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Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Serpent King: It Isn't Really About Snakes!

Recently, I attended Spring Institute, which is a yearly conference for Michigan youth librarians. One of the key note speeches was given by Jeff Zentner, who spoke about his burgeoning career as a young adult author in addition to being a full time prosecutor in Nashville, Tennessee. Zentner was invited to speak at Spring Institute because his debut novel, The Serpent King, was the recipient of the 2017 Thumbs Up Award. This award is given by the Michigan Librarian Association to the best young adult novel of the year. Unlike many awards of its kind, the Thumbs Up also includes a teen vote, which I think is truly important. After all, what is the point of giving an award to a book that is only liked by librarians and not appreciated by its intended audience? I figured that I should read something by Zentner before hearing him speak so I checked out The Serpent King about a week before the conference. Even though teen drama is not my preferred genre (I am more of a sci-fi/fantasy chick), I devoured The Serpent King in less then 24 hours.

The story is alternately told by three high school seniors in a rural Tennessee town. Dill lives in constant shame as the only son of a defrocked, snake-handling pastor who was sent to prison for pornography. Lydia is Dill's best friend, and also the girl that he secretly loves (it wouldn't be a young adult novel without some unrequited love). Sardonic, creative, and uber smart Lydia has achieved national fame as a fashion blogger, but remains a pariah in her own high school. Rounding out their trio of outcasts is Travis, a 6'5" gentle giant who spends the majority of his time inhabiting the fantasy world of Bloodfall (a fictional facsimile of Wheel of Time or Lord of the Rings).

The Serpent King beautifully tackles such issues as abuse, bullying, faith, friendship, and first love. The novel also really spoke to me as a parent. Dill, Lydia, and Travis come from three vastly different homes that exemplify how a child's life can be influenced by a parent's unconditional (or lack there of) love, protection, and support. Lydia's parents come across as being perfect: nurturing, understanding, trusting, and fun. As a result Lydia is a strong and happy individual who seems almost destined for success. On the flip side, Dill's parents encumber their son with crushing guilt, debts, and other adult responsibilities. Sweet and kindhearted Travis lives in the constant shadow of his older brother, Matt, who was a soldier killed in Afghanistan. His father, overcome with grief, has become a malicious alcoholic and his mother, despite her obvious love for Travis, does nothing to protect her son from his father's physical and mental abuse. Obviously, these are three rather extreme examples of parenting (how many of us know snake-handling preachers?), but they made me think about what expectations I have for my kids and what kind foundation I have laid for them . As a mom I aspire to be like Lydia's parents. I want to to not only love and care for my kids but I also want all four to discover their dreams and have the fortitude to turn those dreams into reality. It is also my responsibility to be that soft and safe place for my children to land when calamity, sorrow, humiliation, or disappointment occurs. I know, this is probably not what most teens would take from The Serpent King, but, hey, I am a mama first.
Of course, it would not be a young adult drama without some soul-crushing tragedy. Be forewarned that I bawled uncontrollably for a good hour and a half while reading The Serpent King. I purchased a copy and had Jeff Zentner sign it for my 16 year old daughter, Zoe, at the conference. When I gave it to her she asked with a certain amount of trepidation "Isn't this book that you were crying about last week?" Yes, The Serpent King will break your heart but I promise that you will also laugh, rejoice, and, most importantly, feel hopeful that no hardship is insurmountable.

I am excited toread Zentner's second young adult novel, Goodbye Days, but I am slightly apprehensive since it says "heartbreaking" right on the cover. I may have to wait till I emotionally recover from The Serpent King:) Zentner's third book, Rayne and Delilah's Midnite Matinee comes out in spring of 2019.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

For the love of Disney Music

For the love of Disney Music!

Disney Music has touched my life as far back as I can remember.  Starting with Winnie the Pooh himself.  As a little girl I received the nickname Pooh. Apparently everyone believed Wendy was close enough to Winnie for it to work.  So Winnie the Pooh's theme song became my own.  The same as most of you I grew up watching Disney movies, so of course, in turn, the songs were weaved deeply through out my life.

