Are You Languishing? – Our Antidotes

Lynn and Cindy: We’ve commented throughout the year about issues with reading focus and our struggles to read at our usual pace. It was heartening recently to learn that not only are we not alone in our issues but there is a name for the problem! Apparently it is called languishing! It is characterized by the inability to focus and a lack of motivation. For us one of the major symptoms has been our inability to focus on reading. For reviewers that is a major challenge! But some books grab us from the first sentence and keep us turning the pages. What books make that happen? Is it the style, the genre, the setting? Curious minds want to know! Here are some books that have been our antidotes to the dreaded languishing:

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne JonesLynn: For me the key to happily reading a book to its finish this year has been re-reading! Maybe it is the reassurance of knowing ahead that I was deeply smitten by the style, the flow, and the outcome. Starting an old favorite again is like sliding into a warm bubble bath. My brain goes, “Ahhhhh,” and I find myself turning the pages and smiling. Re-reading has allowed me to then eagerly pick up some new books that I can read with pleasure. Adult mystery series have been a prime remedy but so have re-reads of youth series.

I have happily worked my way through a great swathe of books by Diana Wynne Jones. I will always and forever love Sophie and Howl. I recently finished The House of Many Ways and I could have stayed in that world forever—even with the that purple lubbock in the garden. I am also reading my way through Terry Pratchett’s enchanting books about Tiffany Aching who has the Nac Mac Feegles and Granny Weatherwax providing backup—with the occasional use of a little sheep liniment. I have I Shall Wear Midnight queued up and ready. 

The re-reading recess somehow helps me to welcome and mentally walk into the excellent new books that have come my way this year. How about you? Are you languishing? What books would you prescribe?

Cindy: Last June, I retired during the pandemic from almost four decades of children’s public and middle school librarianship reading very little besides youth literature, with the exception of the occasional John Grisham audio book, or other rare foray into adult books. It wasn’t quite that one-sided, but it definitely felt like it. When I no longer had to read to booktalk and do readers’ advisory with my students, I felt like a free woman. I started reading more adult books, nonfiction, birding guides, and taking lots of long hikes to look for birds. Shape of Thunder by Jasmine WargaMy stacks of youth books no longer felt so imperative and my reading of them has definitely been languishing in the past year. My solution is to sometimes tackle my stack of unread picture books, sure to bring a smile or laugh (depending on the title), and the satisfaction of having finished a book quickly. I also am spurred on by favorite authors, more confident that I will be happy to keep reading. We recently posted about David Levithan’s The Mysterious Disappearance of Aiden S. (as told to his brother), and we have an upcoming post for Gary D. Schmidt’s recent novel, Just Like That. I’m currently reading Jasmine Warga’s The Shape of Thunder, but I also have Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard by Douglas W. Tallamy going as well.

For me, diversity is going to be the key going forward. A well-balanced reading meal. But, we warned you recently that bird migration season is upon us and I saw a rare Cerulean Warbler, a lifer for me, this week, so I will be on the trails many hours this month and my car audio book has been replaced by bird song apps. What is pulling you away from reading? Or are you hunkered down with your books in survival mode? Let us know your tips for overcoming languishing.

 

Bookends Productivity vs Spring Bird Migration

Yellow-rumped Warbler photo by Cindy Dobrez
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Cindy Dobrez

Cindy and Lynn: If you notice a decrease in our posts this month and next, we are not responsible. Nope. We’re sorry, but we’re not. Despite temperatures in the 30s this week in Western Michigan and snow not far from us, spring bird migration season is upon us and our favorite Butter Butts (Yellow-rumped Warblers) have made it to our yards and parks.

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Tree Swallow – Lynn Rutan

The rest of the warblers are not far behind and we are spending as much time outside with our eyes in binoculars as we are with our eyes in books. We are here for our faithful readers, we really are, but when there’s a chance of spotting an American Woodcock doing it’s 200-300 foot aerial mating display or sighting a lifer Cerulean Warbler, we’re sorry, but we may have to get back to you. 🙂

Serving on the Lee Bennett Hopkins Children’s Poetry Award Jury

Cindy: The 2021 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award was announced this week and I’m delighted to share the news with all of you. It’s been hard to keep the winners under wrap while waiting for the press release but now we’ve been given permission to reveal the title that took the prize.

