Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Marvelous Michigan Month: Ashes review

Happy Halloween!  I hope you have a wonderful day in all that you do, be it spooky or fun, or just surviving Hurricane Sandy and all that it brings.

Today also wraps up my Marvelous Michigan Month.  I'll look to review books relating to Michigan at least once a month, and it would be cool to have another month devoted to it next year.  I hope you have enjoyed it, and found some interesting books by Michigan authors or set in Michigan.

This last piece is unfortunately my least favorite of the books I've shared in the past 31 days.  It has monsters and scary stuff, though, so it's a bit of a fitting choice for Halloween.  Let me tell you about Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick.

Michigan connection: Ashes is set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in the fictional Waucamaw Wilderness.  The Waucamaw Wilderness is based on the Porcupine Mountains and the Keweenaw Peninsula.  The author told me so.  (Author's web site FAQ, comments dated Sept. 9.)  Watersmeet and KI Sawyer Air Force Base are mentioned; other municipalities are fictional.
"A" is for Watersmeet. To the northwest, marked in green, is the Porcupine Mountains State Park.
Screenshot taken from Google Maps.
Checkouts: Coming soon to the charter school library, along with the sequel, Shadows
Typical reader: Teens looking for apocalyptic books
Source: Snowbound Books

Synopsis: Alex has headed north to be alone, scatter her parents' ashes at Lake Superior, and cope with (or not cope with) her terminal brain tumor.  Shortly after meeting an older hiker and his incredibly bratty granddaughter, an electromagnetic pulse changes the world around them - killing the man, frying all electronic devices, and giving back Alex's sense of smell.  Now she's stuck with the nasty child, who causes more grief than she's worth.  Luckily, a veteran named Tom comes across them at a crucial moment, and they begin to try coping with their changed world and surviving the horror it has wrought.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars, and that might be generous

The best way to handle this book is to give you the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Let's start with the good.

Good.  I don't often read science fiction; I lean more toward fantasy.  The science fiction here is very interesting, in a positive way.  How exactly would an electromagnetic pulse interrupt our existence?  This was clearly researched, and it provides plenty of fodder for laying awake thinking at night.

Ms. Bick is a child psychiatrist.  You've probably heard the saying, "Write what you know."  She certainly does that.  If you like complex, flawed, messed-up characters, you've come to the right place.  She likely has worked with plenty of people that don't cope well with life (to be tactful), and she knows how to describe them.

I really liked the imagery sparingly used in the novel.  It's very colorful, very metaphorical.  One description that particularly stood out to me was, "A sparrow of curiosity flitted over the girl's face."  (Page 38 of the hardcover edition.)  Unfortunately, this style disappears after a while.

Bad.  The "bad" of this book gets into some literary tropes that I'm really quite tired of.  First, we have that ever-present bane of young adult literature: a love triangle.  (Head, meet desk.)  Neither guy is particularly bad, though both are potentially objects of mutual affection to Alex because of circumstances that have thrown her together with each.  But what's particularly odious about the love triangle situation (warning: spoiler) is that if Alex is to stay with Chris in the town, she'll have to give up on finding and rescuing Tom.  Plus it would mean giving in and becoming complacent with the wishes of those in charge of the town.

The town is bad.  Now, everything I have to say about the town Alex takes refuge in is a bit spoilerish, because it all happens in the latter half of the book, after certain things happen that lead Alex to seek out said municipality.  It's oppressive, and has the trappings of a cult.  Must every zombie book have a cult?  I understand that people turn to religion in times of crisis.  But it's overplayed.  You could substitute Mary's hometown in The Forest of Hands and Teeth (reviewed last fall) for Rule in Ashes, and not have too much different, save for little particulars and how realistic it is.

Ugly.  You know how I said that Ms. Bick writes what she knows?  That's a double-edged sword.  Ellie, the little girl that is near Alex when the EMP detonates, is a real piece of work.  Take the worst little urchin you've ever dealt with and then multiply that tenfold.  Before the EMP killed her grandpa, Ellie was not only miserably sullen and combative, she also shatted Alex's coffee pot and dented her camp stove, and threatened harm to her own dog.  After that, she tore Alex's map, refused to cooperate with anything, started a landslide that knocked Alex's water bottle away, spilling it all, and with the landslide also managed to push Alex's pack off a cliff.  And that was within the first 55 pages.  "Ugly" doesn't cut it for this child.

