Lija Fisher
Farrar Straus Giroux, August 2018
Cover: 👻👻
Content: 👻👻

Clivo Wren is only taking up the family business when he becomes a cryptid hunter at age 13, after his father’s death, but he may have taken on more than he knows how to handle. After all, he just found out cryptids really do exist – is he really ready to track and catalog them? Humanity as we know it may be on the line if Clivo isn’t up for the task of finding the rumored “immortal” cryptid, so with the help of several trustworthy friends, and a few more less-than-trustworthy colleagues, he sets out to catch whatever cryptids he can. Teenagers with plenty of dry humor and monster-hunting lore make this a delightful read that’s less scare and more dare.

scarlett
Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor
First Second Books, April 2018
Cover: 👻👻👻👻
Content: 👻👻👻

Part Sherlock Holmes-ian detective, part Lara Croft action-adventure hero, and all quippy one-liners, Scarlett Hart doesn’t shy away from danger as she follows in her late parents’ footsteps. With the help of Napoleon, Mrs. White, and plenty of hunting gadgets, she tracks down and hunts various monsters – from gargoyles springing to life to zombies terrorizing the theatre – hoping to catch them before the conniving Count Stankovic catches her. Hand drawn illustrations bring the monsters and Scarlett to life and help to build intensity as she escapes each dangerous situation.

smallspaces
Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2018
Cover: 👻👻👻
Content: 👻👻👻👻👻

For having a rather tame cover (though it gets creepier the closer you look), this story is shockingly scary. A field trip to a local farm turns terrifying as the bus breaks down on the way back to school and the bus driver smilingly says, “Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you.” Eleven-year old Ollie and two of her classmates are the only ones who take the driver’s advice, choosing to try their luck in the surrounding forest. They aren’t sure if they’ve made the right choice, or who (or what) exactly is coming for them, but they’ll soon find out. Excellent pacing and well-timed cliffhangers, along with a smart and courageous heroine make this a treat for brave readers.

“Made in Illinois”: Connecting Readers with Creators in YOUR Classrooms and Libraries

Sarah Aronson

The Butler Children’s Literature Center was pleased to host local author Sarah Aronson last week Thursday, September 20th, for her “Made in Illinois” presentation. Aronson, who has written several books for children and teens, including the Wish List series for middle grade readers and an upcoming Rube Goldberg picture book biography, is originally from Pennsylvania, but now calls Evanston home. She shared with our audience various ways teachers and librarians can incorporate local authors and illustrators into their programming, from brief but impactful Skype conversations, to writing or illustrating workshops, or as enhancements to various STEAM curricula. Aronson also suggested collaborating with authors and illustrators to introduce more difficult conversations. “Books are a safe place to have a bigger discussion,” she said, whether that be about “bullying, the loss of a loved one, or talks about community and empathy.”

However educators want to work with authors and illustrators, the important thing, Aronson reminded everyone, was that the kids and their interests and imaginations be at the forefront, and that it be a collaborative effort between all parties: “When kids meet authors and illustrators, something happens. The book comes alive.” All it takes to make this magic happen is reaching out. Many authors have contact information on their websites, and there is an online resource launching this fall that will help connect local creators with local educators (look for announcements here and on our social media!).

Thanks again to Sarah, and happy collaborating to all!

Book Reviewing Workshop

Book reviewing image

Curious about how to get your start in book reviewing? Looking to sharpen your current skills? Join professional reviewers Janice Del Negro (Associate Professor, Dominican University SOIS) and Hal Patnott (Library Assistant, Oak Park Public Library) for a discussion on the history of reviewing and current trends in the field, as well as the resources and skills required for professional reviewing of youth literature.

Who: Open to all teachers, librarians, students, and book-lovers (or any combination thereof)

What: Tips, tricks, lively discussion, and snacks– of course

When: Saturday, October 13, 2018 from 11am–1pm

Where: Butler Children’s Literature Center, Crown Library 214

Please RSVP to us at butler@dom.edu or whichever social media post you’re reading right now.

Hope to see you then!

 

Creatures with Emotions: A Review of How to Be a Good Creature

how to be

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in 13 Animals
By Sy Montgomery
Illustrated by Rebecca Green
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 2018

In ten brief chapters, Montgomery recalls her time with and lessons learned from 13 animals – some known only for days, some beloved family members. Each chapter is part biology lesson, part biographic narrative, and part philosophical reflection on the gift of animals in our lives. Montgomery describes in vivid detail the daily routine of emus in Australia, the playful nature of an octopus living at the New England Aquarium, the charming personality of a pig named Christopher Hogwood, and the ways in which she grew and changed as a person thanks to a variety of family pets. This memoir is unique in its creature focus, and in the full range of emotions displayed by both Montgomery and her animal companions. This heartfelt memoir written for a young audience reminds us we’re all just creatures with emotions. As she states, “A far worse mistake than misreading an animal’s emotions is to assume the animal hasn’t any emotions at all” (p 148). As a read along, read aloud, or part of a larger discussion about our place in the world, How to Be a Good Creature will be at home on many bookshelves.