Our jury of five selected Lois Lowry’s On the Horizon (HMH, 2020) a verse memoir of her childhood during World War II as the winner of the 2021 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. We also selected two honor books, Ice: Poems About Polar Life, written and illustrated by Douglas Florian (Holiday House, 2020) and Punching the Air, by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (Harper/Balzer + Bray, 2020).  The press release provides more information about the books and the award. Additional jury members’ comments about each winning title can be found on this year’s award page.

When I was invited to serve as the chair of this committee back in August 2020 by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s Director, Karla Schmidt, I was honored and I didn’t yet know that would mean getting to work with admired and award-winning poets Marilyn Nelson and Tony Medina—definitely a bonus and a great experience. I also had the joy of working with Karen O’Connell, coordinator of the Arkansas Center for the Book, and Suzanne Walker, Indiana Young Readers Center librarian, knowledgeable and dedicated jury members as well. What a fun time we had with this dream job of being tasked to read poetry!

We all thoroughly enjoyed the months of reading the wealth and diversity of poetry for youth and picking a single winner is always hard. I’m thankful for the inclusion of our two honor award titles. Lowry, Florian, and Zoboi & Salaam’s titles show excellence at every audience level of the award’s age 0-14 criteria and all of them will beg to be read again and again just as we jury members did when we were preparing to discuss and select our winner.

Many fine titles were not given awards and I’d love to highlight some of those, but that’s not allowed. Trust me that there are many poetry gems waiting to be found in your local libraries and bookstores every year. Don’t miss them.

I’m sorry that I never got a chance to meet Lee Bennett Hopkins before his death in 2019. I’m grateful for the many books he wrote and edited for children; I used many of them over my three and half decades of public and school librarianship. What an honor and a treat to be a small part of this award.

FRIDAY! Online & Free: KPL Youth Literature Seminar

Cindy & Lynn: What are you doing Friday, November 13th? We’ll be presenting our Best Books session at the 2020 Youth Literature Seminar for Kalamazoo Public Library. Headling the day will be authors Candace Fleming, Varian Johnson, and Paula Yoo.

Here is the description from the seminar’s website:

The Time is Now

The traumatic events that have occurred during most of 2020 have drawn many comparisons to similar events in U.S. history. A pandemic, racism, political and civil unrest, and a floundering economy have not only caused many people to experience severe emotional and mental distress but have also torn open old scars for those who have survived similar events.

This year’s Youth Literature Seminar will focus not only on how our present echoes our past, but also how historical trauma affects how we respond to current tragedies. Join us as we examine our past, its impact on our present and our future, and how books can help guide us through a process of healing, growth, and unity.

We’re delighted to be a part of this fabulous seminar again and hope you will consider tuning in for all or part of the day. We’ll be presenting books for middle and high school while Ed Spicer presents for the preschool and elementary grades. In addition to the featured speaker authors and our book talks there are other breakout sessions to examine the theme more deeply. When should you register? The Time is NOW! A full schedule and the link to online registration is available at the 2020 Youth Literature Seminar website. See you there!

 

Cindy & Lynn’s 2019 Book Awards

Cindy and Lynn: Here we are announcing our special brand of awards for 2019’s youth publications! We’re not talking about Newbery, Caldecott, or Printz Awards; we’ll leave those to the official committees. We’re off to Philadelphia this week for the 2020 ALA Midwinter Meeting and we can’t wait to learn who the big winners are, but in the meantime, here are the 2019 Bookends Awards. Envelopes, please! Previous editions of our awards and best of the year lists are archived here.

Cindy’s Awards:

The Kindred Spirit Award:

Sweety by Andrea Zuill (Schwartz & Wade, 2019)

This retainer-wearing naked mole-rat and her unique personality won my heart. This is my favorite picture book of 2019, a year of fabulous picture books.

There’s More Room for Award Stickers Award:

Image result for patron saints of nothing

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay (Kokila, 2019)

A powerful and eye-opening story set mostly in the Philippines that I want everyone to read.

