History Lessons

Through the Barricades by Denise DeeganIf a book that can be described as “a history lesson” sounds as enticing to you as it does to me, you might like Through the Barricades by Denise Deegan. The story immerses readers in the world of Maggie Gilligan and Daniel Healy as they become friends and find themselves pulled in different directions through war and politics. I’ve read enough history to know a bit about world events during the years that the novel is set (1913-1916), but the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin is not a particularly well known piece of history. At least it wasn’t well known by me.

I first heard of the 1916 Easter Rising while browsing Netflix when I came upon Rebellion. The five-part mini-series follows several fictional characters through the week-long insurrection. It has been criticized for not being terribly historically accurate, but since I’ve nearly exhausted Netflix’s supply of such historical dramas (which I particularly enjoy), I took a chance on it. I was immediately swept up in the drama and curious about what was real and what was invented for the story.

Not long after watching all five episodes of Rebellion, I found Through the Barricades in the teen section of my library. The time period and the premise were enough to entice me, but the chance to see another perspective on the Easter Uprising was the real reason I added it my check outs.

The story starts in 1913 and by the time it got to the Uprising, I’d almost forgotten that that’s what I had been waiting for. At that point, our characters had been through a lot. Well, Daniel had been through a lot as a soldier fighting for the British Army in the Great War. While war stories are not usually my thing—actually I usually steer clear of them—I have to admit it was Daniel’s account of the war that kept me riveted to the pages. I read it quickly and occasionally exclaimed to whoever was nearby how stressful the story was to read. This is the kind of stress that makes me avoid war stories! But it is also the mark of an immersive story.

I added Through the Barricades to my list of YA fiction that is Based on Real People/Events. I seem to read a lot of these sorts of books.  I imagine they don’t appeal to everyone. Not everyone is reading fiction for facts, after all. And that’s probably a good thing.  Probably most fiction readers don’t want a history lesson with their story. For me, though, that is often exactly what I want. I love letting a story give me a feeling for a time period or historical event. I’ll usually look into the facts about the time period  as well, but the story creates a feeling that facts can’t quite get create. Through the Barricades is probably not going to draw in readers who aren’t interested in history, but for hardcore fans of the genre or readers interested in the time period, it’s worth a look.

Library Heroes

What librarian doesn’t have something of a weakness for books about books? I can’t imagine I am alone in finding stories that celebrate stories particularly charming. That was, of course, how I ended up reading The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library by Linda Bailey, which is the story of a bug who loves books. This is unusual for bugs, mind you, and Eddie’s family thinks he’s a bit strange for his preoccupation with reading. They don’t expect much of him at all. Too much of a dreamer.

As an aside, how many kids who always have their heads in a book are written off this way? It makes me sad to think about.

In any case, Eddie is a bug of action no matter what his family thinks. When his beloved Aunt Min, who taught him to read, is missing, he braves the wider world to find her. The bug’s eye view of the world is sure to get kids laughing, and the references to children’s books (both obvious and not obvious) throughout are fun to spot.

As if this wasn’t enough to make this book a winner, get this: After Eddie finds Aunt Min at the library, naturally, he learns that the library is in danger of being shut down. What can a little bug do to save a library populated by “squishers”? Sticky notes. Eddie leaves sticky notes in the library asking the squishers to save it, to keep it open and full of books. The kids at the library think it’s a ghost leaving the notes, but it doesn’t matter who left the notes, they will save the library as requested.

I love this. I love the idea that even the smallest person, or insect in this case, can make a big difference, and I love the idea of sticky notes being the way the difference happens. I’ve always thought that notes left in unexpected places had a particular sort of power, and it seems I’m not the only one. At the library where I work, I’ve found two sticky notes inside the front cover of picture books with messages for whomever may find them. I have no idea who is leaving these notes. I’m fairly certain it’s not a tiny bug or a ghost, but I agree with their sentiments.

I’ll be watching for more of these notes in the library. Meanwhile, I added The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library to my Animals list and the Books & Libraries list on my wiki. I quite recommend the book to young readers looking for a humorous and charming adventure.

Zinefest 2013 Recap

Yesterday was a long day.  I was up early for last minute stapling, and then I was off to spend my day asking where people were from.  Last year I asked people at the Zinefest to share a book they had read recently.  This year I tied my question in to my new zine, Whereverland, which explores my here-and-there roots, with a new question: Where are you from?


For many, it was a straightforward question.  They wrote their answers with confidence.  Others shared several answers.  “I’m not from only one place,” a woman said almost apologetically as she wrote the names of three different cities.  By the end of the day, I had collected many, many places.  Some came with tidbits of trivia: Did you know that Waseca, WI is the home of Cool Whip?  I did not.  Some were from far away (three from China, two from Germany, one from Australia), but most were from Minneapolis or very close.  I loved the neighborhood pride that popped up occasionally.  Powderhorn, Northeast, Bryn Mawr, and Uptown are all represented at least once.


As for me, I like to say that I’m from Minnesota, but you can read more about that in Whereverland. :)

Reading the Afterlife

This morning I listened to Chuck Palahniuk talk with Kerri Miller on MPR’s Midmorning.  His latest book, Damned, is written from the perspective of a dead girl, and the first excerpt he read from the book took on the afterlife and how it feels to be dead.  Madison narrates the story from Hell, and it is interspersed with asides that start “Are You There, Satan? It’s me, Madison.”  Sounds like Palahniuk’s usual subversive self is at work again, and I can’t wait to read it.

Though to be honest, I guess I have a strange affection for books narrated from the afterlife.  I hadn’t noticed before, but when I started listing books in my head I realized that off the top of my head I could think of several: The Lovely Bones, If I Stay, Sum (which I blogged about here), and Please Ignore Vera Dietz.

