Crazy Hair Day

The kids have read 1250 books so far this summer.  Today was Crazy Hair Day at the Ellsworth Public Library to celebrate this accomplishment!  Here’s my take on a bird’s nest:

DSC04886To be honest,  I was surprised that more patrons didn’t comment on or mention our crazy hair.  Maybe they thought this was our usual look at and didn’t want to offend us…

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Things I thought I’d never do: Be interviewed on TV

Before I started working at the library, I had somewhat of an idea of what the job would entail.  I pictured myself helping patrons locate materials and then checking those materials out.  I thought about shelving, organizing, and building the library’s collection.

Almost 4 years later, this is a true representation of my job, but it’s definitely not the whole story.  There have definitely been some unexpected responsibilities…but these are often the most memorable and fun.

For example, today I was interviewed on Channel 5.  Ellsworth Public Library is hosting a 5k “color run” to benefit the library and we are looking for a name.  For me, it was definitely nerve-racking to be interviewed, but it was a good experience and at least I know what it’s like.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about these “out-of-the-blue” things that happen in a librarian’s day. Next Monday I’ll share a few more unexpected job responsibilities for librarians, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear what you have to say about this topic in the comments!

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How does John Green reach his audience?

John Green as a YA author is difficult to extricate from John Green as an online presence.  Some of his online persona is for the purpose of self-promotion and selling books, but a lot of his projects have little to do with his own work.  For instance, John posted videos on his website directed to his brother Hank as part of a project that started as Brotherhood 2.0.  Brotherhood 2.0 was a challenge between the two Green Brothers to cease all textual communication in favor of daily videos for an entire year (2007).  “The videos spawned a community of people called nerdfighters who fight for intellectualism and to decrease the overall worldwide level of suck” (Green, n.d., John Green’s Biography).

Nerdfighters participate in The Project for Awesome, a yearly collaborative fundraising activity aimed to improve the world.  During the two-day event, people donate money and also upload videos advocating for a non-profit organization of their choice.  Participants then vote for their favorite charities and the money is divided between the winning organizations.

Since 2007, John and Hank have gone on to collaborate on a variety of online projects, including:

Crash Course-an instructional series on YouTube featuring lessons about U.S. History, World History, Literature, Chemistry, Biology, and Ecology.

Vlogbrothers-Brotherhood 2.o evolved to become Vlogbrothers.  The brothers post videos about twice a week on a wide variety of current event topics.

John is also the creator of the Mental Floss videos.

Discussion Questions

Do you think YA authors should strive to have a strong online presence?  Why or why not?

Do you think John Green’s online presence is an integral part of his writing persona or do you think it detracts from his work as an author?

 

References

Green, J. (n.d.). John Green’s Biography. In John Green:  New York Times Bestselling Author. Retrieved May 8, 2014, from http://johngreenbooks.com/bio-contact/,

 

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What does John Green contribute to YA Literature?

With only four independent works to his name, John Green is certainly not the most prolific YA author, but his work is very important to YA literature.  He published Looking for Alaska in 2005, An Abundance of Katherines in 2006, Paper Towns in 2008, and The Fault in Our Stars in 2012.  He has also collaborated on another book entitled Will Grayson, Will Grayson with YA author David Leviathan in 2010.  Looking for Alaska, Green’s first novel, won the Printz Award in 2006.  Green won the Edgar Award in 2009 for Paper Towns (Green, J., n.d., John Green’s Biography).

John Green’s body of work impressively has the ability to be challenging, intriguing, and relevant to teens.  Aside from stylistic merit, his work is important because it introduces teens to literature in an accessible way that empowers them.  The author believes that “a book is something that happens in conversation between a reader and a writer.” (Green, n.d., Movie Questions).

When asked about how to interpret or read the metaphors and symbols in his book, Paper Towns, Green gave his standard reply:  “a book belongs to its reader” (Green, n.d., Questions about Paper Towns).   This is an amazing way to present the concept of reading to (possibly reluctant) teenage readers.  Instead of feeling pressure to conform to the author’s point of view and try to decode the novel to determine the author’s intent, Green’s philosophy allows for the possibility of open conversation.  Green stresses the point that every reader brings something different to the interpretation of a book and this point of view is important and valid.  Validating everyone’s points of view also encourages a culture of acceptance when it comes to book discussions.  Teens who only read for assignments and are accustomed to reading books to find key facts or to regurgitate a particular viewpoint would certainly benefit from hearing that they have something valuable to contribute.

