Tag Archive | habits

Pick-Up Game (book review) – street basketball, city life, real life

book cover of Pickup Game edited by Marc Aronson and Charles R Smith Jr published by CandlewickOur best five players against your best five,
No blood, no foul,
You leaving? Who else wants to play?

Street basketball takes smarts as well as skills, as the guys on your team right now might be on the other team before the hour is out. Sometimes three-pointers will win it all, other times you have to finesse the game.

If you can’t be at The Cage in person, the best streetball games you’ll ever experience are in Pick-Up Game.  These writers love the game, know the people watching, take us to the asphalt heat of the court where we can feel the chainlink between our fingers as we watch the players and the ball rush through the summer swelter, hour by hour.

The first story was completed by Walter Dean Myers, then Bruce Brooks wrote his, and so on down the line. So the players and spectators wander in and out of different stories, sometimes starring, sometimes watching, always wondering how everything is going to turn out. Charles R. Smith Jr. uses his photographs of The Cage and his rhythmic, driving poetry to keep the flow going from story to story.

Get this great collection today in hardcover at your local library or independent bookstore; it’s scheduled for paperback release in mid-October 2012.
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Book info: Pick-up Game: A Full Day of Full Court / edited by Marc Aronson and Charles R. Smith Jr. Candlewick Press, 2011.  [Marc Aronson’s website]   [Charles R. Smith Jr.’s website]   [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My Book Talk:  The Cage in New York City – home of the best pick-up basketball games ever, where street basketball means “no blood, no foul.” Many viewpoints, many stories from the players and the watchers and the wannabes on this hot July day.

It starts early with a “Cage Run” as Boo and Fish hit the court to face that Waco guy who’s cooler than ice and twice as scary. The day heats up as players leave and enter the pick-up games, like hotshot ESPN who’s always showing off in case any college scouts are watching and “Mira Mira” who’s fast even if he’s shorter than most.

Outside the Cage’s chainlink wall, some watchers want in the game – like Ruben, who hates being called Kid,  who knows that “Practice Don’t Make Perfect” only playing will. That guy with the video camera is making the documentary that will get him into NYU film school -“He’s Gotta Have It” – the heart of the players, the meaning of the game.

The games get hotter as quality players show up, turning into a “Head Game” as ‘Nique is the only girl on the court and blasts past ESPN, dishes passes to Waco. Do the legends of street ball watch from the bench in the back? Will the TV crew suddenly arriving really shut down the game for some public-service announcement filming or will they use real players in “The Shoot”?

A whole day in The Cage, with so many ways to see the game, to be the game, in this great collective work by top fiction writers who love basketball and its fans and its place in the heart of New York City. Short stories by Walter Dean Myers, Bruce Brooks, Willie Perdomo, Sharon G. Flake, Robert Burleigh, Rita Williams-Garcia, Joseph Bruchac, Adam Rapp, Robert Lipsyte, and Marc Aronson are fittingly connected by poems and photographs of The Cage by Charles R. Smith Jr.  (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)

If BooksYALove started today… (reflective) – blogging lessons learned in a year

old catalog drawing of manual typewriter

not my typewriter

Today, the 2012 WordCount Blogathon theme asks us to consider what we’d do differently with our blogs: “If I started blogging today I would….”

Hmmm… I’d compare WordPress and Blogger more closely before deciding which one to use. I started BooksYALove just hours before the 2011 Blogathon began, so I went with Blogger where I already had a personal blog for an online technology update course and it was a snap to add another blog.

From reading other bloggers’ experiences with plugins, going to self-hosted blog platform, etc., it sounds like WordPress has an edge over Blogger once it’s time to take off the blogging-training-wheels. But I have gotten used to Blogger’s interface (even when it changed right in the middle of a blog challenge for me) and really like the theme colors and layout that I selected, so I’m staying with Blogger for now.

I wish I’d had enough time and confidence to register my domain name from day one so that all my outreach, publicity, and business cards had pointed to that web address from the very start. I probably will go self-hosted soon to give me more control over my own writings, since BooksYALove is meant to be a searchable archive of great books for young adult book fans.

