Tournament of Books, Round 3: The Serpent King vs. The Sun is Also a Star

In The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Dill is the musically gifted son of a minister. His father made his flock handle poisonous snakes and drink poison, but that is not what got Dill’s dad arrested: it was child porn. Dill’s mom believes in her husband so much that she would do anything he told her, including asking her son to take the fall for her husband and believing that it is Dill’s fault that her husband is in jail. Dill told the truth on the stand, so with his father now in jail, Dill has to help his mom pay the bills. His mom even asks him to drop out of high school to make more money. Dill only has two friends in his small town. Travis, who used to go to their church, has an abusive father, and is so into a fantasy novel series that he carries around a staff; and Lydia who is set to go to New York and become more than the Internet-famous she already is for her fashion blog. The three of them are the misfits of the town, but Dill has had a crush on Lydia for a long time and now that they are starting their senior year of high school he knows that she will go off and leave him and he can’t go anywhere.

This is not the type of book I would normally pick up. I decided to listen to the audio and I found myself staying in my car after I parked, just to hear what was going to happen next. I really loved the character of Travis and was highly upset at the author at one point (you will know it when you read it). This is an emotionally charged book that kept me wanting to read more. It is all about the struggles of being an outcast in high school and dealing with parents who probably shouldn’t be parents. It is about accepting yourself and your friends no matter the weird and never giving into what others think. It is about finding your own path, no matter how hard or impossible it seems.

In The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Natasha is spending her last day in New York trying to find a way to stay. Thanks to her father’s selfish stupidity, her whole family has to go back to Jamaica. Having lived in New York since she was eight, New York has become her home. She can’t remember much of Jamaica and doesn’t want to go back. Daniel is the second son of a Korean-American family and is supposed to go to Yale and become a doctor, but what he really wants is to write poetry. These two teens have very little in common, but their lives collide for one day. There is a saying that a butterfly can flap its wings in New Mexico and cause a hurricane in China: The Butterfly Effect. The people these two teens meet on this one particular day influence so much. So when Daniel, in his mind numbed stupor, sees a girl (Natasha) completely entrapped in the music she listens to, dancing in the middle of the street he ends up changing both their lives as well as many others on their single day together. “What a difference a day makes”(p330). One day and the little moments we all feel are insignificant put together to make a difference in everyone’s lives. Every little thing, big or small, effects the next and makes some type of difference.

I had trouble getting ahold of this book from two separate libraries, but managed to finally get it and make my way through it in a few days’ time. By the end of the book I was smiling at it. The moments of the other random people effecting and influencing their decisions made this book so much more powerful over all. While this book did get a bit lecture-y from time to time with lessons on what things mean, the overall feel of the book works. It is an impressive story that gets the reader thinking about all the choices we can make in our daily lives and how those choices and the choices of others can affect us and everyone else.

After much thought I have to think about which book impacted me more and made me think the most. And while I’m sure that many will not agree with my choice, it is a hard one. I have to choose between two award winning books. The winner is: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner.

Hannah Sloan is Teen Services Coordinator at the Poplar Creek Public Library in Streamwood, IL

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Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Tournament of Books


Tournament of Books, Round 3: If I Was Your Girl vs. Ghosts

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier are extremely different – in terms of theme, intended audience, writing style, etc. While both are done very well, going into this review, I thought it was actually going to be an easy choice. Turns out, this was not the case!

While I truly liked both books, for me, this round really came down to authenticity of voice. Meredith Russo is a transgender author telling the story of a transgender character. Raina Telgemeier is a white author telling a culturally significant story about a Mexican American character. Prior to pitting these two books against each other, I really hadn’t given the cultural appropriation debate too much thought. It’s been in the news, and I understand why it’s been in the news. However, for my book choices, it always comes down to wanting to hear a good story, wanting to be entertained, and just wanting to lose myself in a new world/adventure/time. I honestly hadn’t given too much thought to the writer behind those stories.

