how to say goodbye in robot.

I’m really horrible about reviews. Unless I really feel like blathering on about a book, I usually just read it and then move on, filing it away in my goodreads so I can refer to it if I’m doing some tricky reader’s advisory.

I don’t want to criticize books. I think books need to be reviewed in the context of whether or not the author achieved his or her purpose. I don’t really want to get into good vs. bad writing and the mechanics of both.* If a book is badly written but you still enjoy it, then the book has served its purpose (remember, every book its reader, every reader his or her book, and the right book at the right time**).

Anyway. I looked up  How to Say Goodbye in Robot because I liked the cover image and I like robots. I quickly discovered that the book isn’t actually about robots, but I read it anyway. I read it awhile ago, so I can’t be very detailed (you can see a synopsis at the link), but my strongest impression is that I loved reading a book where the primary relationship between a teenage boy and girl wasn’t romantic.

This is very personal to me. In my life many of my closest relationships have been like Bea and Jonah’s—intense, intimate, passionate, but not sexual in anyway. Agape love, perhaps? I think this sort of love and attachment is common for teenagers–many friendships between teenage girls resemble passionate affairs without any truly sexual contact–but you wouldn’t really know that from surveying the literature.

I really enjoyed reading Standiford’s book, and I would give it to any reader who wanted a platonic love story.

Reviewed from library copy.

* Author Justine Larbalestier has an interesting discussion about this topic going on over at her blog. If you’re interested, I suggest reading those posts and comments.

**Does anyone know the origin of “the right book at the right time”?

I need an idiot’s guide to ALA

Not only do librarians have to have a master’s degree from an accredited university, we also subscribe to a Code of Ethics, a Freedom to Read Act, and almost every division of librarianship (from Youth Services to Young Adult to Reference Librarians) has competencies that they are expected to meet. Further, we have five laws* passed down to us from the beginning of Librarianship, which, if you had to chuck everything else for expediency and sanity’s sake, would still ensure you’d be a pretty damn fine librarian.

Yet. Even with all of this education, guidance and oversight, there are still many complacent, lazy, and–dare I say it?–BAD librarians out there. Librarians who are content to give out bad information, who don’t bother to keep current on new trends and new possibilities, who are too indifferent or too afraid to challenge outdated policies and procedures. There are librarians who censor books by not purchasing them, who put together tired power point after tired power point and call themselves educators, librarians who don’t bother to stay aware of and interested in what is going on in their own library much less what is going on in the profession as a whole.

I want to discuss all of these issues in more detail over the coming weeks, but I am going to begin by asking for help from the top: ALA.

ALA does a lot for librarians, and the ALA website is an imposing chunk of information. Perhaps too much information. I want to be a member of ALA, and ALSC and YALSA, but I find the dues too rich for my blood. Since it’s the American Library Association, why can’t the memberships of the librarians who work in those libraries be put forth by their institutions? Wouldn’t that be easier on everyone? Wouldn’t it save a lot of issues of American Libraries from being thrown away?

I cry ignorance on this topic. I beg to be told what’s what. Because, Lord help me, I can’t even begin to wade through ALA’s website without twitching. To be clear, I value what ALA provides–I did link to much of their information above–but I don’t understand why they need my money, and once they have it, where it goes.

*By the way, this page sucks; could someone more savvy fix it?

things I, the librarian, cannot and can do for you

I cannot

  1. read your mind
  2. do your homework for you
  3. babysit your child
  4. allow you to drop the f-bomb repeatedly in the children’s department, around small children
  5. design/create the flyer for your small business
  6. reserve a movie for you that is still in theaters

I can

  1. perform a reference interview, which means I will ask you many questions that might make it seem like I am slow, but I am really just trying to make sure I can get you what you actually want
  2. show you all the materials we have on a topic, and maybe even find some area tutors
  3. entertain your child during storytime and show you our play area, full of puzzles, pop-up books, and puppets
  4. give you the choice to either watch your language or leave my department
  5. show you how to log on to our computers, the basics of  publisher, and help you print your flyer (in color, if you like!)
  6. tell you where that movie is currently playing in our area, and let you know the DVD release date


Leviathan has been one of my favorite words ever since I read Moby Dick in college. It was even in the title of one of the best episodes ever of Deadwood (“The Leviathan Smiles“).

The Leviathan in Scott Westerfeld’s book of the same name is less sinister than those two examples, but no less interesting. To save myself valuable summary time, here is the (awesome) book trailer:

The excellent ReaderGirlz blog has an amazing array of Leviathan content at the moment, so I suggest you spend some time over there. As for myself, all I can really add to the conversation is that I really enjoyed reading this book, I’m pleased to see steampunk making an entry into the YA canon, and I can’t wait to read the next book, Behemoth, and see what is in those blasted little eggs.

for sci-fi, alternate history, and steampunk fans of all ages.