Some things that I wouldn’t change: I was immensely fortunate in finding my first choice of blog name available; the “YA” in the middle can mean “young adult” which is the book category that I cover or “ya” like the casual “you” since I’m writing recommendations directly to young adult book readers (rather than to librarians or those who purchase books for others).  And every book has to be one that a significant group of readers will love – I don’t review every YA book that I read – so only the books that would rank 4-5 stars get the nod for BooksYALove.

During my first month of blogging in May 2011, I settled on a blog format that suited my writing style, taking some of my YA recommendations posted on Barb Langridge’s www.abookandahug.com website and adding commentary with relevant subject links. Since I hate reading reviews that give away the ending or significant plot twists, I vowed to never do that to my readers – so, no spoilers, ever!

Longtime followers/subscribers have probably noticed some stylistic changes on BooksYALove in recent weeks, as I adjusted font sizes for better readability, added a new logo and blog background (courtesy of my talented daughter, the graphic designer), and started some easy-click book lists in tabs at the top of the page.

And I’ll continue to participate each May in WordCount Blogathons, where I’ve found community (some of us posted in the Blogathon GoogleGroup for an entire year, not just the month of May!), advice, support, and the spark that set me off on this blogging adventure in the first place. Thanks, Michelle & the whole Blogathon crew!
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(clipart of antique typewriter courtesy of Florida Center for Instructional Technology, University of South Florida)

Getting lost in the story (reflective) – why reading can make us better people

young man sitting on top of bookshelves reading a book

You’ve probably heard readers say things like “Reading that book was like being in that world myself” or

“I was so wrapped up in the story that I lost track of time” or

“That’s the last book in the series?
I want to know more about those characters!”

In the very best sort of books, we lose sight of ourselves, our surroundings, our own troubles, as we immerse ourselves in someone else’s world and struggles and victories. It can be a realistic book or the highest fantasy, a short story or a tome as thick as your leg – if the story and characters feel real to us, then we are transported away from our own existence without moving at all.

A recent research study also showed that reading a compelling story can also improve our own behavior and attitudes, even after our reading is done! “Feeling the emotions, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses of one of the characters as if they were their own,” also known as “experience-taking” was studied by Ohio State University researchers in several reading experiments with college students.

OSU assistant professor Lisa Libby noted the difference between  experience-taking and perspective-taking, which is more like looking through a window at someone else’s situation. “Experience-taking is much more immersive — you’ve replaced yourself with the other,” she said. With the right story, readers don’t feel like they are manipulated into being inside the character’s head. “Experience-taking can be very powerful because people don’t even realize it is happening to them. It is an unconscious process,” Libby said.

As you choose to read books with characters who are different from you, you’re giving yourself more ways become a more empathic person, more understanding of differences, more able to see other viewpoints than your own.

And what about reading books filled with people much like you? Then you have opportunities to “try on” their reactions to situations you may not have faced, to take their experiences and learn from them – without having to live through the troubles, trials, and joys yourself.

Here’s to “getting lost in a good book” and to finding our better selves along the way!
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Ohio State University (2012, May 7). ‘Losing yourself’ in a fictional character can affect your real life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 19, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/05/120507131948.htm

Photo of man sitting on bookshelves reading a book: (c) Microsoft Office clipart.

Ask Elizabeth, by Elizabeth Berkley (book review) – advice on love, life, friends

book cover of Ask Elizabeth by Elizabeth Berkley published by GP PutnamGather up 30,000 teen girls in small group workshops all over the country.

Give each one a journal where she can write any question about relationships, worries, fears, dreams.

Throw all the anonymous questions into a pile and start discussing them.

Talk together. And talk some more. Bring in some advice from experts, but mainly allow the young women in each group to help one another deal with things.

Lay out everything – the good, the sad, the difficult – and share it with others to help them learn and hope and grow strong in this widely available book.

Elizabeth gives advice that matters, like action plans for learning to accept your imperfections, helping a friend who is hurting, and getting to a peaceful place when you and parents argue.

The book discusses the positive signs that you’re in a good romantic relationship, the healing steps for dealing with grief, and ways to discover your life-dream and keep growing as a person.

