Last Minute Costume Ideas for YA Lit Fans

Katniss-WoodsWhen I was a kid, my mother sewed homemade Halloween costumes for my sister and me just about every year. They were great; some of the favorites I remember include a princess costume that included flounces on the skirt, several pioneer girl costumes, and April O’Neil from (the original!) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Of course, for mom to have time to make these, we had to select and commit to our costumes the summer before. I’m more of a glue-gun-the-week-before kind of costume maker, but I still enjoy making costumes. My own costume making coups thus far include a cowgirl, Waldo from the Where’s Waldo books, and this year, a ghost (admittedly not the most difficult).

If you are reading this post without already having a costume prepared, however, you need something super fast. It’s amazing what you can throw together at the last minute with one or two key pieces, so here are some literary costume ideas that shouldn’t take too much preparation:

1. If you have a leather jacket (or faux-leather jacket), you could be…9918083

2. If you have a parka or heavy coat, you could be…

  • Eva, Jasper, or Lukas from Relic by Heather Terrell
  • Sam or one of the other Wolves of Mercy Falls, from Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (2010 Best Book for Young Adults, 2010 Teens’ Top Ten, if you can pick up some wolf ears or a mask at a costume store, you could be in the midst of transformation)

Continue reading Last Minute Costume Ideas for YA Lit Fans

No Tense Like the Present

I don’t know if it’s my penchant for once-upon-a-time fairy tale retellings, but when I pick up a book, I expect it to be narrated in past tense. Recently, though, it seems like more and more YA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbooks are being told in present tense. I’m not quite sure why this is a trend, but I find the more frequent use of present tense interesting and occasionally annoying (I write this completely aware of the irony that I am writing this post in the present tense).

I remember clearly the first time I noticed a story was being narrated in present tense–I honestly don’t remember the book or even quite when in my life this was, but I found the narration clunky and distracting, and I put the book down after a chapter or less. Looking back, I’m not sure if the writing was bad or clunky at all, or if I was just completely put off by the present tense. Now that I have encountered many more books that use present tense, I usually find it easier to ignore the tense and fall into the story, but not always. After all, past tense is something of a common language in English narrative writing, and it’s not like an author can’t convey that something is happening now even while using past tense. september_girlsFor example, Sam in Bennett Madison’s September Girls (2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults) describes his current whereabouts using past tense: “I had decided to take a walk, and now I was alone at the edge of the water as it came and went” (p. 22).

When I thought about writing a Hub post on this topic, I decided to speculate about reasons why an author might choose to use the present tense instead of the past. This seemed like a good way to try to appreciate this writing technique better. Here are some possibilities I’ve come up with: Continue reading No Tense Like the Present

YA/Picture Book Pairings: Where Did You Go on Your Summer Vacation?


Summer vacation is drawing to a close, but whether you have time to squeeze in one last trip or you just have time to remember the trips you already took, it’s always fun to curl up with a good book about vacation spots. Both YA and picture books abound with these stories, and here are some suggestions if you need a last (literary) getaway for the summer.


YA Pick: The Moon by Night by Madeleine L’Engle (1998 Margaret A. Edwards award winner)
This is still the quintessential camping book to me–the book that still moon_by_nightmakes me imagine I will one day take my family on a cross-country camping trip, seeing all the great national parks out west. The Moon by Night follows the Austin family (from, among others, Meet the Austins and A Ring of Endless Light) as they make just such a trip, but the vacation gets especially interesting for Vicky when she inadvertently picks up an admirer with a bad boy streak and the romantic plan to pursue her across the country. Vicky’s interactions with Zachary, her family’s disapproval, her upcoming move to New York City, and her ordinary growing up struggles are all on Vicky’s mind in the midst of enjoying the astounding beauty of her surroundings.

YA Pick: Patiently Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
I’ve loved the Alice series since I was a kid, and this is one that stands out as being a good mix of fun and serious issues. Alice, Pamela, and Elizabeth decide to spend part of their summer as assistant counselors for a camp for disadvantaged kids. Their camping experience is a mixture of learning how to handle all sorts of issues (including racial issues) with their young charges and counselor hijinks during their breaks. There’s less romance for Alice than in other installments of the series, but Elizabeth has a summer romance that can keep the romantically-inclined reading!

