Book Review: The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

Lucy Variations Boy, did this bring back memories!  Of course, I wasn’t a world famous child prodigy, like 16 year old Lucy.  I was just your average kid who’s piano teacher mother expected me to perform perfectly at every recital…and didn’t.  Not that big a deal when it was just the students & their parents. But what if it was an international piano competition that you’d been working for months to win?  And what if you walked out the door as your name was called to the stage?

Lucy had an excellent reason to walk out the door.  Wouldn’t you if you’d just been told that your beloved Grandmother had died?  Grandfather, ever the perfectionist, hadn’t wanted her to know until after the competition.  As she walked out, Grandfather told her, “That was it.”  Lucy didn’t play again.  Instead, the family focus shifted to her equally talented younger brother, Gus.

After years of international travel, performances, study, and music, Lucy returns to regular school, albeit a private one.  She’s finally in one place long enough to hang out with friends, study anything she wants, and even have a crush.  Life is good…or should be.

Then Gus’s long time teacher dies suddenly and a replacement has to be found.  Enter Will, young, kind and interested in helping Lucy regain her passion for the piano.   Or is he?

Beautifully written with multi-dimensional characters, Zarr has penned a coming of age story with a dramatic flair (I mean, how many of us are prodigies?)  Still, Lucy’s struggle to become her own person in the face of family expectations is universal and one that we can all relate to.

What I learned at ALA: Part 4 – The Digital Lives of Tweens and Teens

This year’s President’s program was a joint effort between YALSA and ALSC focused on youth, ages 10-14 years.  The program had two presenters: Drs. Michelle Poris and Stephen Abram, VP of Gale Cengage Learning.  Dr. Poris is the owner/director of Smarty Pants, a marketing research firm specializing in youth and families.  Dr. Abrams is a futurist – one of those guys that reads like crazy and thinks about what the future will look like.

Ms. Poris started with the program with a look at the developmental processes of this age group.  And for this presentation she conducted a representational study of 415 10-14 year olds.  Some stats presented later in this post.

The key things I learned were:

  • Hey! Guess what!  Puberty drives many of the interests and behaviors of tweens!
  • All the messages about obesity being bad may be creating more body image issues.
  • The growth towards abstract thinking not only lets them think big thoughts, but they develop a more sophisticated sense of humor…as in irony, sarcasm, and puns.
  • These kids are MORE connected to parents than previous generations – cell phones make it easier to stay in contact and more kids consider their parents to be their friends.  However, all the extra curricular activities get in the way of spending time together.
  • At the same time, parents are often OVER-involved in their child’s life.  They may need “permission” to develop social connections outside of the family.  Luckily, new technology makes that easier than ever.
  • School performance has become a big issue with increasingly higher rates of anxiety, depression and etc.

Now, about technology…

  • TV is still on top, followed by music, online, video games, movies, outdoor activities, and reading for the 1o year olds.  By age 13-14 TV is still the most used technology, but texting is #4 and books have moved to the bottom of the list.
  • Tweens are multi-tasking to the max.
  • Top 50 brands for tweens include 15 digital brands with Wii and IPod touch in the lead.
  • Reality TV is the favorite type of show.
  • Games, Facebook, and being outdoors are favorite activities.
  • With all the gadgets, this age group has never had to wait to look things up.  It’s right at their fingertips.
  • Only 63% of the surveyed tweens counted books as an important way to keep up to date.  76% would rather watch a movie  BUT 75% say “I learn things from books that are just as important as the things I learn in school.”

And finally, if you want to keep up with trends, two free newsletters are YPulse and kidscreen.

On to the future…Dr. Abram says we’re in a Renaissance!

  • Children’s brains have changed – IQ’s are up 10-15 points.
  • TV and video games have changed the mapping of the brain.
  • Text-based learning is now in the minority.  Digital media contribute more; Google for text, YouTube for video, and itunes for auditory learning.
  • Video games lay the scaffold for learning and teachers should follow this method of building on success.  Fun fact: surgeons who play videogames have 30% higher success rates.

