First books of summer

3 07 2015

June has been a good month in terms of pages read. I’ve also been reading quite diversely and I managed to get in some Middle Grade too. Also, I haven’t read anything atrociously bad in June, so that’s a definite plus.

The good:Five, Six, Seven, Nate!

Press play (by Eric Devine): An honest and raw story with a good voice, but the book was too long for me. (***)

How it went down (by Kekla Magoon): an all too pertinent book in this day and age, giving us a myriad of voices after the shooting of a black teen when all hell breaks loose. It was good to show us all these different voices, although some of them were interchangeable, and I would have slimmed it down some. (*** ½)

Five, six, seven, Nate! (by Tim Federle): It’s Nate. It has Libby (not enough!). It’s Tim Federle. That’s enough to bring a smile to my face. So much fun again, although it doesn’t surpass Better Nate than Ever. (*** ½)

Since you’ve been gone (by Morgan Matson): I have a thing for Morgan Matson’s books (especially at the start of summer. I always want ice cream after a Morgan Matson book, and I don’t even like ice cream, go figure!). Like her other books, this one too is very entertaining, although also a tad too long (a recurring thing in this month’s reading). (*** ½)

Anything could happen (by Will Walton): I may… have had higher expectations for this debut novel. Still liked it, though. All in all a really decent debut novel about personal growth. (***)

booksiesMore happy than not (by Adam Silvera): Not a perfect book, but a really solid debut. Despite the ‘happy’ in the title, it’s not a ‘happy’ book, of course. I usually like those sorts of books a lot, and I did ‘like’ this one too. I felt, though, that besides the character of Aaron, the other characters were ‘lacking’ a lot. At the same time I realize that that is because of the very specific point of view in this book…a bit of a Catch 22 sort of thing. Probably a 3.5 star book for me: it has an interesting spin on the self-discovery story, which is something that’s been done in films a few times (sort of, at least: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is mentioned in the blurb, but there’s also Memento). (*** ½)

The very good:

One thing stolen (by Beth Kephart): Just like Challenger Deep this book is actually a real struggle to get through. Not because the book is a bad one, far from it (but I can see why this book might not be everyone’s type of book). But because of the emotional depth which is – in this case – so reflected in the narrative voice. Nadia’s illness is woven into every aspect of this book. It’s hard to read. It’s different. But really honest and powerful too. (****)

Kinda like brothers (by Coe Booth): I don’t read a lot of Middle Grade, but this book shows I should read more of it. It’s so honest and unpretentious. Not simple, though. Also, this book worked like a magnet for some of the kids in my classes, and they’re not MG, so the appeal is very wide here. (****)

The return of Zita the Spacegirl (by Ben Hatke): That’s it. Kid and I are through the series. We’ve both loved this ride so much. I think we’re going to start over tonight J (****)

The so-so:

To all the boys I’ve loved before (by Jenny Han): If you think of Lara Jean as 13 rather than 16 then this book makes a lot of sense. It’s light and fluffy and somewhat overindulgent but I can definitely see an audience for this. (***)

Paper Airplanes (by Dawn O’Porter): 4-star beginning but so rushed in the second half. Too much in too few pages: bad families, bad friendships, good friendships, anorexia, school problems…. There’s too much going on so not everything is well developed. Ended very messy too. Adding all of it up and it’s closer to 2.5-3 stars for me. (** ½)

The brain-bending* awesome: Perfectly Good Whiteboy

Carrie Mesrobian is my New Fake Girlfriend.

Perfectly good white boy: This book especially is pretty fucking awesome. It’s easily the most addictive book I’ve read in years. It’s like a drug: you know it’s bad for you, but you can’t stop, you have to stop, you don’t want to stop. You won’t stop. I knew only a few pages in, it would be a winner and boy was I right. There’s no other writer who does sad characters better than Carrie Mesrobian. (*****)

Cut both ways: It was about half way through that I realized that this is probably the saddest fucking book I’ve read in a long long time. Carrie Mesrobian gets into the head of a character and owns that character. She makes you get into the head of that character and feel what that character feels, and Will? Well, he’s a sad sad trainwreck of a boy. So sad.
I like how the author’s note at the end says that we need to work for a world where it’s easier for kids like him. (****)

Can you please write more books, Carrie Mesrobian? Thanks.

