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Tag: Susan Beth Pfeffer

Horror Survival Skills from YA Books

Modified from Flickr user Alan Bruce.
Modified from Flickr user Alan Bruce.

It’s the day before Halloween and perhaps this month you’ve watched a horror movie marathon or read a scary book. Have you ever  been watching one of those movies or reading one of those books, and it’s the scene where the hero/heroine walks into the dark, obviously haunted house to hide from the killer and you scream, “Don’t go in there!?”

Then they do. You all know better, right?

I often have this experience and wonder what I would do if I was in those terrifying situations, running from zombies or trying to fend off a serial killer. Since I don’t have a lot of confidence in my survival abilities, I will turn to the hobby I have a lot of confidence in: reading! I propose turning to the examples of plucky, resourceful, and brave heroes and heroines in YA literature to save you from the frights of Halloween and beyond.

Here are a few books you may want to read to prepare you for a few scary situations.

Scary situation # 1: Haunted by Ghosts

Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones: Have you considered reasoning with the ghosts that haunt you? It works out fairly well for Sam Toop even though he is trying to save the ghosts, not save himself from ghosts. A little kindness goes a long away and maybe the ghost haunting you just wants a friend.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults): It’d be great if you could see the ghosts haunting you and could send them away with the tool of a special too like Rory, but if not consider assembling a crackerjack team of ghost hunters. Safety in numbers is always a good idea.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake: If all else fails, try to get your hands on a ghost-killing knife like Cas. At the very least get a cat. Tybalt, Cas’s cat, senses ghosts like some people believe all cats to do.

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Audiobooks for Reluctant Listeners

By RCA Records (Billboard, page 29, 18 November 1972) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By RCA Records (Billboard, page 29, 18 November 1972) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
June is Audiobook Month!  Many of us have fond memories of being read to as a child, but did you know that you can still be read to?  That is the value of audiobooks! The story comes alive and, with the right narrator, you can hear a story much more differently than you would reading it.  Accents are perfected, exclamations are understood, and even words or names you may not know or have never heard before make sense to you.  This is my second year evaluating audiobooks for YALSA’s Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults committee.  As chair of this year’s committee, I am so excited for all the great audiobook-related things happening this month.  Articles are being written about the importance and resurgence of audiobooks, you can get in “Sync” this summer and download free audios, and the audiobook circulation at my Library sees a nice increase starting in June with many people going on road trips and vacations.

To give you an idea of what makes an audiobook a good listen, here are some of the criteria that gets an audiobook on the Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults selection list:

  • The narration has to expand or compliment the original text.  In other words, when you listen to a narrator tell the story, it comes alive and allows the you to experience the text in a different way.
  • Character voice variation is key!  We must have a sense of who the character is by the different qualities in the voices that the narrator uses.  For example, it is a lot more enjoyable when you are listening to a narrated conversation and can tell which character is talking without the text cues letting you know.  Accents, exclamations, and sound effects also are considered.  If done well, they really make an audiobook amazing!
  • There is also the importance of a match between the text and the narrator.  You know when it is right; your ear picks it up.  The narrator embodies the main character and sometimes even all the characters in the books.
  • The technical production on an audiobook is also a criteria for the Amazing Audiobooks list.  We want to make sure the editing is done well, the sound quality is even, and that there are no issues with extra sounds or mike pickups. Additionally, we do consider the music that you hear at the beginning, end, or in between the tracks–does it match the story?  Is it effective in heightening the story? If it is, then it just adds more quality to the production.

So, where should you start if you have never listened to an audiobook before?  Well, some great awards and lists are put out every year: the Odyssey Award, the Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults annual list, and the Audies are a few places to start.  Below I have compiled some of my favorites, that I think will be a great first listen for all of you who are new to audiobooks and want to give them a try.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, read by Jeff Woodman.  Brilliance Audio: 7 hours. (2008 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults)


YA Reads For Perfecting Your Triple Toe Loop

photo by flickr user Richard Bowen
photo by flickr user Richard Bowen

The figure skating competition for the 2014 Winter Olympics is just a few days away. It’s always been my favorite part of the Winter Olympics. Gracie Gold, 18, seems to be able to capture hearts with her smile and her sheer talent.  Polina Edwards at 15 seems so excited and shows so much love for the sport. Her enthusiasm is contagious. Ashley Wagner at 22 seems determined to make this her year. Her strength dominates the ice when she’s out there.

