Comic Women Collective

Thor.0.0One of my co-workers at the library worked part-time at a local bookstore until very recently, and one of the things she was in charge of while she was there was coordinating bookstore events.  Things like summer activities, storytimes, and book clubs. Before she left the store, she came to me and said that they were interested in starting a new book club, for teens, focused on comics, and would I run it?  It could be themed around whatever I wanted, they planned to meet once a month, and I could pick any books I wanted as long as they were in print and easy for the store to get.

Do I have to tell you how fast I said yes?

I decided that, since superheroes are really chic right now, that I wanted to focus on tights and capes books, but that every title we read would star a female character.  New Thor, Batgirl, Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl…I told them I wanted to explore the lady side of the Big Two, and the store loved it, and last night we had our first meeting.

I was a little anxious about it, since there were some snafus getting the Thor book in (I picked Thor: Goddess of Thunder to start us off because I felt like the controversy surrounding the switch from classic Thor to Lady Thor would be a good way to introduce some central themes), but after a quick discussion with the store owner we decided that the first meeting would be more of a meet-and-greet to introduce ourselves, talk about what the club would look like, and introduce ourselves, and to also let me get a sense of the teens who’d be coming and what topics were important to them. Luckily, we got the books in, so everyone could grab a copy to read for the next time we meet.

It went GREAT! I had seven girls, who had varying degrees of exposure to superhero books, but who were all enthusiastic about trying something new. Most of them had been watching the Marvel movies, and a couple were tumblr users, so even though they hadn’t read much in the way of comics they knew who the characters were and had some great things to say about comic culture, representation, and which characters they already had an affinity for (all of them wanted to know why the heck Marvel hasn’t made a Black Widow movie, which, right? That was the moment I knew we’d all get along just fine).

One of the best things about having our first meeting not be about a particular book was that it gave me a chance to bring up what I think will be the central questions of our meetings (representation and diversity for diversity’s sake vs. thoughtful character choices, mainly) and it also gave the girls a chance to let me know what’s going to be important to them to talk about (costume and character design came up a lot, as did questions about family and support structure. Also the “fake geek girl” fallacy, which made me sad that they were already running into that so young).

REVIEW: Don’t Fail Me Now, by Una LaMarche

So I told you guys that an incredibly generous sales rep at Penguin Random House sent me a bunch of ARCs of juvenile and teen lit to use in conjunction with the book clubs I’m starting. To help their promotion I’ll be reviewing the titles here, and so far it looks like it’ll be pretty easy because Don’t Fail Me Now, by Una LaMarche, was REALLY good.

Dont-Fail-Me-Now-Una-LaMarcheIt’s told in the first person present tense POV of Michelle Devereaux, a seventeen-year-old high school student with a mom that just got put in jail again (for drug use), two younger siblings she’s pretty much solely responsible for looking out for, and a dead-beat dad who left their family ten years ago. Michelle is a champion: she single-handedly protects Denny and Cass, her siblings, keeps them fed, safe, and in school, and does so while keeping up her own grades so that she can get somewhere better. Her mother is a druggie, in and out of prison, and the only other family they have is their Aunt Sam who tries to extort rent from Michelle to keep the kids out of the foster system.

The story really begins when a boy named Tim finds Michelle at work, tells her that his step-sister Leah is her half-sister (the half-sister their father left Michelle’s mom for, before leaving Leah as well) and that Buck (their father) reached out to them because he’s dying and has a family heirloom for the girls. Michelle sees this as the potential “Hail Mary” they need for some extra cash, and immediately launches a family road trip (Leah and Tim in tow) to find Buck in his hospice in California. What follows is a road trip fraught with tension: ducking Child Protective Services and the cops, foraging for supplies, tension between our protagonists, and ultimately, the forging of a new kind of family that defies definition but is stronger than what could be called “normal.”

LaMarche’s story is rough and full of heartache, and it should be. It was pretty much the ultimate in “check your privilege” literature; every time I caught myself thinking that the struggles Michelle and her siblings faced were exaggerated or unrealistic, I had to pause and remember that people do deal with these kind of issues. LaMarche creates a harsh and starkly realistic world for these children, but cushions it with an ultimately hopeful ending for the Devereaux family – an ending I needed after all the heartache I went through with these kids.

If it has a weakness it is that the ending wraps up a little TOO neatly – I felt like there were emotional jumps that happen way too quickly, and certain emotional plots get tied up too perfectly given the timeline of the novel. However, as I said, after the struggles the characters go through during the novel, I find it hard to begrudge them their tentatively happy ending.