* Brain-bending is my new favorite adjective.

March-May Reads

25 05 2015

Books I read from March to May 2015:

Graphic novels2015-03-05 16.53.46

March Book Two ( by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell): more behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement with Congressman John Lewis. A must read for everyone. Huge hit with my students too. (****)

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (by Ben Hatke): the kid and I read a couple of pages of this every night. We love Strong Strong and One J We are currently on the last Zita book… (****)

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki: beautiful artwork, very evocative. The whole work oozes nostalgia. I loved this one, but I think it might be more of a critics’ favorite than a kids’ favorite. (****)


IMG_20150509_153050[1]Rethinking Normal: a Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill and Some Assembly Required: The not so secret life of a transgender teen by Arin Andrews are the memoirs of two transgender teens who were also in a relationship for a while. It reads pretty much like a teen would write it, which definitely adds to the authenticity. But obviously these two memoirs are pivotal in understanding what transgender teens go through. Both books were featured in my Awareness Week display at school and checked out in no time. (both ***)

No choirboy: murder, violence, and teenagers on death row by Susan Kuklin. This book is raw and sad. How could it not? No sensationalizing, just harsh truth. (****)

Books in a series

Half Bad by Sally Green: first in a series of books about ‘witches’… not at all like Harry Potter, though. It has been a while since I have liked a “fantasy” thing, but it is basically adventure with witches but done well. A bit of a slump about 2/3 in, but still very worthwhile. Definitely a series to continue. (*** ½ )

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson: 3rd in the Shades of London series. This one is better that The Madness Underneath, but still not as good as the stellar first book The Name of the Star. I do hope there will be a rocking conclusion of this series in book 4, though. (*** ½ )

Isla and the Happily Ever After: I have a soft spot for Stephanie Perkins since I saw her at Politics and Prose in Washington. Bonus is that she does contemporary romance really really well. Give me a Perkins and a Dessen and I’m a happy camper J. Isla and the Happily Ever After has the added bonus of giving us more glimpses of the characters of the other books. (***)


The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos: there are not enough music-related YA books. So if you pick this one up, make sure to pick up Yvonne Prinz’s The Vinyl Princess! These books make a great pairing. (***)

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin: Besides the fact that I could not stand the character (or the way she was being presented by all of the players in the story ) of Addison Stone – at all – this book is really well done: a faux-memoir, complete with photos and artwork and disclaimers etc. I really did look up if there was an ‘Addison Stone’ after a chapter or so ;) (*** ½ )IMG_20150525_110557[1]

When I was the greatest and The boy in the black suit, both by Jason Reynolds. I am not a fan of the writing. In When I was the greatest, the narration was a bit too one-dimensional for my liking. And The Boy in the Black Suit just confirmed that Reynolds’ style isn’t my style. Both books were well-liked by kids in my class, though. (both **)

And we stay by Jenny Hubbard: A character’s poetry just always distracts me in a book (that’s a me-thing), even if there’s an Emily Dickinson theme throughout the story. The story of grief, recovery and friendship is great though. Hubbard’s style is very recognizable. I always like it when I can pick out a writer’s words from just a few lines. (*** ½ )

Invincible by Amy Reed. Amy Reed’s books are a hit with my teen girls. Beautiful and Crazy have a very high circulation and I am sure that it’ll be the same for Invincible. As for me, certain things are ‘believable’ – like how quickly Evie gets addicted and the behavior she displayed after the “miraculous” recovery – but other things were just too rushed. I don’t really think the Marcus character was necessary either. I would have liked to have seen more of the parents, sister and Kasey tIMG_20150525_110925[1]oo. This reads like a train, though, but I wasn’t wholly convinced. I do have to say that I was a bit disappointed to hear that this is not a standalone… (**)