Picture Book: Carl’s Summer Vacation by Alexandra Day
Lovable Rottweiler Carl gets into adventures with his young charge, Madeleine (now getting to be less of a baby and more of a little girl) while they are supposed to be napping on the back porch of the family’s summer cabin. They enjoy a boat trip (until the boat overturns!), berry picking (before they have to run away from a family of skunks), time on the playground, and sneaking a snack from another family’s picnic. When it’s time to get up for dinner and fireworks, Madeleine’s parents can’t understand why the buddies are so tired. If you enjoy this, there are lots of other Carl episodes.

lost_in_the_woodsPicture Book: Lost in the Woods: A Photographic Fantasby Carl R. Sams, II, and Jean Stoick (2005 Independent Publisher Book Award Winner, Children’s Picture Books 6 and under). This isn’t so much a camping story as a story that might inspire young readers to get out into the woods. This husband-and-wife team are nature photographers who took the beautiful, up-close photos that make up the pictures, then created a story to go along with them. Readers follow a young fawn as he waits for his mother. Other animals are sure the fawn is lost, but the fawn knows he’s just supposed to wait…  Continue reading YA/Picture Book Pairings: Where Did You Go on Your Summer Vacation?

Set a Goal and Read: The Beauty of Large Reading Projects

photo by flickr user msbhaven
photo by flickr user msbhaven

Ah, summer. The time for lazy reading by the pool, picking up whichever book strikes your fancy… or frantically completing long summer reading assignments. It depends on who your teachers are.

I definitely had a couple of long, involved reading assignments during my school years, most notably the summer before I started college. It was strongly suggested that we read an abridged version of Don Quixote before term started. Being the rule follower that I am, I went to the library and could only find the unabridged version… so that’s what I read. Even with that experience, though, something about summer brings out my enthusiasm for planning large reading projects.

What do I mean by a large reading project? Well, make no mistake, I completely believe in reading for fun and pursuing those reading materials that interest you. And my reading projects are materials that interest me, but they are those items that I never seem to get around to in the course of my normal reading: really long, thick novels that don’t automatically call to me when I flop down on the couch at night, for example, or lists of books that I wouldn’t remember to get to if I weren’t intentional about it.  Continue reading Set a Goal and Read: The Beauty of Large Reading Projects

Young Adult-Picture Book Pairings: Happy Mothers’ Day!

Happy (belated) Mother’s Day! Love_You_Forever

It’s always a tight-rope to talk about mothers in kids’ books or YA books. On the one hand, there are lots of mothers, good, bad, and indifferent, who make appearances in books for young people. However, since kids’ books are supposed to be about the kids, and YA books about the teens, the mothers often have to be shuffled into the background. It seems like a disproportionate number of YA protagonists have mothers who are dead or absent, while picture book mothers are often too perfect, since the protagonist kids need to have their adventures against a relatively safe background.

With that said, here are some picture book and YA mothers who have stuck out to me. I know I can’t begin to cover all of them, so please add your favorites (or least favorites!) in the comments, and check out Wendy Daughdrill’s post that celebrates mothers in YA lit.

Picture Books

The Berenstein Bears and Mama’s New Job by Stan and Jan Berenstein. The Berenstein Bears are one of those picture book families in which the mother sometimes seems a little too perfect. I feel like this tendency is more pronounced in later books in the series, especially in the ones where poor Papa Bear becomes the bad example time and again. However, the series also has a lot of good, realistic parenting moments (maternal and paternal), and I think Mama’s New Job is one of these. It shows the process of Mama going from a stay-at-home bear to a working woman and how the whole family makes the adjustment and helps her along the way. Continue reading Young Adult-Picture Book Pairings: Happy Mothers’ Day!

Young Adult-Picture Book Pairings: Cinderella Stories

cinderella_eilenbergThe two types of books I check out most from the library are young adult books and picture books. In my case, this is because I’m a thirty-something librarian who likes to read YA books, while I have three kids who like like to read picture books. It occurred to me that I might not be the only reader who’s currently interested in both YA and picture book audiences: lots of teens have younger siblings, many librarians at small libraries serve patrons who run the gamut of ages, and some people just like to read both picture books and YA books! I’ve also noticed that some themes and stories appear frequently in both types of literature, so I’ll be doing an occasional series on picture books and YA books that go together.

The first theme for this series basically chose itself… I love fairy tale retellings, and my middle child has been obsessed with Cinderella for the last year and a half, and going strong! There are tons of Cinderella retellings out there, so I tried to select a few of our family favorites for the picture book selections, and some YA options that have garnered attention in recent years.