Reviewed from a library copy.

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

That line, from Whitman’s “Song of Myself“, popped into my head as soon as I finished reading James Kennedy’s The Order of Odd-Fish, which I shall be reviewing forthwith.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I have met James Kennedy. We were both standing beside the treacle well. I was drawing treacle; he was drawing pictures of Richard Nixon wearing iconic costumes from famous movie musicals, such as Anna’s ball gown from The King and I and Eliza Doolittle’s black and white ensemble from the horse racing scene in My Fair Lady. You can’t deny that what James lacks in understanding he makes up for in inventiveness.

“That’s some nice cross-hatching on Nixon’s jowls,” I said.

“Thank you,” he replied.

After a bit more drawing, he said, “If you like my pitiful art, you should really see the work on the cover of my book. Now that’s some drawing.”

“You have a book?”

“Oh, yes,” he said, tucking his pen behind his ear. Not the best idea, really, since it was a fountain pen; ink immediately began trickling down his temple and running into his mouth. “I have a book. The Order of Odd-Fish.” He paused, dipped his finger into the ink running down his face, and proceeded to adorn himself with a small Charlie Chaplin mustache. “Have you read it?”

“No,” I said. “I’ve only just heard of it.”

“A likely excuse!” he said, adding to his face an impressive pair of side-burns. “Too busy drawing treacle, were you? I suppose you can be forgiven….a dying art, is treacle drawing. I should commend you.”

“Perhaps I would read it, if I only knew a bit more about it.” I was contemplating whether the best way to order odd-fish was alphabetical or numerical; or, perhaps, if one should order odd-fish before or after the soup course.

He tucked his sketchbook away and motioned for me to follow him to the gate enclosing the treacle well. He perched upon the gate and I sat down upon a nearby rock. He harrumphed and said, “I’ll tell thee everything I can. It begins with a baby in a basket….a very DANGEROUS baby. Jo Larouche, to be precise, raised for thirteen years by a fading Hollywood starlet. One night, during a party, a Russian General appears….”

He prattled on for quite a while; I missed much of it, since I was thinking of a plan to dye one’s whiskers green, and always use so large a fan that they could not be seen. Fortunately, it has all been written down; and I heard and retained enough that I knew I wished to read this book.)

Kennedy’s book is large. It contains multitudes. The cast of characters is vast. The humor is painted in broad strokes. The journey is epic. It is part steam-punk, part urban fantasy, part fairy-tale, part bildungsroman, and part romance (in the Hawthorne sense of the word).

Within the main character of Jo LaRouche, there are echoes of Alice, Milo, Wart, and Dorothy. In the world,  there are homages both subtle and obvious to Lovecraft, Stephen King, Monty Python and Moby Dick. Yet from these many and diverse influences, Kennedy has created something unique.

Jo’s companions also echo Tock and the Humbug, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion, the Mad Hatter and the White Queen; her foster mother echoes Merlin and another faded starlet, Lily Cavanaugh; her foes, the Belgian Prankster and the Silent Sisters rank among the best villains of children’s literature such as the Jabberwocky, the Terrible Trivium, and Shere Khan, to name just a few.

Kennedy’s companions sparkle because of their oftentimes pathetic absurdities (a cockroach butler bemoans being smeared in the press, but when the press ignores him, he tries doubly hard to be worthy of their write-ups) set them apart from more noble examples of the archetype, and his villains feel all the more dastardly because of the sheer goofiness with which they practice their evil, such as writing musicals to thwart one another and filling the Grand Canyon with pudding.

The world of Eldritch City, which we reach by means we don’t really understand but go along with anyway (hint: it involves the Moby Dick reference), is incredibly bizarre but functions with a logic all of its own, and it obeys its own insane rules, as all the best fantasy worlds do. The characters are iconic but have been imbued with qualities that make them stand out from those who have come before. The plot, which its standard fantasy trajectory of a quest and an evil that must be defeated*, familiar to anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings, is told with such singular style that the well-worn path seems freshly paved.

I could blather on and on, but there is no reason to; this book is worth reading, and if you love any of the books or characters I’ve mentioned during this review, you will love this book as well. This book is not for every reader, nor should it be. As Ranganathan taught the librarian so long ago:

  1. Every reader his [or her] book.
  2. Every book its reader.

I am obviously one of this book’s readers. If you think you might be, too, do yourself a favor and go read it now.

Reviewed from a library copy.

A couple of other internet references to The Order of Odd-Fish:

Robert Paul Weston

Large Hearted Boy

*And yet the journey is also inverted, which I will not discuss further lest I ruin the tale for you.


*cue the theramin, followed by the pounding of hoofbeats*

Good golly, sci-fi and fantasy are my favorite genres as a reader, which is the main reason I wanted to attend the Children’s Literature Conference at NIU this year, seeing as their theme was all about science fiction and fantasy.

