Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This Is What I Remember

Standing on Fifth Avenue.
The girl next to me sobbing into a cell phone.
"He’s in there and people are just standing here taking pictures!"
And I kept shooting.

Talking to Jenny on the phone.
The Pentagon exploding on my TV screen.
"We’re at war! I don’t want to hang up with you!"
And I hung up the phone.

Anticipating a love letter.
The emptiness of my mailbox.

Returning a VHS to Hollywood Video.
Staring at face masks on the way.
"Am I the one in a movie?"
But I also can’t breathe.

Jumping over a puddle the night before.
Giggling while wondering out loud,
"What would happen if lightning struck a skyscraper?"
But an airplane?

No. An airplane never crossed my mind.

Friday, August 23, 2013

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman 

This book of poetry had been on my list to read since last October when I heard Michael Cart speak briefly about it, with tears in his eyes, during his Best of 2012: 60 books in 60 minutes book talk at the ISLMA conference. When I saw more recently that a highly-regarded teacher-friend of mine, Gary Anderson, rated it 5 stars on Goodreads, calling it a "masterpiece," I immediately requested it from my local library.
While walking back to my apartment (I live virtually right across from the local branch, which is super convenient), I turned a corner quickly and literally ran into a guy who resembled Matthew Shepard so much that after apologizing I had to do a double-take to see if I was imagining this person. He had blonde-ish hair that fell at an angle across his face, and he was remarkably pale. He smiled shyly, also said "Sorry," and continued on his way.
This encounter alone haunted me, and I felt compelled to sit down as soon as I walked in the door and read all 68 poems in a very short amount of time. 

In short: Everyone should read this book of poetry, which as a collection is called "A Song for Matthew Shepard," the 21-year-old college student who was kidnapped, beaten, and left for dead tied to a fence in rural Montana in October, 1998 all because he was gay. These poems, which are each written from a different point of view (including the moon, the fence, a deer, the killers, the cops, etc.), are incredibly moving, nauseating, and powerful. 
Lesléa Newman, who was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for Gay Awareness Week at the same university Shepard attended only a week after his brutal murder, uses a variety of poetic forms and includes an explanation of those forms in the back of the book, in addition to a list of relevant resources. She now works closely with the Matthew Shepard Foundation. For more information, visit their website: 

And please watch and listen to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis's song, "Same Love."

If you have some extra time, here are some further, more personal thoughts on the subject.

When I was about 13 or 14, during the early years of AOL, I remember chatting with a guy friend who I'd known since preschool. I don't remember how it came up, but he decided to "come out" to me over an instant message. I remember being surprised but mostly just curious. I asked him who else knew. And I asked him if he thought he'd get made fun of just because he happened to like boys. I don't remember the specifics of the conversation, except for this detail: He told me he didn't like how often he heard the offensive word "fag." I admitted to him that I called my little sister that all the time and had no idea that it was such a bad word; it was just the current trendy insult. I vowed to never utter the word again.
A few years later Matthew Shepard's murder made national headline, being labeled as a hate crime. I thought back to the conversation I had with my friend and how he had felt uncomfortable and scared to let anyone know his "secret identity."

In high school I had a handful of friends who were gay, which I imagine wasn't the easiest label to deal with amidst the homogenous, A&F-wearing suburbanites. Early on in my senior year (2000), one of our fellow classmates, also a member of the glorified football team, made and wore a homophobic t-shirt to school, while pretending to talk in a lisp all day. I believe the culprit was one of the same boys who had walked behind me several times in those same halls pretending to sneeze but saying "a-jew."

(I thought of this when I read the poem on page 51 called "The Frat Boys." A fraternity at Colorado State University sponsored a Wizard of Oz-themed float in their homecoming parade with a scarecrow that had "I'M GAY" spraypainted on it. Matthew Shepard was discovered by a runner, who at first stated he thought Shepard was a scarecrow tied to the fence, on October 7. This appalling act took place a few blocks from the hospital where Matthew laid in a coma on October 10, only two days before he succumbed to his injuries.)
When I was asked to speak on "Character" at the National Honor Society inductions, I mentioned this in my speech. I didn't mention his name because that wasn't the point. The point was to draw attention to the fact that something needed to change at that school because there was no excuse for acting that way toward fellow classmates (or anyone for that matter). 
Afterward, a friend of mine approached me in the auditorium and said how much he liked my speech but that he had to correct me on something; I used the term "sexual preference," and I learned then that the correct term to use was "sexual orientation." This is not something that people choose, they're born this way (cue Lady Gaga). I was embarrassed. Here I was trying to make a statement and stand up for my friends, and I probably came across just as ignorant because of my lack of thoughtful word choice. But I never forgot that moment and have taken it upon myself to correct people whenever I hear someone refer to homosexuality as a choice or a preference. (Lyrics from above video, "Same Love," The right wing conservatives think it's a decision/And you can be cured with some treatment and religion/Man-made rewiring of a predisposition/Playing God/America the brave still fears what we don't know/And God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten/But we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago/I don't know