Picture Books

adelitaAdelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story, retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola. A version that doesn’t rely on magic, the story of Adelita shows how a sweet disposition, a childhood friendship, and the help of a beloved family servant win Adelita her happily-ever-after.

Cinderella, retold by Max Eilenberg, illustrated by Niamh Sharkey. There are many retellings of the “classic” French version, first attributed to Charles Perrault, and this is one such retelling. Eilenberg takes some liberty with the story though, by giving the narration more of an oral storytelling feel, adding a third ball (Perrault’s version has two), and letting Cinderella’s father redeem himself in the end (in Perrault’s version, he is the quintessential hen-pecked husband who does not stand up for his daughter. Continue reading Young Adult-Picture Book Pairings: Cinderella Stories

How large is your personal library?

My family is getting ready for an interstate move and putting our house up for sale. As a result, lots of our possessions, including most of our books, are currently residing in our garage so that our house is ready to “show” to potential buyers. It’s a little sad to see all the books sitting out there, some of them not even yet packed for the actual move:

books in garage

All this shifting and (some) boxing has made me wonder about how people manage the size of their book collections. In the spirit of Julie Bartel’s What Your Bookshelves Say About You post, I asked Hub bloggers to share, and here are some of their responses: Continue reading How large is your personal library?

Happy Birthday, Robert Sean Leonard!

Today is actor Robert Sean Leonard‘s birthday. Although Leonard turns 45 today and may now be best recognized as the somewhat-saner colleague of Hugh Laurie’s Dr. House, in his younger days he starred in two great teen-rebel films: Dead Poets Society and Swing Kids. While the films are quite different from one another, they both feature Leonard as a character who is questioning the authorities around him, and whose rebellion has tragic consequences. Celebrate Leonard’s birthday by picking up one of these classics to watch with your friends… and maybe a book to read afterwards.

dead-poets-society movieDead Poets Society (1989): Here, Leonard plays Neil Perry, one of a group of students at an elite prep school, with Robin Williams starring as Perry’s eccentric English teacher John Keating. Keating tries to teach his students to break away from traditional ideas about learning and poetry, and his students, Perry among them, are inspired to revive the “Dead Poets Society,” a secret poetry club that meets off-campus. Keating’s lessons change the lives of his students, but in the case of Leonard’s character, the consequences are tragic.

Some books to pair with Dead Poets Society:

Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers: Like the fictional John Keating, real teacher Erin Gruwell approached her students with unorthodox teaching methods, choosing to teaching them about tolerance through the lens of the Holocaust and challenging them to keep diaries of their own experiences. This book uses excerpts from the students’ own journals to tell their story.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman: Walt Whitman is the poet that Keating seems to admire most, and this famous collection includes such poems as the oft-quoted “O, Captain! My Captain!”

Matched by Ally Condie (2011 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults): Although not a teacher-and-students story, Matched includes themes of non-conformity and the power of poetry that play such an important role in Dead Poets Society.

If you’re interested in a more critical take on the film, check out this recent article from The Atlantic.

Continue reading Happy Birthday, Robert Sean Leonard!

Literary Knitters

Knitting by Libby GormanI love to knit–I’m very slow at it, and not very advanced, but ever since my husband’s grandmother taught me almost ten years ago, I’ve enjoyed it. The cold temperatures this time of year (especially over the last week!) put me even more in a knitting mood, and the only problem then is deciding whether to spend free time reading or knitting. Audiobooks occasionally help with that dilemma, but so do books that feature knitters!

There seems to have been a resurgent interest in knitting over the past few years, but while there are a ton of great nonfiction knitting books out there, I wanted to stick with a list of fictional knitters. It was hard to find very many, so I’ve cheated a bit by branching beyond YA books. Hopefully, one of these knitters will strike your reading mood this winter:

  • tale_two_citiesMme Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. To start off with perhaps the most famous literary knitter, I may be veering away from YA lit, but not from a memorable story and character. A Tale of Two Cities presents Dickens’ take on the French Revolution and a British family that gets caught up in the chaos. It’s one of his shorter works and includes enough romance and heroics to make it easy to stay connected with the story–not always so with a Dickens work. Mme Defarge is something of a side character, but her knitting takes center stage when the reader learns that she uses it to keep her register…a register of those she, her husband, and their co-revolutionaries have marked for a date with Mme la Guillotine. Continue reading Literary Knitters