With these three amazing athletes, is it any wonder I find myself wishing to be able to skate? In their honor, we’re gearing up with a fun book list and some entertaining movies.

Untitled-1Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill
When Sloane Emily Jacobs, a socialite who fell from grace at the junior nationals, bumps into Sloane Devon Jacobs, a hockey player with a little too much aggression, both girls see this meeting for the opportunity it is. They decide to switch places for the summer in hopes of relieving the stress and pressure from their respective sports. Do they have what it takes to skate a mile in the other’s skates?

Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler
Hudson intentionally threw her last figure skating competition after learning a secret about her father. She hasn’t skated since that secret tore her life apart. Three years later, she’s earned the nickname the Cupcake Queen helping her mother and brother at their family diner.  Hudson hasn’t given up on her dream though and she might have a new way to achieve it.


ALA 2013: Ten Years of YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten

2013-07-03 20.11.39I just got back from the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago where I had a great time at the Ten Years of YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten (TTT) preconference program. This jam-packed half-day program included everything from a short explanation about the program to tips by former and present TTT teen book club advisors on how to run a program.

The Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year. Nominators are members of teen book groups in sixteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Celebrate Teen Literature Day, the Thursday of National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year. Readers ages 12-18 vote online between August 15 and September 15; the winners are announced during Teen Read Week.

Another portion of the program also included tips on how to use technology to make keeping track of the many books the teens receive and review easier. As attendees, we also got to participate in a brainstorming session to offer suggestions on how to improve marketing and promotion of the TTT. We also received a bound copy of all the TTT titles that included not only the selected top ten titles from 2003-2012, but also useful fun facts and read-alikes for many of the titles.

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The End of the World As We Know It?

According to some people, the world is supposed to end in the next couple of days, and while I am one of the people who doubts this very highly, the hype has me thinking … why is everyone so obsessed with the end of the world as we know it? The trend in YA literature right now that seems to trump all others is dystopia, a.k.a. society in a controlled state, often in a post-apocalyptic world. (Read Sharon Rawlins’s post from July 2011 for more details!) I know some people who love it and are always pushing the newest dystopian title on anyone who asks for a book recommendation. I know some teens who will read nothing else. I would personally rather read a good romance or an epic fantasy. So in my own personal quest for understanding, I want to know why the end of the world as we know it is so appealing to some of us and yet so distasteful to others.

My own dislike of dystopian stories started at a young age. 1984 by George Orwell was forced upon me when I was in seventh grade, and I think it set the bar very low for me when it comes to this genre. It felt like torture to get through that book because I was so not ready for the content even though I was comfortable with the reading level (something that I am always consciously aware of now when making recommendations to teens). Since then anything even remotely resembling Orwell has been at the bottom of my to-read list — if it made the list at all. I’ve never read Lois Lowry’s The Giver, I’ve never been able to finish Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games (even though I’ve tried to read it several times), and though I’m a big fan of his other work I’ve never been able to get into Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, either. Shameful, I know.


All I Needed to Know About Surviving Post-Hurricane Sandy I Learned From Post-Apocalyptic Novels

Hurricane Sandy was a devastating natural disaster. While I write this somewhat light post, I am well aware that many people have lost their homes, and the destruction the hurricane caused was tremendous. Our local communities and groups have coordinated many efforts to donate clothing, food, and other supplies directly to affected families. These efforts are ongoing, so please consider helping out in any way you can. If you are not on the Eastern seaboard you can help out by donating to the Red Cross (text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief), Salvation Army (Text the word STORM to 80888 to make a $10 donation), and other organizations.

On October 29 Hurricane Sandy blew through my state — New Jersey — wreaking havoc as she went. We live about an hour away from the shore, so we were fairly confident that we would lose power, but still be okay. That turned out to be true, but it was also the scariest natural disaster I’ve ever personally encountered. Sitting in our dark house late at night feeling the house shake and hearing the winds howl was a nerve-wracking experience that reminded me that we are still always at the mercy of nature. The days that followed were so strange that I found myself saying many times to my husband, “Thank goodness I read all those post-apocalyptic novels — I know just what to do!” And so here you have my survival guide to our post hurricane days, as learned from post-apocalyptic YA fiction.

