Thursday, November 15, 2012

Born Too Short

Born Too Short: The Confessions of an Eighth-Grade Basket Case Dan Elish

Life isn't easy when you're a full inch over 5 feet and your best friend is so perfect he's actually in a toothpaste ad. Matt and Keith have been best friends since forever, but sometimes Matt has to own up to the fact that's horribly jealous. He knows he shouldn't be, but...

Then one night he can't take it and starts ranting that he wishes Keith's life was a little less perfect. As the homeless guy on the corner says, "Better be careful... wishes can come true." It's just a homeless guy, but... all of a sudden Keith's life is a little less perfect and thins start going Matt's way. He didn't accidentally ruin his best friend's life, did he?

I read this one years ago, so I'm a little short of specifics, but I remember that it's hilarious. I liked the way the Elish examines how Matt can be so jealous of his best friend while still actually being his friend. It's not junior high girl drama where everyone's stabbing each other in the back. I like that it's about feelings but still very much a guy book with guy voices that ring true. Matt as a narrator is fantastic. I loved his sarcastic humor and how he uses it to mask his insecurities.

Also, at 156 pages with a small trim size, it's a great pick for reluctant readers.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Drama Raina Telgemeier

Callie loves theater. She can't act or sing, but she's awesome at the tech stuff. So she's very excited to be the set designer for the school's production of Moon of Mississippi. She's finally kissed the guy she likes, but now he's not talking to her. She has two new guy friends (one an actor, one she talks into tech) who may be possibilities, but maybe not. Her best friend is doing costumes and the show could be awesome but...

Callie doesn't have the budget for the set she's designed, her cannon isn't working, and no one's buy tickets. What's a girl to do?

I think Telgemeier could make a comic book out of the phone book and I'd love it. I love how she captures drama department politics without going too prima donna diva-overboard. I love Callie's determination to make that cannon work. I also love the relationship with her friend Liz and her little brother.

While this isn't straight up biographical like Smile, the little details about junior high life that made that one so perfect are here in Drama.


Book Provided by... my local library

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Crown of Embers

The Crown of Embers Rae Carson

So, The Girl of Fire and Thorns didn't really need a sequel, but I'm glad there was one, because I love Elisa and I love this world that Carson has built.

Everything I loved about the first book is amplified in the second--the fact that the world is vaguely Central/South American instead of vaguely European. The way she has a love triangle without having a love triangle (Being torn between two hot guys who both want you gets old. Being torn between your heart and duty? I will never tire of that.) I love the politics and how Elisa is still struggling. She's better at playing the game than she was, but she hasn't mastered it yet. I love the role religion play-- how it affects the politics, the varying interpretations, the HUGE role it plays in Elisa's life.

I love how everything just becomes that much more complicated.

Yes, Elisa won the war, but her country is in tatters and her treasury is depleted. Inverieno spies and assassins lurk around every corner. Because she let the Eastern Holdings split off, the Southern Holdings want to as well. Taxes must be raised to refinance the rebuilding, but until the country is rebuilt, the people are too poor to pay more in taxes. Riots keep breaking out in Brisadulce.

The Quorom keeps pushing Elisa to marry, for she is still a child and not a strong enough leader to be queen at this trying land. And Ximena has written to Alodia suggesting that Alodia marry Hector.

But there's a passage in the Apocrypha that suggests that a metaphorical gate might be real, and it might hold the key to Elisa's problems...

Sadly, as much as Carson twists the conventions of the genre, she still goes with a second-book-in-a-trilogy Empire Strikes Back cliffhanger ending.

Ah well, it's totally worth it. Can't wait until the next one!

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Magical Life of Long Tak Sam

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: An Illustrated Memoir Ann Marie Fleming

This is two stories-- the story of how Ann Marie tried to find out about the great-grandfather she just discovered was a world-famous magician and vaudeville performer, and the story of his life.

It’s a graphic novel, but more. There are a lot of photographs and documents in with the drawings, telling this tale.

And what a tale it is.

Long Tack Sam’s origins are a bit hazy (there are a few versions) but he rose to become an international superstar. He was Chinese, his wife was Austrian. They traveled the world and lived all over, fleeing wars and performing.

