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Author: Julie Bartel

Julie is a writer and librarian living in Salt Lake City, UT.

2017 Hub Reading Challenge May Check-in

It’s time for another Hub Reading Challenge Check-In, and with less than a month left in the challenge it’s definitely a good time to take stock.


the hub 2017 reading challenge


It’s helpful for me to remember that the challenge is intended to encourage all of us to dive deeper into the award winner and honor books and YALSA selected lists with an eye towards discovering new authors and title, exploring new genres, reading outside of our comfort zones, and improving reader’s advisory wherever that happens.  For me, I’ve noticed that a lot of my reading this year has already resulted in successfully connecting friends, family, and acquaintances with books that might not have been on my radar without YALSA recognition.  I’m especially, stunned and impressed, looking back on it as I write this, by the wide range of reader’s who have benefited from these lists and honors.


One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Francisco X. Stork

I tried for a long time to juggle these two lives until the day when one of my project friends got killed in a stupid accident playing chicken with a train. I decided then I would try to live only one life – one that had some kind of purpose.

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

Researching and formulating questions for this series (especially well ahead of deadline) is one of my favorite parts of interviewing; it’s a process that invariably leaves me with a whole new appreciation for the author in question.  I love how one interview gives a glimpse, and a couple blog posts present an idea, but immersing yourself in as many of an authors’ words as you can find offers–well, it’s not a whole living person, obviously, but the shape of their collected words is, I think, maybe a shadow of the whole?  

I usually come away from the experience with a desire to be president of the fan club, or the conviction we could be best friends, or possibly wishing they would adopt me (sometimes all three.)  I always come away from the experience beyond thankful they agreed to participate in this series, and never has this been more true (including the fan club/best friends/adoption part) than the weeks I spent getting to know the word-shape of Francisco X. Stork.  I read the interviews and the reviews and the articles and learned a lot.  But I was sick earlier this year, really sick, and ended up indulging myself by reading his complete online journal, something I don’t normally have time to do.  It was kind of an extraordinary experience.  I was left not only wanting to immediately re-read all his books, but also wanting to read everything, to talk and listen and explore and to ask questions every day forever.  I wanted to be kinder and more creative and honest and to think carefully about all kinds of topics.  I was inspired.  What an extraordinary man.  And then I got to interview him and that felt pretty extraordinary too.  

Thank you, Mr. Stork.  (And if you would like to start a fan club or are looking for a new best friend or possibly want to adopt me, I’m totally in.) 

Always Something There to Remind Me

Please describe your teenage self.

I was a mixture of outgoing and shy. I did things like act in plays and compete in speech tournaments but I also spent a lot of time alone reading and writing very corny poems and stories. I was a little insecure about my looks. I thought maybe my nose was too big.

Francisco Stork_credit Anna StorkWhat did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

I always wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. But there was a period during my high school years when I really, really wanted to be a light house keeper. Doesn’t everyone at one point or another?

What were your high school years like?

I went to Jesuit High School in El Paso, Texas. The school had a very rigorous academic program and I struggled at first. But after a few months I discovered that I could actually get good grades if I studied and from then on high school was more enjoyable than not. I actually liked going home and spending my evenings doing homework, Jesuit High School was an all-boys school so the other thing that was fun was going to speech tournaments at high schools where there were actual girls! During those four years I met many teachers that were inspiring but I will always be grateful to Father John Hatcher (now the director of St. Francis Mission in the Rosebud Reservation of South Dakota) who saw that I was smarter than I let on and challenged me to just be myself.

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Notes from a Teens Top Ten Book Group Member: Heir to the Sky Fantasy Casting

Teens across the nation vote each year for the Teens’ Top Ten book list and the results are eagerly anticipated during Teen Read Week in October– but did you know how the books are nominated for this list in the first place?

Books are nominated by members of Teens’ Top Ten book groups in school and public libraries around the country. To give you a glimpse of some of the teens behind this process, we’re featuring posts from Teens’ Top Ten book groups here on The Hub. Today we have a fantasy cast list for Amanda Sun’s Heir to the Sky (May 2016) created by Carmen Baker.

Heir to the Sky

Publisher’s description:

As heir to a kingdom of floating continents, Kali has spent her life bound by limits—by her duties as a member of the royal family, by a forced betrothal to the son of a nobleman, and by the edge of the only world she’s ever known—a small island hovering above a monster-ridden earth, long since uninhabited by humans. She is the Eternal Flame of Hope for what’s left of mankind, the wick and the wax burning in service for her people, and for their revered Phoenix, whose magic keeps them aloft.