I mentioned Please Ignore Vera Dietz briefly in this post about teen fiction that addresses addiction, but I skipped the the fact that among the book’s several alternating narrators is Vera’s late friend Charlie, “the dead kid.”  He describes the afterlife as such:

“You’re surprised? You had a different idea of the afterlife? This goes against your religion?  Well, what did you really know anyway? No one living understands dying, and no matter what they dream up–from harps and heaven to pickles and Big Macs–they can’t prove a thing until they’re on this side.”

I guess that’s it.  When we don’t know something, there’s plenty of room for making up stories about it.  Those of you who read teen fiction may want to check out some of the titles on this list for various takes on what the fictional afterlife.  Everyone else: listen to Chuck Palahniuk read from his new book.  Tell me it doesn’t sound intriguing.

Zinefest 2011

This year’s zinefest was different for me.  Instead of popping in to browse the tables for an hour or so, I was sitting at a table for most of the afternoon watching people walk by.  I was grateful to be next to some very interesting tables.  On one side there was this:

As you might imagine, it attracted a fair amount of attention.  Some people were confused about whether they got to take a penny or had to give one, but most got it and were delighted.  I was  surprised at how few people asked about what was going to happen to the thoughts.  In case anyone reading is wondering, the thoughts will be immortalized in zine form to be sold at next year’s zinefest.  If you need one reason to come back next year, that’s it.   I am sure that Monica will be doing something very interesting.  I picked up her children’s story “The Land Sick Pirate.”  It’s very cute, and I think that Ladybug will like it.

The table to my left was also quite eye-catching.  Tiffany, the artist behind Hyena Zine, had several handmade hyenas decorating her space:

The adorable hyenas were accompanied by comics that satirize relationships.  Highly recommended for anyone interested in feminist issues.

I also traded for a zine by illustrator Aimee Pijpers about people who ride the bus.  As a regular bus commuter, I know many of the people/types profiled in this small zine.  I look forward to the second installment.   Greer Lawson was giving away copies of her zine A Bunch of Different Kinds of Ponies, which is rather amusing.

The zinesters involved in the fest contributed to the How-To Encyclopedia, which includes lots of great information.  Zines aren’t just for poetry and personal expression.   They can be useful resources too. I contributed a page with tips for talking to kids about people with physical disabilities or differences.  One of my suggestions was, of course, read books about people who are different.  I directed people to my wiki for suggestions.  Here is the list for those who want to get started now before their kids start asking (or if you just want to explore some interesting books).

Happy reading!

I had the same zines for sale at the fest as I did back in July at Genrebeast.  The most popular item was What People Say, which is a zine about the things people have said to me about my prosthetic arm.   I got some good feedback, and I feel even more inspired to write and create zines.  Thank you to everyone involved in the 2011 Twin Cities Zinefest for a great afternoon.

I’m already looking forward to next year!  Meanwhile my zines are available for online purchase here.



Giving voice to teen mental health issues

There was an interesting discussion about anti-depressants on Midmorning with Kerri Miller today that attempted to sort out the science and the business of psychiatry.  It occurred to me as I listened to the guests and callers speak about their experiences with anti-depressants and psychotherapy that these things even cropped up in the teen fiction that I read.   Books like Total Constant Order and The Nature of Jade show teens taking meds and in talk therapy, respectively, for mental health issues like anxiety, OCD, and depression.

Colleen Mondor had this to say about Total Constant Order on Bookslut,

“. . . But more importantly this is one of the few books I’ve read that tackles frequently diagnosed disorders like OCD and ADD and shows that not only are the disorders hard, but the cures are equally difficult. This is no teen melodrama, or movie of the week; it’s a sensitive portrayal of just how much it sucks to be a teenager whose life is in disarray. When adults are in trouble their feelings and concerns are respected and heard; when it happens to teenagers they are considered melodramatic whiners. Chappell gives some of those kids a voice with Fin and Thayer’s stories, and I hope that people hear what they have to say.”

Here’s my running list of titles that feature teens getting help for mental health issues.  Perhaps these fictional teens’ experiences will speak to you.

On the Wiki: Multiple Narrators in Teen Fiction

[I regularly update a wiki called Mindy’s Book Lists, where I cull the books I read–children’s, teen’s, and adult’s–into topical lists.  I’ll be highlighting various lists now and then on this blog.  ]

There are two sides to every story, or so the saying goes.

Personally, I love when the two sides come together to tell the story.  It reminds me of back in the early 2000’s.  Blogging was fairly new, and it seemed everyone was typing their lives onto the web.  Including me.  I always found it particularly fascinating to read multiple accounts of the same party or events.  One person hated the music, and another though the music made the party.  It’s all in your perspective, and I’ll admit, I loved being able to compare notes.

Since few people I know blog about their personal lives anymore (thank you facebook), I’m stuck getting my perspective fix from fiction.  David Levithan, in particular has shown a surprising affinity for multiple narrators in his fiction–even collaborating in the now famous Nick & Norah among others.  I’ve been a fan of his since I heard him speak at a Young Adult Literature conference in what must have been 2003 or 2004.  He referenced the Golden Age of YA Lit, and I went home from the conference with a new literary crush, which only intensified after I read his work.

Are We There Yet? began the multpile narrator streak with two brothers each giving their side of a European vacation.  It is a lovely introspective novel probably more of interest to twenty-something adults than to teens.  Then he moved on to collaborations.  His most recent is the brilliantly humorous & poignant Will Grayson, Will Grayson.  Two teens, same name.  Sounds cheesy.  It’s so good.

Check out the whole list.