Action Park

Oh, growin’ up …. (Yes, hopefully, you’re hearing that the way Springsteen sings it.)

One of the things I’m fascinated with is how people change; or don’t. Not as individuals — but how different an experience it is to be a teen in 2013, 2003, 1993, 1983, 1973 — well, you get the picture.

Some things change, some things remain the same.

It’s one of the reasons I like reading historical contemporary teen books. Historical not meaning historical fiction; historical meaning, books that were contemporary at the time they were published but now, because of the passage of time, offer a valuable window into a different time and place. Into history. (This is part of the reason I’m so looking forward to the Lizzie Skurnick books, because it’ll be so much easier to find the good older books!)

And one of the things that I’ve seen change, from my teen years to teens now (and yes I know not every teen, standard disclaimers on that) is the involvement of parents in the lives of teens, the type of freedom given to teens, and the regulation of teen lives.

All of this is a fancy way of saying

Action Park.

As part one explains, Inside the World’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park; part two is The Demise of the World’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park.

Want to understand, a bit, the different world that the teens of the late 70s, 80s, and early 90s grew up in?

Check out the two part documentary, in the above links.

See the rides that don’t even have have helmets as kids go down the side of a mountain. Listen to the people laugh about the injuries.

Some of my favorite quick quotes from the documentary:

“pretty wild ride. never quite perfected”

“the drownings were difficult. we had a few”

and finally:

“yeah, they may have scars ….. but they had fun”

True fact: even thought Action Park was in New Jersey, and open during my teen years, I never went. Geographically, Great Adventure and the Shore were closer.

But of course I’d heard about it and remember those commercials quite well.

So, did any of you go to Action Park? Do you have stories to tell? Did you have any parks like that while you were growing up?

Or, are you watching that thinking — no way, that’s impossible?




Review: Pain, Parties, Work

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder. HarperCollins. 2013. Personal Copy. Vacation reads — when I review not-teen books that people may be interested in reading!

It’s About: In June, 1953, Sylvia Plath was a guest editor for the fashion magazine, Mademoiselle. 

The guest editor program was prestigious. The month long stay in Manhattan, editing the annual college edition of the magazine, was supposed to be both about fun and about work.

Plath returned home, to Massachusetts, after the program. In August of 1953, Plath attempted suicide.

Plath would go on to use these experiences in her work of fiction, The Bell Jar, shortly before her death in 1963.

But what about the real program, not Plath’s fictional account?

What was it like? What happened? What did it mean to be one of the best and brightest young women in 1953, in Manhattan?

It meant — pain, and parties, and work.

The Good: Why, yes, I was one of those teenage girls. One of those girls who read and adored Plath.

I won’t bore you with all the details of why and what, exactly, it was about Plath and her work that captivated me.

I will say this: part of it was, and continues to be, the documentation of a time in history (the 1950s and early 1960s) from the point of a view of a talented, articulate, woman who wanted both what her society said (home, husband, children) and more (success, on her terms, using her name). I watch shows like The Hour, Mad Men, and Call the Midwife, and think of Plath.

Pain, Parties, Work concentrates on one specific time in Plath’s life. For readers advisory purposes, I’ll be brief: interested in Plath? Yes, you’ll like this. Do I recommend this as the “first” nonfiction book to read about Plath? No; I think a broader biography is a better place to start, but once started, you will crave the details that Pain, Parties, Work provide. Pain, Parties, Work is also a good look at a side of Plath, the one who loved food and fashion and fun, that is sometimes forgotten, when Plath is thought of the author of Lady Lazarus and Daddy, as the woman who killed herself as her children slept.

So, is this just for Plath readers? No. Pain, Parties, Work is not just about Plath; it is also about 1953, and being a woman in 1953, and the types of other young women who came to New York for the summer to do what Plath did. It is also about Mademoiselle, and what it was (an “intellectual fashion magazine”) and the women who worked there, such as Betsy Talbot Blackwell and Cyrilly Abels.