References

Green, J. (n.d.). John Green’s Biography. In John Green:  New York Times Bestselling Author. Retrieved May 8, 2014, from http://johngreenbooks.com/bio-contact/,

Green, J. (n.d.). Movie Questions. In John Green: New York Times Bestselling Author. Retrieved May 9, 2014, from http://johngreenbooks.com/movie-questions/.

Green, J. (n.d.). Questions about Paper Towns (SPOILERS!). In John Green:  New York Times Bestselling Author. Retrieved May 8, 2014, from http://johngreenbooks.com/pt-questions/.

 

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What do John Green and Youth Librarians have in common?

1.  He’s a “teen whisperer”

Time Magazine named John Green one of the 100 most influential people alive in their latest issue.  In the article, he is referred to as a “teen whisperer.”  Although the term may seem sarcastic, it is true that Green has a way with the teen population.  His books are accessible, yet also demand something more from the reader.  They don’t have all the answers and the stories are not tied up neatly at the end.  Youth Librarians have the opportunity to form strong relationships with teen patrons by reaching out to them, challenging them, and helping them realize their potential.

2.  Enthusiasm for Literature

John Green began his career writing reviews for Booklist.  He had been there for “five years before [Looking for] Alaska was published” (Barkdoll & Scherff, 2008, p. 68).  His enthusiasm for quality writing shines through in everything he does, including video book clubs and his Crash Course series on literature.    In this way, John Green is not just a typical author who pushes his own work, he’s a book pusher in general, just like librarians.  This book talk for Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a good example for his zest for the written word.

3.  His DFTBA attitude

DFTBA stands for Don’t Forget to be Awesome and it is John Green’s motto.  He encourages his followers (Nerdfighters) to be awesome, whatever this means to them.  I think this is an important role for future Youth Librarians.  Librarians were once seen as “the keeper of the keys” to knowledge, but that is a construct of the past.  Nowadays, librarians don’t hand over information to patrons but rather show them how to get to the information they need.  Likewise, teens don’t need us to tell them how to be awesome, we just need to encourage them to grow and flourish in their own ways.  John Green’s desire to inspire teens to be awesome reminds me of a letter from Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote to high school students advising them to use art to “experience becoming…make your soul grow.”

 

References

Barkdoll, J.K., & Scherff, L.  (2008).  “Literature is not a cold, dead place”:  An interview with John Green.  English Journal, 97.  Retrieved from:  http://www.academia.edu/335874/Literature_is_a_cold_dead_place_An_interview_with_John_Green

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Paper Towns by John Green

Image from wikipedia.com

Image from wikipedia.com

Summary

Quentin (Q) has always had a crush on his next door neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman.  She is way out of his league, so he settles for admiring her from afar.  Then, one night she invites him along on a midnight crusade for revenge.  After one night of pulling pranks, she is gone.  Q is determined to find her and with the help of his friends, he searches for the clues she has left behind.  As he tries to unravel the mystery of what happened to Margo, Q learns more about her (and himself) that he thought possible.

Review

There are many similarities between Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns.  The dynamic between the two characters is almost identical–an impossibly beautiful, smart, and funny girl and the average boy who pines for her.  However, in Paper Towns, the author explores the concept of how we imagine other people.  Paper Towns has been criticized for its one-dimensional characters, but Margo is intended to be one-dimensional at first.  With Q for a narrator, the reader only gets his perspective which is clouded by his infatuation with Margo (Green, n.d., Questions).  As Q finds the clues Margo left behind, he begins to learn more about her private self vs. the public self everyone knew at school.  Green uses this process of discovery to raise questions about the self.  A person’s public persona is often very different from how she acts when she’s alone.  Which of these personas is more genuine?  Can there be only one true persona?

Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass plays a central role in this book and it is often taught in schools in conjunction with Paper Towns.  Whitman’s quote “I contain multitudes” illustrates Green’s message that people are multifaceted and whole (Green, n.d., Questions).

Paper Towns works on a number of levels.  As mentioned above, it is a wonderful introduction to the concept of the self and how our view of others defines who we are.  Quentin is in love with Margo, but how much does he really know about her?  What does Q’s view of his dream girl say about himself?  Green says that Margo’s last name (Spiegelman) “means ‘mirror-maker’ in German…Margo functions as a mirror to other characters in the novel.  What they see when they look at Margo ends up a lot more about them than it says about Margo herself.” (Green, n.d., Questions).

Secondly, it’s a great mystery.  Green won the Edgar Award for Paper Towns in 2009.  The story slowly unfolds and the reader learns about Margo right along with Q, who thought he knew her very well.  To determine the meaning of the clues, Q must try to think like Margo.  As he gets better at looking at things from her perspective, he begins to form a more complete idea of her complexity.