This is a great book to discuss themes like family, race, racial privilege, classism, bullying…there’s a lot to mine here (I’m discussing it with a teen book club in a few weeks so I read it with potential discussion in mind). It’s also a great way to talk to teens about what they see in their own futures. I definitely recommend it.

Little Black Book Club

I had my first “meeting” for the Little Black Book Club, and it was…well, people came?  Two people. But they came! And I’m still excited about this, and feel like it will gain traction, and I’ll tell you why.

One of my coworkers also works at a book store, and passed along the info for my book club to their sales rep from Penguin Random House. The response from PRH was FANTASTIC – after filling her in on my goals and target age group, they sent me  box of ARCs for some of their upcoming YA titles for my teens to check out. She just asked that we pass along some reviews after we read and discuss them.

Not only does this appeal to my love of free things, but I’m SO PLEASED to be able to offer the books to our teens that they can read without needing a library card. There are multiple reasons a teen of ours would not be able to utilize their card (too large a fine, a family block, losing it, etc.) and getting past that stumbling block is such a big thing that I’m happy I can offer.

I’m hoping word of mouth will spread about this – like I said, I only had two teens come check it out, but hopefully once word catches on that the books are free and they’re some of the first people in the world to read them, I’ll have more interest.

It was kind of cool that, because I only had two, they could both take both of the books I had earmarked for this meeting – I paired up the books PRH sent me thematically, in case I didn’t have enough of a single title to go around; this way we could discuss similarities/differences, tone, etc. This way we can still do that, but everyone will have the same information, and I’ll be able to read along with them.

It’s been a while since we’ve been able to sustain an audience for teen book clubs – I’m hoping this is the boost we need to start back up again.

The titles we’re reading for next month are:

Don’t Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche
Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton

Page to Screen Book Club

Have you voted in the Sweet Sixteen YA Book poll? It closes tomorrow so get your votes in!

One of my fellow librarians runs a Page-to-Screen book club for kids, where each month people can read a book and then come to the library for a special screening of the film adaptation of the book. In theory, the screenings include snacks, discussion, talking about the book and the movie and comparing/contrasting them. In practice, she hardly ever gets attendees to the screenings. And when she does, many of them haven’t read the book and are pretty much only there to enjoy the snacks she provides.

One of the tasks I’ve taken on at the library has been a lot of the advertising – I make flyers for all the youth services programs and make sure they get posted on the different electronic displays in the library and ensure that there are plenty for people to take on our various displays. As a result, I’ve started taking notice of what flyers attract attention, which displays show the most use, what people take notice of. So as the other librarian started setting out her film schedule for next year, we brainstormed some ways to get more people to not only come to the shows, but read the books and participate in the discussions.

Here’s what we came up with:

– First, we agreed the event would probably need to be rescheduled. Currently, it takes place on a Wednesday evening every month. This is problematic because our tween librarian has craft programs that happen every Wednesday from 3:30-4:30; there’s a lot of cross-over in the intended audiences for the two programs, so kids are either faced with leaving the craft early or coming in to the movie late. And since many of them attend the craft every week…

– Like I said, I’ve been able to see what displays get used – and the answer is, anything that’s on display has a higher chance of circulating. I’m working on a small proposal to put together a display for every month with copies of the book set aside and a copy of the advertising flyer out in the center of everything, so it’s easily accessible and very visible.

– The big change she’s making is rotating the target age group. Currently, it’s sort of fluid what age group the books are for, and there are tons of great picture books that have been adapted to films that would make good family events. So starting in January, she’s going to be rotating a picture book, grade school level book, and middle school level book, so the audience for every month is more defined (which is not to say that tweens couldn’t come to Meet the Robinsons! But having a target audience makes things easier to advertise).

Have you guys had a regular program that needed an attendance boost? How did you go about attracting more attendees?

Reading: Divergent by Veronica Roth. The first time I tried to read this book I put it down about fifty pages in – as a tattooed and pierced lady, I was a little impatient with the characterization of body mod as shorthand for “dangerous and edgy.” I picked it back up for two reasons: I want to have read it before the movie comes out, and I had the end of the trilogy completely spoiled for me, which actually made me MORE interested to see how Roth gets to that ending.

Watching: Can I tell you how much I loved Frozen? Because I really loved Frozen, you guys. My full review is up now, go check it out. I also saw Desolation of Smaug, which was MUCH better than An Unexpected Journey. I haven’t reviewed it yet because I saw a very late show and I’d like to see it again, so I know I was conscious for the whole thing.