Press Play by Eric Devine: this made me think of Joshua Cohen’s Leverage a lot. They’re both set a sports context, there are some brutal things going on ‘behind the scenes’ (here’s it’s the hazing and lacrosse, in Cohen’s books is bullying – and much worse – and football) and there really are no compromises in this book. It’s extremely honest and raw, and there’s a good voice, but the book is too long for me. (***)

How it went down by Kekla Magoon: This is such a pertinent story at this moment in time. Sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. No one seems to know exactly what was going on and everything has the need to share what they thing went down (there are more than 15 different ‘voices’ in the book). As I said, this book is every so important right now, but as a book, I felt it could have been ‘tighter’: some voices are indistinguishable, which (again) drags out the story a little bit. (***)

Top picks

The next two – although also standalones – deserve their own category:2015-04-01 16.00.31

We all looked up by Tommy Wallach: It’s not often I read a blurb and then read the book and I feel the blurb is *exactly* what the book is like, but in this case it is: “This Generation’s The Stand… at once troubling, uplifting, scary and heart-wrenching.”
Also, The Stand was one of my favorite books when I was the age of the characters in this book and often when a books is likened to The Stand, it ends up being a disappointment afterwards, or worse the book is dragged out over 2 or 3 or more books. But We All Looked Up definitely wasn’t a disappointment: a good story, great characters, drive, action, feelings, totally unpretentious writing… a “real book”, you know… Loved it! (*****)

I’ll give you the sun by Jandy Nelson made me miss my metro stop. That’s always a good thing… The writing is gorgeous, there was a great interplay between the words and the artwork (I read the UK edition). This definitely deserved all the accolades it got. It also got a (quick) translation to Dutch, but it doesn’t have any artwork, which is a pity. (*****)

On the surface We all looked up and I’ll give you the sun have nothing whatsoever in common, but they both made me fall in love with reading all over again. Both of these books have the capacity of making you forget about time and the world around you. The reading pleasure was high for me in these two books. And isn’t that why we read: to feel?



#KeepYAWeird – On being angry

12 03 2015

Today I am angry. I know the world doesn’t care about me being angry. I know the internet doesn’t give a fuck about me being angry. And even (the anti-)social media Twitter and Facebook don’t give a shit about my outrage. But today I am angry and also sad.

I am often angry, though. When my computer doesn’t do what I want it to do, I feel like throwing it out of the window (but I don’t). When people don’t meet the deadlines I set out for them, I feel like sending them angry emails about their lack of commitment (but I don’t). When I enter a dirty as hell classroom once again and I have to pick up dirty tissues from the floor, I feel like kicking the colleagues who were too lax to tell their students there are fucking bins (3 even) in my classroom. When I see a guy smoking inside the metro and slurring obscene things at people, I am angry and I want to yell at him so he gets rid of the lit cigarette because we’re under the ground and there’s no air in the metro as it is and could he just shut the fuck up (but I don’t). When I see how certain parents say awful things to their kid in a supermarket or scold him/her, out in the street when all the kid is doing is being a kid, I feel like telling the parents they should have never have become parents in the first place (but I don’t). When I read yet another article about inequality between men and women I feel like tearing up the newspaper or hitting the screen of my laptop (but I don’t).

So basically I am angry on average 5 times a day and usually I am quite good at containing – but maybe not hiding – that anger, but today is different. I don’t want to contain or hide the sadness and the outrage I feel for how I had to wake up this morning. Seeing that one of my favorite authors – Andrew Smith – is completely gone from “social media” – Twitter and Facebook – is just… #weird in all the wrong ways, and beyond comprehension.gj1

Yesterday, Andrew Smith was in the middle of a Twitter shitstorm, a shitstorm that started because of the way one or two people read a certain sentence in a certain interview in a certain way. One interview, one sentence, one reading and next you get a shitstorm about how Andrew Smith is a sexist and mob mentality ensues. WTF?