Soon after I gave that speech the homophobic guy (the one who made the t-shirt) and I happened to be at the same party one night. Even though I had refrained from mentioning him by name, I only called out his actions, he was beyond pissed. More than a decade later I don't recall exactly what he screamed at me through gritted teeth, but I can picture his reddening face as he grabbed a nearby bar stool, flipped it over, and started swinging at me in a drunken rage. He didn't succeed in hitting me, and it was over almost as soon as it started, thanks to intervening bystanders.

Something had to be done. My guidance counselor at the time mentioned that he and a few other staff members and concerned students were looking into starting a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and asked if I'd want to help. I eagerly agreed. There wasn't a lot of time before I graduated to make much of a difference, and although the group survived under various aliases over the years, I found out today that it apparently was never officially recognized by the school nor the district. The good news: This is the first year, under a more general all-encompassing alias, that it is finally--12 years later--being granted official club status. It took entirely too long in my opinion, however I'm still proud to have been part of the initial group that helped pave the way for some reality bubble-bursting. Also, I really like the direction its evolved, which is "celebrating the human experience and issues of acceptance for all members of the community." Perfect.

Moving on to college... 

I arrived back home via Amtrak after my first year as a student at New York University (where, by the way, being a gay guy was the norm) to find my dad and my best friend, Abbi, waiting for me at Union Station. When Abbi and I were alone, she confided that while she was waiting with my dad he asked her, "Is Lyse a lesbian?" She laughed and replied, "No...she's not a lesbian. What made you think that?" His only reasoning, or at least the only reason he told Abbi, was that I didn't have a boyfriend in high school. The natural assumption being: she must like girls then. Abbi told him that was a ridiculous conclusion, that hardly any of our close friends had boyfriends in high school. 
Then he said something to her that meant the world to me: "...because I wouldn't care if she was [a lesbian]. I just want her to be happy." If my dad, who is notorious for belting "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof at any given moment and who views the world through a formulaic lens, can be so unconditional with his love, anyone can muster the same.

When I was 28...

I went on a roadtrip with my friend, Dana, and we ended up at a line-dancing saloon in Nashville on our first night. Just in time for a hula-hoop contest. I won second place. When I returned to our table, some men standing nearby congratulated me. I smiled and thanked them. One of those men, a few minutes later, started laughing with his buddy and called out: "HOMO!" Horrified, I turned to face them to make sure I'd heard right, and sure enough they were watching the one guy on the floor, out of a sea of hip-twisting females, doing a swell job of keeping his hoop a-twirlin'. Again, the man beside me called out something at the boy on the dance floor using the word "homo" all the while cracking up with his friend.
I tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Excuse me. Can you please stop yelling the word 'homo'?"
He looked at me, startled. "What makes you think it's appropriate to use that kind of language directed towards another human being?" I continued.
He genuinely seemed like he had no idea that yelling "homo" at someone was an offensive act. "Well he's obviously a homo because men shouldn't be that good at hula-hooping," he explained. 
"Ok, first of all, can you please stop using that word?" I went on to explain to him that it doesn't matter whether he's gay or not, it's inappropriate to yell that word because not only might you offend him, you never know who you're offending within earshot. He glanced at Dana, probably assuming that she and I were "homos" as well, but then surprised me by sincerely apologizing, saying he wouldn't do that again. 

If you haven't yet read October Mourning, I encourage you to check out a copy from your local library. Share it with friends and family. And if you're a teacher, recommend it to students.
To borrow Gary's description: It's masterful.

I will leave you with some strung together pieces of the poet's Afterword:

"...the phrase I can't imagine repeated itself over and over in my mind. So many people I'd spoken to in the last twenty-four hours had said the same thing: I can't imagine. And yet we must imagine, because the truth is, what happened to Matthew Shepard and his family could happen to any one of us...I have tried my hardest to imagine the last hours of Matthew Shepard's life before he lost consciousness. It is impossible to fathom the raw fear he surely felt as he begged for his life. As a poet, I know it's part of my job to use my imagination. It's part of my job as a human being, too. Because only if each of us imagines that what happened to Matthew Shepard could happen to any one of us will we be motivated to do something. And something must be done...To quote John Lennon: Imagine." 

And remember...

(patch purchased at the Mynabirds merch booth at Empty Bottle, October, 2012)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I'm baaaaack...with an MLS!