The family remained largely international in origin and much of Fleming’s work revolves around being multiple ethnicities, visas, and citizenship. Fleming herself was born on Okinawa when it was UN protectorate. She couldn’t leave the island because she didn’t have an exit visa. She didn’t have an exit visa, because you needed an entry visa. She didn’t have an entry visa because she was born there. It’s pretty representative of many of the issues her family goes to through over the years.

After WWII, Long Tack Sam could become a US citizen, but his wife couldn’t because Austria wasn’t under Russian threat.

Visually, the mixed media works really well. Fleming weaves her stories and broader themes in and out in way that makes for a great read and draws you in. You’re fascinated by Long Tack Sam’s life and fame, but also by Fleming’s journey of discovering her family history.

I appreciated the sidebars of contemporary world events that helped ground the story in time. It’s a sweeping story that takes much of the twentieth century and is affected by much of twentieth century history.

Originally, Fleming told this story in film, and the book comes from the film. Sadly, I can’t find the film anywhere to watch. I’d love to see more of this story.

While this is a book published for adults, I think teens will really enjoy it-- especially the exploration of identity and family.

The Nonfiction Monday roundup is over at The Flatt Perspective. Be sure to check it out.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012


Hi All!

Just a note to say that my committee work for the YALSA Award for Excellence for Nonfiction for Young Adults is coming to a head! Nominations close today and our short list (which we still have to make!) will be announced next week.

I have read so much awesome nonfiction this year. (And a lot of not-so-awesome nonfiction, too.)

Meanwhile, I've falled way behind on my blogging. Hoping to catch up soon but mostly just looking at a giant stack of fiction that I can't wait to get to. ;)

Monday, November 05, 2012

Why I Vote

It's another election, and another blogosphere round-up of why voting matters.

Here's my story on why I vote:

(This is largely just a repost of my 2008 post on why voting matters.)

Do you remember 2000? I do. I bet you do, too, but I bet the way I remember it is very different than the way you do.

2000 was my very first presidential election. My story starts early in the year, during the primary. I was living in Iowa, and the Iowa Caucuses are a thing to behold. You have no idea until you've voted in one. I live in DC now and am surrounded by people who are convinced they run the world. But to stand in an elementary school gym, literally standing for your candidate, that's something different. My adviser, a distinguished older gentleman with a Tennessee accent that sings, stood on a table and directed us, shouting to be heard over the crowd.

He knew who the crowd was going for. The Republicans were in a classroom down the hall, the Democrats in the gym. He knew who the Dems were going for, so everyone who was for Gore was ordered into the hall to do a head count. Those for Bradley stayed in the gym, clumped into groups of 10, so we were easier to count. I stood with a French professor, some other students, some people from town... we stood and were counted. We were the only precinct that Bradley won that night, but he won it by a landslide.*

Fast forward to October. I was studying abroad in Nanjing, China. (Yes, that was my campus on the left.) In October, we had a two-week travel break.

For my last stop, I was in Harbin, sick, and having forgotten my towel, 5 days seriously overdue for a shower. I skipped the hostel and checked into the Holiday Inn** Do you know what the Holiday Inn had? SATELLITE TV! With English language news! I hadn't seen English language news since mid-August. I jumped on the bed, I took a bath, I wrapped up in the super plush bathrobe, and ordered room service. Then a friend from my program showed up at the hotel and we sat on my bed, eating pizza and watching CNN.

I have never enjoyed CNN so much. Jamie went to Georgetown. About about half an hour of catching up on the world, she turned to me. "You know, I think this election might be really close." She isn't dumb. This is just how hard it was to get English-language news behind the Great Firewall of China back then. We had NO IDEA. Later in the week we returned to Nanjing and told everyone it would be a close election. Little did we know...

A few weeks later, and I voted absentee. I was one of the few Americans on my program who voted.*** I was ecstatic because I didn't think I would get my vote counted. My friends were jealous, because they didn't. Our Chinese friends were confused--what was the big deal?

Yes, what was the big deal? And how could we explain it to our Communist**** friends with our limited vocabulary? Little did we know the bigger conversations to come...

November rolled around. We were exactly 12 hours off Central Time. We had class from 8-12 and figured that we'd just pop by the internet cafe on the way to lunch, see who won and then go eat.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. Really, that was our plan.

For the next 7 hours, every internet cafe in town was filled with Americans hitting the refresh button every 30 seconds, wishing we could get more sites.