Thursday evening the speaker was Tamora Pierce. The theme of her speech was being a pirate–a literary pirate. She spoke about how as a child her favorite tv show was about Robin Hood, and she would wrest control of the tv away from her sisters so she could watch it. Her interest piqued, she looked up Robin Hood in the encyclopedia, then followed the “see also” references to learn about Richard the II and Medieval Europe.

When she began writing books, she unconsciously used this childhood research to construct her fantasy worlds. From there, she began researching more, using stacks of foreign language dictionaries to cobble together new languages for her worlds, and photocopying, cutting out, and rearranging maps of the middle east to create new geographies.

Despite having a cold, Tamora was very eloquent and spoke at length with each person who came to get a book signed by her.

Before she spoke, the winners of the Monarch and Caudill awards were announced in an extremely anti-climactic way. The authors had been called the day before (I think), so there was no giddy phone chat or anything. Just…”Here’s the winners. Whoo.” They didn’t really talk about the new Bluestem award, either, which I thought was disappointing. I wish that they’d’ve let Melanie Koss and Andrew Medlar announce the winners; the booktalks they did the following day were incredibly charming and engaging, and I’m sure they could have added some pomp and circumstance to the announcing of the awards. I mean, I know it isn’t the Oscars or anything, but a little fanfare, please?

The speakers on Friday were Jill Thompson, Nnedi Orokafor, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal, along with Andrew Medlar and Melanie Koss booktalking award winners and some “best of”  books from late ’09 / early ’10.

Jill Thompson did some of the art for IRead’s Scare Up a Good Book reading theme, so I was fairly familiar with her work. As she spoke, for a while she casually painted a watercolor picture for an upcoming book WHILE TALKING, which blew my mind–straight up watercolors, no inking, and she was doing a fine job. I was very impressed.

Nnedi told an excellent story about stopping to use the restroom during a family trip, and their only option being a hole in the ground that led to hell, being guarded over a woman with a big knife chopping up lots of meat. The meat was covered in flies, and every time the knife came down the flies went up, and ohmigod people if that’s not a great, disturbing image than I don’t know what it.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal was very darling, per usual, and of course showed a short five minute film about making things that made me a little weepy.

The booktalks by Melanie and Andrew were very well done. There was some acting, some throwing of beads, some hula-hooping. I’ll add a bib of the books they talked about soon (if only one were posted online already).

I have some pictures and  video that I need to upload…will update when I get around to that.

author name pronounciation guide.

Jon Scieszka rhymes with Fresca, and putenesca.

Barry Lyga rhymes with Tiger (if you’re from the Bronx; Tie-gah).

Tomie DePaola has a POW in the middle.

Eoin Colfer is just Owen spelled the lovely Irish way.

Neil Gaiman is  Gaym’n, like gamin’.

Jake Wizner rhymes with Eisner (eyes nur).

Cynthia Leitich Smith: “Leitich” is prounced Lie-tick. First a long “i,” then a short “i,” followed by a hard “k.”

Justine Larbalestier: “Her surname has been pronounced in several different ways, but the FAQ on her website says that Lar-bal-est-ee-air is correct:

Q: How do you pronounce your surname? A: Lar-bal-est-ee-air. It can also be pronounced Lar-bal-est-ee-ay or Lar-bal-est-ee-er. Those are all fine by me. Friends at school used to pronounce it: Lavaworm. I have to really like you to let you get away with that one[…] (her website)

Jarrett Krosoczka (Punk Farm, Lunch Lady): Rhymes with Oscar (Osca’); (pronounced Crow-ZAHS-ka)”

Louis Sachar:

It should be pronounced “Sacker,” like someone who tackles quarterbacks or someone who stuffs potatoes into sacks.


Here’s a blog post that has a lot of names, including Halse Anderson, Rick RYE-or den, and others.

A post I’ve linked to before about pronouncing.

Ooh! A database of how to pronounce authors’ names! All sound-y even!

Horn Book Article about authors’ names.

Please comment with other tricky author names I should have here.

castration celebration.

Fair warning: as you might guess from the title of this post, things get a little explicit.

As someone who assisted with and witnessed many a pig castration as a young child, I must tell you that it is not something to celebrate, so rest assured that Mr. Wizner, in titling his novel Castration Celebration, is out to grab its readers by the balls from the get-go.Read More »

kidlit breakfast

On Saturday, February 2oth I attended the 10th Annual Children’s Literature Breakfast sponsored by Anderson’s Booksellers. Authors, eggs, coffee–what’s not to like?