After reading these two books, however, I felt I needed to do a bit more research about voice and cultural appropriation. There has been a LOT written about this topic in the last few years. The more I read and thought about the issue, the more I realized I couldn’t talk about these particular books without addressing it. It’s an amazing and powerful thing to give voice to diverse stories and diverse authors. Having those from within a culture, tell a story (while not necessarily “the” story) of that culture, simply cannot be discounted. That being said, I think that the craft of writing is a tremendous skill and recognizing it as such is equally important. Just because a writer has an authentic voice, does that mean he/she is a successful storyteller? Not always.

For various reasons, I think both of these books would have benefitted from additional editing. Telgemeier is a fantastic storyteller, and I love the relationship between the sisters in this book. However, I feel that negative reviews that reference missteps relating to Dia De Los Muertos do have some merit. If I Was Your Girl is a debut novel, and that showed in some of Russo’s narrative choices. That being said, this book helps pave the way for other voices that will be both window and mirror for future readers. Russo’s story will make a bigger, and longer-lasting, impact on both individual readers as well the publishing world itself.

For that reason, If I Was Your Girl is the winner of this round.


Rebekah is the Web Services Librarian at the Warren-Newport Public Library in Gurnee, IL. She is currently obsessed with Ryan Gosling, Hamilton, and politics – in no particular order.

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Posted by on March 20, 2017 in Tournament of Books


Tournament of Books, Round 3: Sword and Verse vs. The Great American Whatever

In the fantasy novel, Sword and Verse, Kathy Macmillan creates a complex world based on mythology with an elite master class, the Qilarites, dominating the slave class, the Arnathim.  Based on her research into ancient libraries and the power of language, she plots a kingdom in which language is heavily guarded with only the King, the Prince, and the Tutors having the ability to write higher order symbols to communicate with the gods. The emphasis in this novel on the importance of literacy for everyone is a worthy theme. The main character, Raisa, a slave is chosen as a Tutor in Training to learn the language so that she can instruct the royal family.  There are a lot of characters, palace intrigue, and a resistance movement among the slaves to entice the fantasy reader. There are horrible executions, whippings, murders, and cruelty. Characterization is the weakness in this novel. I could not engage with the main characters of Prince Mati and Raisa and I found their love relationship to be flawed. Jonis as the leader of the resistance is stereotypical.  I also wished that the author had integrated the mythology into the story line rather than at the start of each chapter which caused an uneven and disjointed plot structure

The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle is witty, tightly plotted with sparkling language and crisp dialogue. Quinn Roberts has not left his house since his sister Annabeth was killed in a car accident. Quinn and Annabeth had a close relationship and worked as a sister-brother team to create short movies. Their mother sleeps on the couch and also has not left the house, the mail is stacked high and they are both paralyzed in their grief. Enter friend Geoff and his sister Carly, who entice Quinn out to the real world where he meets a love interest, Emir. I was charmed by both brother sister relationships, the friendship between Quinn and Geoff and the respect the author showed to the mother who has serious issues. This novel is about an aspiring screen writer and is written with such a sharp focus that I could envision each scene.  The short love story between Quinn and Emir is tender and thoughtful. The friendship and love that Quinn receives is his salvation. The writing engaged me with heartwarming moments and lifted my spirit.   Sword and Verse weighed me down and I could not connect with the story.  My vote goes to The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle.



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Posted by on March 15, 2017 in Tournament of Books