When you read an apocalyptic zombie novel, do you expect zombies?  Yes?  Skip this book.  Because the amount of times that Alex encounters the "Changed" (which are arguably zombies) about a handful of times.  When they and their actions are described, it is wonderfully creepy and gruesome, and had me questioning whether this is really appropriate for teens.  But then the gruesome factor pretty much went away.

This book has gotten some high marks from other reviewers.  And it isn't wholly a bad book.  I just found a lot to grumble about.  If you've read it, what did you think of it?

I hope you've enjoyed my Marvelous Michigan Month.  Please let me know what you thought of this feature.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Marvelous Michigan Month: Guest review of Infected

Welcome, readers, to my first ever guest review!  Today's guest reviewer is my boyfriend.  He has a blog that reviews comic books, games, and movies.  Please visit him.  :)

Hello, Internet.  I'm IX_of_Swords, and today I'm going to offer up something different from what you normally find on Moonlit Librarian's blog.  The book I'm going to review is most certainly not for kids, but it does fit in nicely with the Michigan month she has going, so without further ado, I'm happy to recommend Infected, by Scott Sigler.

While Scott Sigler currently resides in California, he was born in Cheboygan, Michigan, and most of his novels take place somewhere in the state.  Infected is set mainly in Ann Arbor, where signs of a strange plague have been showing up.  People who end up infected quickly develop violent psychotic, and paranoid tendencies, frequently killing themselves and those around them before they can be taken in for treatment or questioning.  To make matters even more disturbing, their bodies decay to nothing but skeletons, black sludge, and a strange green mold in a matter of days, if not hours after death.  The handful of victims that have been observed before they've rotted away have all exhibited strange, blue, triangular growths on their bodies--the only known symptom before they turn violent.

Something is obviously going terribly, terribly wrong, and while the government has been able to cover up the disease so far, time is clearly running out.  Infected is the story of a race against time to diagnose and combat an unnatural parasite, as well as the tale of one poor bastard named Perry Dawsey who's found himself afflicted with the Triangles.

This book falls solidly into the genre known as "body horror."  If you're unfamiliar with the term, it's when a story centers around not monsters, serial killers, or any external threat, but on something going wrong with (and often inside) your own body.  While you can run from a savage beast out to kill you, that isn't an option when there's something horrible growing inside you, feeding off your very flesh.  It's that lack of an escape option that makes this genre particularly terrifying, and Sigler takes it to a whole new level in Infected (and its sequel, Contagious).  As the Triangles slowly start to take over not only Perry's body, but also his mind, you will likely find yourself by turns cheering for him as he struggles against them, and hating him at the times when he gives in to their influence.  Sigler weaves a story that is tense, suspenseful, and that will definitely have you squirming at points (who would have thought the words "chicken scissors" could hold such a sense of foreboding?).  If you have a strong stomach, and you like your horror on the visceral side, I can't recommend Infected highly enough.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday: October 26

Hello, and welcome to the blog of a librarian moonlighting as a librarian (AKA Moonlit Librarian)!  I'm participating in another Feature and Follow Friday, hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  Thanks for stopping by.

Q: What writing device or trick most irritates you when reading a book? For example, if an author employs an omnipotent narrator that is sometimes considered bad form.

A: One element I cannot stand, and feel is used far too often, is the love triangle.  It seems as though I cannot pick up a YA novel written by a woman without finding two guys fighting over a gal.  I realize this is what appeals to some readers; I actually had a reader's advisory that revealed that fact the other day.

Student: I'm looking for books like Twilight.
Me: Well, what did you like about the book?
There was some humming and hawing back-and-forth before finally, I got an answer I could work with.
Student: I liked how Edward and Jacob fought over Bella!

I was under the impression that Jacob mostly moped and was a doormat to Bella, but whatever.

The fact of the matter is, I am burning out on YA literature, because of how they all seem to need multifaceted relationships with much drama.  Are girls learning that indecision and leading guys along are okay things to practice?  Are authors writing out of the secret wish to cheat on their partners?  Why can't a boy love a girl, and a girl love a boy, and no one extra is involved, and it's all good?

Marvelous Michigan Month: Calumet Copper Creatures

The book I'd like to share with you today is a good one for the Halloween season.  It's Calumet Copper Creatures, part of the Michigan Chillers series by Johnathan Rand.