It’s about a world where wearing white gloves, in the summer, mattered.

A world where girdles were required.

Those details — the clothes, the food, the clubs, the taxis, the lipsticks, how to survive New York City in a heatwave with no air conditioning —  I adored them. To me, this is what makes history interesting and makes it come alive.

Back to Pain, Parties, Work: for Plath, that was New York and Mademoiselle. The pain both real (food poisoning) and emotional, as she pushed herself to both succeed and to make this chance matter. Plath was well aware of the opportunity she had, and she wanted. The parties; much like any internship or program, while Mademoiselle was about the work the young women did during that month, it was also about being in New York and attending the various parties and events the magazine organized. And finally it was about the work, and Winder argues that Plath’s role as guest managing editor was perhaps not the best fit for her talents, even though it was most prestigious. It also was one of the more demanding guest editor jobs, with perhaps less time for some of the parties and fun.

Now that I’ve read Pain, Parties, Work, I want to go back and read The Bell Jar. I know, I know — The Bell Jar is fiction. But, it is about a specific time and place, and I think having read Pain, Parties, Work will give me a better understanding of that setting.

Because Pain, Parties, Work, is about such a short time in Plath’s life, it doesn’t give answers to the “why” of Plath’s life or the “who” she really was. Most, now, would diagnose Plath with depression, or bipolar. Yes, she attempted suicide later that summer; and Pain, Parties, Work can be read to look for clues of that happening.  However, those things are few and far between, and it wasn’t the whole Plath. Or, at least, the self Plath was presenting to others — the successful, confident, talented woman. Winder doesn’t write looking to provide answers, but the reader can, if they choose, make their own decisions about Plath.

Other reviews: Slate; BookSlut; A Bookish Affair;  Seeing Sylvia Plath With New Eyes.


Flashback August 2006

Time to take a look at what I reviewed in August 2006!

Cheating At Solitaire by Ally Carter. From my review: “Julia James is a famous self-help writer. Her area of expertise? Being single — and being happy and fulfilled being single. She’s written such books with titles like Table for One, Spaghetti and Meatball: Meals for the Single Person and 101 Ways To Cheat At Solitaire. Who needs a boyfriend? Then the news hits the tabloids: Julia is dating! And not just anyone — he’s a handsome actor. Her credibility is disappearing. And none of it is true; she doesn’t even know the guy. She’s not about to let her career and her life get ruined.” (Yes, Ally Carter also writes books for grown ups!)

The Boy Book (A Study of Habits and Behaviors, Plus Techniques for Taming Them) by E. Lockhart. From my review: “Ruby Oliver from The Boyfriend List returns for her Junior Year. While Ruby is not friends with her ex-friends, they are no longer her enemies. Still, she has to navigate life with one friend (Meghan), no boyfriend, and a lot of questions about life. . . . As TBB progresses, Ruby slowly realizes that she as been active; she has been acting; labeling it as passive or reacting was the way that she could avoid responsibility for things that happened. It’s a great moment when she finally decides not to have something “just happen” and to take control of her life and her emotions and her actions. I’m not saying that Ruby is passive aggressive or deliberately manipulative; rather, she’s a teen who isn’t in touch with her own motivations and doesn’t know herself.

George Crum and the Saratoga Chip by Gaylia Taylor, illustrated by Frank Morrison. From my review: “George Crum invents the potato chip. It’s a true story! The potato chip was invented! Who knew? And how amazing must it have been to have tasted one the first time ever.”

King Dork by Frank Portman. From my review: “Tom Henderson is trying to make it through high school — he has a best friend (Sam Hellerman) based merely on alphabetical order, a band that spends most of its time thinking up cool album names, and a hippie stepfather. He’s a self-described King Dork, a loser. Then he finds his dead father’s copy of Catcher in the Rye, and begins discovering things about his father, and himself.”