YASF Meeting Minutes: 2.16.17

Young Adult Services Forum Agenda

February 16, 2017

Oak Park Public Library


  • ILA Program Proposals: Rise Up!
    1. Proposals due Friday March 24, 2017.
    2. Ideas that popped from ILA 2016’s participants October 10-12:
      1. Dealing with teen behavior issues, possibly with restorative justice lens. Maybe a combination of librarians with an outside, expert perspective?
        1. Moderated-panel type
        2. A representative from Oak Park who specializes in restorative justice. Possible participation from Skokie and Zion.
        3. Similar presentation was offered through Recharge committee. Could those participants offer a re-focused version?
      2. Running a successful TAB
        1. Recruit from Google group. A panel with diverse experiences: Mary (long tenure), Evan (brief experience), Becca (Jane Goodall)??? Heather Booth?
        2. Include tweens? Middle schoolers? Kerry Devitt @ AHML?
        3. Krista?
      3. Diversity & inclusiveness
        1. Dr. Nicole Cooke, professor – Diversity in libraries – already submitting @ ILA
        2. Educating pre-professionals in diversity (Alice Son, Jarett Dapier, Jen Jacobs)
    3. Other ideas?
      1. YA Nonfiction panel (Becca, Donna, Joe)
      2. Community partnerships (Evan, Renee, Katie, Tyler?)*
      3. Gaming – Game on was popular (Natalie D?, Evan, Becca, Rachael)
        1. More structured? Handout
        2. Really well attended
        3. Restructure – more copies of each game, tables for facilitated discussions
      4. “Back to basics” – YA Librarian 101 – Becca
        1. New YA librarian
        2. Starting from scratch
        3. Staffing
        4. Potential structure: small presentation, followed by submitted questions/conversation
      5. Other presentations to sponsor?
        1. Kylie’s
      6. Escape room possibilities – Two possibilities – maybe mush together?
      7. Steam Kits!
      8. Fundraising
      9. Weekly make & takes
  • Create Your Adventure at IYSI 2017! March 10-11, Crowne Plaza Springfield
  • Tournament of Books (Evan)
    • Going well
    • We will start garnering nominations for next year’s ToB already on the Facebook poll.
    • Should we push things back a bit? Give more time to add later-in-the-year books. Tabled for later discussion
  • Updates
    • IREAD  Update  (Brandi)
      • 2018 – Reading Takes You Everywhere
        • Socks?
        • VR for phone?
        • Fan runs from phone battery
        • Looking for submissions to resource guide. Donna will post on FB group!
        • Gene Ha is doing the art! It’s so great!
        • Prize possibilities
      • 2019 – It’s Showtime at Your Library
        • Theater fits in too!
        • Picking artists now
      • Looking for committee members – new YASF liaison! Becca’s term is up
    • YASF social media, etc.
      • Google Groups (Trixie)
        • Six new members since last meeting
      • Blog (Evan)
        • Same spike during ToB as last year
      • Facebook (Becca)
        • Thanks for picking up Becca’s Wednesday slack due to maternity leave! More community involvement. It’s not just one person!
        • Bring back Favorite Fridays! – Google doc for brainstorming/idea sharing for topics
        • 14 new members since last meeting
    • ILA YA Award  (Denise/Rachael)
      • Criteria for award was intentionally written vaguely
      • Becoming more difficult to compare librarians working in different settings
      • Revisit, reevaluate
      • YASF feedback – set up new meeting to reset criteria
  • New Meeting Dates & Locations —
    • Second Thursday of the month – stop competing w/ YALD, Tinker, etc.
  • New Business & Open Discussion
    • Chicago Maker Faire April 22 & 23
      • same weekend as C2E2, also same floor

Upcoming YASF Meeting Dates:

  • March networking gathering (FB poll for location, dates that don’t conflict with St Pat’s or IYSI)
    • Winner – Forest/Oak Park
    • Date: Sat. April 8
    • Avenue Ale House, Beer Shop
  • April 20 — Lansing Public Library
  • May 5, 2017 – Reaching Forward Conference, Rosemont
  • September 14 — Westmont Public Library
  • October 10-12 – Rise Up! 2017 Annual Conference, Tinley Park
  • November 9 — Mount Prospect Public Library –


In attendance:

Rachael Bild

Evan Mather

Mary Miller

Becca Boland

Krista Kountz

Jordan Bumber

Kate Marsh

Jenna Friebel

Brandi Smits

Donna Block – Virtual

Alice Son – Virtual

Trixie Dantis – Virtual

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Posted by on March 14, 2017 in Meeting Minutes


Tournament of Books, Round 3: The Passion of Dolssa vs. We Are the Ants

I have discovered that historical fiction is a difficult sell to teens, especially after the success of novels, like The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent, which are more contemporary. I feel this may be a possibility (fault?) of the schools because they are requiring students to read more non-fiction texts in school for STEM. So when the teens are looking for pleasure reading they want an easy, fun and entertaining story. In The Passion of Dolssa, you not only have historical fiction, but it is also heavy on religious content.