Thirdly, it has teen appeal.  The mystery structures the story and keeps it from getting bogged down in philosophy.  Q might be quietly pining away for the girl who barely knows he exists, but his friends Radar and Ben have big personalities and provide comic relief throughout the book.  The characters pull a series of midnight pranks and go on a marathon roadtrip, activities that would certainly hold a teen reader’s interest.  There is an element of improbability to the story–Margo’s character is outlandish and “larger than life” and the characters engage in activities, such as breaking into a theme park at night, which might seem unlikely, but not impossible.  Much like An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns does not portray anything that is literally impossible, and therefore the book balances on the edge of what is believable.   Paper Towns reads like someone recounting their favorite, crazy memories from high school.

 

Book Pairing Idea

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Although these two books are vastly different in terms of genre, setting, and plot, they both explore what it means to be human and how we perceive each other, especially in relationships.  Discussed as a pair, these two books would create very interesting discussions.

 

References

Green, J. (2008).  Paper Towns [Kindle edition].  Retrieved from Amazon.com

Green, J. (n.d.). Questions about Paper Towns (SPOILERS!). In John Green:  New York Times Bestselling Author. Retrieved May 8, 2014, from http://johngreenbooks.com/pt-questions/.

 

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Looking for Alaska by John Green

Image from lovelaughterinsanity.com

Image from lovelaughterinsanity.com

Summary

Miles Halter is looking for his “Great Perhaps.”  Sick of suburbia, he sets out to live a life of possibilities.  His journey takes him to a boarding school in Alabama.  At first, he is discouraged by the mediocre campus and the heat, but then he meets Alaska.  She has more personality that anyone Miles has ever met.  In Miles’ words, “If people were rain, I was a drizzle and she was  a hurricane” (p. 87-88).  The book details the misadventures of Miles, Alaska and their friends as they break the rules and test the boundaries of school, friendship, and life.  Green has said that this story is very loosely based on events from his teenage years, but the story is so fictionalized that he hesitates to make the comparison.  (Green, (n.d), Questions).

Review

At first glance, a reader may think this book is somewhat unremarkable.  The relationship between the two main character follow a typical stereotype:  the impossibly beautiful, funny, smart girl and the geeky, average boy who falls for her.  This dynamic is repeated in Green’s Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines.  However, Looking for Alaska is not just another teen romance.

Miles takes a World Religions class which he believes “might be an easy A” (Green, 2005, p. 31).  Through this class, the reader is introduced to many religious and philosophical concepts.  Each student must come up with the most important question and then describe how three major religions would answer the question.  When tragedy strikes, Miles is forced to consider these questions and how they relate to his own life.

Alaska’s question is “How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?”  Her character brings an element of depth to the story.  She is beautiful, smart, and funny–the typical “perfect girl.”  But, as her question suggests, there is something darker to her character.  One day she is enthusiastically planning a prank with her friends, the next day she shuts down and refuses to answer any “how, when, why, who or what questions” (Green, 2005, p. 167).  Although her mental state is never fully explained in the book, the reader could deduce that Alaska is mentally unstable from her dramatic mood swings and erratic behavior.

The inclusion of religious and philosophical concepts takes Looking for Alaska to the next level.  The book asks the reader:  What is the meaning of life?  Perhaps more importantly, how can we find meaning in a world that refuses to give us answers and seems so random? (Green, 2005, p. 230).  This book is rife for discussion and would make an excellent teen book club selection.  Teens are considering questions about the nature and meaning of life but often do not have an outlet to express themselves on the topic. Reading and discussing this book would be an excellent introduction to philosophical inquiry.

Green doesn’t tie up the story with a neat bow.  Major events are left ambiguous and he never provides a clear answer to the questions he poses about the nature of life.  As he writes in the Looking for Alaska discussion guide, “I wanted to know whether it is possible to live a hopeful life in a world riddled with ambiguity, whether we can find a way to go on even when we don’t get the answers to the questions that haunt us” (Green, 2005, p.230).

Green’s willingness to confront life’s ambiguous nature is arguably his most notable strength as a YA author.  By allowing his characters and plot to retain an element of mystery, he is challenging teens to think and engage with his work as well as preparing them for literature they will encounter as adults.

 

References

Green, J.  (2005).  Looking for Alaska.  New York, NY:  Dutton Books.

Green, J. (n.d.). Questions about Looking for Alaska (SPOILERS!). In John Green:  New York Times Bestselling Author. Retrieved May 7, 2014, from http://johngreenbooks.com/alaska-questions/.

 

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