So I am angry. This is not the first time that a man’s integrity is questioned by people who don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. Not only does an attack like this (because that’s what it is, it was an attack, whatever people might be saying to the contrary) show that apparently people can’t distinguish between “characters in a book”, “the author as public persona” and “a living and breathing human being”. A writer doesn’t necessarily believe or support every little thing every character in every one of his books ever says. But what’s said in the book by certain characters is even beyond the point in this whole thing.

What is the point, is that under the pretense of so-called righteousness and the right to criticism on “social” media certain people think it is okay to pretend to understand and know what another person thinks and feels, and worse: that it doesn’t matter. What is the claim to righteousness here, you ask? It’s “feminism”, or rather a certain interpretation of feminism. But what happened yesterday, that was *not* feminism: feminism is not hating and/or attacking what (white) men say and do*. Feminism is not using a person’s family to prove a point. Feminism is about: all things considered, people are equal. And the way Andrew Smith was treated was not as an equal.

I could go one step further and state that when women only write female protagonists they are not being told off or attacked for only writing about girls or women. And actually, thinking like that gives feminism a bad and dirty name and helps no one at all. No one. So I don’t want to take that step.

If you ask me what the first word is that comes to mind when I hear the name ‘Andrew Smith’, it most definitely is not ‘sexist’. It is talented. It is unique. It is honest. That’s 3 words, I know.

Andrew Smith is also an incredibly kind man. You know what type of guy he is? He’s the type who despite a mad busy schedule, takes time to meet up with people and to sit down with them, have lunch with them and have a great conversation with them half across the world . He’s the type of person who takes on crazy projects with people at the other end of the world because it would be a great thing for the kids in his (and my) class. He doesn’t do this for himself, but for other people.

So yeah, I am angry today. And very sad. And I miss ‘seeing’ Drew. So today I’m re-reading The Alex Crow. #KeepYAWeird

Andrew Smith signing books

Andrew Smith signing books

*it is honestly not the first time that a well known popular male write got flack like this for writing (mostly) male protagonists, by the way.

Read in January and February 2015

22 02 2015

It’s an absolute disgrace, but I haven’t read much this year so far. Here’s a brief overview:

The crossover by Kwame Alexander, which won the 2015 Newbery Medal and Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin, in which 6 transgender teens tell their stories. I didn’t read much Middle Grade last year so I can’t say whether The crossover was “the best” MG of 2015. It was certainly different (told mostly in verse) and a punch in the gut. I liked this better than He Said, She Said, but I wasn’t wild about it either. It was good,… but not *wow* good for me. *** 1/2

Beyond Magenta, on the other hand: an eye-opener. Definitely worth that Stonewall Honor Award. ****

2015-02-10 10.40.46

The Alex Crow by the inimitable Andrew Smith. Yet again we get so many stories in one and yet again, Andrew Smith managed to pull everything together at the end.Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to write a real review of this one. Maybe when it comes out (I read the ARC), I’ll re-read and write that review then. ****

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin, a story of disaster, mutiny and the fight for civil rights in the Second World War. This was really well-told non-fiction. I can’t wait to read Bomb, now! ****

2015-02-22 19.19.22

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi, the love story of 2 teenagers in modern-day Afghanistan. It pains me to say this because I really “like” the story and the topic of this book, and I thought the way Atia Abawi told her story of living in Afghanistan for 5 years was really fascinating…but the writing style of this book feels a bit amateur. It’s very ‘in your face’, almost portraying black-and-white figures, rather than the ‘complexity’ of the people that Atia Abawi refers to in the acknowledgments and the way she talked about it at NCTE. ***

2015-02-10 10.42.40Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer. BIG disappointment. It has all the signs of a writer of “adult” fiction trying to write YA and thinking they need to ‘dumb it down’ somehow. Blèh… hate it when that happens. * 1/2

BTW, I didn’t know that Meg Wolitzer actually wrote “adult literary fiction” before I finished this book. So yeah, this one is a fail for me.

