Thursday, June 28, 2012

Own the Night: Night Sky & Astronomy

We are into our third week of drop-in summer reading activities for teens at the Campbell County Public Library:  this week our theme is "Night Sky & Astronomy." We have two crafts to offer the teens, as well as three quizzes about constellations and zodiac signs.  

Our Young Adult nonfiction collection holds several titles to interest teens who enjoy reading about the sciences. We recently moved our nonfiction collection to the basement where the Teen Room is located, in order to increase its visibility to our teen audience. Since that move, the circulation of those books has increased markedly.

In our fiction collections, we have seen a significant increase in Young Adult titles that center on mythology in recent years. Since many of the names of constellations are based in Greek and Roman mythology, there is a definite connection between the two subject areas. If you (or your teen) are one of those who enjoy reading fiction based on mythology, try some of these recent titles:

Abandon, Meg Cabot. The first two selections this week share a common bond: both are loosely based on ancient Greek myths. In the case of Meg Cabot's Abandon, we meet a heroine, Pierce, who comes back to life after being romanced by a death diety.  Students of Greek mythology will recognize shades of the story of Persephone and Hades in this novel.  This is a bit dark for Meg Cabot, who gave us The Princess Diaries, among other Young Adult titles. However, fans of paranormal romances, such as Twilight (Stephenie Meyer) and Fallen (Lauren Kate) will not mind. Abandon is the first title in a proposed trilogy, followed by Underworld. The final title, Awaken, will be published in 2013. 

Sweet Venom, Tera Lynn Childs. This novel centers on three teenage girls who are descendants of the Greek Gorgon Medusa, and are charged with protecting humankind from the mythological monsters who threaten them.  As they tell their stories in alternating chapters, we get a sense of the diverse personalities of each of them. The girls - all 16 -- soon realize that they are triplets, separated at birth for their own safety. Despite their differences, they must come together as a fighting force, because the monster attacks are on the rise, and their success depends on being able to work together. No word on whether there will be a sequel, but the story is set up for one.

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, Allison Goodman.  In a refreshing change from Greek mythology, this novel introduces us to a force of magical dragons based on the symbols of the Chinese zodiac. We also meet our main character, Eon, whose dream is to be selected as a Dragoneye --  an apprentice to one of these magical dragons. Eon and his master have been training in sword work and magic, all in the hopes of being selected. They have a secret, however: Eon is actually Eona, a 16-year-old girl who has been masquerading as a boy.  Girls are not permitted to practice magical powers; Eon is taking a huge risk. If Eon's secret is discovered, it means certain death for her and her master. 

Guardian of the Dead, Karen Healey. 17-year-old Ellie has trouble fitting in at the New Zealand boarding school she attends, until she uses her martial arts skills to help choreograph fight scenes for a school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. As the story develops, the school population begins to worry about a string of murders that has happened not far from there. As the action of the novel increases, Healey introduces not only the Greek myths on which Shakespeare's play are based, but many elements of teh ancient Maori mythologoy  of New Zealand.

Have a Hot Time, Hades!, Kate McMullan. The first installment in McMullan's Myth-o-Mania series, this story is a tongue-in-cheek retelling of Greek god Hades' "fall" to glory as the god of the underworld.  McMullan draws on the original myths in her parodies, so some familiarity with them will increase the reader's enjoyment. Other titles in this series include Phone Home, Persephone! and Say Cheese, Medusa!  This would be a fun supplement to other mythology-based fiction, or to a nonfiction retelling of the ancient myths. Best for a younger teen.

Lost Hero, Rick Riordan. One cannot compile a list of mythology-based teen literature without including Rick Riordan, of course.  He is much responsible for reviving teen interest in this sub-genre of fantasy/sci fi:  his Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief series has been immensely popular since its initial publication in 2005.  In this spin-off series, Riordan draws on some of the lesser characters of the initial series, and introduces several new ones. Jason, Piper, and Leo are three students at a wilderness school in the Grand Canyon; after a strange encounter with storm spirits who steal their coach, they are rescued by Annabeth (from the first series) and taken to Camp Half-Blood. There, they discover that they are also demigods: the only difference is that they were sired by the Greek gods in their Roman personae.  Like Percy, the three are charged by the gods with a seemingly impossible task, and of course, failure will mean doom for humanity. The Lost Hero is followed by The Son of Neptune; book three in the Heroes of Olympus series will be released in 2013.

Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan.  A reminder that mythology fans will also want to try Riordan's Kane Chronicles series, beginning with Red Pyramid. Riordan focuses on Egyptian mythology is this trilogy: the second and third books are The Throne of Fire and Serpent's Shadow. This series was reviewed in the May 2 entry of this blog; look there for more information.

Enjoy some stargazing this week! Even better, grab a sleeping bag, a great book, and a flashlight, and combine your stargazing with some interesting reading.  The weather tells us that it's truly summer around here: be sure to "Own the Night" while it lasts!

(Due to the Fourth of July holiday, the CCPL Teen Room will take a break from our drop-in activities next week; join us again the week of July 9, when we will explore "The Night of the Living Dead.")

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Own the Night: Dreams & Nightmares

We've had another busy week in the CCPL Teen Room with our drop-in afternoon activities.  This week, centering on the theme of "Dreams & Nightmares," we provided craft kits to make dreamcatchers and pillows and quizzed our teens on dream symbolism and the connections between food and sleep.  Finally, we provided a snack of milk and cookies -- a perfect bedtime snack, according to science.  

Just in case the milk and cookies don't do the trick, check out some of these great YA reads.  They probably won't make you nod off, but if you can't sleep, you might as well be reading a good book!

First, a few dreams . . . .

Dreams of Significant Girls, Cristina Garcia.  Set in the early 1970's, this novel tells the story of a worldwide cultural, political, and sexual revolution through the eyes of three very different young women who come together to spend summers at a Swiss boarding school. Canadian Ingrid is rebellious and sexually adventurous; Jewish Cuban-American Vivian dreams of becoming a chef; and Iranian noblewoman Shirin struggles to find a way to express her mathematical genius. Over the course of three summers, the young women experience awakenings, deal with family conflicts, and form a deep friendship. As the Book List review states, the three characters learn that friendship is not about ethnicity, but about empathy.  The historical context and subject matter make this a choice for more mature readers. 

Finnikin of the Rock, Melina Marchetta. In her first attempt at fantasy, gifted writer Marchetta weaves a tale of exile, espionage, and homecoming.  Finnikin is a young man whose father was captain of the King's Guard in their beloved homeland of Lumatere.  Following a coup by a neighboring lord, Lumatere is placed under a curse that isolates the country from the outside world. Finnikin, his father, and several others have been living in exile for a decade, waiting for a chance to save their country.  Hope comes in the form of a strange girl, Evanjalin, who claims that Finnikin's friend and heir to the throne, Balthazar, is still alive. Evanjalin has a strange power: she can "walk the sleep" of others - in other words, share in their dreams.  She uses the information she discovers, as well as her own boldness, to push events to a climax so that Lumatere can finally be freed. In doing so, Evanjalin has to hide her own secrets, however -- secrets that will affect Finnikin and the entire country if discovered. A rich fantasy world, combined with a story of exile and occupation grounded in reality, makes for a compelling read for older teens. Finnikin is the first of the Lumatere Chronicles; Froi of the Exiles  was recently released.

Dream Girl and Dream Life, Lauren Mechling.  This two-part series combines both light humor and light mystery. We meet the main character, Clare Voyant, on the eve of her 15th birthday, as she receives a strange onyx cameo from her grandmother. Clare has always had dreams and visions, but nothing like the ones that start happening when she begins to wear the necklace. However, she is almost too busy to notice the dreams or the strange happenings around her: she is focused on fitting in at her new elite Manhatten high school, forming new friendships, and secretly dating her best friend's brother. The two books work well as companion novels, but either of them can be read independently. A good choice for teen girls who want something light and fun.

The Running Dream, Wendelin Van Draanen.   We meet 16-year-old Jessica, a high school track star, in the wake of a horrible tragedy: the team van is struck, killing one runner and costing Jessica her leg. Jessica no longer cares about her life: who cares about learning to walk again when you live to run? She struggles with crutches and later, a  clumsy prosthetic; through it all, she notices that people who are uncomfortable with her disability simply act like she's not there. Jessica could handle their rudeness if she wasn't confronted with the fact that she used to do the same thing to Rosa, a classmate with cerebal palsy who is now assigned to help Jessica catch up on math. When her community raises money for Jessica to be fitted with a new prosthetic that will allow her to run again, she realizes that it won't be enough unless she can make Rosa's life better, also.  An inspiring read for all teens. 