You’ll be glad that Ask Elizabeth is a nice, flexy paperback as it’s jammed in backpacks, passed from locker to locker, and shared again and again with friends. The Ask-Elizabeth website continues the conversations begun in the book.

Yes, this is the Elizabeth who starred in Saved by the Bell as a teen actress and has gone on to act in movies and television as an adult. Her passion for helping young women grow up with accurate answers and encouragement led her to start the nonprofit Ask-Elizabeth project in 2006.

Do you have any questions for Ask Elizabeth?
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Book info: Ask Elizabeth: Real Answers to Everything You Secretly Wanted to Ask About Love, Friends, Your Body…and Life in General / Elizabeth Berkley. G.P. Putnam’s Sons/ Penguin, 2011. [author’s website] [publisher site] [book trailer] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My Book Talk: Every teen girl has questions about love, life, and herself – but who can you turn to for honest advice? It’s time to “Ask Elizabeth” and get answers you can trust.

How do you know if you have a real friend that cares about you?”
My parents are getting a divorce and I don’t know what to do…”
How do you get a guy (or gal) to know that you’re alive?”
My parents treat me like a baby! How do I get them to give me more freedom?”
“How do I know if I’m just in a bad mood or if I’m depressed?”

Drawing on the opinions shared by young women in her popular workshops and sharing straightforward information from health and relationship experts, former teen star Elizabeth Berkley presents real questions from teen girls with helpful and realistic answers that aren’t just one-size-fits-all.

The book looks like Elizabeth’s scrapbook, with handwritten notes from teens stuck onto pages with colored duct tape, her typewritten answers, and many photos, found objects, and heartfelt stories connecting all the chapters

Readers can dip into just the chapter that deals with an immediate need for answers or read through Ask Elizabeth from cover to cover as they meet high schoolers from many different situations who share their dreams, concerns, fears, and encouragement to help other teens grow into strong women. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)

S for Schizophrenia – Border Crossing, by Jessica Lee Anderson (fiction)

Being an outsider, a minority, a “half-breed“.
Hearing mocking laughter from privileged people.
Hearing voices in his head telling him to do something about it.

Manz has only his mom’s stories to tell him about his Mexican father and how he died a crazy man. Her boyfriend Tom is a good enough guy, excited about being a father to their baby, sorrowing when Gabe is stillborn. Mom still hasn’t gotten over it, just drinks her dinner, fills Gabriel’s crib with painting after painting.

Who knows why the voices chose to invade his head, why the Messenger is warning Manz that his best friend might turn on him, that the Border Patrol will kill him, that everyone in the little dusty Texas town wants to see the teen dead.

A compelling look at the world through the eyes of schizophrenia – will Manz make the Border Crossing back into sanity after this violent summer?
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Book info: Border Crossing / Jessica Lee Anderson. Milkweed Editions, 2009. [author’s website] [publisher site] [book trailer]  Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My Recommendation: On the wrong side of the tracks, Manz wonders if things will ever go right for his family – Mexican father dead, white mother drinking herself crazy after his brother was stillborn, competing with illegals for work in the blazing hot Texas summer sun.

At least his pal Jed will be working with him at the dude ranch, pulling up rotted fence posts, putting up new fences, away from Jed’s mean dad who’d sooner hit his son than talk to him. Manz worries about Jed and his sister, having to put up with that abuse.

Thorns and barbed wire, dust and more dust, Manz and Jed are glad to stop for lunch in the cool of the ranch’s chow hall. Of course, Jed flirts relentlessly with the cute Latina girl who serves the guests; Manz is tongue-tied, but Vanessa looks at him, not Jed.

Maybe soon, his mom’s boyfriend Tom will be back from his long-haul trucking run and can get her to calm down and stop drinking again. Manz needs to ask Tom if the Border Patrol is getting more aggressive everywhere – seems like they’re around every corner in Rockhill, watching the migrant workers, watching Manz.

It’s just nervousness about meeting Vanessa’s parents that makes Manz’s brain feel fizzy and loud, just concern about how much longer Jed can fool his dad about working somewhere other than their own orchards that makes the murmurs in his head get louder, panic that he’s being targeted as half-Mexican that causes the voices inside to grow louder and louder.