2015-01-16 07.35.17

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier: a very typical Telgemeier book. Sweetly drawn and with a recognizable story, albeit somewhat ‘short’. ***

2015-02-10 10.42.07

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, and with drawings of his son Brendan. A story of mental illness. A very harsh and confrontational read, but excellent to get an insight into the mind of so many people (teenagers especially) who suffer from mental illness. This book by Shusterman impressed me more than his Unwind series. ****

2015-02-10 09.28.05

Also read in January:

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins – which I actually liked a lot more than Anna and the French Kiss. It’s a sweet romance but really well done. *** 1/2

Reading now:

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos and with the kid, I am reading the Zita the Spacegirl series. Really great!

2015-02-11 09.27.29


Favorite books of 2014

21 12 2014

In 2014 I read a lot less than in previous years. This was mainly due to a second sort of job. In 2012 I started working on an ESL method. I wrote 2 units (well, 3 actually, but one’s for the next book in the series) last year, but this year I was also asked to coordinate another book in that same series. 2014-12-13 17.14.53This meant I had to write units, edit my own as well as other people’s units and coordinate the whole thing (which is a lot like pretending you know what you’re talking about). That’s on top of a full time teaching job, of course. Anyway, water under the bridge… I read a lot less: still 97 books, but a good 6000 pages less than in 2013, for example.

First, for this “best of 2014” list, I am not going to count books I re-read this year even though they would have scored high on this or any list (so that means, no Maus or As I Lay Dying, which I both rated 5 stars, for instance).

Second, it seems I’ve really become more selective in my reading because I didn’t give any book just 1 star this year, which is definitely a first. There were plenty of books I didn’t particularly cared for, or authors who I thought had previously published a lot better books, but I just didn’t pick up a book I knew wouldn’t be for me.

Finally, I am not discriminating here. My list has everything thrown in together because that’s just how I read: so-called YA literature (most of what I read), picture books, graphic novels, and so-called Adult literature. Big deal. I don’t want to rate from 10 to 1 or from 1 to 10, so this year, it’s in reverse alphabetical order (by author). Also, books that were published in 2014 get an *.


  • The Free by Willy Vlautin *.
Willy Vlautin

Willy Vlautin

I saw Willy Vlautin perform with The Delines in November. Even before the gig, I knew this book would end on my end of year list. It’s really everything I want in a book: great voice, intertwining stories and lives, ‘ordinary’ people just trying to survive in contemporary society’s desolation… you know, the fun stuff of life J , but with a remarkable attention to hope and compassion.


  • Anything by Shaun Tan, especially The Arrival and The Red Tree. Simple: Shaun Tan is brilliant. Seeing one of his images on NCTE’s Annual Convention catalogue was a bit unexpected and otherworldly, though, like much of Tan’s own work.


  • Grasshopper Jungle* and 100 Sideways Miles* by Andrew Smith. Andrew Smith has 2 books on this year’s list, and I am currently reading an ARC of The Alex Crow. I have not made it a secret that I am a great admirer of Andrew Smith’s work, because his work has what I am constantly looking for when I’m reading: the voice of the author (see more about this later). As different as all of his work may be (Ghost Medicine is nothing like Winger is nothing like Grasshopper Jungle), there’s always the distinct ‘Andrew Smith’ signature all over the pages: twisted and chaotic at first glance, honest, thoughtful and incredibly smart at second glance. Even though I don’t love all of his books in the same way or to the same degree – obviously I have favorites, of course I do – I respect this author in the way he stands his own unique ground in the midst of so much mediocrity.


I want my hat back

I want my hat back

  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. This book has a poetic quality to it that was so different to read from anything else I read this year. A true thing of beauty. A book about so many things (family, friends, war, sexuality) in the most natural and obvious way.


  • I want my hat back and This is not my hat by Jon Klassen. These books were published a few years ago, but I only bought them last summer in London. I love them. My kid loves them. I read them to her in these different voices, and she does them too, and it’s just totally hilarious every time we read them together. Subversive, hilarious, brilliant.