China filters its internet. There are ways to work around the internet and many people do--it's not actually that hard. But in 2000, wifi wasn't a thing yet, most of us didn't bring our own computers, and using an internet cafe, you really couldn't get around it. We were extremely limited in which Western news sites we could access that day. I just remember that MSNBC was reporting two different winners on the same page. I didn't understand. None of us did. A few weeks previous, I had made a joke that Bush would win the popular and Gore the electoral. My next prediction was that Texas would succeed in protest. Little did I know.

I was counting down the hours until 7pm, which would be 7am at my parents' house and they would be waking up. I was sure they would have answers, but they didn't.

Later I would find out that Florida was the sticky wicket. Much later, when I returned home right before Christmas, I would learn about Dan Rather's folksy charm. I would first hear about hanging chads. I would find out that Florida got called several times.

That Wednesday, the day after the election, I woke up and called home again. Surely after a full day, they'd know something! Still no answers. We went to class. My teacher started with Bush winning. I told her he didn't. "No no, I saw it on CCTV this morning."
"Yeah, well, I talked to America this morning. They still don't know."

We waited. The guy I was seeing (Scottish! The accent!) threatened to reneg my American independence. I had broken English/French/Chinese conversations with my Swiss friends explaining the electoral college.

We waited. I watched the evening news every day and every time I heard Bush or Gore's name, I yelled for Xiao Mao to translate.

We waited. Xiao Feng wondered why they couldn't just share the job.

And that's why voting is important.

Why couldn't they just share the job? Trying to explain the two party system, to explain democracy to our friends, in our limited vocabulary was hard. I'm not sure they ever got it. These were students chosen for their party loyalty. But they were our friends. They were amazed at our decadence (we had hot water 24 hours a day!)***** They taught us how to play mah johng and phrases in local dialects. We helped them with their TOEFL preps. We watched movies together. We jumped on our beds, lip synching along with cheesy pop songs. We teased about boyfriends and girlfriends. They took care of us using Chinese medicine when we fell ill. We pumped them full of Tylenol when they had a fever or headache. We had our inside jokes and nicknames.

They were our friends.

When we got to China, we wanted to learn how to swear, so we asked. We couldn't figure out how to ask, so we asked our friends what words we couldn't say on television. They told us ziyou and we were excited and then we remembered we knew that word. Ziyou means freedom. Welcome to China.

Da Lu wondered why the party chairman just didn't appoint the next president.

And that's why I vote. Because I can.

We get to vote. We have candidates to choose from. A party chair doesn't get to appoint anyone. While we complain that our candidates are too similar, they do have differences. They can't just share the job.

And that's why voting is important. It was my first presidential election and it was staring me in the face. These were my friends who might never get to vote, and if they did, it would be one Communist versus another Communist, and they wouldn't vote for the leaders of the party. If they ever get to vote for the leaders, if they ever get a choice in parties, it will be after a serious revolution.

You can say one vote doesn't count and maybe it doesn't. But the act of voting counts. We think of it as a right, but it's a privilege that so many in the world don't get. We do. We can vote and that means something. We can vote, but most of us don't. So go do it already.

*He had given a very good speech on campus earlier that year. Gore never came.

**Seriously, the NICEST Holiday Inn I had ever seen. It came with bath salts! But I was just overjoyed by the soft bed and Western style toilet.

***Not that the others were disenfranchised. It's a long (and boring) story about where people had their paperwork sent.

****In China, we lived in a foreign student's dorm. They read our mail. They read our email. The maids wrote reports on what was in our trashcans, on our desks. In my program, which I HIGHLY recommend BTW, there were 3 of us to room, 2 Americans and 1 Chinese student. Being able to room with a Chinese student is a huge deal, but we also knew that in order to room with us, they had to be model students and citizens. But, by the end of the semester, Xiao Mao was sleeping until noon and had picked up some of my more atrocious grammar patterns.

******Xiao Mao would take 2 hour showers because the she was so amazed that she could. Then her friends would come over, too. Just to use our shower. Our shared shower (3 showers in the girls bathroom serving a floor of 30+). It was pretty grotty-dorm standard, but it had 24 hour hot water and was an absolute luxury. Also, our rooms only had 3 people instead of 8. Oh, and we had heat. Not much, and only in the rooms, not in the hall or common areas, but we had heat.