Hello Force Field readers (a.k.a. Amy)! Recently I had an opportunity to answer some pretty thought-provoking questions about how I choose to live my life and why (I will reveal where these questions came from and why if I make it to the "final round"), which was enough motivation to bid farewell to this many-year hiatus of not consistently posting and start being disciplined about writing again.

I also happen to have a lot of time on my hands these days given that I am finally done with my Masters degree (after twice as long and incurring twice as much debt as initially planned) in Library and Information Science...and have yet to find a full-time job.


I am officially a Librarian/Media Specialist, or what I like to refer to as an Information Scientist. With Special Collections and K-12 certificates. I am currently seeking a position as a middle or high school librarian. When I tried to put into words why I want to be a school librarian, here is what I came up with:

When I started down the path to become a librarian, I did so because being a voracious reader in my developing years helped to form my beliefs, shape my dreams, and set my values. One of my favorite books from those developing years is The Giver by Lois Lowry because the story changed the way I looked at and interpreted the world around me. Even as I reread the book recently, I felt a sense of awakening with each page I turned. Earlier this year I finished Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, and I was mesmerized by the intertwining stories. Both of these books illustrate why I want to be a school librarian; through literature and our ever-evolving technologies I want to help students look at the world with a new sense of understanding like Jonas and to help connect the past with the present like Ben and Rose.

(Note to readers: If you (or your kids) haven't read either of these books, do yourself and your brain a favor and check them out from your local library immediately!)

To complete the K-12 portion I had to create an "assessment portfolio" to showcase my philosophy of education, artifacts accompanying explanations related to all of the Illinois standards, as well as a summary of my impact project. I worked really hard on this, all of its components individually but also structurally and aesthetically so that it would be a visually appealing artifact in itself to page through. 
Here it is, ladies and gentleman, the summation of 4 years of grad school: Alyse's Assessment Portfolio

It probably comes as no surprise that while studying to be a librarian I rediscovered my love and desire to voraciously read and recommend books. You can follow my book reviews and be my friend on Goodreads here: Alyse's Goodreads Profile
My intention is to refocus this blog to be mostly about everything related to books, reading, literacy, etc. in hopes that I can share the love with all of you and that this blog can serve as more of a virtual conversation with fellow lovers of lit. So don't be shy! I want to hear from YOU!

What are you reading? What is your favorite book? What book do you hate? Tell me, I want to know!

(Seriously, why do I not own something with this phrase on it?)

Another intention while I'm at it: Create a kickass, creative business card like one of these: Awesome Librarian Business Cards

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dear Mr. President...

Dear President Obama,

Congrats on your second term. Since I can't be there again tomorrow, I thought I would share my thoughts, photos, and a video [albeit terrible quality] I compiled after semi-spontaneously attending your first inauguration 4 years ago: force field: the inauguration

Thank you for taking promising steps towards fixing our country's absurd healthcare system and eradicating gun violence. May the next 4 years be filled with much-improved healthcare (both physical and mental), less war (both nationally and abroad), peaceful streets, and calmer minds.


P.S. Do you need a librarian/dog walker at the White House?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

100 Books in 2012

First of all, it's good to be back. I took an inexcusably long break from writing, pretty much for the entire 3.5 years I was attending grad school. Here's the good news: I am now an Information Scientist (a.k.a. librarian), and over the last year I've been reading like a fiend. Nothing like reading 100 books in one year to get you re-inspired to start writing again. In fact, I was so proud of this personal accomplishment that I am dedicating my first blog post [of 2013] to the complete list.

Most people's responses when I bragged that I read 100 books this year were something along the lines of: "Yeah, but all you read are kid books." First of all, did YOU read that many books this year? Second of all, yeah 20 or so of the books listed are picture books, and most of the novels listed are categorically "YA (Young Adult)," but they're still books. And I learned just as much, if not more, from Mo Willem's Leonardo, The Terrible Monster than The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

So here they are, loosely in the order I read them. Some have reviews I copied and pasted from what I wrote on Goodreads. I am distinguishing picture books, audio books, and graphic novels with parenthetical statements for those who are interested in format. Books I'd highly recommend are preceded by 2 stars (**).

(NOTE: After closer examination, my tally was technically 99 and 1/3 books, as I still have yet to read the remaining 2/3 of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.)

**1) Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Took 2 days to read. Everyone, especially if you have any relation to education (teacher, administrator, student, parent, counselor, librarian, etc.), should read this. You'll fall in love with August and have an eye-opening look to how, not just classmates, but their parents (atrocious!), try to act like he's not good enough to be part of the school just because he has a facial deformity.

**2) Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper

I really liked this book. Definitely made me think a lot about how kids with disabilities are treated, especially in an "inclusion" school setting. I loved seeing the world from Melody's perspective. I can't think of an alternate ending, but I wish her class would have been chastised more for leaving her behind on the big day. 

3) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

This book held my attention for about 100 pages around 400-500. Other than that, don't get the hype.

4) The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

The sequel was better than the first, however the American version of the first movie ruined the entire mystery of the second book, so I predicted everything WAY sooner than I should have.

5) [1/3 of] The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

**6) The Giver (re-read)

This book changed my life when I read it in 5th grade. I recently read it again as an adult, worried that I wouldn't feel the same attachment. It was still there. Fantastic, thought-provoking read. 

**7) The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

8) Divergent by Veronica Roth

I liked this and futuristic Chicago as the setting, but I wanted to like it more than I did. I'll definitely still read the rest of the trilogy. 

9) Feed by M.T. Anderson

I wanted to and expected to like this book more than I did. I liked the concept behind it, but I didn't find it a super compelling read. With that said, I think there are some extremely thought-provoking sentences, paragraphs and ideas throughout.
Also, I felt very connected to Violet's desire to meet at least someone (in this case a boyfriend, who she [sort of] finds in Titus) to know and understand her. I can identify and empathize with the pain of discovering someone has blatantly chosen not to read pages and pages of thoughts that one chooses to share. It made me think about all the times in college when I would send novella-length e-mails home to a group of people that I thought might care, trying to make connections. What if most of those just ended up in the virtual trashcan?
Throughout the book, I felt the same feeling I felt in the middle of watching Wall-E in a dark theater full of people staring at a giant screen... in a downspiral of depression.
It reminds me of a Wilco lyric: "...our stories fit into phones..."
Although I actively participate in all these social networking "feeds," I always feel somewhat guilty and am worried for the future of kids who only know of human interaction involving some form of a screen. It's scary.
And this was written almost a decade ago before every social networking site had what they now call "[news] feed." Crazy.
Maybe this deserves an extra star for making me think so much, despite not loving how it was written...

10) The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

11) The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

I really liked the beginning and ending of this book but thought the middle was kind of slow. However, Calpurnia reminded me so much of myself as a little girl, that I'm leaning towards rating it higher than 3 stars. 

**12) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
13) Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
14) The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

15) Holes by Louis Sachar

I didn't think I was going to like this as much as I did in the end. Mostly due to Sachar's mastery of eccentric characters, and I also think it poses a good first experience for kids who are just learning to "fill in the holes" in the more complicatedly interwoven stories they're reading. 

16) Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer L. Holm
I was expecting to like this more and wish it was more reader-interactive, but it served as a good example when talking to 8th graders about the journal-as-genre to show how a journal doesn't have to be just pages of written text. 

17) The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett
18) The Calder Game by Blue Balliett

**19) A Thousand Splendid Suns (audio) by Khaled Hosseini

Captivating story of interwoven lives in Afghanistan spanning several decades. My heart sped up as the story got closer and closer to 2001. Although this is a work of fiction, I liked feeling as though I was getting a better understanding of how senseless war is on the other side of the world. I listened to this as an audiobook on my commutes to/from work, and I often didn't want to get out of my car. 

20) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon

21) You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah! by Fiona Rosenbloom

I started off reading this on a Sunday morning and finished it two hours later. The language cracked me up and I found myself wishing I had written this book during my own bat-mitzvah season 16 years ago. The chapter titles alone made me giggle. There's not a whole lot to the story beyond a typical best-friend breakup over a boy, but it's a lighthearted easy read, and I really enjoyed the characters, the humor and the Jewish references. 

22) The Maze of Bones (
The 39 Clues #1) by Rick Riordan
I was expecting to like this book and the concept of this series a lot more than I did, but it left me not really interested in reading beyond book 1. Also, the website is not easily-navigable and you can't participate unless you have the trading cards, which will rarely be included in the library's copies of the books.
Also, I think the fact that each book is written by a different author is kind of jarring and doesn't bode well for the consistency of Amy and Dan's adventures... especially with the number of characters involved.
Despite not being blown away by it, after I did a presentation about the series in my School Media Center class, lots of seasoned YA librarians said their students love the series, and that it's especially well-received by reluctant readers. Hence the 3 stars.

23) Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin
A compelling, interesting and super fast read. I learned a good amount of Stalin's regime and the relentless fears of the Russian people by viewing the communist happenings through the eyes of young Sasha.
The illustrations help convey a time of fear and darkness as well.
Was surprised it ended where it did but ultimately thankful.