  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S.King *. I know pretty well what I want to get out of a book. Of course I want a good plot. Of course I want well-developed characters. Who doesn’t? But what I really want to get out of a book is personality. A book that says (!): “Here, this is me, read me!” For me, a book absolutely without a doubt needs to have personality. The personality of a book is not really something tangible, like a likable character or a satisfying conclusion to a plotline. For me, the personality of a book actually lies in the author’s ability to create a universe that is unique to that particular author, often book after book after book. I call it the voice. This is definitely not the same as the voice of the (main) character in the book. Rather it’s the voice of the book. By extension you could say that this is the voice of the author. It’s not that I think authors agree with everything mentioned in their own books (I really don’t, real authors are much smarter than that), but I believe that there really should be something of the author in each of their books: their voice if you will. To be really into a book I have to sense that voice.

    It’s also not something casual or flippant. Of course I recognize that every author has a particular style and what not. No , it’s more than just a unique style: there has to be a sense of urgency that goes along with that voice. There are a couple of authors who capture that sense of urgency for me (Matt de la Peña, Gregory Galloway, Adam Rapp, Andrew Smith, to name just a few). But the author who really personifies for me what it means to

We love bookmarks.

We love bookmarks.

have an urgent voice that demands to be heard is A.S. King. I know it sounds all new agey (ugh!) and I can’t really describe what it is exactly, but it’s something all over the pages. It’s why every one of her books has very firm ties to the here and now of this world (even though the book might be set in the 17th century or show snippets of the future). It’s why every one of her books betrays a concern with the state of the world as it is. Here. Now. For you to be read. Right now. A sense of urgency, as I said before.

I didn’t write a review of Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, and I’m not going to now. The best review of that book has already been written, by Rick Yancey for the New York Times. Let’s just say that Glory O’Brien has everything I just mentioned about a book having a personality and a voice that betrays a sense of urgency on the part of its author. After drinking the remains of a petrified bat, Glory and her ‘friend’ Ellie start seeing snippets of the future and the past. The way the future is visualized is prophetic to say the least. And a veritable horror story, if there ever was one!

And as I said, of course I want well-developed characters and I got them. There is obviously Glory who is such a complex character: a complicated mess, hard to love, angry, hurt, so many things at the same time. But there is also Glory’s dad (I always love the dads in A.S. King’s books), and even Glory’s mother, who’s been dead since Glory was 4. Admittedly, this book is somewhat light on ‘plot’, but what it lacks in plot, it well makes up for in Questions about Big Ideas. I love that there are so many questions explored in this book: what is friendship, what is community, what is real, what is only perception, what is belonging, what are our rights as human beings, what are our rights (mine and yours) as women, … A.S. King keeps on asking the questions ( ;-) ) we are all asking ourselves (or should be asking ourselves!): those of the history of the future and what it means to be and to be seen as a whole person.

Wolf in White Van

Wolf in White Van


  • We Were Here by Matt de la Peña. I “discovered” Matt de la Peña and his books this year. We Were Here is incredibly touching. Touching in the same way as how you can’t NOT love Of Mice and Men. If you don’t, I don’t want to be your friend (anymore). I’m sorry, but certain books are just relationship/friendship dealbreakers. Added bonus: I heard Matt de la Peña speak at NCTE this year at the CEL luncheon.


  • Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle*. This is the second book of a musician-storyteller (John Darnielle of Mountain Goats fame of course) in this list of favorite reads. Wolf in White Van was longlisted for the National Book Award and deservedly so. It’s the type of book that is so brilliantly constructed that the only appropriate response I could come up with at the end of it, was a healthy “WTF was that crazy shit right there?” This guy can write. I loved it!


  • The gigantic beard that was evil by Stephen Collins. That title alone should be enough to make you read this graphic novel. But if that is not enough: it’s about hair and no hair and elsewhere and here, and evil beards,
    Look at this!