When Kali falls off the edge of her kingdom and miraculously survives, she is shocked to discover there are still humans on the earth. Determined to get home, Kali entrusts a rugged monster-hunter named Griffin to guide her across a world overrun by chimera, storm dragons, basilisks, and other terrifying beasts. But the more time she spends on earth, the more dark truths she begins to uncover about her home in the sky, and the more resolute she is to start burning for herself.

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One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with M.T. Anderson

There are cultures, for example, where teens are not considered to be, first and foremost, consumers.

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

I’ll admit right up front to being horribly intimidated at the prospect of this interview.  I put off drafting questions by collecting other interviews, reviews, and articles; by sifting through YouTube for conference appearances and even more interviews, by reading and re-reading the essays and speeches on his website…you get the idea.  But all that research and preparation just made it worse, actually.  So much worse.  M.T. Anderson’s reputation as one of the nicest and funniest (Whales on Stilts, right?) authors around seems, from my limited experience (which mostly involves award speeches and receptions and secondhand stories from totally reputable sources), to be well founded and supported by evidence.  And I’ve seen with my own eyes (as an audience member etc.) how downright goofy he can be so I know that’s true too.  And yet.

And yet.

You simply can’t read Octavian Nothing, or Feed, or (wow!) Symphony for the City of the Dead without becoming a little overwhelmed at the incredible intellect and spirit behind the words.  And I think it’s impossible to not want to rise to the occasion, so to speak, but when I finally had to sit down and write this introduction (which of course I put off as long as I could) all I could do was sputter and gesture and shake my head because really, what can I say? (Thankfully I was alone.)

So I guess I’ll just say thank you for the opportunity, for–as always–making me think, and for championing teens, intellectualism, and intellectual teens in a climate that routinely dismisses all three.

Always Something There to Remind Me

MT_Anderson2011Please describe your teenage self.

Thin to the point of mantis-like. Eager to explore the world in front of me. Already unhappy that someday I’d have to die.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

A writer! I always had stories I wanted to tell. I spent a lot of time reading, and I was eager to become part of the ancient conversation of literature.

What were your high school years like?

There was some fun. I was in plays and musicals. I made movies with my friends. I spent an extra high school year in in England, and that was incredible – full of those eccentricities we now would see as Hogwartsian (students wearing black robes, medieval courtyards, all the entertaining rigors of a British boarding school). That place really stepped up my intellectual and artistic game. We studied Anglo-Saxon history, read Lear, sang Renaissance church music, and created a Cubist play about Picasso’s youth on a stage made entirely of cabbages.

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2016 Hub Challenge Check-in #16

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


There’s a first time for everything, they say, and Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson has the honor of being the first non picture book that my daughter read first and then recommended to me.  She’s seven, so the recommendations usually flow the other direction, but if Roller Girl is the caliber of suggestion I have to look forward to I am in good hands for sure.  A 2016 Newbery Honor book, in addition to showing up on the 2016 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels & Top Ten Popular Paperbacks lists, Roller Girl tells the story of Astrid’s summer at roller derby camp, her struggles with friendships both old and new, and the looming specter of middle school.


2016 Hub Challenge Check-in #12

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


It took me awhile, but I finally finished lluminae: The Illuminae Files_01 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, which I read and loved, though I sort of wish I’d listened to it instead (it’s a 2016 Top Ten Amazing Audiobook.)  I was swept away by the action almost instantly, but the format…the format was so disruptive for me I found reading it a bit of a struggle.  I generally enjoy books with unusual storytelling–epistolary, journal entries, and the like–but the actual printed formatting of lluminae kept pulling me out of the experience as I scanned to see which bits I could skip (I found the document headings and page detritus were pretty repetitive and unnecessary except as decoration to add an air of authenticity.)  Plus, I found turning the book this way and that in order to read one particular characters’ sections was difficult; lluminae is not a small book!


2016 Hub Challenge Check-In #7

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!

Here we are at week seven of the 2016 Hub Reading Challenge, which means we are somehow a third of the way through already.  There’s still plenty of time to dive in, however, even if you’re in my boat, with only a handful of titles read so far.

the hub 2016 reading challenge


Like many of you who are bouncing between eligible challenge books and keeping up with current titles for work, I’m zipping back and forth between books I need to read for interviews and Hub Reading Challenge titles.  Fortunately, I’ve just finished the amazing Award for Excellence in Nonfiction finalist Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson, a double duty pick and a fantastic reading experience.

