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Author: Anna Tschetter

Anna is a Teen Librarian in northeast Massachusetts at Memorial Hall Library. She loves comics, sci-fi, and any other book about smart, awesome ladies.

Interview with Alex Award winner Ryan North

I didn’t read too many Young Adult books as a teenager because I was a fool and thought I was better than them. Obviously, the joke is on me because YA books are incredible and that’s basically all I read these days. But this is one of the reasons why I love the Alex Awards. Sometimes teens just fit better with adult books and I love that YALSA supports those teens. Maybe they’ll even come to revisit young adult books in their adulthood just like me. So when we Hub writers were offered the chance to interview Alex Award winners, I jumped at the chance. When I heard Ryan North was one of the interviewees, I LEAPT at the chance.

Image via Goodreads

If you don’t know Ryan North’s work you should get on that yesterday. North is the writer of the hilarious Dinosaur Comics as well as the Harvey and Eisner award winning writer of the Adventure Time comics. North is no stranger to the Youth Media Awards as his Adventure Time comics as well as his Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comics have won entry to the Great Graphic Novels for teens lists in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Most recently his “chooseable path adventure” Romeo and/or Juliet won an Alex Award in 2017. I was able to chat with Ryan via email. Check it out!

Anna Tschetter: You’ve done “chooseable path adventure books” with To Be or Not to Be and now Romeo and/or Juliet and even your Adventure Time comic. Did you read a lot of the classic “Choose your Own Adventure” books as a kid (or a grownup in preparation to write your versions?)

Ryan North: I did! I loved them as a kid and could not understand why adults weren’t reading them. They’re books where YOU get to decide what happens next: what is not to like?  When 30 years later I realized that if I wanted to see these books I guess I should write them myself, I had two advantage, I think: there’s not a lot of books written in the CYOA style for adults, and I could write my book on a computer.  Earlier non-linear narratives tended to be of the “put pieces of paper on a pinboard and connect strings between them for choices”, which obviously limits the scale of stories you can tell, but I could use software to keep track of all the different paths and how they interact with each other – and that really freed me up to try all sorts of new things.

Just as an example: there’s a page early on in the book where you choose your character: Romeo or Juliet.  But then if you play through the book as either of these characters and follow a certain path to its conclusion, you unlock a third playable character: Rosaline!  We figured out how to have unlockable characters in books.  Normally that’s tricky, since you can’t change the state of the book, but what I realized was that you can always change the state of the reader.  So the book tells you a secret for how to unlock Rosaline, and then on your next playthough, when you get to the character select page – which hasn’t changed, obviously – you can now see a way to play as Rosaline.  It’s a neat trick, and I was really happy that we were able to get it to work so well!

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2017 Hub Reading Challenge March Check-in

Hello everyone, how is your Hub Challenge going?

the hub 2017 reading challenge

I am curious to hear how everyone approaches the Challenge. Personally, I start off with good intentions like say, reading through all of the Printz books I haven’t read yet but then get distracted by other books. Look! There’s that comic I’ve been meaning to read! Or, Ooh, I need a new audiobook for my drive home.

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2016 Hub Challenge Check-in #20

Not signed up yet – there’s still time! –  for YALSA’s 2016 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since the awards were announced counts, and the challenge runs until 11:59pm EST on June 23, so sign up now!

the hub 2016 reading challengeHey Hub Challengers, we’re getting down to the last days of the challenge. There’s only 11 days left to read all the books on the awesome list so if you’re just starting you only need to read about 2 books a day and you’ll make it. Totally doable, right?

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2016 Hub Challenge Check-in #13

Not signed up for YALSA’s 2016 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since the awards were announced counts, and the challenge runs until 11:59pm on June 23, so sign up now!

the hub 2016 reading challenge

Hello fellow Challengers! How is your reading? Recently, I’ve finished What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe, Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa, and More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera and the three books are very different. What If is just an incredibly fun read. I actually let myself fall behind on some beloved podcasts to listen to What If at the gym instead, which is really saying something! Wil Wheaton does a great job narrating and the questions are truly absurd and entertaining.

Fans of the Impossible Life and More Happy Than Not are more similar because they are more serious works of fiction. And yet More Happy Than Not is about learning to deal with memories and past events when it seems easier to forget and Fans of the Impossible Life is not about running away from the bad stuff but trying heal and embrace it. Both were really lovely and I especially liked how Silvera explored the nature of identity and the weight of our pasts in More Happy Than Not.