    Look at this!

    and neatness and structure and fear and chaos and society and life and… fuck, this was good. 


  • The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson *. I don’t think there’s been a year that I didn’t list a Laurie Halse Anderson book as a favorite read of the year. With The Impossible Knife of Memory she did it again. Damn, this woman is good.

There are also 5 honorable mentions:


  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. It had been years (definitely more than a decade!) since I last read a Julian Barnes novel. This one was stellar!
  • Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle. I hate musicals. HATE them. But I LOVE this book.
  • The truth about Alice by Jennifer Mathieu *. Incredibly powerful story about cruelty and stereotyping. Sucked me right in.
  • Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian. Carrie Mesrobian has balls. That’s all.
  • 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma. My surprise read of the year. Because of this cleverly deceptive story I cannot wait for The Walls Around Us.

Photo Impression of NCTE/ALAN 2014 and Washington DC

9 12 2014

NCTE’s Annual Convention and the ALAN workshop was my first time in Washington DC.

But it wasn’t really *in* DC, it was in an artificial little place called National Harbor, which used to be a dump site, apparently (only about 10 years ago). Now it’s a sparkly artificial bubble with at its center a really really really big indoor Convention Center … that did a lot of Christmas music lightshow thingies. But anyway, National Harbor:


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Here are a few things that happened at NCTE itself:

On Thursday, I did the NCTE on Tour to the Library of Congress. The workshop we got there with the sources and how you can use them in the classroom was awesome. And we got a guided tour of the LoC as well there and there was an exhibition about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so that was a nice bonus:

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Friday to Sunday at NCTE:


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There was some – though not a lot of – time to visit Washington DC, which is nothing like I imagined it to be (my only East Coast refernence being New York City).   I decided to explore some of DC on my own on Friday afternoon, and the shuttle van took me to Union Station and then I just walked from there to the National Mall and then all the way to the Lincoln Memorial and then back to the White House until it was time to go to Politics and Prose (I can now also say I shopped in the same bookshop as Obama, ha!).

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I loved being in Politics and Prose on Friday evening to see some authors in a more ‘natural’ environment of a bookshop. Fantastic:

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And then, the absolute greatest thing *ever*: the ALAN workshopthe panel discussions (so many great talks there), obviously the box of books (which caused me trouble getting over, so I just left about 10 or so there to be donated), the authors who were all so kind and signed books and even had time for a chat (I talked to M.T. Anderson! And David Levithan! And Libba Bray! And Frank Portman!). The panel with the transgender teens and their moms totally blew me away; Libba Bray’s speech was fantastic; the parent and child panel with Neal Shusterman, so many great discussions . I would do ALAN again in a heartbeat! Look:

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I went back to DC for a DC@Night tour on Tuesday evening. Boy, am I glad I did that:

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Finally, some random observations about my visit:

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So, NCTE/ALAN: a once in a lifetime experience for sure…but definitely one I would like to do again. I probably can’t do this every year (school), but I’m definitely checking out options for conventions that are a direct flight from Brussels. Atlanta in 2 years will probably be too soon, but 2019 is Philadelphia and that’s a direct flight too, so who knows? :)





Read in November 2014

3 12 2014

I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to in November. I also don’t have the time right now for more than sketchy impressions of the books I read, rather than the full reviews they rightfully deserve. So here goes nothing…

Power books by power women, or also: books that will kick your ass as they rightly should:


 1) Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (by A.S. King aka the most missed author at NCTE/ALAN 2014)

I really hope to write a longer review of this, because this book and this author so deserves all the praise! This is a veritable horror story too. And can I be shallow and say how much I love my signed copy? Look at it!! But seriously. Read this!ASKingNCTE2014

4 stars (but really, it already has 6 starred reviews!)

2) The Truth about Alice (by Jennifer Mathieu)

There’s definitely an overarching theme in my November reads and that is cruelty. In this particular case, it’s cruelty in the guise of ‘slut shaming’. The Truth about Alice is Jennifer Mathieu’s debut YA novel and I was completely and shamelessly sucked in by it.