A Series of Unfortunate Events. From my review: “Can I just say Wow? I am so blown away by these books. Daniel Handler is brilliant, on so many levels. First, of course, is the way he plays with language; next, is the wonderful plotting as the story unravels, book by book; and finally, by capturing the imagination of so many readers. . . .  This story is a puzzle, that keeps getting more complex; yet not in a way that turns off young readers. This is sophisticated storytelling, with some very mature themes being introduced. Plus, it’s so smart, with little details that you may miss if you’re in a hurry.”

Review: The Infinite Moment of Us

The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle. Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams. 2013. Review from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: It’s the summer after high school graduation.

Wren is a good girl, who has always done the right thing, especially when it comes to her parent’s expectations. Come fall, she’s supposed to be going to college and starting pre-med. But is what her parents want what Wren wants?

Charlie’s background is much less privileged than Wren’s. He tries to forget his past (the neglect and abuse) and instead focus on what he has now: a foster family who loves him. A safe place to call home. He, too, has college plans. Can he leave his past behind?

Wren and Charlie have been classmates for years, but it’s not until graduation that they connect and fall in love.

The Good: Looking for a book with love, romance, and angst? The Infinite Moment of Us is perfect.

Some spoilers here, but I promise, I’ll keep the mild. Wren and Charlie have sex. They have sex because they are high school graduates, and it’s the magic of summer, and they are in love and lust with each other and with the sheer wonder of being in love and being loved. The Infinite Moment of Us doesn’t fade to black when it happens. I’ve seen more than one review call this today’s Forever by Judy Blume, and I think it’s an apt shortcut to explain what The Infinite Moment of Us is about and the content.

I love how responsible Wren and Charlie are — they talk about birth control, for instance.

The Infinite Moment of Us, like Wren and Charlie themselves, is about more than sex. It’s about Wren, and Charlie, and how they try to work out what it means to be a couple.

Wren has a secret: not from us, or from Charlie. From her parents. She doesn’t want to start college in the fall. She wants time to find out who she is. She wants to take a gap year and volunteer with a program called Project Unity. More than want: Wren has already deferred admission to college by a year to participate in Project Unity.

Charlie’s secret is a bit more complex. Secret isn’t even the right word. Charlie’s past means that he is incredibly loyal to his foster family and friends. If something happens to his younger brother, or his ex-girlfriend texts, he is out the door to help them. Yes, I did say ex-girlfriend. Charlie doesn’t love her — is no longer involved with her — but emotionally, he is there for her as a friend. He was abandoned as a child and he will not abandon a friend.

See what is happening there? The conflict is both internal for both characters (Wren yearning to discover herself, Charlie wanting security) and external (Wren’s parents, Charlie’s ex) and the conflict is never a flaw in either of them. It’s natural, it’s organic, it’s understandable, and it’s not impossible.

I loved how The Infinite Moment of Us is about class, without being about class, and touching on possibly the last time that people from two such different backgrounds would share space and time. Wren and her friends Tessa and P.G. are fairly well off financially. P.G. may have the biggest house; but Wren has never had to work a part-time job. Wren is privileged, no doubt. I wouldn’t say she is spoiled, but she is often unaware of her privilege. And, yes, while a high school graduate she is still young in some ways. Wren has been protected — part of her yearning for Project Unity is she realizes this and wants to get beyond it and she fears going straight to college would be just more of high school.

Charlie is a foster child, now in a loving family, but not before. He still carries that, emotionally. His current family is wonderful, terrific, loving. They also don’t have much money. Charlie works, and has for a few years. Like Wren, he is smart. He’s going to college. But, because of his background, he doesn’t always fit with Wren. She’ll say something that to her is a joke, or expects shared knowledge, and Charlie doesn’t get it. I loved how The Infinite Moment of Us illustrates those subtle issues of class. It’s also there in how Wren doesn’t understand Charlie’s connections to his family and friends.