Michigan connection: Johnathan Rand is a Michigan author.  All Michigan Chillers are set in Michigan, and Calumet Copper Creatures is set in, go figure, Calumet.
Once again, "A" marks Calumet.
Screenshot of Google Maps.
Checkouts: Coming soon to the charter school library.
Series checkouts: 131 checkouts over 14 books!
Typical reader: Upper elementary students, often those who have outgrown Goosebumps.
Source: Snowbound Books

Synopsis: Mikayla and her brother, Calvin, accidentally fall into an abandoned copper mine near Calumet.  There, they encounter horrific monsters made of copper.  Will they escape?

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars

I haven't read other books in this series before, but my students love them.  Without asking them for an explanation, I would wager that they like the thrill of the action and creepiness.  And I did find the action in this book pretty thrilling.  It was a page-turner, in those parts of the book.

The foreshadowing, on the other hand, needs work.  There's hinting at what's to come, and then there's how this book hits the reader over the head with a clue-by-four at the end of every chapter.  It's especially bad before the monster is revealed.  Michigan Chillers are written for a fourth grade reading level.  Upper elementary students don't need to be insulted with this sort of ham-fisted delivery.

This really isn't a character-driven novel.  There's not much to say about the two siblings that go looking for a ghost town one afternoon and fall down a mine shaft.  If you're looking for character development beyond "Wow, we won't do that again," you're looking in the wrong place.  It's definitely more driven by the adventure and scariness.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Marvelous Michigan Month: Living on Sisu

One nice thing about historical fiction is that it can be objectively assessed.  Is it historically accurate?  If it changes events, is it still realistic?  Does the author do a good job of weaving fact and fiction together to create a story that is both enjoyable and informative?

With these criteria in mind, I am very happy to tell you about Living on Sisu: The 1913 Union Copper Strike Tragedy by Deborah K. Frontiera.

Michigan connection: The story takes place in Red Jacket (Calumet), Michigan.  Ms. Frontiera is a Michigan author.
"A" marks Calumet. Screenshot of Google Maps.

Checkouts: Coming soon to the charter school library
Typical reader: Fans of the Dear America series; students looking for an historical fiction.
Source: The author

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Emma Niemi has a good life with her immigrant parents in the mining town of Calumet, Michigan.  But then a workers' strike changes everything for her and those in the area, culminating in unimaginable tragedy.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

This book is basically the perfect example of an historical fiction for juvenile readers.  It is realistic, captivating, historically accurate, and sprinkled with pertinent ethnic vocabulary.  There is a map of the area, with points of interest marked.  There are a glossary, a list of historical people mentioned or featured in the book, historical notes, and a bibliography.  I don't think I could ask for more.

But you could ask for more of a review than that.

This novel is presented in a diary format.  Emma is given a journal for her birthday, and she records the events of the following year.  And what a year it is.  The Calumet area, which was home to nearly 90,000 people at the time, is torn asunder by a workers' strike.  Underground copper mining was, and is, a very dangerous operation, and it has taken many lives over the years.  The workers demanded less hours per day, better working conditions, and more pay.  The companies owned much of the town, and felt that giving workers housing, a library, schools, hospitals, and other amenities was already generous.  I'm oversimplifying, but the main thing is, trouble brewed to the boiling point.

Emma is a strong, persevering narrator.  To help the family, she starts offering help at a store in exchange for a little food or money.  Later, she finds employment as a housekeeper, and gives all her money to her mother.  She attends night classes in order to continue her seventh grade studies.  Can you imagine a middle school student doing that now, labor laws aside?  She becomes involved in strike parades, interacting with the historical figure "Big Annie," Anne Clemenc of the Western Federation of Miners Women's Auxiliary, and is witness to the horrific tragedy at the Italian Hall on Christmas Eve, when dozens of children and adults lost their lives.

I can't recommend this book highly enough.  You can find it in bookstores across Upper Michigan (especially in the Keweenaw), on Amazon, or from the author at her web site.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Marvelous Michigan Month: Prairie Evers

I am particularly excited about today's review for Marvelous Michigan Month.  This is one of the books that inspired putting together this feature, along with Haylee's Treasure (among others).  This author is actually one of my patrons!  I have not had the opportunity to meet her yet, as her local library is one of our rural branches/outposts.  I do look forward to doing so sometime, though, be it at a library or at the cafe she and her husband operate.

Let me tell you about Prairie Evers by Ellen Airgood.