**24) Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

I started reading this en route to MN not knowing that half the story takes place there. I also had no idea that the last page would reveal that the book is dedicated to Maurice Sendak, who just passed away yesterday. Librarians, sign language, the feeling of first discovering New York City and an unraveling story of self-discovery. Loved it. Possibly even more than The Invention of Hugo Cabret

**25) Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst
I picked this out based on the cover illustration, which I know you're not supposed to do, but it's worth mentioning because they carry on throughout the story.
Cute, easy read. Definite option for story hour- lots of potential for emotion and voices and Viorst provides 3 different endings, which could be fun to do with kids as well. 

**26) Lulu Walks the Dogs by Judith Viorst

Love Judith Viorst and loved Lulu and the Brontosaurus, so I was pretty excited to see there was a new Lulu book. And this one is about her being a dog walker. Everything about it made me smile :) 

27) I am a Pole (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert
28) Rules (audio) by Cynthia Lord
29) The Pillars of the Earth (audio) by Ken Follett

**30) The Glass Castle (audio) by Jeannette Walls
This was my first audiobook experience, as I needed something to look forward to on my long commutes.
It's really hard to imagine that the story is real.
I loved it. 

31) Will Grayson Will Grayson (audio) by John Green and David Levithan

I liked this story, and I loved being familiar with the setting of Chicago, Evanston and even one of my favorite music venues: The Hideout!
I gave it an extra star because listening to it (aside from the grating repetitiveness of the narrators reading the screen names in internet chats one too many times) on Playaway during my commute as opposed to reading it, made it really come to life. I loved the voices the two narrators gave to the characters, especially Tiny Cooper's, and hearing the renditions of the songs in his musical made me laugh out loud in the car. 
The story has a lot of great messages and lessons about being a teenager (whether gay or straight), love, life and the true meaning of friendship: showing you care about and appreciate people. 
And get this--when the audio ended, I turned on the radio, and guess what was playing! TINY DANCER!
Burning Question: Did Lady Gaga write "Born This Way" for Tiny Cooper??

32) Tell No One (audio) by Harlan Coben

33) The Boss Baby (picture book) by Marla Frazee

Same illustrator as the Clementine series with really humorous illustrations. Recommended by Kathy, who said she likes to give it as a gift to new parents. 

34) The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
35) Blankets (graphic novel) by Craig Thompson
36) Queen of the World! (Babymouse, #1) (graphic novel) by Jennifer L. Holm

**37) The Fault in our Stars by John Green
Let's just say there are few books that have caused me to actually shed tears. As readers who get a glimpse into the love- and my oh my isn't it the love we all long for and deserve- between Hazel & Augustus and the importance each of us has to someone else in this crazy world.
Halfway through I was enjoying it but wasn't sure I was buying into all 5-star hype. By the end, though, I was filled with so many overwhelming feelings--not just sadness, but also heart-bursting love for the world and the people in it--it's hard not to praise the work fully.

38) Bruiser by Neal Shusterman
39) Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
**40) The Help by Kathryn Stockett (The movie is *terrible* and totally cheapens the book.)

41) Swallow Me Whole (graphic novel) by Nate Powell

I admit it--I chose this book solely based on its cover. However, I had a hard time following the story. I thought all the themes the description touched upon made it sound like something I'd enjoy, but I didn't follow what was happening at times. In addition, I didn't find any of the drawings nearly as captivating as the cover art (everything else is in black and white), and a lot of the text bubbles were hard to read... I'm sure this was on purpose, but it only left me kind of bored and frustrated. 

**42) Smile (graphic novel) by Raina Telgemeier
A great message for girls about inner beauty. Lots of laugh out loud moments that hearkened back to my love of the '90s (Bart Simpson shirts, The Little Mermaid, Teen Spirit deodorant). Also conjured up relatable memories of all my own teeth issues, most memorably when I had minor gum surgery and everyone addressed me as "chipmunk" in my freshman yearbook. 

43) American Born Chinese (graphic novel) by Gene Luen Yang

I was supposed to read this book for my YA Lit class last year, but CPL never got a copy for me in time. Definitely a quick and fun read. I really enjoyed the 3 interchanging story lines but when they finally become interwoven in an ah-ha moment near the end, it ends I abruptly and left me thinking, "wait- but then what?" 

44) Ghostopolis (graphic novel) by Doug TenNepal

45) Tommysaurus Rex (graphic novel) by Doug TenNepal
**46) My Monster Burrufu by Alberto Corral

**47) 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I was nervous to read this book. Two and a half years ago (although it seems like hardly any time has passed) I lost a close relative to suicide. I still don't understand the circumstances, and every time I think about him and the taboo subject, my stomach twists and I want to rewind time and recognize the signs. What could I have done to show I cared more? What could I have said to convince him otherwise (even though I didn't know that was ever remotely a possibility until it was too late)? It kills me, still, that I saw him 36 hours before it happened. I still haven't been able to write about it. All that's in my journal on a blank page is: "My mom called and in a panicked voice said, 'Are you sitting down?' All I could think was, 'Oh no. Her cancer came back.' But when I sat down on the closed toilet and hesitantly said, 'Yeah,' my heart racing and breaking, I was shocked when what she actually said was, 'J is dead...He killed himself.'"