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2016 Hub Challenge Check-In #9

Not signed up yet for YALSA’s 2016 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since the awards were announced counts, and the challenge runs until 11:59pm EST on June 23, so sign up now!

the hub 2016 reading challenge

This has not been my most successful Hub Challenge year, due a lot to the 500+ page adult book I’m working on and my discovery that I like video games, but I am trying! I’m a little behind but the two most recent titles that I’ve read I have really enjoyed. First was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I actually started it in February and then put it down. At the time, I wasn’t able to commit my full attention to is and I felt like the book –  which is a letter to his son about police violence, institutional racism, and the joy and pain of African American and black cultures –  deserved more. So I waited a week or two and started again when I had fewer distractions. It’s a very interesting and different for me since I have very little experience with the situations that Coates describes: I’m white and from a relatively privileged background. But I think it’s so important to read outside your experience in order to have empathy, compassion, and just plain knowledge of people different from you. Coates’ writing is lyrical and moving and worth taking time to digest. I hope this book is required reading while also hoping that someday our lives will be such that African American sons won’t need books like this from their fathers.

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2016 Hub Challenge Check-In #4

Not signed up for YALSA’s 2016 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since the awards were announced counts, so sign up now!

Hey Hub Challengers, we’re at week four, how are you doing? I’ve gotten a slow start to my reading but I feel it picking up now.

the hub 2016 reading challenge

 

This week I finished The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten. I had a bit of trouble getting into it at first but I’m glad that I stuck it out. It’s the story of Adam, a teen with OCD who has been in treatment and going to group therapy for a little bit when Robyn shows up. He is instantly smitten with her and decides that he must “get better” for her. Apart from his OCD, Adam has a lot more going on in his life: family stress between his mom and stepmom, the threatening letters that his mom is receiving but can’t seem to talk about, plus school and friends. I appreciated learning more about OCD and seeing Adam and his friends getting help when they needed it. Not to be too spoiler-y, but I’m glad that Adam and Robyn’s relationship developed to where it did by the end, and I thought they both acted really maturely.

I also read The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant. This book had been on my to-read list for a while so I was so happy to see it on the Amelia Bloomer list. I unabashedly love the Amelia Bloomer list and am excited about feminist books in general, so I pounced on the opportunity to read this. The book reads as a slice of life narrative of Addie Baum, the daughter of Jewish immigrants in Boston at the beginning of the 20th century. Addie narrates the earlier years of her life to her granddaughter telling her story and dispensing advice along the way. It’s a sweet story and as a Massachusetts resident, it was fun to recognize places around Boston and Cape Ann!

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2016 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Kelly Loy Gilbert

conviction

Kelly Loy Gilbert is a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

Conviction is the story of Braden, a teen baseball phenom who has to contend with not just his father’s expectations for sports stardom, but his estranged brother, and his looming testimony in his father’s trial for the murder of a police officer.

Kelly, congratulations on your Morris nomination for Conviction! When did you start writing or know you wanted to be a writer? 

Thank you!  It’s such an honor, especially to be in the company of Anna-Marie McLemore, Becky Albertalli, Leah Thomas and Stephanie Oakes, extremely talented women (and lovely people) who’ve written truly incredible books that are all must-reads. I got to read both Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Weight of Feathers before they came out, and I remember thinking to myself, oh man, 2015 is going to be a banner year for YA if there ever was one. (And I really think it was!)

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I’ve been able to read, and the first ‘novel’ I ever wrote was in third grade–I wrote it in my favorite fine-tipped turquoise Crayola marker, and it was concerned primarily with the bedroom of my main character–thinly-disguised wish fulfillment, of course (a canopy bed! A fish tank! An art corner with tons of supplies!). And then I wrote all through my school years, mostly novels (well, “novels”) but occasionally short stories, too.

As someone who is familiar with conservative/evangelical Christianity, I thought you portrayed the nuances of that sub-culture very well. Can you tell us a little bit about writing either from a similar background or research that you did?

This shirt makes an appearance in Conviction.
This shirt makes an appearance in Conviction

I definitely think ‘conservative/evangelical Christianity’ has its own culture and speaks its own language, and it’s one I’ve always felt fluent in–I grew up going mostly to a very pentecostal church in the late 90s/early 2000s, the heyday of Christian phenomena like True Love Waits and Christian boy bands and, like, shirts like this “His Way” shirt. I think the landscape of American Christianity is changing a lot and is much more varied and diverse now, and I know personally faith (which is still a huge part of my life) looks different to me now than it used to. There are many wonderful things from my church growing up that I hope I always hold onto, but at the same time I don’t necessarily believe a lot of the things I did then, and sometimes now I feel like the longer I believe the more questions I have. My current pastor said once that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, but certainty, and that really resonated with me in a way I think I would’ve dismissed entirely when I was younger.