Michigan connection: Ms. Airgood is a Michigan author.
Checkouts: Coming soon to both libraries
Typical reader: Farm-raised, home-schooled, and previously home-schooled children would likely get the most enjoyment out of this novel.  It's also great for kids who have had to, or will have to, move to a new town and school.
Source: Snowbound Books

Synopsis: This is the story of a tumultuous year in the life of young Prairie Evers, who moved to a farm in upstate New York and will no longer be home-schooled by her beloved grandmother, a former school teacher.  She feels like her chickens: cooped up and subject to the pecking order of the school her parents send her to.  But she will make a friend, and learn much about life.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

This is such a nice, sweet book.  If you're looking for a feel-good book that still does have problems for the characters to face, this is a good choice.

The eponymous protagonist of the novel is smart, kind, thoughtful, and spunky.  She's pretty resistant to change, though.  This provides the conflict of the novel, when her grandmother, who has been her teacher and closest friend, decides that life on the farm in New York isn't for her, and moves back to North Carolina.  Her parents are willing to finish out the school year at home before sending Prairie to school, but between needing to make ends meet and some wicked town gossip, Prairie must face the music and go to the dreaded public school instead of staying home all day with her new flock of chickens.

This is a good book for both sides of the argument on homeschooling versus conventional schooling.  There are pros and cons to each, and even young Prairie can see and contemplate that.  She had a good case for homeschooling in North Carolina, being far from the school and having a trained teacher available to educate her.  But in New York, she will learn that going to school has such benefits as being part of society and making friends.

The friendship with Ivy is the real adventure.  Prairie never really had an opportunity to make friends her own age before, so this is totally new to her.  There are ups and downs, and Ivy certainly has problems of her own to deal with, but Prairie is a determined optimist who wants everything to turn out right.

This is a great book for upper elementary students.

UPDATE: A few hours after I posted this review, I cataloged and processes two copies of this book for the school/public library.  When I said it was coming soon, I didn't think I meant today!  :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Marvelous Michigan Month: The Disappearance of Dinosaur Sue

Wow, this month is just flying by!  I hope I'll get through all the books I have planned for Marvelous Michigan Month.  Whether I do or not, I think I'll make this a regular feature once a month.  It's good to be familiar with Michigan books for my jobs, and it's fun to share these books with a broader audience who might not otherwise find these wonderful works.

Today, I would like to tell you about the first in a series of mysteries for children, written by a very knowledgeable person.  This book is The Disappearance of Dinosaur Sue, the premiere book in PaleoJoe's Dinosaur Detective Club series by PaleoJoe (Paleontologist Joe Kchodl) and Wendy Caszatt-Allen.

Michigan connection: PaleoJoe is a Michigan author.
Checkouts: Coming soon to the charter school library
Typical reader: Elementary students interested in dinosaurs
Source: The author, when he visited the school/public library!

PaleoJoe holds a replica tooth of a Tyrannosaurus rex.
Photo credit: the school/public library where I work.

Synopsis: Junior paleontologist Shelly Brooks, a lively, enthusiastic eleven-year-old, helps PaleoJoe investigate the disappearance of Dinosaur Sue from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.  Dinosaur Sue is the most complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

This is a work of fiction, though PaleoJoe is a real paleontologist, and Dinosaur Sue really is the most complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found, and is really on display in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.  A lot of the facts about her in the book are true.  But she has never been stolen.

I had initially given this book a 4-star rating, but upon reflection, bumped it up to five stars.  This is a very readable, fun, informational story.  I'm happy that the protagonist is a girl interested in paleontology, even if she is a bit annoying.  And for a mystery, I liked it.  This, and the other four books in the series, will be great additions to the library collection.

PaleoJoe has been traveling across the state and the Midwest to schools and libraries, offering educational programs about paleontology and dinosaurs.  If you have the opportunity to take in one of his programs - or book one, if you work for a school or library - do so!  He is very informative, if fast-paced.  I learned a lot, ranging from how small a Tyrannosaurus rex's brain really was, to how "dinosaurs" are really only the ones that walked on land; pterodactyls were flying lizards, and plesiosaurs were aquatic lizards.  For more information about PaleoJoe, his work, and his programs, please visit his web site.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Marvelous Michigan Month: Lies Beneath

I heard about the book Lies Beneath this summer and was really excited.  It's a book about mermaids in Lake Superior!  I could not find anything that said where in Lake Superior this YA mermaid tail took place, but I thought it would be a great inclusion in the collection and, as the idea for Marvelous Michigan Month formed, in this feature.

I'm disappointed that the story takes place around the Apostle Islands, which are part of Wisconsin.  *deflates*  Well, nuts.

But I'm still going to feature Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown in this month's merriment, because dang it, there are mermaids in Lake Superior, and YA novels set in Michigan are hard to find.

