Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee (2017)

every falling starThis tense, heartbreaking true story about a boy’s struggle to survive on the streets of North Korea offers a rare glimpse into a country shrouded in mystery.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:   336 (for ISBN 9781419721328)

Genre(s) and keywords: nonfiction, memoir, survival, diverse, dystopian, current events, Kylie’s favorites

Tone/Style: grim, determined

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: North Korea, gangs, orphans, poverty

Themes: loyalty, trust, injustice, family, friendship

Summary: Every Falling Star, the first book to portray contemporary North Korea to a young audience, is the intense memoir of a North Korean boy named Sungju who is forced at age twelve to live on the streets and fend for himself. To survive, Sungju creates a gang and lives by thieving, fighting, begging, and stealing rides on cargo trains. Sungju richly re-creates his scabrous story, depicting what it was like for a boy alone to create a new family with his gang, his “brothers”; to be hungry and to fear arrest, imprisonment, and even execution. This riveting memoir allows young readers to learn about other cultures where freedoms they take for granted do not exist.  (Source)

Who will like this book?: This will appeal to a wide range of readers. Though Sungju’s world is unfamiliar, his struggles and worries are easy to empathize with. Lingering mysteries pull the story along at a brisk pace. Sungju says North Korea is a real-life dystopian nation, and the book does have a dystopian feel. The fact that it’s true makes it all the more horrifying.

Who won’t like this book?: A lot of this book’s power lies in the fact that it is true and continues to happen to this day. Readers who want to escape into a story or who prefer upbeat tales should look elsewhere.

Other comments: I talked about this at my May 2017 Summer Reading booktalks, and there was a lot of interest. A few students knew a little bit about North Korea, but most didn’t know much. I hope this book gains the wide readership it deserves. Please pass it along.

Sequel(s): n/a

Readalikes: I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai is another excellent memoir of a teen displaced from a home country in turmoil. For fictional contemporary accounts of young people whose lives are torn apart by politics and war, I recommend A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai, The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, and Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins.

-Kylie Peters

Image credit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28818317-every-falling-star

ALA Annual 2017 (AKA OMG I MET CARLA HAYDEN)

SEE.

Dr. Hayden was amazing: warm and enthusiastic. I felt like we were friends the moment we spoke. I told her I was a young adult librarian in the Chicago area, which is something she also was at the beginning of her career. She pointed to me (see photo) and said “She’s a young adult librarian!” to her staff members like I’d just told her I was a rock star.

I got to tell a bunch of publishers to publish more books aimed at middle school readers, met a few authors, tried some new maker technology, went to some useful sessions, and did a whole bunch of networking. I always come back from conferences feeling energized and inspired. There’s just something about being in a big building full of people with funky hair and cardigans who love books and information as much as I do. By the way, if you’re in the library field and need a boost of confidence, watch Hillary Clinton’s inspiring speech from the closing session about the importance of libraries here.

If you haven’t had the chance to attend a conference, do your best to make it to one. ALA can be hard to get to, but state conferences are great too (or at least, the Illinois Library Association one is; I haven’t been to any others). The ideas and rush of motivation make them worth the cost and time away from work.

Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins (2014)

rebelLed by a spunky, girly, and charismatic heroine, this book bends fantasy tropes to hilarious effect.

Recommended grade level: 8 and up

Pages: 345 (for ISBN 9780399256936)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy

Tone/Style: classy

Pace: moderate

Topics: secret organizations, supernatural powers, girl power, dating, love-hate relationships

Themes: destiny, romantic relationships

Summary: Harper Price, peerless Southern belle, was born ready for a Homecoming tiara. But after a strange run-in at the dance imbues her with incredible abilities, Harper’s destiny takes a turn for the seriously weird. She becomes a Paladin, one of an ancient line of guardians with agility, super strength and lethal fighting instincts. Just when life can’t get any more disastrously crazy, Harper finds out who she’s charged to protect: David Stark, school reporter, subject of a mysterious prophecy and possibly Harper’s least favorite person. But things get complicated when Harper starts falling for him–and discovers that David’s own fate could very well be to destroy Earth.

With snappy banter, cotillion dresses, non-stop action and a touch of magic, this new young adult series from bestseller Rachel Hawkins is going to make y’all beg for more. (Source)

Continue reading

Programs for Middle Schoolers: Afterhours Laser Tag

The program I get most questions about from fellow library professionals is laser tag. This is by far my most well-attended program; I had 40 kids plus 10 on a wait list in 2016, and I had 55 in 2017. I continue to hear about it and get questions about when we’re doing it next all year long.