Being set in the 13th century and centering on the Catholic Church and a young girl who believes Jesus is her “beloved”, this story is filled with a heavy subject matter. Even with the teen protagonist, I feel this book would be more appealing to adults. I reviewed this novel on some websites and discovered I am not the only adult who feels this way.

I feel Berry created strong characters, especially female, but with the multitude of narrators and characters themselves (not to mention the number of pages) I believe teenagers may be intimated and back away from this book.

The advancement in young adult novels has frightened me. Books I read as a teen were only as sexual as Forever by Judy Blume – which became a “challenged” book. And swearing – NO WAY!  We are the Ants starts with “Life is Bullshit”, and on page 12, “I’m pretty confident he broke the world record for the most number of times a kid masturbated while sharing breathing space with his parents, brother, and grandparents.” Shocking – Yes. Unusual – No. This is the way young adult books are these days and unfortunately if authors want to appeal to teens they have to stay in the game. Therefore, as an adult and a Young Adult Librarian, I cannot fault these authors.

This book grabs the reader from the very start and manages to successfully tie in realistic fiction with science fiction. As mentioned in the other reviews of this book, it is definitely more on the realistic spectrum, but the intriguing alien side story will definitely attract the science fiction readers. We are the Ants is written to attract both male and female readers – which I LOVE! The reader can’t help having sympathy for the main character, Henry, when he describes how he wakes up in strange places with only underwear on, while and at same time struggling with his guilt after his boyfriend commits suicide.

There were a couple parts that I felt the author made circumstances too convenient to be believable; he wakes up without his phone after the aliens drop him, but finds a working pay phone…What?!?  But, even with a few too contrived moments, the story is told with relatable characters who wear their emotions on their sleeve and are easy to connect with. Then the author manages to come full circle and lets the readers’ own imagination help end the book. I have a love/hate relationship with those endings! Will we ever find out the three words Parker says to Eleanor at the end of Eleanor & Park?

Although The Passion of Dolssa’s writing may be of a higher quality, I judge YA novels on their appeal to teens. Due to the entertainment value and the marketability to a wide teen audience, I have to say We are the Ants is clearly the winner of this battle.


Heather Stewart is the Young Adult Librarian at Johnsburg Public Library. She enjoys getting crazy with her snarky teens, being brutally honest at times, but warm fuzzies are definitely her thing.  In her spare time, she enjoys board games, 80’s bands and spending time with her family, especially her 1 year old grandson, Elliott. However, she is an Ambivert and will never pass up on a solo lunch date with a good book.



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Posted by on March 9, 2017 in Tournament of Books


Tournament of Books, Round 3

And then there were 8.

We’ve cut our list of contenders in half, and then in half again. Still, the choices are becoming even harder. There’s a graphic novel, historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and great works of realistic fiction. Update your brackets as we prepare for yet another round of the Tournament.


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Posted by on March 6, 2017 in Tournament of Books


Tournament of Books, Round 2: We Are the Ants vs. And I Darken

tournamentofbooks2017Last week, I learned to play blackjack for the first time. Like a true noob, I thought the game was all about hitting your hand until you reached 21 or busted. And yes, while that is basically what it is, I learned that it’s actually more a game of logic and probability—I guess that movie with Jim Sturgess taught me nothing in 2008. So why do I mention this besides the fact that I like to insert weird anecdotes into every conversation I have? Well, it’s because I feel like I was dealt a weird hand with these two books that were systematically passed down to me from Round 1. And while they’re not two books I would pick for my own pleasure reading, they made for a challenging hand that ultimately made me a stronger blackjack player reader.