Speaking of class, Charlie’s ex, Starrla, could easily have been a caricature. Instead think Tara from Friday Night Lights, only without any support system to help her along. That’s Starrla. In a way, Charlie was lucky to have had such a bad mother, because he got out. Starrla is still stuck with hers. The girl has problems, problems that Charlie cannot fix — but there was just something about that girl that I rooted for her. I understood why Charlie wouldn’t just stop taking her calls. (As a matter of fact, Starrla fascinates me so much, and I am so worried about her, that I want her to have her own book.) Wren’s continuing lack of sympathy for Starrla illustrates just how removed Wren is from any background that is not her own.

And there is a shooting range. How many books have teens visiting a shooting range? And while it’s not that type of book, that The Infinite Moment of Us shows responsible gun ownership made me happy.

There is so much more I want to say. Like how I loved the resolution. And how Wren and Charlie are two good kids. I love books about good kids. And both are smart and kind. They aren’t perfect, but I also loved them for that, also. I loved how they were both also allowed to be immature at times because hello, both are still becoming who they will one do be. So, yes, it’s a Favorite Book Read in 2013.

Other reviews: Stacked; Confessions of a Book Addict.

Organizing The To Be Read Books

Confession: sometimes I’m a bit overwhelmed by the to-be-read pile.

What is your current organization scheme?

I have bookshelves in the basement with copies (ARCs and final copies). Those are arranged in alphabetical order. I know some people do by release date, but that makes it harder for me to find books.

The books that I think I may be reading or reviewing are then in bookshelves in my room.

Why do I pick them? They look interesting, or I’ve heard some good buzz, or it’s an author or topic I like. Or, I need to read something for a specific project. What type of project? Some examples: when I moderated the panel for SummerTeen I wanted to read the books the panelists wrote. I have a program in an upcoming library conference, and I have books I need to read for this.

But that’s still not the end.

No, then I pull out the titles I intend to read in the next week. At this point, the project deadline matters. So, too, does mixing up my books. I try to avoid reading the same types of books, one right after the other, because I want to read the book on its own and not compare it to what I just read. I also like variety so get bored with the same type of book back to back. And, mixing it up is a book palete cleanser. I also look at the publishers at this point. I don’t want to have too many books by one publisher.

I use sticky notes as a bit of a mental reminder, putting on it the day I hope to read the book. The problem with this method is when I’m over ambitious about my reading timeline, so end up playing catch up.

One problem with this whole method is you know what doesn’t factor in very well? E-books on my reader.

I think my organization lacks good organization.

So, what do you do? Any thoughts or suggestions?


Flashback August 2008

And now, a look back at what I reviewed in August 2008:

Ten Gallon Bart and the Wild West Show by Susan Stevens Crummel, illustrated by Dorothy Donohue. From my review: “Ten Gallon Bart is bored, and finds excitement in the Wild West Show. Ten Gallon Bart’s dilemma: to be in the Wild West Show, he not only has to ride the bull — he has to wake him up.

Pop Goes the Library: The Book — OK, not a review but a celebration of the book!

Lizzie Skurnick at Read Adv

It’s hard to believe, but the Reader’s Advisory Twitter Chat that Sophie Brookover, Kelly Jensen and myself have been doing is over one year old!

As a brief recap, twice a month we host a Twitter Chat about Reader’s Advisory. Typically, it’s on the first and third Thursday of the month at 8 p.m. EST.

Sometimes, that changes, because of vacations and holidays and such.

This month, the chat is today (the fourth Thursday); and, we have a special guest star, Lizzie Skurnick! Of Lizzie Skurnick Books, an imprint of Ig Publishing!

Lizzie Skurnick is the editor-in-chief of Lizzie Skurnick Books, which reissues the great classics of YA, from the 1930s through the 1980s. A columnist for The New York Times Magazine and a regular reviewer for NPR, she’s the author of Shelf Discovery, a memoir of teen reading.

The topic?


Hope to see you tonight!

Summer Reading

Oh, Summer Reading.

Summer is ending and most public library summer reading programs being finished. I’ve read many tweets and posts and articles about Summer Reading Programs and libraries and I’ve just been thinking about it, and SRP in general.