And now, a few nightmares . . . .

Draw the Dark, Ilsa Bick. Christian Cage's parents disappeared long ago, leaving him to live in the small town of Winter, WI, with his uncle, the sheriff. Christian is a loner -- something that tends to happen when you are artistic, withdrawn, and supposedly responsible for the near-suicide of one of your teachers. Christian doesn't just draw his own memories and dreams; he has a strange ability to draw the nightmares of people around him, as well.  When he begins to enter the mind of an eight-year-old boy who lived in Winter decades ago, Christian uncovers an atrocious crime, and possible clues into his own parents' disappearance. A good choice for readers who like historical mysteries, particularly those with darker elements.

Nevermore, Kelly Creagh.  Cheerleader Isobel is upset to be partnered with her strange Goth classmate Varen Nethers for an assignment on Edgar Allen Poe. However, things heat up between the two as they do research for their assignment, and Isobel secretly peeks into Varen's private journal. There, she discovers a nightmarish world based on Poe's chilling stories. As Isobel and Varen become more deeply involved, they risk losing themselves to the dark world of Varen's dreams. Fans of Edgar Allen Poe will enjoy this twist on the author's works, and his life. 

Faery Tales & Nightmares, Melissa Marr.  In this collection of eleven stories - some short vignettes and some longer novellas - Marr takes us back into the world of supernatural romance.  Many of the stories feature characters from her popular Wicked Lovely series: fans of the series will enjoy more tales of Aislinn, Seth, and the urban fey who inhabit the original novels. Other stories feature paranormal creatures such as vampires, selkies, and shapeshifters.  All are searching for love on their own terms; all are touched, or want to be touched, by the magic of finding a true mate. Some stories are quite violent; others more gentle.  Fans of Marr's fantasy writing will enjoy this collection of her lesser-known stories; those unfamiliar with Marr will be drawn into her dark, sumptuous world. 

So, have you found your bedtime story yet?  Next week, we'll shift to mythological creatures and the myth-based fiction that is currently popular with teen readers. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Own the Night Teen Summer Reading: Zombies & Monsters Week

It's been an incredibly busy week in the Teen Room: we launched our afternoon drop-in summer reading activities this week, and participation has been good. Teens have enjoyed activities such as creating zombie clothespin dolls and string dolls; zombifying themselves with face paint; and testing their knowledge of classic movie and literary monsters with our trivia quizzes.

For those teens who can't get enough of monsters and zombies, Young Adult literature will not disappoint!  The shelves are brimming with stories of all kinds of creatures: from classic monster novels such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; to comic book illustrations of Marvel Zombies; to graphic novel re-tellings of Dracula and Beowulf (with the man-eating Grendel).  
 We also have many recent, original novels based on the zombie and monster themes. The following four selections are all well-reviewed, recent, and extremely popular among teen readers.  Even if zombies and monsters are not your favorite subject, these novels are well-written enough engage readers and introduce this branch of teen horror fiction; and what better way to "own the night" than with a creepy story that keeps you awake?

In the Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan
In a world governed by the religious Sisterhood, life follows preordained rules: to follow the Sisterhood’s guidelines, and to respect the fence that separates the village from the fearsome Forest of Hands and Teeth.  In the forest, the Unconsecrated – the undead – prey upon the flesh of those unfortunates who wander away from the village. Mary’s own mother is one of the Unconsecrated; Mary’s future includes betrothal to a man she doesn’t love, and a life under the Sisterhood’s restrictions. But when the fence is breached, Mary and her band of friends set off into the unknown of the forest, to look for a place where they can find safety, freedom, and a future. This is the first book in a creepy – yet also romantic – trilogy; the next two titles are The Dead-Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places.

Rot and Ruin, Jonathan Maberry
Another coming-of-age story set in a zombie-infested world, Maberry’s series follows the story of Benny, a 15-year-old orphaned on First Night when both his parents became zombified. Since then, he’s lived with his half-brother Tom, whom he dislikes and disrespects. However, in Benny’s community, a safe haven in the midst of Rot and Ruin, 15-year-olds must find a job, or have their food rations cut in half. Benny is basically lazy, and eventually the only job open to him is to apprentice to Tom, a zombie hunter. Benny follows Tom into the Rot and Ruin, and finds that his previous perceptions – of Tom, the zombies, and the iconic zombie-hunter Charlie – have all been dead wrong. Maberry continues his story in Dust and Decay, and Flesh and Bone (coming in September, 2012).