The world in 2020…

  • By 2014 many devices will be gone (CDs, DVDs, etc.) and the world will rely on wireless data streams;
  • Gesture computing will be on the rise (think Kennect);
  • More teens rely on Jon Stewart and Steven Cobert for their news than newspapers or other news programs.
  • The urban/rural divide continues but the digital divide is disappearing due to smartphones.
  • People will engage with and play primarily in the virtual world.
  • We’ll have multiple careers, many of which haven’t been identified yet.


It behooves us to get comfortable with Google+, Skype, video games, etc., and think about connecting with our patrons in the virtual world as well as in the bricks and mortar.  And that is especially true for connecting with tweens.

That’s it from ALA.


What I learned at ALA: Part 3 – Passive Programming That’s Anything But: Reaching Young Adults Subversively

Taught by Jackie Parker and Kelly Jensen, this workshop offered ideas for low cost programs that require little staff time or supervision.  Here’s the link to their Program Prezi.  The basic idea is that you leave things out or post online and let teens do it on their own time.  This involves things like contests, promotions, surveys, art projects, and etc.  Great for introverted, self-sufficient kids that don’t feel comfortable joining in the group stuff.


Plan – They suggest you put in some upfront time to generate ideas and a schedule for the mini-programs.  Maybe use your teen council to help with this?

Incentives – If you want, they can be low cost things like tickets & coupons, or free books, free printing, fine reductions, extra computer time, etc.

Publicize it – promote it with flyers in the library, facebook, twitter, outreach visits, etc.  Emphasize that teens can participate at any time.  Ask your teen council for advice.

Tip: “Allow yourself to fail.”  Good thing, ’cause I had NO teen involvement for the Shelftalking idea.  Shelftalks are brief reviews attached to the book shelf.  You see ’em all the time at Powell’s.  I set out bookmarks that teens could write on and put in books.  Didn’t work for me, but then I don’t have a lot of teens that just hang out at the library.  Might work well in a larger, busier library.

Program ideas

In the library

  • Spine poetry
  • Games & puzzles
  • Photography
  • Scavenger Hunts
  • Cover re-designs
  • magnetic poetry
  • origami
  • secret cards
  • “Guerilla Positivity” – leave out supplies for making pocket poems or heart cards that teens can leave around town for people to find.
  • Creative displays
  • Shelftalkers/tags

Using Technology

  • QR code treasure hunts
  • Book trailers
  • Book playlists
  • App reviews
  • Facebook contests
  • “Guess the book” contests – post the first line of a book or show a cover minus the title.
  • 5 word book recommendations

Create kits or programs in a box they can check out

  • shrinky dink bracelets
  • window painting
  • DIY scratch off cards (example on Pinterest)

Things to watch out for

  • Make sure staff know what’s going on!
  • Don’t put out anything you’ll miss if it gets taken.
  • Offer both low and high tech activities.

That’s it!  Have fun!

What I learned at ALA: Part 2 – Authors! Authors! Authors!

ALA is one of the best places to indulge in author worship.  They are everywhere –workshops, exhibit booths, stages, and even just wandering around like normal people.  Here’s who I had the opportunity of meeting, hearing or bumping into out on the floor.