Michigan connection: The Apostle Islands are part of Wisconsin, but are close to Michigan.  And there's a shipwreck on the Wisconsin/Michigan border that's featured in the story.  Lake Superior mostly falls in the jurisdiction of Michigan.  Yeah, I'm stretching things.
"A" is for Apostle Islands. They are part of Wisconsin. Boo.
Screenshot of Google Maps.

Checkouts: New to the charter school library
Typical reader: A tough call, since it's not fully in the paranormal romance genre and the protagonist is male, but I'll wager that teen girls will read it most.
Source: Snowbound Books

Synopsis: There are murderous mermaids in Lake Superior!  Calder and his sisters have vowed revenge on the son of the man who killed their mother.  To lure him into the water, Calder has taken on the task of getting close to one of his daughters.  He doesn't expect the teenager, Lily, to be resistant to his charms - or that he could fall in love with her.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

I loved the lore-building in this book!  The facts of Ms. Brown's take on mermaids are smoothly woven into Calder's narrative.  And it all makes sense.  Old lore from Greek and Native American sources are used, explained, or referenced.  Mermaids ran ships aground and killed sailors; Calder will tell you why.  Characters speculate as to whether the manitous of local Native American lore.  It made me happy, how much thought and research the author put into her paranormal beings.

Calder is a bit of a mixed bag for me.  It's nicely different to have this story to be from the point of view of a male, and of the "bad boy" at that.  His name is perplexingly unique.  It also would fit someone tied to a volcano better.  (Calder makes me think caldera, a large volcanic crater.)  He's a bit cocky and arrogant.  But more importantly, I abhor the trend of stalker types in paranormal romance.  I'm a good little librarian and don't say anything when tweens and teens check out the Twilight series, but ye gods, I want to give them a lecture about how they should never let someone treat them like Edward treated Bella.  Stalking is wrong.  Hurting your partner is wrong.  Manipulating your partner is wrong.  Breaking into your partner's bedroom and watching them sleep is just plain creepy.  Let's get something straight right now, okay?  Edward was abusive and a lot of what he did was illegal.  Why do we let this be considered romantic?

*puts soapbox away*

Anyway.  Calder is a bit of a stalker, but at least he only trespasses and hangs out in the Hancocks' hammock, or gets a job where he knows Lily applied.  Does he think about hurting her?  Yes.  But he's not exactly a good guy in this story; he and his sisters want to kill Lily's father.  Does he reform for Lily, or does he go through with the plans?  Read and find out.

Lily, on the other hand, more or less made me happy.  She's pleasantly nonconformist, reading Victorian poetry and dressing in a style all her own.  She is intelligent and witty.  Perhaps best of all, she's not taken by Calder's somewhat magical charms, and is skeptical of his motivations.  Nor is she keen on the advances of the local, normal dude, Jack.  Honestly, the way she looked at Calder's sisters in the coffee shop at one point in the book, I had the passing fancy that maybe she'd totally turn a teen paranormal romance novel on its ear and turn out to be a lesbian.  No such luck, but her reluctance to fall for Calder's advances and her suspicions about what was going on were endearing.

This is far more than a paranormal romance, though.  (Which, if you know my tastes, is a good thing.  I don't like pure romances.)  It is really quite the thriller.  There are some great twists to the plot.  And the murderous mermaids that are Calder's sisters turn out to be a bit different than what he'd thought he'd known.  Maybe I could have guessed at what ends up happening, but I really enjoyed the ride and the surprises.

There will be a sequel to this; it's due out next spring.  Interestingly, it's from Lily's perspective.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Marvelous Michigan Month: A Cold Day in Paradise

Welcome to my Marvelous Michigan Month!  Today I would like to tell you about an adult book, which I listened to on CD.  It is A Cold Day in Paradise by Steve Hamilton, a mystery novel set in a little town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Michigan connections: Mr. Hamilton is a Detroit native (currently living in New York state), and the book - as with most of the series it kicked off - is set in Paradise, Michigan.

"A" points to Paradise. Screenshot of Google Maps.