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness; illustrated by Jim Kay
Ness crafted this story from a set of notes left behind by acclaimed author Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer in 2007 prevented her from writing the story herself. In this illustrated novel, we meet 13-year-old Conor, whose own mother is fighting cancer, unsuccessfully.  Conor is visited each night by a recurring nightmare – until one night, he wakes up and an actual monster is standing over him. The monster, in the form of an ancient yew tree, tells Conor three ambiguous stories, and then demands that Conor tell him a fourth – the truth.  For Conor, this is the hardest story to tell, for he has to face the fact that his mother is really dying. In the telling of this ultimately scary truth, Conor begins to let go, and to let the wise monster help him heal.

This Dark Endeavor, Kenneth Oppel
In a gothic tale full of allusions to Mary Shelley’s original work, Oppel has nonetheless managed to tell an original twist on the tale of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. Twins Victor and Konrad Frankenstein fill their lives with imaginary adventures, until one day they stumble upon an old library filled with volumes of alchemy and ancient cures. It remains just a curiosity until Konrad falls gravely ill; determined to save his brother, Victor embarks on a search for the Elixir of Life, a remedy that will either cure Konrad, or be the final push to his death. As Victor, Konrad, and their friends search for the ingredients to make the treacherous potion, they pull themselves into ever-deepening danger. Victor, like the original Dr. Frankenstein, is not a likeable character, but the plot of the novel keeps readers wondering what will happen to him. This is the first of a planned series (The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein) by a talented storyteller. 

 Enjoy one of these selections; and if you are a teen in Campbell County, don't forget to pick up your reading log for CCPL Teen Summer Reading!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Own the Night -- Teen Summer Reading 2012

It's Wednesday afternoon in the CCPL Teen Room, and we are busy!  It's great to see the area teens coming in to the library for reading and recreation.  This afternoon, we are heavy on the recreation side, as we have our gaming equipment out for them to play. However, our statistics for the past week -- since the last day of school -- show that our teens are reading, too.  

We invite Gillette-area teens to earn some extra rewards for reading by participating in our teen summer reading program. This summer's theme is "Own The Night", and we'll be playing with that theme in our afternoon activities through July. Starting on Monday, June 11, teen are invited to drop in to the Teen Room from 1 to 4 p.m. to explore various crafts, quizzes, and trivia contests. 

Although the gaming and the drop-in activities are lots of fun, the basis for any summer reading program is, well, the reading.  While we at CCPL think that reading is its own reward, we also know that some teens need the added incentive provided by earning prizes. Reading over the summer has been proven to be a key factor in preventing the "summer slide" -- a drop in grade level in both reading and math abilities that often happens to students over a long break from school. Therefore, we are not above offering prizes to teens for reading -- keeping them at grade level is so crucial to the following school year's success.

So, here's how our local program works:  Teens come to the Young Adult department to pick up a reading log, and then track their reading from now until August 1.  They can choose to read whatever they like -- fiction, nonfiction, magazines, graphic novels, newspapers.  As they keep track, they earn prizes for each level of the program they reach. Incentives for reading range from small items at level 1, such as slap bracelets and key chains, to free pizzas and free books at the higher levels.   In addition, at each level they also earn a raffle ticket for one of three grand prize baskets; we'll draw the winners of these at our final celebration on August 1.

This summer, we've made an important change in our program in an effort to better promote literacy:  teens can choose whether they keep track of the pages they read, or the hours.  For years, we've had them track their pages; this puts slow readers at a real disadvantage, however, and some teens chose not to participate, or to give up the program early. We hope that, by providing an option this year, more teens will complete all five levels of our reading program. With this change, a level now equals 500 pages, or 5 hours of reading.

Finally, we will be featuring YA fiction and nonfiction that relates thematically to the "Own the Night" theme. These books will correspond to each week's programming theme, beginning with zombie and monster books next week. Stay tuned; I'll be writing about those books weekly on this blog, as well. 

It's really all about promoting literacy -- whether we do it by offering teens prizes, by offering them choice, or by offering interesting and unusual things to read.  Whatever it takes!  Once teens have reading skills - once they are literate -- they can "own the night", and the daytime, too.