Symphony for the City of the Dead is narrative nonfiction at its best.  The story of composer Dmitri Shostakovich and how he came to produce his Leningrad Symphony, written during the three year siege of Leningrad during WWII, is riveting, horrifying, and ultimately life-affirming.  Anderson provides historical context and a whole lot of excruciating detail, as well as musical insight and appreciation.  He also invites readers into the research process itself, identifying questions and unknowns along the way.


2016 Hub Challenge Check-In #3

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!

It’s week three of the 2016 Hub Reading Challenge! How are you doing so far?  There are so many great books eligible this year, my biggest problem right now is simply deciding what to read next.

the hub 2016 reading challenge


One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Noelle Stevenson

Can you have a black Walter White or a female Lex Luthor without making an uncomfortable political statement? Can you have a epic, doomed gay love story like Titanic where you’re not just playing into the tired “tragic gays” trope? Can the character lose a fight dramatically and it not be seen as them being inherently less competent or valuable?

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

In the grand scheme of things I’m a relatively new member of the fan club.  Other than sort of intermittently following Looking for Group, I wasn’t clued in to the wonders of web comics until a friend linked me to a random (and perfect) comment about Sky High, which lead to me poking around on tumblr and finding this and this and this.  And this.  I joined immediately, for the pop cultural references, social commentary, comics and, of course, Nimona.  You probably should too, if you haven’t already.  The intermittent Scooby-Doo commentary alone is worth it.

And now here we are, a couple of years later, and Nimona is a real book that I can give to So Many People this holiday season (who are hopefully not reading this intro where I just spoiled their gift) and Noelle Stevenson has won a couple Eisners and been short-listed for the National Book Award (the first ever web comic to be nominated.) Nimona and Lumberjanes have already starting popping up on multiple end-of the year Best lists, including nominations for YALSA’s 2015 Great Graphic Novels for Teens, Quick Picks, and Popular Paperbacks honors.  Not to mention her work on Wander Over Yonder, Runaways (!!!), and in various anthologies (teenage Wonder Woman! Goddess of Thunder!)  In other words, if you haven’t had the pleasure, do yourself a favor.  Seriously.  I dare you to read the interview below or to check out any of Noelle’s work and not go full fangirl or fanguy immediately.  It’s impossible.  

Thank you, Noelle, for your Twitter feed, for making me cry when Nimona [redacted], for your generosity and vulnerability below and on tumblr.  Being a confused woolly little person wandering around making bad weird choices is a lot more fun when you have Nimona and April (and Ballister and Mal and Ripley and…) to keep you company. 

Always Something There to Remind Me

noelleauthorphoto, credit Leslie RannePlease describe your teenage self.

I was homeschooled for half of being a teenager and in public high school/college for the rest! It meant that I went from being THE COOLEST homeschooler to being this weirdly overconfident drama club kid who carried a lunchbox, was the only girl in school with short hair, and wore skirts over pants. I was a very try-hard teen who somehow didn’t really care what people thought of me, in practice. I made arm warmers out of socks and had no idea how to apply liquid eyeliner.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

I wanted to be an artist, then I wanted to be a singer. Then I wanted to be an artist again. Then I wanted to be an actress and an artist at the same time. Then I wanted to be an actress, and artist and a writer. Eventually I dropped the actress part. For a short time I wanted to be an architect but then my mom told me it involved math and I changed my mind.

What were your high school years like? 

Like I said, I was homeschooled until I was 15, so I was pretty self-directed. I didn’t have a terrible time in high school as much as just being kind of…apathetic about it. It felt like a waste of time, so I made connections with the librarians and the art teacher and the drama club and I’d use those to get out of class all the time and go do my own thing. I cut class kind of a lot, actually. I felt a little like a ghost at public high school, but not in a bad way — it was kind of by design. I knew I’d only be there for two years and I had all these other plans. In the end, I’m really glad I did go to that school, because my art teacher was amazing. She was very overworked and basically taught 2-3 classes simultaneously, like literally at the same time in the same room, but she fought really hard to keep the IB Art track when the school was trying to slash it even when there were only 3 of us. She had the art school recruiters come visit the class and that’s pretty much how I figured out how to get to art school. She was really important in my life. I called her ‘Mom’ once, in front of my actual mom.

What were some of your passions during that time? 