Checkouts, charter school: no checkouts of the paperback yet
Checkouts, school/public: 28 audio, 80 physical
Series checkouts, school/public: Too many, don't ask. LOL
Typical reader: Adult mystery lovers, adults looking for local fiction
Source: School/public library

Synopsis: Former Detroit police officer Alex McKnight has settled into a quiet life in a cozy cabin in the woods near Paradise, Michigan, but a lawyer friend in the Soo (Sault Ste. Marie) talks him into becoming a private investigator.  That isn't so bad, until it gets McKnight involved in a series of murders in the area that have more than just a little reminder of why he retired.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

A coworker strongly recommended this book, and it's hard to escape the fact that this is an incredibly popular series around here.  If I were to focus instead on adult patrons and what they read, I'd have to include this.  The Alex McKnight series currently includes nine books, all of which circulate heavily.  And it's like that all across the U.P.  I'm sure my middle school students will start checking it out later this school year, when they need Michigan-related books to write reports on.

That said, I have mixed feelings about this book.  The first half was good, and I began to think that maybe there are mystery novels out there that I might actually enjoy.  But then it began to drag, and I thought the mystery was solved with two CDs left to go.  I was wrong, but still.  While having the protagonist of a mystery be someone actually capable of solving crimes is something that makes a mystery novel more tolerable, McKnight was still making stupid mistakes.  That irritated me.

The audio version of this is quite enjoyable.  Dan John Miller, the reader, offers a good mixture of tones and accents.  The Yooper accent is not played up too heavily.  We Yoopers don't all sound like we're straight out of the movie Fargo, and we appreciate it when we're not portrayed as such.  I gather some later books in the series are narrated by someone different, who does make us sound completely ridiculous.

This is a good book to review this month, as the story begins in late October.  If you're not from around here, you'll learn a bit about our November weather, and the storms Lake Superior gets that time of year.  (See also Gordon Lightfoot's song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.)  By the way, we had our first snowfall of the season last weekend.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday, Oct. 5

Hello, and welcome to the blog of a librarian moonlighting as a librarian (AKA Moonlit Librarian)!  I'm participating in another Feature and Follow Friday, hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  Thanks for stopping by.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your blog? Is it to one day become an author yourself, just for fun, maybe get some online attention, or maybe something very different?

Great question!  This blog has changed so much since it first started.  I had intended to blog about setting up a new school library, but got so busy with the library that doing so never happened.  The blog sat for half a year or so, and then I went, "Hey, why don't I start reviewing what my students read?"  It blossomed from there.

This month, I'm focusing on books connected to Michigan, my home state.  There are books by Michigan authors, and books about/set in the area.  I'm covering books for all ages, but I still focus on my charter school library (as opposed to my school/public library, my second library job).  This gets these books some publicity, especially those that are small press or independently published, like Haylee's Treasure (review and author interview available).  It also allows me to work on my reader's advisory skills, because my students often have to research their home state, or do book reports of books tied to Michigan.

I toy with the idea from time to time of adding advertisements.  Most likely, this would not be for personal gain, but as additional money for my tiny budget.  I don't know, what do you readers think of that idea?

This Feature and Follow Friday question is great!  I hope we learn a lot about each other through it.

Just a reminder, I'm very busy at work on Fridays and do not have a chance to get back to new followers until the evening or later in the weekend.  Please be patient.  :)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Marvelous Michigan Month: Interview with Mara MacKay

Welcome to my first author interview!  I am so excited.  Today's interview is with Mara MacKay, author of Haylee's Treasure, which I recently reviewed.  She also has other books in her "History CPR" series in the works.  The interview is a bit long, but I hope you'll enjoy it and learn a lot.  I know I did.

Photo of Mara MacKay, courtesy of same.
Ms. Librarian: Congratulations on the honor from the Historical Society of Michigan!
Mara MacKay: To receive this award has been humbling and to have accepted it on behalf of the community of Munising is a privilege since so many vendors, teachers, historians, naturalists, caring individuals and book lovers have graciously supported the History CPR project and Haylee’s TreasureWhile this award recognizes Haylee’s Treasure as an outstanding publication, the award also honors the memory of those who worked at the factory and those who preserved the stories that attached to the remarkable history created in every bowl and clothespin, and every tent spike that went to support the efforts of WWII soldiers serving at that time.

Ms. Librarian: Are you originally from the U.P. (Upper Peninsula of Michigan)?
Ms. MacKay: Originally, I grew up in Minnesota.  I was born and raised on a lake, in a summertime “cottage community” where fishing, skiing, and gardening were major pastimes.  My childhood home in Minnesota was located between two lakes that joined at the Dead River in central Minnesota.  During those Minnesota summers, my dad ran a seasonal bait and tackle shop, tree service, and gas station.  All of my memories of time spent with my dad were in the "off-season" while summers were spent dipping up minnows for anglers and serving the customers ice cream cones.  When I first arrived in the U.P. people in Munising reminded me of my childhood, and the neighbors and people I grew up with in Minnesota.  Yoopers can often be resourceful, independent, and frequently have a good bit of character which gave me joy, comfort and a desire to put down roots in Michigan.