 If it wasn't my mom and I singing "It's not easy" from Pete's Dragon while cooking dinner it was my boys and I singing "Everybody wants to be a cat" from the Aristocats, dancing around the house.
Disney music has touched and inspired every aspect of my life.  Disney has made some of the greatest soundtracks ever known, making magic in all of our lives. So I thought I would share with you some of the songs I love and some I don't think any of us will soon forget.

Let's start at the beginning or at least close too.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first full length animated film ever made.  People thought Walt Disney was crazy.  They said no one will ever sit through a cartoon that's over a hour long.  Well they couldn't have been more wrong.  Snow White was the first of many amazing animated films all filled with amazing and memorable music.  Whom among us hasn't jokingly sung the "Heigh Ho" song on our way to work?

Not long to follow, was a song that Disney is known for...  "When you wish upon a star" from 1940's Pinocchio, is a moving song which soon became their trademark.

Now we will jump way ahead to 1994, since there is no way I can cover all Disney's magical music in this blog, to The Lion King which was the 8th highest grossing animated film of all time! (see people love watching over hour long cartoons, Walt was right) Coming in at $968,483,777 according to Wikipedia and who will ever forget that amazing opening scene!

And of course topping the chart in 2013 Frozen exploded the animated world bringing in more than $1,290,000,000 and a lot of that was due, to the amazing soundtrack!  None of us will soon forget "Let it Go"!

I could go on forever about all the great music Disney has created, I know I've only touched the tip of the iceberg, so to speak ;) but if this blog has got you itching to hear some great Disney music, come into the library and check some out.    

Disney music will forever be in our hearts.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Ready for Ready Player One

If you have teenagers you can commiserate with how difficult it can be to get some of them to read for pleasure. My fourteen year old son does enjoy reading, but he is incredibly picky. I don't think that I could even count the number of books that he has started and abandoned midway claiming that they "got boring".  Being his mother and a librarian I get super geeked whenever he actually shows some enthusiasm for a book. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is one of the few books that my son has read multiple times (six times, at last count, to be exact)!

The year is 2044 and global warming and depletion of fossil fuels have resulted in widespread economic hardship. Nearly everyone, including impoverished teenager, Wade Watts, escapes into the virtual reality known as the Oasis.  When the enigmatic creator of the Oasis, James Halliday, died five years ago he announced in his will that he had left an Easter Egg in the virtual world and that whoever finds it will inherit his substantial fortune. Now gunters (egg hunters) like Wade spend every spare moment logged into the Oasis tracking down clues that will hopefully lead them to the elusive treasure.

Kids obsessed with gaming will not be able to resist this virtual Treasure Island meets Charlie and the Chocolate factory and parents will moon over all of the nostalgic pop culture references (War Games, Pac-Man, DeLoreans,  Max Headroom, The Goonies, and the list goes on and on). What was like totally awesome was how much both of my teenagers wanted to learn about all of the movies, tv shows, musicians, etc. mentioned in Ready Player One. We watched War Games, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and more together and my husband even managed to unearth his old Atari for the kids to try their hand at Pong, Centipede and Space Invaders.

If you do not have time to read Ready Player One check out the audiobook that is read by none other than Will Wheaton. Who could be more suited to read a geeky fairy tale laced with oodles of 80s references?

Speaking of being perfect for the job, the one and only Steven Spielberg is the director of the movie adaptation of Ready Player One which is set to be released this March!!!! Of course, whether or not the movie will live up to the book has been a huge debate in my house. My son still complains about how horrible the film adaptation of The Lightning Thief was so he is worried that movie will butcher his favorite book and don't even get my kids started on Ender's Game. I am with them on that one since I have read Ender's Game about 20 times and that movie was atrocious. I am feeling hopeful for Spielberg's version of Ready Player One, though. After all, Jaws was an amazing movie. However the movie turns out make sure you take the time to read (or listen) to Ready Player One. Even if you are not a gamer you are sure to enjoy this wild and nostalgic ride.