Summer Reading Program: one set of words for many different things. Which, you know, sounds like a Captain Obvious point, but, really — people tend to think that their local summer reading program is universal when it really isn’t. Some overall thoughts:

Examples of specifics that mean SRP aren’t all uniform: meeting room space, staff, budget, local economy, all vary. Where is the library located, can people walk or use public transportation? How many kids are in day camps? And so on. Or, for example, an online component and badges. What does that mean, in terms of library and community resources, AKA who has internet access?

And then, aside from those variables, what is the point of a Summer Reading Program?

What is the public point and what is the internal point? For example, I’ve read people say it’s “to get kids reading” and then complaining if the kids don’t attend programs or borrow library materials when they participate. So public face = kids reading, internal face = increase of programming/materials statistics.

To know the goal of summer reading is to understand how the program is implemented and run. There can be major and minor goals, but since often those goals may contradict, one goal has to be selected.

Example: is the point to motivate children to read over the summer? Or is it to reward children for reading? Before saying “both” — and yes, sometimes “both” can be the answer — to say “both” without further thought implies, to me, that only “rewards” can motivate a person. It also raises the question of what it is that is being rewarded, because then that is what the child is being motivated via rewards to do.

Is it rewarding the most books read? So, then, the motivation of summer reading is for children to read the most books?

Before you nod yes, I’ll ask — the most books, or the most books at the child’s reading level? Or the most books at above the reading level, to push someone to read “up”?

If it’s the “most books,” what does that mean when reading shorter books gets more of a “reward” than reading longer books? And that isn’t just about reading ability, that’s also about age. Do “most” books reward younger readers?

At which point, librarians are saying “aha! that is why we now measure in time spent reading.” Agreed  — except, then, are we asking parents and kids to put a timer next to the book? (I’ve seen bookmarks that have this built in.) Does that really work for all kids?

For all kids — ah, there is a whole other issue.

When looking at summer reading, most public libraries are serving a wide range of ages, interests, and abilities. And, they are doing so with staffing ratios that are much larger than what most school teachers have. And are doing so with what is often a “one size fits all” program. Just think about that: reading in schools (which isn’t just motivation) involves contained classrooms with dedicated teachers, sorted (roughly) by age and ability. While reading in libraries is all ages, all abilities.

In other words, summer reading — it’s complicated.

My own take? Summer Reading is to motivate kids to read during the summer, with the side hope that somehow, the kid who is not a reader may find a book or start a relationship with the library that turns them into a “reader.” (Note, if that doesn’t happen, ever, that’s OK. I’m never going to become someone who loves sports. Some people will never become a person who loves reading.) So, most of what I put together is trying to appeal to the kid who otherwise wouldn’t be picking up a book over the summer.

I realize that appears to actually leave out the kids who are already readers. As someone who was always a reader, that makes me think. What did I like from the library SRP as a kid? I liked that what I liked to do was being recognized. I don’t remember getting any of the trinkets and prizes that are all over the place now. I remember there being a minimum to get to go to the end of summer pizza & movie party, and that was a big deal. (Note it was even a bigger deal than you think, because this was the 1970s so the movie part was a huge deal.)

I believe the “readers” are a unique subset of those involved in summer reading programs, in that they are already motivated. So my question becomes: how do they get recognized (note I don’t say rewarded!) without making summer reading into a contest?

Various things I’ve done in the past: prizes are the extra ARCs in the library, because they appeal to readers. Having an in-library day-long reading marathon. Asking kids to set their own reading goals, rather than use the library minimum.

So, my questions to you:

What are some unique things about your own Summer Reading Program?

What do you think is the primary goal of a SRP?

What are some of the things you do, either with SRP or year round, for the “readers”?

And — since I know school librarians and other non-public librarians are reading this —

As someone who isn’t involved with SRPs, as an “outsider,” what are some of the things you’ve seen that you’ve liked about Summer Reading Programs? Or disliked?