Lesson #1: Make Alliances

In all the books I’ve read, this is a number #1 lesson: you have to have people on your side, someone you can rely on when disaster happens or the world is ending. In a novel, that might be a partner with a gun who’s got your back (Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse — an adult novel, but a good one!), someone who prevents a zombie or mutant from eating you (like Fade and Deuce in Enclave and Outpost by Ann Aguirre or Mary’s villagemates in The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan), or someone who shares their skills with you (Katniss, Peeta, and Gale in The Hunger Games).

In our case it would be neighbors who have tractors and chainsaws.


The Next Big Thing: Adults Reading Teen Literature

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

Adults reading teen literature isn’t confined to bookstores — it’s also happening in the library, based on my personal experience in the 8 years I’ve been a Teen Librarian. I’ve had hundreds of conversations with adults about teen books. Sometimes it’s parents asking about books for their teen. Sometimes it’s parents wanting to read the same book as their teen. Many times, it’s an adult interested in reading teen books.

I often talk about teen books with my coworkers, especially the women in the processing department. Often they place holds on teen books. Right now, one is reading Throne of Glass and one is reading Keeper of the Lost Cities. I persuade my husband to read teen fantasy and teen science fiction books. I pass along books to my sister and my mother. I talk about teen books with adults all the time and urge them to pick up these fabulous reads. So frankly, I’m not surprised at all by the news that adults are reading teen books; it just makes sense.


Thou Shalt Not: Religion and Teen Books

Beautiful Girl Praying for redemptionphoto © 2010 Chris Willis | more info (via: Wylio)Last month while reading an article on diversity in ya fiction from the Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults, I stumbled upon an interesting issue. Although teen award-winners in many ways show excellent diversity, both these and teen best-sellers have a noticeable scarcity of religious protagonists. Religion is hardly rare among American teens, in fact, during the teen years it is common for involvement in one’s religion to increase as teens join youth groups and prepare for religious rites of passage, so the dearth of religious characters in YA fiction is a little odd. Teen books are notoriously blunt about confronting “taboo” subjects, as recently and infamously demonstrated by the Wall Street Journal editorial, Darkness Too Visible, which kicked off the entire #yasaves explosion. So why are teen authors leery of dealing with religion? Do they feel it is somehow too sensitive – more likely to offend than sex, drug use, and violence?

As a former religious teen (and a current religious adult) I can tell you that the treatment of religion in teen literature can be a minefield – opening a book involving Catholic characters or issues, I always wondered if the author would get it “right,” or if they would insult and belittle the faith that meant so much to me. So now I am issuing a challenge to YA authors thinking of writing books involving religion: Do it! But do it right. Here are my four commandments for making religion in teen books work:

1. Thou shalt not use religion as a one-stop conflict shop.

One of my pet lit peeves is when religion is added to a book solely to raise the stakes of an already controversial situation. If the main character gets pregnant, make her parents traditional Muslims! Presto – instant conflict!


Green Teens

Earth Day is Friday, April 22nd this year and The Earth Day Network is encouraging everyone to complete A Billions Acts of Green. I started by giving myself a reality check.  I read scary novels of compromised economies and ecological disasters that changed the way everyone lived.   Nothing was more goosebump inducing than Gemma Malley’s The Declaration, or so I thought because I also read the sequel, The Resistance. I don’t know what scares me more, the idea of being a ‘surplus’ child made to be a servant of the state or the idea that to know how it all ends I’ll have to read The Legacy, Malley’s final installment.   Another frightening novel that I could not stop reading over and over was L.J. Adlington’s The Diary of Pelly D., an ALA Best Books for Youngs Adults 2006 pick.  I do not want to ruin the ending but if you like a conclusion that sneaks up and smacks you in the face, The Diary of Pelly D can be quite shocking.  One of the truly baffling aspects of the story is how everything changes, Pelly’s home, clothes and even friends undergo a massive overhaul when the government starts genetically testing the population. At first the results seem like a popularity contest until people start disappearing.

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