Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness; Illustrations by Jim Kay

monster callsBibliographic Information:

Ness, P., Kay, J., & Dowd, S. (2011). A monster calls: A novel. Somerville, Mass: Candlewick Press. (9780-763655594)

Plot Summary:

Conor is a 13 year-old-boy who is suffering from a nightmare that he has been having for the past few months. Then, one night, the monster comes. The monster tells Conor that he came because Conor called him.

Conor has a lot to deal with. His mother is dying of cancer and his grandmother is starting to take care of him. His father has his own life and family and is not available for Conor during this crisis. And then there is school. Lately, he has caught the eye of a bully.

Critical Evaluation:

The original plot was conceived by Siobban Dowd, as Ness explains in his Author’s note. She died from cancer before writing it herself. The illustrator on the project is Jim Kay. As with a graphic novel, the power of this story comes from the interplay between the text and the illustrations.

The illustrations are dark and vague. They are suggestions that can work with one’s imagination.Kay describes his technique fittingly when he says, “I prefer to work starting from a black canvas and pull the light out, which makes for a much darker image. The important thing was to give the reader the room to create their own characters and images in their mind, I was just putting suggestions of the Monster and Conor in there to help them along the way; darkness and ambiguity allow the reader to illuminate the scenes internally I think” (Ness, P., Kay, J., &

Illustration from A Monster Calls

Illustration by Jim Kay from A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness. Photograph: Jim Kay and Walker Books from article “How we made A Monster Calls.

Illustration by Jim Kay from A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness. Photograph: Jim Kay and Walker Books

Ness has the chapters with the monster visits and his story interspersed with chapters showing Conor’s life during the day. The monster’s tales are striking. As the monster says, “Stories as the wildest things of all…Stories chase and bite and hunt” ((p. 35) Each story provides Conor a lesson but that lesson may not be the one Conor expects. After the third story, Conor must tell a story and it must be the truth.

A Monster Calls takes the reader on a journey through the emotions of the survivor. It is painful, beautiful, and cathartic. It also holds a lot of symbolism and imagery for discussion in an English class.

Reader’s Annotation:

A young boy is visited by a monster who forces him to accept some unpleasant truths through a visit every night and the stories he tells. The monster agrees to tell three stories after which Conor must tell his story.

Information About the Author:

Jim Kay

Jim Kay studied illustrations at the University of Westminster. Jim Kay loves art and botany. He credits his time at the Kew Gardens as the Assistant Curator for the Illustrations Collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew for introducing him to a variety of resources across the world (Jim Kay biography).

He has also provided images and research for publishers and television companies. In 2008 his one-man exhibition on the theme of producing ideas for children’s book attracted interest. He is now a full-time illustrator.

Jim grew up in Nottinghamshire.

For more information please visit his site.

Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness has two very different biographies. His personal one is quirky and firmly roots him in the world of supernatural writing. His professional one focuses briefly on his life and delves into his works.

Although Ness was born in Virginia, he admits he has never been back. As an army brat he has lived in Hawaii, Washington, and California. He has called England home since 1999 (Biography, 2013).

Ness studies English Literature at the University of Southern California. He always wanted to be an author so he has tried to make sure all his jobs were related to writing. As a result, he worked as a corporate writer at a cable company, freelanced as a journalist, and taught Creative Writing at Oxford University. He has written for a number of English papers including The Guardian and The Times Literary Supplement.

For more information please visit Patrick Ness’ website.


  • Realistic
  • Identity
  • Guilt
  • family

Curriculum Ties:

  • English
    • Imagery, character types
  • Art
  • Counseling

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read one of the monster’s stories
  • Show some of the art in the book

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

I think it is very important that we have a variety of different resources for students. Many students will experience loss while in the high school years and many do not allow themselves to grieve and the pain is internalized. Books such as A Monster Calls will speak to these students. It is also an excellent book to be deconstructed in an English class. It is short but powerful with great imagery and Ness uses a variety of literary devices in his narrative.


  • Carnegie Medal
  • Galaxy National Awards Winner
  • British Children’s Book of the Year
  • Red House Children’s Book Award
  • Kitschies Red Tentacle
  • Booklist “Top of the List” for 2011 youth fiction


  • Ritter, C. K. (2011). A Monster Calls. Horn Book Magazine, 87(5), 93.

“Carnegie Medal–winner Ness’s eloquent tale of pain and loss, inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd prior to her early death from cancer in 2007, is both heart-wrenching and thought-provoking.”

  • Welz, K. (2011). A Monster Calls. School Library Journal, 57(9), 164.

“This is an extraordinarily moving story inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd before she passed away. Kay’s shadowy illustrations slither along the borders of the pages and intermingle with text to help set its dark, mysterious mood, while Conor is often seen as a silhouette. A brilliantly executed, powerful tale.”


Biography Patrick Ness. (2013). Retrieved April 12, 2013 from

Jim Kay biography. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2013 from

Ness, P., Kay, J., & (2012, June 14). How we made A Monster
Calls. Retrieved April 12, 2013, from The Guardian website:

Patrick Ness. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2013 from


Red by Taylor Swift


Bibliographic Information:

Swift, T., Lightbody, G., Sheeran, E., & Big Machine Records. (2012). Red. Nashville, TN: Big Machine.

