Posts Tagged ‘American Association of School Librarians’

Digital Comics

Published by Kirsten on January 29th, 2012 - in Uncategorized

My new issue of Knowledge Quest (the official journal of the American Association of School Librarians)  has an article on digital graphic novels, a format I haven’t though much about. There are web comics I follow (I love Unshelved), and some of them have even gone to print editions, but that seems a little different than a graphic novel. When I’ve looked at heavily illustrated books on Kindle or Nook, I haven’t been impressed. But the author discussed a very cool platform for digital comics, called ComiXology, which you probably already know about if you are a big comics reader. But if you aren’t, this might just get you hooked.

First, ComiXology started out as a tool for retailers, to help them promote print comic books, and they still have a commitment to working with retailers so they get revenue from sales of comics sold through them, so you can set up your order through this site or buy through them and still be supporting your local comic book store. I think that’s pretty cool. Second, they have created not just a catalog but a space for a community of comics lovers to discuss and review comics, and it’s free to do so, without extraneous annoying advertisements. Presumably, if you are a member you’re there to discuss and buy comics so ComiXology’s own promotions won’t bother you, and there aren’t any others. They also have free comics, a nice feature that the author of the article I read mentioned… one of them for this week is Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things #1. Third, they have some pretty great partnerships and relationships with comics publishers, including DC, Marvel, and BOOM! Studios, so there’s a wide variety of comics available and ways to access them, which I won’t go into except that there are apps, and you want more details you can read about it here.

What’s fun for me, in terms of promoting horror through a variety of media, is that if you start from ComiXology’s home page for digital comics, there’s a “Browse” tab with a drop down menu that allows you to search in a variety of ways, including series, publisher, creator, story arc, top rated, and GENRE. And one of the genres you can explore is horror. I didn’t wander around much there but just on the first page I saw 28 Days Later, 30 Days of Night, and American Vampire, all of which we’ve reviewed here. The newest issue of The Walking Dead was a featured comic, too. There’s a lot going on out there not just in the world of ebooks, but in the comics world as well, and the arguments as to whether there’s a legitimate place for digital comics will, I’m sure, continue.

After a brief look, I know I’m probably intrigued enough to download the app and try a free comic, at the very least, to see what the reading experience is like. I’d love to hear what you think about the rise of digital comics, or ComiXology!

Waiting for Godot

Published by Kirsten on January 22nd, 2012 - in Uncategorized

I wasn’t paying attention, but there has been some sort of brouhaha online about reviews on Goodreads. Apparently someone on there posted a negative review of  a book, and a  friend of the author’s who responded  in a less-than-professional manner, causing a stunning flame war on Twitter (the author herself apparently was very gracious when she finally responded to the whole discussion).

I’m not sure what the big deal is here. Reviews on Goodreads or Amazon are reader opinions. As a librarian neither of those are places I would go to decide whether to buy a book for my collection, and as a reader, well, one bad review(or one good review) on Goodreads or Amazon is something I take with a grain of salt. Our philosophy here is that the individual reader’s taste is personal. Not everyone will have the same taste. And that’s okay.

But out of all of this craziness came this post by Maggie Stiefvater. Maggie Stiefvater, if you don’t know, is a bestselling YA author who has written a series called The Wolves of Mercy Falls. Last year she wrote an article for Knowledge Quest, the journal of the American Association of School Librarians, about the responsibilities of a YA author toward her teenage audience, which I thought was pretty good.

Apparently this Goodreads debacle caused her to step up and inform her readers that

A review is an unbiased, careful look at a book — basically it is a little academic paper. It involves an itty-bitty thesis on your opinion of the book, surrounded by tiny supporting sentences describing the strengths and weaknesses of said book. Every month, dozens upon dozens of these reviews come out in professional journals. Because they’re fair and thorough, they’re prized and respected in the publishing world.

I’m not going to quibble with everything she says here. A review SHOULD BE a careful look at a book. But it will never be unbiased and it shouldn’t be. At we have reviewers who enjoy and are knowledgeable about extreme horror and bizarro. Those are the people we ask to review extreme horror and bizarro, because they like reading it, have experience with it, and understand what it means to write well in those genres. If you write in those genres, be glad that we have those (awesome) people on staff.