But for Conviction I wanted to return to that particular sort of faith where everything feels black and white and certain, because I also remember what it felt like to believe that rightness mattered so much, that your highest duty to God was to fall always on the correct side of things. It was important to me to write a story that dealt with faith in a way that felt honest and complicated and nuanced, and so I wanted Braden to have to grapple with what it was like to experience a true crisis of faith–to find that nothing in the world was what he’d always taken for granted, and to have to figure out where that left him. I love reading about people’s journeys and experiences with their respective beliefs, and I’ve read a lot of honest, raw stories about people who left their faith, but (at least when I thought about books I’d read about young people) I didn’t feel like I’d read as many about people whose faith in its current form became untenable and yet they still found shards to cling to and rebuild into something else. And Braden’s faith is really real and defining to him, even if it’s built on certain questionable foundations, and so I didn’t think that ultimately it would be something he’d walk away from entirely; I felt it would be something he’d always have to come to terms with.

Another of the things that I found Conviction does really well is show the truth behind the carefully constructed facade of many families. Braden’s family has many dysfunctions –  violence, abuse, lies, bigotry – and Braden struggles to see and understand all of them. What promoted you to write about such heavy topics?

You know, it’s funny, I didn’t actually set out to write many of those from the beginning, but as I was getting deeper and deeper into the characters and asking why each one was the way they were, thinking about their backgrounds and their world views, a lot of those things came up (and then I think a lot of them are inextricably tied together–abuse and a cycle of violence, et cetera). And many things, particularly many of the family’s secrets, were discoveries along the way.

But I think also, because I was writing about a young person, I was interested in that shift when you start to see your parents as people rather than just your parents, and I wanted to explore that in a character who has everything riding on telling himself the same narrative he always has.

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2016 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: An Interview with Nancy Plain

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Jan. 11, 2015.

Nancy Plain is a writer for children and young adults. Her works include many books about the American West such as Light on the Prairie and With One Sky Above Us among others. Her most recent book, This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon, has been listed by Booklist as one of the “10 Best Children’s Biographies of 2015” and by Kirkus as “Nine Teen Titles That Adults Shouldn’t Miss.” The book tells the story of Audubon’s travels throughout the United States and his legacy of conservationism and art.

this strange wilderness


Nancy, Congratulations on your nomination for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award for the lovely This Strange Wilderness: The life and art of John James Audubon! You’ve written a lot about historical persons and especially American Indians and the American West. Why Audubon?

I began writing about the history of the American West mainly because during my travels to national parks and on a long-ago camping trip from Colorado to Alaska, I fell in love with the land–the magnificent mountains, plains, and forests.  And it was Audubon’s connection with the American wilderness that drew me to him as a subject.  That and, of course, his spectacular bird paintings.  As a member of the Audubon Society myself, I’d always been curious about the man who inspired a powerful movement to protect and preserve wildlife and wild places.

A book and bird nerd question: Did you get to look at the double elephant folios of Birds of America for your research? I bet they would incredible to see in person!

Yes!  This book and bird nerd did get to see the Double Elephant Folio and it was mind-blowing!  This was at the fabulous Audubon exhibit held at the New-York Historical Society, in New York City.  But even better than the folio were Audubon’s original life-size watercolors on display.  The New-York Historical Society had audio for each painting, so that when I stood in front of the great horned owl, for instance, I could press a button and hear its haunting call.  This was a very emotional experience, sort of like a visitation from a world that is normally hidden from us.

You have a Masters in Music Education and you write history books. What a fascinating combo! Do you have any plans to write about music or musicians?

I don’t have any plans right now to write about music or musicians, but I’m not ruling it out.  Aside from books, music was my first love.  I used to play piano and was quite a serious cellist for a while.  My first biography, however, was on the artist Mary Cassatt, and I found that I really enjoyed writing about artists.  Whatever I want to say about an artist’s work, the work itself says it better!

Your books are for children and teens. Is there a special appeal to you for writing for that age level or does it just happen naturally?

I love the challenge of writing for young people.  This is the goal always:  to tell the story of my subject’s life in an exciting way, to make a historical period come alive.  Sometimes when history is taught only from a textbook, kids can think that it’s deadly dull.  But history is really an infinite well of dramatic personalities and events–many are stranger than fiction–and I try to bring that to my reader.  I also enjoy introducing young people to a given subject; it forces me to write in a clear and simple way.
Do you have a topic or person that you are researching for a future book?​

Well, right now I’m immersed in editing a cookbook for my favorite organization, Western Writers of America.  I’ve been a member since 2008, and WWA is home to an incredibly friendly and talented bunch of people.  As for my next book, I haven’t decided on a topic yet, but I promise I’m going to do it soon!