The Messenger is speaking inside his head, warning Manz that the Border Patrol has begun Operation Wetback again, will deport him, will kill him, will take away his mother. As the loudness of the Messenger out-shouts the summer thunderstorm, Manz slips further away from himself. Can Jed take care of his sister if the authorities take Manz? What about his mom and Tom? Maybe the Border Patrol will use them to get him!

Schizophrenia tackles Manz and throws him down – can he find his way back to reality? (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)

Ready, set, blog! (reflective) – blog challenges ahead

Did you ever get a “little set in your ways”?
Is it time to push your writing muscles a bit?
A blog challenge may be just what you need!

With over 150 book recommendations, BooksYALove heads into its 12th month with a wow, as I participate in the A to Z Blog Challenge in April.

Rather than just posting 3 books a week, I will be posting on 26 of April’s 30 days according to the Challenge’s alphabetical schedule, starting with A on Sunday, April 1 (no fooling).

Naturally, trying to align the alphabet with the stack of great YA books that I want to recommend isn’t as easy as I’d hoped. Using book titles would be simple – if I had some that began with X or didn’t have multiple titles that all start with the same letter. Ditto for authors’ names, last or first. So, there will be a few entries that get shoehorned into a letter slot because of their subject or a major character.

But why do a blog challenge in the first place? You’ve heard that it takes 30 days to acquire a new habit, so a month-long challenge with a set framework and some coaching will make your success more likely, as will being accountable to the challenge organizers and fellow bloggers as we exercise our blog-writing ‘muscles’ and encourage each other.

On April 30th, my blog’s first birthday, I’ll take another deep breath and plunge into the full 31-day Wordcount Blogathon, with a big thank-you to its host Michelle Rafter. Yep, I finally began blogging so that I could participate in the 2011 Wordcount Blogathon. Lots of excellent advice, a forum to share our posts, guest post exchange – you should sign up for the 2012 version, too! It’s free, you won’t get any sales pitches, and your blogging muscles will get great exercise. Sign-ups will begin soon, so I’ll remind you!

Ready, set, April!
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(photograph of lichen on oak branch (c)2012 H.B. Massingill Jr. – thanks, Dad!)

The Big Picture (reflective)

Have you ever WORDLED? I used their free app to create the nifty word cloud here, using my initial blogpost about MotherReader and Lee Wind‘s annual Comment Challenge for kidlit bloggers, 2012 edition.

What fun it’s been to “meet” illustrators, authors, and book bloggers through the Challenge! Getting out of my “writing silo” where I see only my computer screen and the books that I’m recommending so that I interact more with the diverse and supportive kidlit community online – priceless!

Since BooksYALove is a fairly new blog, I’m grateful for new visitors (and new followers – yay!) who will help spread the word about the wonderful YA books from debut authors and smaller imprints that I’m discovering.

After all, I’m writing these recommendations (no spoilers ever! I promise) for YA readers… right book for the right reader!
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Pieces of Me, by Charlotte Gingras (fiction) – seeking friendship, hiding Mom’s illness

Being a teenager is difficult. Coping with a parent’s mental illness can make it unbearable. And it’s just Mira and her mom, in that basement apartment.

How can you be anyone’s friend if your mother has your walk home from school timed to the second? Who wouldn’t have a crush on the only teacher who ever encouraged you?

Originally published in French as La Liberté. Connais pas… this slim, lyrical story won a 1999 Governor General’s Literary Award from the Canada Council for the Arts. Susan Ouriou’s translation is flowing and true, bringing us Mira’s story from the chilly Quebec streets.

Find this gem at your local library or independent bookstore to hear Mira’s tale.
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Book info: Pieces of Me / Charlotte Gingras; translated by Susan Ouriou. Kids Can Press, 2009. [author biography in French] [publisher site]

Recommendation: At 14, Mirabelle feels separated from real life – trapped in the basement apartment by her divorced mother who knows to the minute how long it takes Mira to walk home from school, reading in the school library so she doesn’t have to talk to anyone at lunch, hiding behind her long golden hair so no one sees her sketches.