Ms. Stiefvater’s post suggests that ONLY the reviews that appear in professional journals matter. I strongly disagree that a review must be a “little academic paper” with a thesis and supporting statements, though. If that were the case, I can guarantee academic and professional journals would not be publishing “dozens and dozens” of reviews(Also, her publisher wouldn’t have sent me a copy of Forever for review).  Just out of curiosity, I used the INSPIRE database Academic Search Premier (INSPIRE is Indiana’s virtual library) to find some “little academic papers” that have been published about Ms. Stiefvater’s own books. Reviews of her books have appeared in well-respected journals, including The Horn Book, Booklist, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. I’ve read all of these at some point, read some of them regularly and have great respect for the work they do.

But many reviews are mostly plot summaries. This is from the review of Shiver from Publishers Weekly. Eighty percent of it described the plot- only part of the first sentence and the last sentence provide an evaluation of the “strengths and weaknesses” of the book.

Stiefvater leaves the faeries oí Lament and Ballad for a lyrical tale… Stiefvater skillfully increases the tension throughout; her take on werewolves is interesting and original while her characters are refreshingly willing to use their brains to deal with the challenges they face.

Where’s the thesis and its multiple supporting sentences?

Here’s a review, this time of Linger, from the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. Once again, a majority of the review was a plot summary. Here’s the reviewer’s conclusion:

The sequel is as enjoyable as its predecessor but might benefit from more action. Both stories are basically love stories with supernatural elements. The new characters in Linger keep the story interesting, and readers are unlikely to sense an opening in the ending for a third book.

And here’s a review from Booklist, for Forever.

Once again, a large chunk was devoted to a plot summary. Here’s the part that actually commented on the book.

The parallel love stories contrast beautifully with each other: Grace and Sam are sweetly innocent together, constant and enduring; while Isabel and Cole’s relationship is more knowing, with sharp edges and an uncertain future. Stiefvater’s emotional prose is rich without being melodramatic, and she clearly shares her fans’ love of these characters.

She clearly shares her fans’ love of her characters? Is that supposed to be a strength or a weakness?

If it matters, I’m happy to share the citations, in proper format, on request. isn’t Booklist, and doesn’t pretend to be. We strive to write honest reviews, and to remember the audience we’re writing for. Every one of us is a volunteer and many of us devote hours each week to writing reviews that are so much more than what you see above, that our reviewers put their hearts and minds into to provide librarians and readers with reviews and information they aren’t going to find anywhere else. Kirkus Reviews may produce 5,000 reviews a year, but how many books are there out there with authors who will never make their cut? Ms. Stiefvater is one of the lucky few who can count on getting reviewed in the journals that libraries and bookstores use to choose the books they order. Not everyone gets that chance. But just because their review didn’t appear in a professional review journal doesn’t mean that the book isn’t worth reviewing or that those of us who genuinely strive to serve a professional or reading audience matter less.  As you can see above, even the reviews written for professional journals don’t quite meet her vision. Most authors who wait for a “little academic paper” complete with thesis and supporting sentences are waiting for Godot.

But authors, readers, and librarians looking for honest reviews of horror and paranormal fiction and the related genres, or scary stories for kids, will find that here.


The Dark Side of YA Fiction

Published by Kirsten on June 9th, 2011 - in Uncategorized

As I’m sure many people know by now, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal by their book critic decrying the graphic portrayal of some very dark corners of the teen experience in some of the current crop of books in YA fiction. The author reminisced about the good old days- the days when there was no YA fiction, meaning teens’ choices for learning about the world were the same as adults’ (Lolita, anyone)?.  then about the early days of YA fiction, where the authors just wrote about gang violence, murder, bullying, sex and sexuality, drug and alcohol abuse, and  religion (these are some of the issues that come up in The Outsiders, Forever, The Chocolate War, Deenie, Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret and Go Ask Alice, all books either mentioned by name or by authors mentioned by the writer of the article) It’s the current crop that’s worrisome to her, though, primarily because it makes explicitly visible the things some “gatekeepers” don’t wish to acknowledge about the interior lives (and exterior activities) of the lives of many teens today.