I “loved” every bit of this book: the multiple perspectives, the ruthless investigation of stereotyping people (and characters in a book), the way it unflinchingly shows how boys and girls are seen and judged in a completely different light. I also “hated” everything about this book: the way the boys and girls are shown and how stereotypes are reinforced. How some people have (too) loud voices and others don’t have a voice at all.

This is such an important book. For boys and for girls. And not in the least: for the adults raising those boys and those girls.

4 stars

3) Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (by Meg Medina)

This is a book from the heart. It’s not a ‘nice’ story, though. On the contrary, Meg Medina wrote a harsh psychologically layered story about bullying and female relationships. It’s edgy – and I’m not even talking about that title (which, by the way kicks so much ass ;) – and I’m sure not just girls will identify with Piddy Sanchez or possibly even the mysterious Yaqui Delgado. If there’s one thing that’s abudantly clear after reading this provocative little book then it’s that everyone has a story: the victim, but also the bully, even if we don’t know what that story is, as is the case with Yaqui Delgado. And more than being ‘just another bullying book’, what really stands out is Medina’s great rendering of female relationships.

3.5 stars

Power books by power men

1) Knockout Games (by G.Neri)

Based on true events, comes G. Neri’s Knockout Games. I read this one right before Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and what the two definitely have in common is the violence. This one is a ruthless book. Set in St. Louis it’s all about a knockout club, a group of middle and high school kids who basically get into random violence (knocking out random people on the street for the fun and thrill of it). When Erica is uprooted to St. Louis after her parents’ divorce, she gets mixed up with the game (she’s good with a camera) and its leader, K (Kalvin), the Knockout King.

The narrative and the language are very straightforward. There’s no needless fancy talk, which wouldn’t really fit with the book’s topic anyway. Also like Yaqui Delgado, I see this being liked by a younger audience (Yes, yes, I know: there’s violence. And sex. Bite me). There’s also the same trope of the outsider trying to fit in, which that age group really seems to appreciate a lot. In this case, the protagonist is the white Erica who moves to a predominantly African American neighborhood and who’s trying to keep her head above water after her parents’ divorce.

3 stars


2) He Said, She Said (by Kwame Alexander)

This is described as a ‘hip hop’ novel and the language use of esp. the male protagonist Omar or T-Diddy (I did the same eye-rolling as the female protagonist!) in the book also reflects this. However, I can’t really say I was into it all that much. I also don’t like hip hop, so maybe it’s that. The story is too stereotypical for my taste: a good looking star football player (a real “player” too, of course) and a studious and responsible girl. Of course they’re destined to meet. Mixed in with this tale of destined yet too good to be true romance is a fight for social justice at the local high school.

I don’t know, it’s all very much in your face. I just couldn’t see past the shallowness of it all (maybe that’s the point?) and I just like my stories more nuanced and my characters with a lot more depth.

2.5 stars

Graphic novels:

1)  The Silence of our Friends (by Mark Long)

This graphic novel – also drawn by Nate Powell – is another (historical) graphic novel/memoir in the same vein as March Book One. It’s not quite as powerful as March Book One, but I can see this being liked a lot by my reluctant readers who’re really into history and the Civil Rights Movement.

3 stars

2) The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil (by Stephen Collins)

GET THIS BOOK NOW. GET IT! NOW! Absolutely brilliant graphic novel. What can I say? There’s the neat and orderly island of Here. The threat of a chaotic There. And there’s a *gigantic beard*. I repeat: there’s a gigantic beard. What more do you need? Brilliant artwork? It’s all there.

Gigantic Beard 1

Gigantic Beard 2

It’s the ultimate surrealist and eerily honest truth metaphor about the state of man in our current society (unfortunately it’s probably also the ultimate hipster book). This book is  awesome. Did I mention there’s a gigantic beard? That is evil?

5 stars


Up next: photo impression of NCTE/ALAN 2014


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