The first of the two books I read was We Are the Ants. Between the two, this one’s more my style—contemporary fiction with some angst, family drama, hard-hitting issues, and…aliens? OK, so I’m not really an alien person. So when I read the synopsis about how the main character, Henry, gets abducted by aliens periodically in his life, I was skeptical about liking the book. But as Sarah so correctly wrote in her post, this is not a sci-fi book and it’s definitely not about aliens.

What struck me about We Are the Ants is how quietly big events happen. Henry grapples with his boyfriend’s suicide, his dad leaving his family, a questionable sexual relationship with his bully, and mental illness with a matter of fact narration that’s equal parts frustrating and heartbreaking. Add his alien abductions into the mix, and we’ve now got an unreliable narrator with quite a few good reasons to be unreliable. Ultimately, it’s a story about how life and people can be unreliable. But an emotionally wounded Henry slowly learns that he’s got to learn to trust others anyway in order to make it through an unreliable world. It’s a delicate lesson to learn.

After closing one book, I broke open And I Darken by Kiersten White (and it is a brick of a book). Its got a cover with a sword and flowers on it, which is an attractive selling point for a lot of people, but screams a lot of “NOPE” to me. I’m not really into reading about swords and fighting, and the cover promised that and maybe some dragons or fantasy aspect. But again, I was bamboozled—by the cover this time, not the description. There were no dragons, some swords and fighting, but mostly a lot of political manipulation and deception.

And I Darken is a reimagining of the life of Vlad the Impaler, but if Vlad was a female in the form of the main character, Lada. Lauren explains the premise so perfectly in her post, and I agree, that Lada is many times the word fierce. It’s this fierceness that sets her apart from other girls of her time, and a quality of hers that delights her father. But her fierceness does not outweigh her gender, and her father is the first to dismiss her because of this. Lada struggles with her father’s opinion for a good portion of the book, as she struggles with the confines of being female at the time. But she wouldn’t be the main character if she didn’t break free once in awhile, right? Lada is a force to be reckoned with, and whenever she appears on the page you can feel the energy radiating from her character.

But while Lada is ever fierce and loyal to her homeland of Wallachia, her younger brother Radu is meek and bending. So when the two are taken away into enemy territory, they have two very different reactions to their surroundings. They live comfortably, and while Lada constantly remembers that they are actually hostages, Radu begins to assimilate and finds peace in his new home’s religion of Islam. The two are clear foils of each other, but they are still bound by blood and love—although Lada is wary to admit it.

Enter Prince Mehmed, a lonely boy who feels imprisoned by his circumstance, as well. He connects with both Lada and Radu, even though Lada reminds herself that he is at the end of the day her enemy. As they grow older, both siblings begin to feel more for him. It’s a complicated web of emotions as they are both Mehmed’s prisoners, confidantes, and even lovers. These relationships highlight what’s at the center of this novel—gender.

It’s interesting to see how Lada and Radu deal with their feelings and societal expectations because of their gender. Lada initially resists her femininity, hiding her first period from the housemaids in fear that she’ll be sent off to be married. It’s a legitimate concern, and she doesn’t want to belong to anyone. After all, she wants to rule and not be ruled. (No joke, it’s tough being a girl.) But Radu, who has a beautiful face and quiet disposition, also struggles with figuring out how to survive being a male who isn’t very masculine and is in love with the Prince.

And I Darken has well-developed characters, which is why I found the political intrigue and fighting parts boring or distracting. I know that the politics and fighting are important to the story, but I still found myself just wanting to get those parts over with. Le sigh.

Both books revealed to me that I should really try and branch out more with my reading. And while I don’t consider either of them my favorites, I can see how they can be someone else’s. It was a weird hand I was dealt, but if given the choice I would hit again! (More, please!) With all that being said, I would hit We Are the Ants more.

Winner: We Are the Ants


Alice Son spends her days hanging out with young adults as Teen Librarian at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. She appreciates all kinds of technology, thoughtful syntax, and fandoms. She is a Gryffindor.

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Posted by on March 3, 2017 in Tournament of Books