At the YALSA YA Authors Coffeeklatch –in other words speed dating with authors– here’s who I met:

  • Daniel Kraus, author of Rotters – who knew grave robbing could reunite a father and son?
  • John Corey Whaley, Printz and Morris award winning author of Where Things Come Back.  Very sincere, enthusiastic, young guy, basking in the acclaim of his accomplishments.  I also heard his Printz Award speech later in the week.
  • Melissa Marr, author of the Wicked Lovely series and the upcoming Carnival of Souls.  She will send out bookmarks and things for free if you email and ask her!
  • Ellen Hopkins, author of many “issue” books for teens, has several titles out this year: Tilt for the YA audience; Smoke – a companion to Burned, out as a Kindle title only; Collateral & Triangles, adult titles.
  • As she was leaving, Ellen turned to me and said, “You look familiar.”  To which I replied, “You look familiar to me also.”  And then we realized we met at the OASL conference in 2010.  See what conferences can do for you?
  • Kazu Kibuishi, author of the Amulet series as well as others, pulled out his ipad to show the VERY cool app he’s working for the new graphic series The Mystery Boxes.  The graphics were beautiful and will take the stories into multimedia format.  Keep an eye out for it.
  • Neal Shusterman, (again!) author of recently released UnWholly, which is the long awaited sequel to Unwind.  And if you’re a fan, read UnStrung (if you have a Kindle) a novella that talks about what happens to the main character in between the two books.  And keep an eye out for UnSeamly, the final book of the trilogy coming someday!
  • Christine Hinwood, author of Printz Honor winner The Returning, flew all the way from Aussie-land.  She talked about what a quiet life she leads as an author and was in shock over all the acclaim.  And since winter had started, she was discombobulated by the return to summer weather.  I also heard her speak at the Printz Reception.
  • And finally, just before time ran out, Ruta Sepetys (se-pet-iss), author of Between Shades of Gray, appeared.  First she taught us how to say her last name (see above) and then shared how much she was enjoying the increase in sales to all those confused folks looking to buy Fifty Shades of Gray!  She’s just finished another historical about 1950’s New Orleans, titled Out of the Easy, with a publication date of Feb. 2013.

But wait there’s more…authors, that is!

The 2012 Margaret A. Edwards Award  for lifetime achievement was given to Susan Cooper, best known for the classic Dark is Rising Sequence.  In her elegant British voice and command of the language, she shared her love of writing and the process by which she creates.  We all sighed in pleasure at the end.  And the luncheon food was good too!

Later that same day, Chris Colfer, of Glee fame, gave one of the Auditorium Speakers presentations.  Everyone in attendance received an ARC of his book, The Land of Stories.  And guess what, he’s just like his character Kurt and real cutie!  (Okay, I admit, I’m a gleek.)

And the day ended with a real treat, the final performance of the incredible Rock Bottom Remainders!  It’s members have included Dave Barry, Stephen King, Amy Tan, Maya Angelou, Cynthia Heimel, Sam Barry, Ridley Pearson, Scott Turow, Joel Selvin, James McBride, Mitch Albom, Roy Blount Jr., Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Fulghum, Matt Groening, Tad Bartimus, Greg Iles, and a couple of professional musicians (thank God!).

The whole performance was a hoot!  The music was mediocre at best, but a good time was had by all.  Just type Rock Bottom Remainders into Youtube and see for yourself.

Last post I talked about seeing Ally Condie and Jacqueline Woodson at the YALSA Preconference, but I also literally ran into Jacqueline on the exhibit floor.  We were both trying to get through a crush of people when we bumped into each other.  Such a rush!

I got to hear Libba Bray reading the first chapter of her new book, The Diviners.  And later, managed to get the last free ARC from her publisher’s booth.  It was a “divine” experience!  ;>)

And then there was the Newbery/Caldecott Award banquet & the Printz Award reception.  Both were remarkable for different reasons.  The program for the Newbery banquet was the most inventive I’ve ever seen.  Designed by Caldecott winner Chris Raschka, it looked like a package.  When opened, out popped Daisy’s ball!  Take a look.




Raschka gave a very heartfelt, serious acceptance speech that put my husband, Tim to sleep.  When Tim asked if he could leave, I told him to wait, it was gonna get a LOT better ’cause Jack Gantos was next.  We all know he’s a humor writer, but he’s even funnier in person.  He proceeded to tell us in great detail that he’d no idea what he’d won for at least a couple of hours because the Newbery committee was making too much noise!  His agent finally told him he’d won the Medal.