The Book That Reminded Me That Listening and Practical Experience Can Be a Better Teacher Than Book Learnin’:

Panthera Tigris by Sylvain Alzial, illustrated by Hélène Rajcak (Eerdmans, 2019)

A scholar has researched everything about Bengal Tigers, but when he doesn’t listen to his guide he gets some “informative” personal experience in the Indian jungle.

The Book That Proves That Not Every Music-Related Picture Book Has to Feature JAZZ:

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The Roots of Rap by Carol Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison (Little Bee, 2019)

Yes. YES. This book is informative, gorgeous, and pulsing with beat.

The Book That Reminded Me of My Own Limited Basketball Ability:

Nikki on the Line

Nikki on the Line by Barbara Carroll Roberts (Little, Brown, 2019)

Female sports novels are hard to come by and even harder to find with such good basketball action from the grueling practices to the drama on and off the court. I’m eager for more from this author.

I Didn’t Read the Jacket Blurb So I Didn’t See It Coming Award:

The Line Tender

The Line Tender by Kate Allen (Dutton, 2019)

I’m still verklempt. Count this as a SOB! on my “Sniff, Weep, Sob!” Meter but this heartbreaker is in my top 3 books of the year and it has my favorite cover of the year.

You Can Read to Me Forever Award:

The Secret Commonwealth (Book of Dust, Book 2) by Philip Pullman (Knopf/Listening Library, 2019)

I listen to a lot of audiobooks on my driving commute, but this was my favorite of the year. With Pullman’s stellar storytelling and Michael Sheen’s narration, I never wanted to stop driving.

Favorite Bird Book From the Year I Became Obsessed with Birding:

Image result for Owling

Owling by Mark Wilson (Workman, 2019)

I read a lot of youth bird books this year and there were some great ones, like these, and this one, but I learned so much about owls from Mark Wilson giving this one a feather’s thickness lead over the others.

Lynn’s Awards:

The NOW I Finally Get It Historical Event Award:

Bringing Down a President: The Watergate Scandal by Andrea Balis and Elizabeth Levy (Roaring Brook, 2019)

Even though I lived through this, I was still somewhat confused about what happened when until I read this stellar nonfiction account of the Watergate Scandal. NOW I get it!

The Book That Most Made Me Feel Like a Broken-Hearted Teenager Once Again:

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki (First Second, 2019)

It has been a loooong time since I was a teen but Tamaki absolutely stabbed me in the heart with this book, bringing back the emotions as if they were brand new. Sob!

The Book That Made Me Hungry Every Time I Read it!:

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperCollins, 2019)

Acevedo’s writing about food and cooking was so mouth-watering that I was hungry the whole time I read it. Well, her writing was actually evocative about everything in this delicious story.

The Book I Had to Fight My Teen Grandsons For:

The Toll by Neal Shusterman (S&S, 2019)

Let me remind readers that there are TWO of them and they BOTH read it before I got to. Is that grandmotherly sacrifice or what?

The Book That Helped Me Understand Cricket — At Least for a Minute or Two:

Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion, 2019)

I really understood cricket while I was reading this  – maybe, sort of, I think so anyway. Well, even if I’ve forgotten it all, I still loved this book!

The Book that Drove Me to Check My House for Bugs:

The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer (S&S/Atheneum, 2019)

This fascinating story based on Romanian history had me checking for bugs—the listening variety—under every surface! Yikes! Young readers need to know this history!

The Book that Nailed the Joy of a First Seaside Vacation:

All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker (Penguin/Viking, 2019)

There is so much that is stellar in this debut book but Tucker’s descriptions of a first experience at the sea during a Long Island vacation made me feel as if I was walking barefoot in the surf for the first time too.

The Book That Surprised Me the Most:

Let ‘Er Buck: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (Carolrhoda, 2019)

I’d been on a waitlist for this book for so long that I had forgotten all about it. When it came, it knocked my socks off! WOW, just WOW! Brilliant in every way! Text, illustrations, back matter, and research are all superb!

The Book that Cracks Me Up Just Thinking About It:

Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris (Little, Brown, 2019)

‘Nuff said. This hilarious book just cracks me up every time!