I really enjoyed the format of the book and the double narrative. It evoked a lot of different feelings as I read it. Hannah's voice (at least how my brain made her sound) even pervaded my dreams last night. Every time I fell back to sleep, my dreams were narrated in her voice. Haunting.

I was going to rate this book 4 stars, but after reading the last two pages and reading the author interview about how this book has [positively] affected his teen reader audience, I'm knocking it up to a 5 out of 5 because that kind of power behind a piece of writing deserves the best praise.

I think this is an important book for teenagers to read. As the author, Jay Asher, says in an interview at the back of the book in reply to the question, "Were you ever worried that this book would be hard for people to get through because of the serious issues it deals with?"
"...Some people, primarily adults, would rather there be no books dealing with controversial subjects, even if those books help start a dialogue between teens and adults. Thankfully, I've heard from a lot of parents and teachers and librarians who are using this book for that very reason."

48) Stitches
(graphic novel) by David Small
I liked this graphic novel and thought it was interesting that it's also labeled as a "memoir." I think the "where are they now?" type blurbs with accompanying photographs in the back of the book helped me appreciate the story even more because it helped the reader understand the context of the storyline that much more. 
**49) Rupunzel's Revenge (graphic novel) by Shannon and Nathan Hale

50) Meanwhile (graphic novel) by Jason Shiga
I didn't follow all 3,856 story possibilities, however I enjoyed following a few of Jimmy's adventures. Reminded me of the Choose Your Own Adventure book series I used to adore as a kid. Fun to see something like that in a visual, colorful map-type format!

51) Zebrafish (graphic novel) by Peter H. Reynolds

52) Auschwitz (graphic novel) by Pascal Croci
It's hard to say that you "liked" a book of this sort. Croci doesn't hold back with his often violent depictions/illustrations of the terror at Auschwitz. It's gut-twisting to look at, and I found myself, at times, only focusing on the text bubbles and only glossing over the illustrations. The interview at the end [with Croci], which includes excerpts of letters from survivors interviewed for the fictional depiction, was interesting and eye-opening. 

53) Green (picture book) by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
54) Zombies in the Library by Michael Dahl

**55) The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton
Loved how the use of neon colors were used more and more throughout the book as the brothers got closer and closer to fully utilizing their discovery.
I liked the illustrations and the story (which is pretty interesting!) was laid out simply for young readers. Definitely a unique text for young readers looking for a non-fiction book to read. 

**56) Inside Out & Back Again by Tanhha Lai
I loved this book. Two of the reasons can be found in the author's note at the end. 1) "I extend this idea to all: How much do we know about those around us?" and 2) "I also hope after you finish this book that you sit close to someone you love and implore that person to tell and tell and tell their story."
This book is written in short, eye-opening poems and spans the year of 1975. The story is told from the perspective of Há, a Vietnamese girl who flees Vietnam with her family, near the end of the war, and ends up in Alabama. The fact that it's written in poetry works really well because a lot of the details are based off the authors own memories, so it flows really well in the way that short bursts of detailed memories often do. It's hard not to empathize with Há's desire to go back to war-torn Vietnam, when none of the kids are nice to her, their evangelical neighbors practically force them to get baptized, English is impossible to learn, and she has no idea whether or not her father is still alive.
Having just traveled to Vietnam this summer, I particularly felt a strong tie to this book because of how it felt to be an American there only 40 years later.
Highly recommended. For all ages really.

**57) Bridge to Terebithia (re-read) by Katherine Paterson
I haven't read this book since I was probably 11 years old, almost 20 years ago, but I remember the story made a great impact on me and how I've continually valued friendships over the years. Now that I'm working in a school library, grade 3-5, I decided I should re-read it as an adult, in addition to the fact that I forgot to adjust my Netflix queue and got the movie in the mail a week ago. I kept wishing I misremembered the tragedy that's weighed on my mind as the single memory from the book, but it still happened and my feelings didn't waver. The book subtly addresses religion and what happens (or doesn't) in the afterlife based on one's beliefs. Judging by the time of my life that I first read this, I understand now another one of the reasons why I felt so strongly about this story.

**58) Halloween (picture book) by Jerry Seinfeld

Got to play Seinfeld narrating his own book, while showing classes the illustrations in the book. It was hilarious. 

59) Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech
60) A Giraffe and a Half by Shel Silverstein

**61) Animal Heroes: True Rescue Stories by Sandra Markle

I read this book in preparation for this Thursday night's non-fiction book club at the school where I'm student teaching. I am a total sucker for animal stories, especially ones where they save people. There are 10 stories about pets saving their owners and wild animals saving people in their natural environments. The first story is about a guide dog who lead his blind owner out of the World Trade Center on 9/11. That alone hit close to home, so I was hooked and read the rest of the stories pretty quickly. There are text boxes with easy-to-read facts about natural disasters (e.g. hurricanes) and health issues (e.g. hypothermia) that add important information for kids to fully understand the extent to which the animals helped the humans.

**62) Wallace's Lists (picture book) by Barbara Bottner

Cute book about deviating from life's lists, something people even a lot older than Wallace could learn how to do.

**63) Leonardo, the Terrible Monster (picture book) by Mo Willems

Loved the visual design, both text and illustrations. Leonardo is adorable (although he'd probably hate, at least in the beginning), if I described him that way. Quick, simple read with a great message.

64) When Sophie Gets Angry -- Really, Really Angry (picture book) by Molly Bang

65) Teammates (picture book) by Tiki Barber and Robert Burleigh
This book didn't really grab my attention, but I also don't really care about football that much. I do think it's neat that the authors are real-life football stars and friends, which I didn't realize until I tried searching for this picture book on Goodreads. 

66) Strange and Wonderful Tale of Robert McDoodle: The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Dog (picture book) by Steven Baur

Cute concept.

67) Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen (picture book) by Cari Best
This book was cute, but I didn't love it. I liked the ending. 

68) Oh yeah! (picture book) by Tom Birdseye

Two boys who "one-up" each other about how scared they're NOT going to get sleeping in a tent outside. Liked illustrations more than the book as a whole.

69) A Frog Thing (picture book) by Eric Drachman

Easy reader picture book with a positive message about being happy with who you are.

70) The Perfect Nest (picture book) by Catherine Friend
71) When Randolph Turned Rotten (picture book)by Charise Mericle Harper

72) The Incredible Book-Eating Boy (picture book) by Oliver Jeffers

I loved the collage-like illustrations in this book, as well as the storyline. The bite taken out of the back corner also gives it that extra humorous, visceral touch. Want to add this to my own growing personal library and check out the other books by Jeffers. 

73) Michael's Golden Rules by Deloris (picture book) and Roslyn Jordan

I didn't love this book, despite the intro being written by the great Michael Jordan. But, again, sports books really don't hold my attention, so it could be the perfect book for a young boy (or girl) struggling at Little League, etc. 

**74) Hippo-not-amus (picture book) by Tony and Jan Payne

Another great, humorous and colorful picture book about learning to love who you are, even if you have to try being other species to reach that level of appreciation. 

75) Pete's a Pizza (picture book) by William Steig
76) Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale
(picture book) by Mo Willems

77) Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity (picture book) by Mo Willems

I can relate to having a favorite stuffed animal and knowing when a similar one is not yours (or when your mom promises she won't was it but does anyway). I really liked the illustrations, set atop real black & white photographs. My one question, though, is that one of the photographs is of the real Arc'd'Triumph in Paris, but the story takes place in Brooklyn, so you'd think a picture of the arch, would be the one in Washington Square Park in Manhattan... details, details. 

**78) Library Lion (picture book) by Michelle Knudsen

Animals in the library? Yes, please! 

79) I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato (picture book) by Lauren Child

As someone who was quite the picky eater growing up, I loved reading this book about how Charlie gets his sister Lola to eat various foods she refuses to eat by giving them imaginative names and backstories (e.g. referring to tomatoes as MOONSQUIRTERS)! I also really liked the use of moving text and the cute illustrations. 

**80) Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth (picture book) by Kate Klise

Now that I'm an adult, I want to give this book to my mom. 

**81) Ish by (picture book) by Peter H. Reynolds
**82) The Dot
(picture book) by Peter H. Reynolds 

83) The Adventures of a Nose (picture book) by Viviane Schwartz
Loved the illustrations, showing that the nose subtly completes a face no matter where it goes. 

84) I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed (picture book) by Lauren Child

85) Just a Dream (picture book) by Chris Van Allsburg
Scary that this was published in 1990. Like Wall-E, it makes me nervous that this is where our world is quickly headed if people don't start caring about the Earth and its resources. Good lessons with dreamy illustrations.

**86) Scaredy Squirrel (picture book) by Mélanie Watt

Like, Wallace's Lists, this book has another great lesson about breaking routine and exploring the unknown. 

**87) Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

I loved that is based off the author's grandmother's own immigration story. The integration of Spanish is great. I actually wish there was more. I liked how the chapter titles are types of fruit (written in both languages) instead of numbers and how each fruit related to the story. Esperanza changes from her rich rancher mentality to a more humble and understanding person after experience life as a new U.S. immigrant.