At the Printz Award reception Daniel Handler and Moira Kalman’s acceptance “speech” stole the show!  It was a VERY hard act for anyone to follow.  The good news is that the medal & other honor winners graciously thanked YALSA for the recognition.  The bad news is that the rest of us had to wait patiently for the bar to open.  ;>)

My next posts will share what I learned at a couple of workshops I attended.  I mean, it was supposed to be a professional development opportunity, not just fan indulgence, and I really did get some great ideas!


What I learned at ALA 2012: Part 1

Thanks to the YALSA Baker & Taylor Scholarship and our very own OYAN Scholarship, I attended my first ever ALA Annual Conference in sunny SoCal.   This month I’ll use the blog to make my scholarship report with a series of posts about the conference.  I attended a pre-conference, several workshops, all the banquets, several author events and the orgy of the exhibit room floor.  Hopefully, something will be of use to you!

YALSA Pre-conference: “Books We’ll Still Talk About 45 Years From Now”

We were given a short list of 30 titles to read in advance.  Luckily, there were only 10 titles I hadn’t read including (I’m almost ashamed to say), To Kill a Mockingbird, Nation, The Outsiders, and Perks of Being a Wallflower.  I know, you’re wondering how I could have NOT read The Outsiders, not to mention …Mockingbird?  Shocking, but true.  And if truth be known, I still haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird.  Something had to give and that was it.  Anyway, it was a really good movie!  ;>)

Shortly into the workshop I realized that it was more like a Printz award committee meeting.  Which would have been fine if I hadn’t been producing the OYAN Mock Printz workshop for the past 5 years!  However, it was an opportunity to hear Jacqueline Woodson, Mark Shusterman, and Allie Condie provide thoughtful and eloquent answers to questions about writing for teens.  The nuggets I noted were:

  • Characters have to be easy to connect with;
  • That books must deal with issues with which all people grapple;
  • Voices must be relevant and authentic;
  • Avoid using slang and specifics; and
  • Remember that we’re all 14 inside!

Shusterman quoted Madeleine LeEngle, “The essence of childhood doesn’t change” whether you’re writing realistic, dystopian, or historical fiction.

Of course, the hosts plugged the authors’ new books:

  • Shusterman: the sequel to Unwind, came out in AugustUnWholly,
  • Woodson: coming in Oct., a new picture book  – Each Kindness
  • Condie: coming in Nov., the 3rd of the Matched trilogy – Reached

Then we broke into small groups and using a weighted voting system, narrowed the list of 30 to one title we all felt would still be read in 45 years.  And the winner is…(drumroll, please)…Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Next up: Authors! Authors! Authors!

I Hunt Killers

Jazz, 17 years old, is a charmer.  Good looking, great smile, and the son of one of the most prolific serial killers ever known.  “Dear Old Dad” (aka Billy Dent), did everything he could to raise his son to follow in his footsteps.  Jazz witnessed crime scenes from the criminal’s perspective, learned all about how to commit the perfect murder and has the nightmares to prove it.  When someone starts killing in Jazz’s home town, Jazz is convinced it’s a new serial killer.  Why is he compelled to learn everything he can about the murder?  Is he trying to catch the killer or enjoy the crime?  Is he like is dad or not?  Find out in I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Code Name Verity

Start reading now, it’s a strong contender for the Mock Printz 2013 list.  John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) has some competition!

In 1943, a British plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. The survivor, captured by the Gestapo, is trying desperately to delay the inevitable.  But is the story she’s writing revealing war secrets or is it simply the story of the unlikely friendship between a Lady and a commoner?  Ultimately it’s a darkly humorous story of espionage, friendship and courage.

From Booklist: “Both crushingly sad and hugely inspirational, this plausible, unsentimental novel will thoroughly move even the most cynical of readers.”

I agree.  Will you?