Then Catherine arrives at school, and Mira’s life moves out of its dark cloud, bit by bit. They invent a club so that they can meet after school in the café once a week. Cath brings Mira to a table of friends at lunch. And they both work hard at the challenging assignments in art class.

Cath gets a boyfriend and drifts away, just a little, as Mira’s admiration of her art teacher becomes infatuation, and life becomes more complicated. Her wildlife biologist father returns to the city, asking about her plans for college – a startling idea for Mira, who isn’t sure how her mother would survive without her.

Discerning older teen readers will remember Mira’s love of color, her worries about her first kiss, and her dreams of escaping the basement apartment long after they close this slim volume, lyrically translated from the French by Susan Ouriou. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

A day for this, a day for that (reflective)

Time to put a little structure into BooksYALove (but promise me that you’ll try some titles outside your “favorite” genre):

Mysterious Mondays – because there’s not a day that starts with P for paranormal! Books featured on Monday will have elements of the supernatural, mystery, magic, or other paranormal characters and situations. Quite a few recommendations recently in this category, like Awaken (futuristic), House of Dead Maids (ghosts, mystery), and Kat, Incorrigible (magic, alternate history).

World Wednesdays – getting away from the confines of home. Find a different place in the world with every Wednesday book, set in a country outside the USA. Recent recommendations in this group include Mamba Point (Liberia) and Stolen (Australia).

Fun Fridays – going into the weekend with a grin. Friday books will range from humorous ways that characters cope with life (Ten Miles Past Normal) to crafty books (Little Green Dresses) to graphic novels (I Love Him to Pieces).

Oh, Tuesday and Thursday? Gotta have time for books that don’t fit in these three boxes, although sometimes they’ll have books with theme-day elements (especially when a series is covered over successive days). Lots of realistic fiction here, like Zen & Xander Undone and Last Summer of the Death Warriors.

Watch for some Reflective Sundays, like last week’s post on YA Saves! and perhaps the occasional Sneak-in Saturday, where I discuss a book that – dang it – has gone shooting toward the bestseller lists before I got a chance to showcase it here, and I just love it too much to leave it off our lists here.

Think this’ll work? Any “hidden gem” titles that I need to include on BooksYALove?
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Blindsided, by Patricia Cummings (book review) – sight vanishing, can hope remain?

book cover of Blindsided by Patricia Cummings published by Dutton BooksGoing blind! How could you handle that diagnosis, that reality? Having to leave her school and her family to learn how to truly cope as a blind person in the modern world… I think Natalie is stronger than I ever could be in that situation.

I recently visited with an old college friend who never let blindness stand in his way as he went to law school, practiced law for years, and is now finding great satisfaction promoting the National Federation for the Blind’s Newsline service, which offers over 300 newspapers and magazines read aloud by phone or online 24/7 for those with visual impairment.

If your grandparents, neighbors, or friends can’t see well enough to read print, help them get connected to Newsline for pop culture, science, health, news (gotta love modern technology!).
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Book info: Blindsided / by Priscilla Cummings. Dutton Children’s Books (Penguin), hardback 2010, paperback 2011. 240 pgs. [author’s site] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: The summer before 10th grade, Dr. Rose says that Natalie will go blind – completely and absolutely blind, maybe overnight, maybe before Christmas. So she transfers to the Baltimore Center for the Blind boarding school so she can learn Braille and learn how to cope.

With the little tunnel of sight she has left, Nat is sure that she’s not like the other kids there – the ones blind from birth or suddenly blind from an accident – and she just lives for the weekends at home with her parents and the goats, away from lessons about walking with a cane and making the bumps of Braille become letters in her mind. Dr. Rose could be wrong – miracles happen, right?

Bargaining for miracles doesn’t work in real life though. Nat has to decide if she’s going to get ready for her new life or hide forever on her parents’ farm.
Are her old friends starting to forget her?
Can her new friends and teachers help her prepare for a future she can’t envision?

The author’s academic year spent with blind teens and all their hopes, fears, and expectations makes this work of fiction read like real life. (one of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.