Thanks, Nancy!

It really is a wonderful surprise that my book has been recognized by YALSA, and it’s a pleasure to be interviewed for The Hub.

— Anna Tschetter, currently between books

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Read it in One Rainy Day

Image by OiMax
Image by OiMax

Now that Spring feels finally here – the giant snow pile out my north of Boston apartment finally melted – I feel the need for a different kind of book. Like many of you, different seasons of the year make me want different kinds of books. In the winter I like to hunker down with a long, multi-book series and summer brings the annual “beach” reads and the time where I sneak some adult fiction into YA-to-read pile. The return of school in the fall makes me gravitate towards the boarding school story but what about spring?

When it starts to get warmer, it’s easy to ditch the book to head outside to enjoy the not so cold evenings. Breaking my winter hibernation born of cold weather, feet upon feet of snow, makes my concentration wander so I tend to turn to books that I can read in a day or two. There’s nothing like starting and finishing a book on rainy spring day to make you feel accomplished but not overwhelmed.

Here’s a list of recent books I’ve read in a day or maybe two or three. Many are graphic novels which I find great for my spring distraction.

18465566This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (2015 Caldecott and Printz honors): This book does an amazing job of presenting a chapter in the lives of two friends. They are growing up but also apart from the friendship that they thought wouldn’t change. The gorgeous and evocative art, done in shades of blue, makes you long for summer but also revel in whatever weather you’re in, letting you melt into the page.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley (2015 Great Graphic Novel for Teens): The bright colors of the art and acceleration of the plot makes this a great one day read. You will get sucked in by Katie’s seemingly perfect way to get rid of her mistakes – the magic mushrooms that allow her to fix anything – and tearing through the book as fast as you can as all of her changed mistakes come back to haunt her at the end.

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Reading List for International Women’s Day

The UN's theme for International Women's Day this year is Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!
The UN’s theme for International Women’s Day this year is Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!

Yesterday, March 8, was International Women’s Day, a holiday born out of women protesting their work in garment factories, trying to get the right to vote, and later just celebrating and trying to better the roles of women in the world. In fact in the United States, the U.K. and Australia, the entire month of March is identified as a celebration of Women’s History.

For many people, celebrating women’s history and women in general goes hand in hand with being a feminist. In 2014, feminist – being a person who believes in gender equality – became a cultural concept very much in the spotlight. Reporters and bloggers asked celebrities if they identified as feminists; Beyonce performed at the MTV music awards in front of a giant “FEMINIST” sign; and Time magazine controversially added the word to a poll of words to be banned. Other serious issues such as campus rape and Gamergate harassment made the lives of women and their treatment take center stage.

I didn’t self-identify as a feminist until middle or high school because I didn’t know that there was a word for what I had felt my whole life: that women and girls were unquestioningly the equal to men and boys and that we had the right to exciting, meaningful, and amazing books. I feel so happy and privileged to go up in a house where my 8 year old intention to be a brain surgeon during the day and a concert pianist at night was met with a supportive, “Ok.” I didn’t quite reach those heights but my family never made me feel like I couldn’t do that because I was a girl. Sadly, this is not the norm throughout the whole world, and not even in the United States.

Tangibly, materially, and in terms of rights and freedoms, there is a lot to be done for women and girls throughout the world and our country. But one of the things libraries and bookstores and readers can do is to read about lives of women and girls. By reading and sharing stories of women and girls we can show others the amazing things women can do. We can also share the struggles of women and girls and help inspire change.

Here are just a handful of books I’ve read recently that have a strong, pro-women message. They present women and girls who are strong without being caricatures; emotional without being a harmful stereotype; and most of all, full realized characters with hopes, dreams, and struggles.


gabiGabi, a Girl in Pieces
by Isabel Quintero (2015 Morris winner and Amelia Bloomer Project list): Gabi is a girl that I simultaneously wish I knew in high school or had been in high school. She doesn’t have all the answers but is still so confident in herself even when dealing with sexuality, her weight, family tragedies, her friends’ pregnancy and coming out, and more. She has a wonderful message of power and sense of self that speaks well to girls both struggling and not. This is also one of the few YA books I’ve read with abortion as a plot point.

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman (2013 Alex Award): Rory Dawn has a hard life growing up in her Nevada trailer park and desperately wants to be a Girl Scout. This is a great meditation on the expectations of girlhood and poverty. 

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