88) The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter's Wonder by Mark Cassino and Jon Nelson

I thought this book was boring and the visuals too repetitive. 

89) GUYKU: A Year of Haiku for Boys by Bob Raczka

**90) Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer

This book totally tricked me! I knew the concept was poetry from "mirroring" perspectives, but I didn't catch on that the side-by-side poems were the exact same text reversed until a few pages in! When I finally caught on, I thought, "Wow! This sure shows how much punctuation can changed the meaning of a sentence!" Each page is a different fairy tale and the two poems are from 2 different character's perspectives. Interesting and clever concept with colorful, engaging illustrations. 

91) Baloney (Henry P.) (picture book) by Jon Scieszca

92) There's No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein by Susan Sussman

"That afternoon we practiced Christmas carols. I just mouthed the words. I didn't know if Jews were supposed to sing the words "little Lord Jesus" and "'ron yon Virgin." I did sing "Jingle Bells" and "White Christmas." They seemed safe." I feel like Sussman translated my kid thoughts about celebrating Hanukkah when it seemed like all the focus was on Christmas into a children's book. Also, I love the title of this book. 

**93) Thoreau at Walden (graphic novel) by John Porcellino
I first learned about Henry David Thoreau and his beliefs in Gary Anderson's American Studies English class when I was a junior in high school. I immediately became obsessed with him and his ideologies. I just discovered this graphic novel version of some of his collected thoughts and spent the last 15 minutes reading it. I really enjoyed the introduction as a memory jog. I think the graphic novel portion does a good job of accomplishing the book's stated goal, which is to get the reader interested enough [meaning the books is fairly short and doesn't touch on ALL his thoughts, etc.] to seek out further information and writings by Thoreau. In the back of the book there are "panel discussions" which provide additional and interesting information anecdotes about some of the quotes included within the graphic novel.

**94) Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan 
It's hard to say whether I would have rated this book so highly had I not experienced 9/11 first-hand. But because I did and because I feel like Levithan had some kind of psychic ability to transcribe my inner-most thoughts regarding the range of feelings during that time (as well as passages that sounded they were ripped straight out of my 2001 journal), I had to give it a full 5 stars. I found myself wanting to underline practically every other paragraph, but it was a library book. I think I'm going to have to buy a copy now. I'm not sure if the everyday reader (meaning anyone not in NYC on that day) would feel as connected to the story, but I could be wrong, given that he does a fantastic job of describing what it felt like from 3 different points of view, of 3 teenagers whose paths cross because of the circumstances.

95) Ruth and the Green Book (picture book) by Calvin Alexander Ramsey
96) Redwoods (picture book) by Jason Chin
97) Houdini: The Handcuff King (graphic novel) by Jason Lutes
98) The Inside Outside Book of Libraries

**99) Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
I knew about a movie titled The Killing Fields for years, but never knew that the movie was about one of the world's worst genocidal atrocities. This past summer I spent some time in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Cambodia during a month-long backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. We went to the Killing Fields at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, and I walked around in a stunned silence as I listened to the audioguide in my ear describe what I was looking at: The Killing Tree, where the Khmer Rouge slammed babies head-first against its trunk before throwing them in a ditch, enormous ditches that marked mass graves of almost 9,000 people at that one site, how bone fragments and shreds of cloth still surface after the rainy season and a Buddhist stupa (memorial) filled with human skulls, many of which have marks of being assaulted by an ax.
Never in my life have I felt like more of an ignorant American. How did I never learn about such recent history (1975-1979...people are just NOW being brought to trial for their involvement) in school?? The whole experience was so incomprehensible, this is actually my first attempt to put any of it into words.

So when I heard about this new YA novel, based on the true survival story of Arn Chorn-Pond, a few months after I got home, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy in hopes of better understanding what I saw and learned about at Choeung Ek.

It's hard not to give this book 5 stars, even though it was really hard to read. I wanted to cry or throw up after reading practically every page, and it's the first book I've read where I actually found myself questioning whether the material is "appropriate" for a young adult audience. Then I frequently reminded myself that this is, for the most part, Arn's story. This is what he really lived through in his attempt to survive the Khmer Rouge through his musical ingenious and pure luck. And everyone, young and old, should read his story so we can better understand what human beings are capable of, what they can survive and how we need to prevent history like this from ever repeating itself.

**100) It's A Book by Lane Smith

Books I'm currently reading in 2013:
Impulse by Ellen Hopkins (finished)
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Gossamer by Lois Lowry
The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

What were your favorites of 2012?
And what are you excited to read in 2013?