This event is chock-full of authors. Not only were there the keynote speakers listed, there were tons of local authors. The best part of this event is that authors rotate among the tables. I actually wish there were fewer keynotes and more time to spend with the authors at the tables. I was with some savvy librarians, so we sat at a table that saw the majority of the bigger names. We were visited by Fred and Patricia McKissack and Richard Peck, but missed out on Henry Cole because one of the speakers ran long….oh, my, what a boring speech.

While the McKissacks were with us, James Kennedy ambushed our table, and utterly charmed the McKissacks with his booktalk for The Order of Odd Fish. Some of my more less catholic* colleagues were a bit weirded out by James, but I thought it was pretty awesome.

Richard Peck was charming beyond belief, and actually spent time writing and passing notes with one of my coworkers (she never did tell us what they were writing notes about, and probably never will). His speech was very impassioned and a bit acerbic, ending with the punchy tag line of “The Kindle may dwindle but books never crash.”

I enjoyed Henry Cole’s speech a lot. He, like myself, grew up on a farm, and he espoused the opinion that children today are too safe (I paraphrase greatly). I agree with this wholeheartedly—I think children today are too clean, too sanitized, too sheltered, and I think they are more prone to illness and less self-sufficient for it. But that’s highly off topic…

Patricia McKissack was also a lovely speaker, and told us a bit about some “monster rules” she learned as a child (including: when you’re completely under the covers, the monsters can’t get you).

All in all I wish there were fewer speakers and more time with the authors. Also, when they introduced the local authors at the beginning, it would have been nice to have all the authors up front so we could actually see who they were rather than having to whip our heads around to try and see who they were introducing.

*You know, I assumed catholic (lower case c) was synonymous with, you know, conservative or reserved, but it is not:

catholic |ˈkaθ(ə)lik|
1 (esp. of a person’s tastes) including a wide variety of things; all-embracing. See note at universal .
2 ( Catholic) of the Roman Catholic faith.
• of or including all Christians.
• of or relating to the historic doctrine and practice of the Western Church.

Shame on me for not being more careful! But fun to relearn a word and its meaning…

scoundrels, swag, and sweeping exits.

This post contains a bit o’ profanity, so consider yourself warned.

I’m not going to lie to you, I don’t know that much about Chicago, even though I’ve lived here since 2004 and I’ve lived in Illinois all my life. I was fully planning on doing some INTENSE RESEARCH regarding Barry’s questions, but time got away from me and I did the best I could with information from my own widdle brain.

For his last question, however, I figured I call upon someone who knows a lot more about Chicago than I do, and in a nice  bit of congruity, this person is also a YA author who will also be at the event of Saturday. Promotions all around! Huzzah!

So I tossed Barry’s final question (“Is it true that Chicago was settled by New Yorkers who liked congestion and overcrowding, but thought it wasn’t cold enough?”) to author Adam Selzer, whose history credentials include running Weird Chicago tours and publishing a book called The Smart Aleck’s Guide to American History (dude also has more websites than anyone else I know).

So, without further ado, here is Adam’s smart-aleck-y yet entirely factual answer for Barry:

The “New Yorkers who thought it wasn’t cold enough” joke is an old one. Our early settlers were a whole string of murderers, brawlers, liars, and assorted ne’er-do-wells. Among them:

Jean Du Sable – first non-Indian to get settle here. He came up from Haiti, and a theory right now is that he was a pirate on the run from the law.

Jean LaLime, who moved in DuSable’s house when Du Sable left (allegedly after getting pissed off that the Potowatomie wouldn’t make him chief).

John Kinzie, who killed Jean LaLime, moved into his house, and buried the body in the front yard (right around the Tribune tower – they accidentally dug him up several decades later and gave the bones to the historical society, who must have been thrilled). He claimed to be the Founder of Chicago and was thought of as such for years, though he was full of shit.

David Kennison – died in the 1850s claiming to be 115 years old and the last survivor of the Boston Tea Party, and was one of Chicago’s first local heroes (despite being, well, completely full of shit).

So, you could say we were founded by a bunch of loudmouths, liars and no-goodniks who somehow came together to found one of the greatest cities in history. And they’re still at it – Kinzie and Kennison were buried in what is now Lincoln Park, their bodies were left there when the cemetery was moved, and are probably still showing up on voting rolls in local elections.

My last question for Barry was if he was planning future awesome swag give-aways for his books, since I loved the Kyra minimates that he used as a promotional material for the release of Goth Girl Rising:

I’m glad you liked the Kyra minimates. That toy was a blast to put together. With any luck, there will be some cool promotional stuff for the graphic novel, but that’s not coming out until fall 2011, so it’s way too early to talk about at this point.

I’m imagining laser guns and a pony with face markings like a villain’s mask. I hope I’m right!

Even though the questions have all been answered, we’re not done yet! I’ll be stalking authors attending the event on Saturday, so that will be the button on this lil series of chats with Barry. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed putting them together.