Ms. Librarian: What inspired you to write Haylee's Treasure?
Ms. MacKay: After moving to Michigan, I learned that my ancestors came from Europe (Czechoslovakia) to Hart, Michigan. On that side of my family tree, my grandmother (an artist who raised me for a good part of my childhood) gave me a bowl from Munising, Michigan.  The bowl was an original and simple, unpainted wooden Munising bowl.  It came in a box of items that she left for me when she passed away in 1994.  It took 10 years for me to grieve her loss.  Eventually, I opened the box, went through the items and became interested in the Munising bowl. Subsequently, I began to research the origin of the bowl and came to Munising for 5 days in 2005.

The trip left me wanting to learn more about the Upper Peninsula.  I knew I wanted to write about the bowl factory.  More than anything else, the children at Mather Elementary school inspired me to write the book.  I was taken by their enthusiasm to talk about their community, the kids genuinely wanted to help me write the story, and took a great deal of interest and pride in the culture and history of the Upper Peninsula.  In addition, the website that Ken and Joel Graber created was a big part of what led me to visit Munising and this website, provides a great deal of insight into the history of the factory and wonderful photos of the bowls. (Here’s the link.)

Ms. Librarian: Tell me more about Munising bowls.
Ms. MacKay: The bowls were made in Munising from 1911-1955 and have a colorful history created by the people who, at the time they were being made, never realized how collectible and special they would become.  Yet, it was the local Munising residents who lived the story that tied me, emotionally, to writing Haylee's Treasure.  When I learned that the low-quality butter bowls, called "culls," were given away to the residents, and that children at that time used the bowls to go sledding down the snowy hills of Munising, I couldn't resist.  I was hooked to cultivating, preserving and sharing Munising history with readers.

Ms. Librarian: What is the History CPR project?
Ms. MacKay: History CPR is a book series, a craft guild, a community of people who want to give kids positive experiences in the areas of nature, art, history, and culture.  History CPR provides a snapshot into different communities and showcases their healthy assets.  It includes an educational piece on careers and features people who live in the community, by introducing them to the student through the book series, on the website and during classroom presentations.  History CPR is a supplement for the classroom experience as it brings historical artifacts into the school when many schools cannot afford to take field trips to museums.  The project introduces people, young and old, to places they may not know about in the areas of art, history, nature, and local culture.  History CPR cultivates an interest in history by engaging children in the creative process of writing a book.  It preserves history by collecting stories that ignite an interest in the mind of the reader to go deeper into looking at historical artifacts made in America.  And History CPR invites children to read about history by going through the backdoor of history, art, culture and nature through innovative writing and hands-on activities that intrigue kids to learn more about topics they may have not found interesting, previously.

Ms. Librarian: Could you tell me about the art selection process?
Copper robin's necklace,
featured in Haylee's Treasure
and available for sale
Ms. MacKay:Artists send in photos of their artwork, illustrations, and craft pieces.  Kids pick the ones that they want to see featured in the book.  The event coincides with the creative process for upcoming books. Currently, this event, called CRAFT PRIZE, is open for kids to vote on pieces that could be featured in a book set in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Another CRAFT PRIZE will kick-off in January and those art pieces and illustrators could be featured in a book about Marquette, Michigan.  Kids are encouraged to vote with their teachers and in their classroom.  Teachers can request a CD with photos of all of the art pieces, and kids can complete their votes on a paper ballot.  Home-school and private schools are encouraged to participate.

Parents can share Craft Prize with kids and work on-line with their young reader to select the items.  The use of Facebook for this selection process has given us an easy, economical and user-friendly voting website since many people are familiar with Facebook on the Internet.  All you do is “like” an item and that captures your child’s vote, if your child is younger than 13 we encourage parents to have them vote through their parent’s Facebook account.

During the second round of voting the top five pieces in each category are shipped to the CRAFT PRIZE team and I carefully take the art pieces around the State and let kids see and touch the final pieces as they cast their final votes.