I think it’s contemporary books about contemporary teens for contemporary teens that really bother her, as she recommended several really excellent books with controversial or dark themes and adult content in a sidebar… but nearly every one of them took place in either the future or the past, and several of them wouldn’t be considered part of contemporary YA literature. Fahrenheit 451 is a great book for teens to read (I read it when a parent tried to have it banned from my middle school’s curriculum) but there’s no reason to turn away from YA books that have similar themes but take place today and involve teenage characters (I do wonder why it”s recommended just as a book for boys- really, it’s a book I hope everyone reads). Angelmonster is a fantastic book, but it’s hard to get darker than the early life of Mary Shelley.

There is a place of darkness in the mind of a teenager. It’s what compels us (as teens- I was one once) to investigate the horror, unfairness, and damage of the world around us.  It’s why assassinations and serial killers fascinate some of us, and (I am not trying to trivialize this in any way) why I read everything I could about the Holocaust and immersed myself in research on the Warsaw Ghetto Massacre. It isn’t necessary for every teen to read Robert Cormier to understand that there is hopelessness and evil in the world. But I still will never forget The Chocolate War, because it makes that understanding so personal.

Now, it is incredibly uncomfortable to read some of these books. The emotional impact can be considerable, and really disturbing (I think even more so for some adults). But it also opens doors, ones that lead to understanding by teens with limited experience of the world (and if you think those doors won’t crash down on them once they get to college, you’d be very wrong) and to validation for teens who think they’re alone in the world. The idea that their situation is not unique (and pretty much every teen thinks their situation is unique)  may never occur to them if they don’t encounter it in a book, which can lead to some much scarier consequences than a teen who reads the first chapter of The Hunger Games and decides it’s not their style. So many YA authors are flooded with letters from readers that say “You saved me”, or “I need advice” that Maggie Stiefvater (author of Shiver, among other books) wrote an article in Knowledge Quest (the journal of the American Association of School Librarians) discussing the responsibilities of the YA author to the teens who send these letters.

If these books were forced on teens, that would be terrible. We say on this site that if a book is not for you, you should put it down and find another.  But when they didn’t exist, it wasn’t because some of these problems didn’t exist. It’s just that people were afraid- nobody wanted to acknowledge them. Annie On My Mind was the first book that exposed me to the difficulties faced by teens who discover that they’re gay; Night Kites was the first mention of AIDS  I encountered that showed compassion. I needed those books at that time in my life. a time where an ad for a help line for gay teens was censored from my school’s newspaper because no student there  could possibly be gay. That’s not gatekeeping- that’s denial. I can only be glad that there are books now that address these topics, and many others,  openly.

Nobody’s making parents give these books to their kids.  They aren’t the only books available to teens, by far. I wouldn’t call it censorship for a parent to direct their child’s reading. Censorship is government-enforced. For someone recommending Fahrenheit 451 as a great read for teens, Meghan Cox Gurdon is awfully enthusiastic about controlling access to these materials for ALL kids, not just for the ones whose parents don’t want them reading Wintergirls. And if a kid’s not ready for or interested, it’s unlikely that they’ll read it or, if they do, understand it. Got a problem with the darkness in YA fiction? A lot of women my age first read Clan of the Cave Bear when they were barely teens, and that certainly wasn’t YA.

With so many types of books, so many authors with stories to tell, there’s something for pretty much everyone. That’s good. It means it’s a lot more likely that, one day, someone who needs it will leave the cave and see the light ahead.

The world is wider than the book critic at the Wall Street Journal would like teens to know. I often read the books section of the Journal, and they publish an article at least once a year about how dark YA fiction is, as if that’s news. Writers or readers of dark YA fiction (or the genre of your choice) shouldn’t need to justify themselves to anyone. Certainly not someone who recommends some rather dark fiction herself.