 

Conference Exhibit Hall Manners, or, Greed in the Aisles

Cindy and Lynn: Exhibit halls full of new books and publisher events make attendees giddy but they can strain the patience and goodwill of even the most generous publisher marketing rep. We’ve been regularly attending ALA’s Midwinter Meetings and Annual Conferences and a few Book Expo events since 2000 and we’ve seen some ugly behavior. In Seattle at Midwinter, this exchange was overheard as an attendee tried to take a hardcover book from a publisher’s booth display:

Attendee: Oh, my Grandson will love this book.

Publisher Rep: That is our only display copy, but it’s published now, and available for purchase at bookstores and online.

Attendee: Why would I buy a copy when I can get one here for free?

The reps have heard it all, we’re sure, but we were astonished. So here are a few tips. They probably won’t be seen by the right people, but you can help spread the word if you know someone who needs a dose of Miss Manners for Library Conferences.

  1. Advance Reader Copies (arcs) cost more to produce than a finished hardcover book. It’s a privilege to get one, and if you do, you should commit to reading it and promoting it if you find it worthy.
  2. The one who picks up the most arcs does not win. And taking handfuls of the same arc, not cool at all.
  3. Exhibit Hall guidelines prohibit wheeled carts. Leave them at home. Strollers and scooters are allowed as long as they are in use at all times (we don’t believe that means “in use” to haul your books and conference swag!)
  4. The Publisher booths should not be treated like the Hunger Games Cornucopia, although it would be fair to let the reps pick off the attendees who behave badly.

We’re sure you’ve experienced similar acts of greed and ill manners. Leave us a comment with the worst exhibit hall behavior you’ve seen. If you’re a publisher and want to remain anonymous, feel free to email one of us and we’ll add your story to the post while protecting the innocent. And, tune in after ALA for a follow-up post about what you can and cannot do with those treasured arcs you nabbed.

Stump the Librarian! A Student Challenge

Cindy: Each fall I start the school year by challenging my students at orientation to play “Stump the Librarian.” I tell them that I know that not everyone likes to read as much as I do, but that I can help them to find at least one item in the library that they will like. They are encouraged to come to me during the first few weeks of school and say “I dare you to find me a book I will like.” They love hearing that I’ve never been stumped and think that they will be the one. I love that I’ve eliminated a few barriers to getting them to talk to me about books, and, so far, my record stands. I am nothing if not persistent!

One of my 6th grade ELA teachers embraced this challenge fully with her students and a few years ago ordered a stamp that reads “Stump the Librarian.” She got tired of writing the phrase on library passes as she sends them to challenge me all year long. I love when a kid shows up with that stamped note. She is retiring next week and bequeathed the stamp to me. I will remember Mrs. Mac and her passion for building readers among her students, especially those who didn’t think they liked reading. She will be missed.

And then there was the student who showed up years ago asking to play “STOMP the Librarian.” I set him straight pronto! HAHAHAHA!

A New Home for Bookends Blog

After 10 years of blogging for Booklist Online, we are moving the Bookends blog to this new home. We’re happy you’ve found us and hope you will continue to read our book reviews of children’s and teen literature drawing on well over a half-century of combined experience in the field.

Cindy Dobrez is currently a middle school librarian in Holland, Michigan, serving 1600 students in two large buildings. She has reviewed for School Library Journal, Voice of Youth Advocates, the Chicago Tribune and Booklist in over three decades of work as a public and school librarian.

Lynn Rutan is a retired middle school librarian and past reviewer for VOYA and Booklist, and past editor of The Media Spectrum, the journal of our Michigan Association for Media in Education.

Both Cindy and Lynn and have served on or chaired numerous book award committees for the American Library Association, including the Newbery, Printz, Sibert, BBYA, and Margaret A. Edwards awards. We have both chaired the L.A. Times Book Award YA Jury as well. We bring years of youth literature knowledge, experience working in school libraries, and a love of the literature to our reviews.

Bookends Blog includes solo posts but most often features both Cindy and Lynn’s critique of a single book. We usually feature books we recommend…but an occasional rant is to be expected. Look here too for display ideas, cover trends, author interviews, and our own annual eccentric book awards—fun things book and library related.

Two heads are better than one! Thanks for reading Bookends!