Ms. Librarian: How else can readers participate in the creative process?
Ms. MacKay: In the History CPR series children are encouraged to write their own ideas about the book during the brainstorm and first-draft writing process.  The ideas that come from children, who live in the community where the book is set, inspire me and the thoughts and questions that they come up with, during our classroom and community conversations, often shape the early outlines of the story.  Kids see things in their communities that adults tend to miss.  Children catch glimpses of the people, places and cultural aspects that shape their daily lives and these gems can be hidden or obvious, kids know their community sometimes better than they know themselves.
For Haylee’s Treasure, kids made sure to notify me that this was not Northern Michigan rather it is the U.P. and the students also knew pasties had to be included in the story.  The greatest contribution of the Mather Elementary students to Haylee’s Treasure: the idea of how tightly knit and closely connected Munising really is.  Kids in Munising recognize and appreciate that more than I thought possible and it seemed, in contrast my own awareness as a kid, that they were much more in touch with the value of this than I had been when I was growing up in a similar small, rural, lake town.

Ms. Librarian: You mentioned a sequel.  What can you tell me about it?
Ms. MacKay: Hunter's Quest is set in the West Michigan/Kalamazoo area and will have many of the same components as Haylee's Treasure: Michigan historical artifacts (Gibson Guitar Co. and Shakespeare Co.), tourist destinations, natural areas, art made by Michigan (mostly) artists, and a character building lesson.  In Haylee’s Treasure the character building lesson compared emotional treasure with material treasure and looked at the significance, merit, and challenges of both kinds of treasure.  Additionally, a career layer is taking shape in the History CPR series that goes in depth about careers that are somehow related to the story and/or the setting of each book.

 Ms. Librarian: Thank you so very much!

I hope you've enjoyed the interview and learning all the neat stuff about Haylee's Treasure!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Marvelous Michigan Month: Haylee's Treasure

Welcome to my Marvelous Michigan Month, where I'll discuss books of all sorts dealing with my home state!  There will be books about Michigan, books set in Michigan, and books by Michigan authors.  Some will be for little kids, others will be for older kids or teens, and some will even be for adults.  I might even treat you to a movie - at least, a review of one.

Let's start with a book for upper elementary students.  It's called Haylee's Treasure, written by Mara MacKay.  It recently won a State History Award from the Historical Society of Michigan for its informative and engaging story based on the history of the Upper Peninsula’s Munising area.

Michigan connections: Ms. MacKay lives in Michigan, as does illustrator Stephanie Bajema.  Haylee's Treasure takes place mainly in Munising, Michigan.
"A" points to Munising. Screenshot of Google Maps.
Checkouts: Coming next spring to the charter school library, when the second edition comes out!
Typical reader: Upper elementary students looking for a Michigan story
Source: The author!

Synopsis: Haylee and her dad take a summer trip north to visit his parents (her grandparents) in rural Upper Michigan.  Despite her early trepidation, Haylee enjoys finding treasures of all kinds in the small town of Munising.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars (5 when the second edition comes out!)

As you'll read more about in the upcoming interview with Ms. MacKay, there is a really great idea behind this book, and the sequels to come.  Haylee's Treasure focuses on parts of the history, art, culture, scenery, and artifacts of Munising.  Inspired by an heirloom Munising bowl from her grandmother, Ms. MacKay researched the bowl and found herself wanting to write about the bowl factory and the surrounding area.  Creating the book was also a collaborative effort, with many people contributing to the art, knowledge, and much more.

This novel is a gentle read, very much a slice-of-life exploration of what a remote Michigan town offers.  Haylee learns a lot, and readers of all ages can as well.  It is written for about a 3rd or 4th grade reading level, but would appeal to a wide audience.  The art is beautiful and realistic.  There are even historical photos included.

Let me explain my rating, and why it will change when the second edition comes out (expected Spring 2013).  When I read the first edition, I came across a bit of a stumbling block in trying to read it.  The writing was a bit unpolished and needed proofreading.  For example, verb tenses would change in the middle of a paragraph, or even in a sentence.  But I knew this had a great story and idea at its base, and deserved to be improved.  Having met Ms. MacKay this summer at a summer reading event, I dropped her a line, offering to help edit.  I received a "Yes!" and then my boyfriend and I took on the task of proofreading and editing.  He deserves the credit on editing the book for the second printing.  :)  I'm looking forward to seeing the revised edition in a few months, and sharing it with my students.  See what a collaborative effort this is?

Haylee's Treasure is independently published.  There are places all over Michigan where you can find this book for sale, as well as in a couple of Minnesotan stores.  For a store carrying the book, click here.  Otherwise, the book can be ordered directly from Old Wood Press at the web site.