I loved theater. We went to a ton of plays — my favorite ones were at the local university black box, but we went to ones at the bigger playhouses too sometimes. I was really into Sweeney Todd (the movie) at the time so we bought tickets to Sweeney Todd (the play) when it came to town. That one was a big deal! I loved movies in general, going to movies was probably my favorite thing to do. We had friends at the local art house movie theater too so we’d go there because they’d let us in for free. Maybe I was a pretentious teen?? I don’t remember being pretentious but I probably was. I loved reading and I’d hang out at the Barnes & Noble across the street from my school all the time — I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, or I’d just admire the illustrations in the kids’ picture books. I’d even take my friends there and do like, dramatic readings, and pretend to be an art critic while looking at all the book covers. I really, really wanted to have written the books on the shelves there. That store was the first place I went when I was home to see my books on display. It felt pretty good.

Would you be willing to share a difficult teen experience or challenge that you feel shaped the adult you became?

I was a really introverted kid, and a pretty cautious one. I was afraid of everything. I loved routine and I loved being safe and comfortable — I was a major homebody. I’d probably still be that person if I didn’t have the family I did. My family was really extroverted and adventurous, for the most part. We traveled a lot and I was always miserable. I was incapable of enjoying the awesome places we visited until much later. Then one time we were hiking in a rainforest in Guatemala and my parents decided to take us ziplining?? I swear I remember our guide having a wooden leg although I have no idea if that’s true or I made that up. Anyway, I was definitely NOT down for this. We had to climb waaaaay up in these skinny trees and onto these really rickety platforms, and THEN you had to stand on a box to make the jump. And I was like, no. My family was always pressuring me into doing stuff like this to me and I was never down for it. They got me up on the box somehow and I looked and there was NO way I was jumping. Not a chance. And I never would’ve jumped, seriously, except suddenly my mom just straight-up pushed me off the platform. Like she just threw me out of a tree. And I was fine! And I was ziplining! And I had a lot of fun!! As I grew up I stopped thinking that everything was going to kill me and I started thinking more like, well, I could die, but I probably won’t, so I might as well give it a try. It’s weird, but it’s the only way I am where I am now. Sometimes you have to just take a risk and jump. Or else your mom will throw you out of a tree.

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One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Libba Bray

1. Do not give up piano lessons to play basketball. That is the second dumbest idea you will ever have. (The first dumbest will involve dropping acid and going to see Aliens, which is a Category Five mistake.)

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

I was going to tell you about the time I was reading Libba Bray’s Rebel Angels in a hotel in Belgravia, London, and how we were spending the next day at the Imperial War Museum (housed in the central portion of what was formerly Bethlem Royal Hospital, or “Bedlam”) and how it was all atmospheric and creepy and whatnot (which it totally was) and I was going to tell you about how I dog-eared and sticky-noted The Sweet Far Thing until there were no sticky notes left to stick because I thought (think) it was brilliant and wanted to see if I could connect all the luminous dots and figure out how she’d made it all work.  And I was going to tell you how I spent the night before the ACTs at a New Order concert, which, now that I think about it will make a lot more sense once you read on.

But instead I am going to just point you directly to the interview below because it is EPIC.  I mean, this is not run of the mill epic, it is Libba Bray level EPIC, which means playlists, life lessons, the influence of PBS, aspirations to royalty, Holden Caufield, Gilda Radner, existential crises, blood, make-up, exceptional teachers, music, boys, theater, George Saunders, thoughtful advice, pathological honesty, and–in what is certainly the most epic author-to-author question ever featured in this series–Chris Pratt.  Just go, now.  (You might want something to drink, and a snack, fair warning.)

Thank you, Libba, for this jaw-dropping and utterly exceptional interview, and for your willingness to come face to face with the monster time and time again.

Always Something There to Remind Me

libba-bray-5Please describe your teenage self.

Oh, Lord.

Actually, I feel like that sentence could be the description.

I was a girl of extremes, which I don’t think is terribly uncommon for the teen years: Goofy. Hopeful. Sardonic. Weird. Insecure. Certain I was a freak who would never have a boyfriend. Sometimes melancholy and lonely. An introvert who fronted like an extrovert. Well-intentioned if a bit “high-spirited,” as my high school principal described me that time I got sent home from the Latin trip. A class clown type who was terrified that someone might see how truly vulnerable I was while also wishing someone would see how truly vulnerable I was, preferably a wisecracking, music-playing boy who also read Salinger. I was in love with theater, music, literature, art, fashion, and film. I wanted grand adventures. I wanted to make the world a better, fairer place. I wanted my life to have meaning. And I desperately wanted out of Denton, Texas.

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