I’ve done this program twice, in February 2016 and February 2017. I chose February because it’s an indoor event that releases pent-up energy, so ideal for winter. Both times were for grades 6-8, and included four supervising adults. Parents were required to sign waivers.

What I share here will be a conflation of the two programs, taking the most effective parts of each. I’ll also mention some things I suggest not doing. Continue reading

Brief Hiatus and Summer Reading Booktalks

It’s been a month since my last post and it definitely has nothing to do with Persona 5. Nope. Definitely not.

Okay, so it IS pretty distracting when a game you’ve waited nine years for comes out, but honestly it was just in time to give me something to look forward to at the end of the day during a stressful few weeks. Last month I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, then I had to unexpectedly find a new apartment and roommate. At the library, it’s summer reading booktalk time–I spent five full days booktalking at the middle schools! Plus there’s other summer reading prep and a newsletter deadline looming.

Aside from the newsletter deadline, things have settled down, but I’m pretty low on energy and motivation after all that. I’m going to take a week or two off before I resume regular posting.

In the meantime, here are some of my most successful booktalk books of this year’s summer reading school visits.

Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction by John Austin — all grades

I made a few of the projects in here and showed them off, which really got the kids’ attention. The teachers were good-humored about it…I think…

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie — grades 6 and 7

I don’t know why they aren’t publishing more horror. The kids have a huge appetite for it. This one was written by a teenager and is based on her YouTube channel.

To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party by Skila Brown — all grades

I’ll be interested to see how many kids actually read this one, but it makes a GREAT booktalk. I suggest heavily implying the cannibalism part and then letting them figure it out themselves. The “ughhh!”s when the first few kids figure it out are very entertaining.

Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings — grades 7 and 8

This one sparked a lot of interest and conversation. There were also several students who said they love Jazz. Unfortunately, a teacher and I had to tell off a few kids for snickering over this one, which was very disappointing. (It was actually more the teacher than me. I was trying to be subtle about it, but she WENT IN. She was a bamf.) This is a great book, and talking about it is a great way to help normalize LGBT lifestyles.

Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee — all grades

I was surprised and plIeased by the amount of interest in this one. It’s entertaining, educational, and eye-opening–a great book that has sort of flown under the radar so far.

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb — grades 6 and 7

The initial draw of this one was obviously the title. I started with just a booktalk, but ended up adding in an excerpt and showing one of the photos in the book, because I found I wasn’t able to adequately capture Oliver’s voice otherwise. I got mixed results when it came to audience laughter, but I’ve already had several kids at the library asking for it so it must have worked. Fair warning: this one’s surprisingly raunchy, considering the target audience.

A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen — grades 6 and 7

This is a super easy sell and addresses a little-covered part of history. It’s been making the rounds on the state award lists, too.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds — grades 6 and 7

This is short and about sports, so great for a lot of reluctant readers. Added bonus: it has an African-American protagonist, diverse cast, and urban setting. My community is sadly pretty homogeneous, so I’m always looking for good books to help them see the world from the points of view of Americans from different walks of life.

What books are you promoting for this summer?

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (2016)

Romance laced with social issues and philosophical musings.

Recommended grade level: mature 8th graders and up

Pages:   348 (for ISBN 9780553496680)

Genre(s) and keywords: romance, realistic, diverse

Tone/Style: contemplative

Pace: moderate

Topics: Asian-Americans, African-Americans (sort of; she is technically Jamaican), undocumented immigrants

Themes: love, romantic relationships, fate, chance, finding meaning, preparing for the future

Summary: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story. Continue reading

Fashion Rebels: Style Icons Who Changed the World Through Fashion by Carlyn Cerniglia Beccia (2016)

A celebration of women throughout history who had confidence in themselves and used style to make a difference.

Recommended grade level: 4 and up

Pages:  176 (for ISBN 9781582704876)

Genre(s) and keywords: nonfiction, reluctant readers

Tone/Style: informational, celebratory

Pace: fast

Topics: fashion, politics, celebrities, women’s rights

Themes: self-expression, confidence, being oneself

Summary: Throughout time, daring women have made fashion choices that have altered the course of history. From Marie Antoinette, who wore a hairstyle as large as her presence, to Coco Chanel, who imagined a world without rib crushing corsets and heavy gowns, to Katharine Hepburn, who walked around the studio in her underwear when studio executives refused to let her wear her then-scandalous jeans, these women were mavericks as well as rebellious icons. Continue reading