Review: My Friend Dahmer

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf. Abrams Comic Arts. 2012. Personal copy. Graphic Novel. Alex Award Winner.

It’s About: A graphic novel memoir by Derf Backderf, a classmate of Jeffrey Dahmer. This is not the story of a serial killer; it is a look at the childhood and teen years of Jeffrey Dahmer, before his first murder. (Note: nothing graphic is shown in My Friend Dahmer.)

What was Dahmer like, then? Were there signs of the serial killer he would become? And if there were, why did no one do anything?

The Good: Of course, I had heard of My Friend Dahmer. Read the reviews. And, as some of you who follow me on my Twitter feed know, I watch TV shows about real and fictitious serial killers. And yet — despite the Alex Award — I was still hesitant.

Then I heard Backderf speak at ALA (both at the YALSA Coffee Klatch and the Alex Awards program) and I changed my mind.

My Friend Dahmer is about Jeffrey Dahmer, and Backderf didn’t rely solely on his memories in writing this. He also did extensive research, showing the reader more about Dahmer than what the teen Backderf knew or suspected. (This is part of what intrigued me: the extensive research for the book).

But, My Friend Dahmer is also about a time and a place, the late seventies, that is a different world than the world that today’s teens would know. The fathers went to work, the mothers stayed home. A combination of baby boomer teens and the seventies recession meant overcrowded schools. While I’m a good eight or so years younger than Backderf and his classmates, there was still something so familiar about the setting and time he describes, down to schools having designated smoking areas for both students and teachers. And that also made me quite interested in My Friend Dahmer.

Teenage Dahmer “was the loneliest kid I’d ever met,” Backderf explains. Backderf proceeds to be brutally honest about himself and his friends, in a way that time allows. Backderf has real friends (Neil, Kent, Mike) and together they are fascinated by the eccentricities of Dahmer. Dahmer is a loner but he also does strange things: he “threw fake epileptic fits and mimicked the slurred speech and spastic tics of someone with cerebral palsy.” Backderf and his friends are amused by this (at one point Backderf also observes they were bored in the suburbs with little to do).

Later on, Dahmer also comes to school drunk and drinks continuously at school.

Do Backderf and his friends say anything? No; they had no idea that Dahmer was already being haunted by dark sadistic fantasies. (The author is clear that for any pity he feels for Jeff, that ended with the first murder.) Because of Backderf’s research, the reader (and the adult Backderf) knows what is going on in Dahmer’s head. It’s a bit jarring, the contrast between watching Dahmer lay in wait to kill someone and then being in the classroom with his friends who think he’s just being different.

Backderf’s defense, and it’s a good one, is that they were typical teenagers and self-absorbed and had no idea. Actually, it’s more than a defense: it’s a clear eyed look at how teens thought, how he as a teen thought. I appreciated that he neither downplayed nor exaggerated the time period. (Note to people writing memoirs or stories told about their teen years: yes, sometimes time must pass to be truly honest about that time period.) But where were the adults? Why did his antics go uncommented on at school? How did he get away with being drunk for about two years of school? I wondered — what could be excused by the time period, and what by adults ignoring the obvious because it’s easier?

Other reviews: Wrapped Up In Books; The Hub Interview with Derf Backderf; Bookshelves of Doom.

Middle Grade at The Book Smugglers

The Book Smugglers have a weekly feature, Old School Wednesdays, when they look at titles that aren’t “new and shiny”.

This past Wednesday, they did a middle grade blogger roundtable and I was one of the participants.

One of the fun things about a roundtable like this is, of course, seeing what titles that people select. Another is how each blogger interprets it a bit differently. And how no titles overlap!

The  other participants: Heidi (Bunbury in the Stacks), Charlotte (Charlotte’s Library), Angie (Angieville), and Ana (Things Mean A Lot).

My picks?

A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E. L. Konigsburg

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

Master Skylark by John Bennett

It’s Not the End of the World by Judy Blume

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

Why these five? And what did the others select? You’ll have to go over to The Book Smugglers to find out.