Plot Summary:


  • State of grace
  • Red
  • Treacherous
  • I knew you were trouble
  • All too well
  • 22
  • I almost do
  • We are never ever getting back together
  • Stay stay stay
  • The last time (featuring Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol)
  • Holy ground
  • Sad beautiful tragic
  • The lucky one
  • Everything has changed (featuring Ed Sheeran)
  • Starlight
  • Begin again

Critical Evaluation:

According to the editor’s notes, the title “Red” was chosen to represent Swift’s passionate nature; the revenge she is known to take by writing ex-boyfriends into songs and that she is a romantic. It also suggests that she is no longer a child but a woman.

The disc has received critical acclaim. Swift plays with a variety of styles and the sixteen songs show her versatility as an artist. Red is her fourth album.

Reader’s Annotation:

This album has some vintage Taylor Swifts songs and some new sounds for the Country crooner.

Information About the Author:

Taylor Swift is a 23 year-old singer/songwriter who has become one of the best known country artists of her generation. In 2009, she was named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association; one of the youngest artists ever to win. She has won multiple Grammy Awards and in 2010 was the youngest artist in history to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

Taylor was born December 13, 1989 in Pennsylvania. When her family moved to Nashville when she was 14, she secured an artist development deal with RCA Records (Biography). She released her debut album at the age of 16. She is known for writing and singing her own songs.


  • Country music
  • Pop music

Curriculum Ties:


Booktalking Ideas:


Please check out Billboard website for videos and tracks from Red.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

I enjoy Swift’s humour and the story that her lyrics often tell. Also, I have been surprised lately about how many teens admit to listening to Country music.

Red was on a number of year-end best-of lists. It was number five on Billboard’s ten top albums of the year. In the States the album became the fastest-selling album in a decade (Red)


“No other pop auteur can touch her right now for emotional excess or musical reach – her punk is so punk, her disco is so disco.”

“As she settles into her superstar persona at the age of 22, Swift has made it clear that she is never going to be pigeonholed, and will always strive for relatable transcendence. “Red” is her most interesting full-length to date, but it probably won’t be when all is said and done in her career.”


Biography for Taylor Swift. (2013). Retrieved May 9, 2013 from

Red (Taylor Swift album). (2013, May 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved May 9, 2013, from


Taylor Swift. (2013). Retrieved May 9, 2013 from

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Directed by Peter Jackson

hobbitBibliographic Information:

Jackson, P. (Director). (2012). The hobbit: An unexpected journey [Motion picture]. United States: Warner Bros.

Plot Summary:

Bilbo Baggins, a comfortable hobbit, is surprised when thirteen Dwarves show up at his hobbit hole expecting a party. When the Wizard Gandalf arrives Bilbo learns that Gandalf wants to recruit him as a “burglar” in a dwarven quest to enter the Lonely Mountain. The Lonely Mountain was the ancestral home of the dwarves that they were forced to flee when Smaug, the dragon, decides to make the Mountain his lair.

Although reluctant to leave, at the last minute Bilbo has a change of heart and hurries to catch up with the departing dwarves. Now committed to the task, Bilbo has many adventures with the dwarves including meeting Elves and being captured by Goblins.

When Bilbo is separated from the Dwarves he finds a mysterious ring and Gollum who is looking for it. Soon the Company is reunited and continues their journey. Meanwhile, Smaug, the dragon, awakens.

Critical Evaluation:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of a trilogy that is based on the Tolkien novel, The Hobbit and the appendices to Tolkien’s The Return of the King.

The movie does stay to true to the novel but it is very long (2 hrs 50 min.) with two more movies still to come.

Reader’s Annotation:

A young hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is pressured into joining a group of dwarves to the Lonely Mountain in hopes of reclaiming their ancestral home.

Information About the Author:

The screenplay was written by Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Guillermo del Toro. It was adapted from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.


  • Fantasy
  • Adventure

Curriculum Ties:

  • Many schools have The Hobbit on their reading lists.
  • Narrative arc, characters types
  • High fantasy

Booktalking Ideas:

  • N/A

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • PG-13

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this title?:

Tolkien is a very popular author in our library so the movie is a natural addition.


  • Received three Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects, Best Production Design, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Won an Academy Scientific and Technical Award
  • Received nine nominations at the 39th Saturn Awards
  • Received five nominations at the 18th Empire Awards
    • Won Best Actor for Martin Freeman
    • Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Film


Jackson, P. (Director). (2012). The hobbit: An unexpected journey [Motion picture]. United States: New Line Cinema.

The hobbit: An unexpected journey. (n.d.). Retrieved from

The hobbit: An unexpected journey. (2013). Retrieved from

Code Name Verity won the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery

Congratulations to Elizabeth Wein for winning the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery for her book, Code Name Verity. For more information please see the Edgars Press Release.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

book thiefBibliographic Information:

Zusak, M. (2006). The book thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. (978-0375842207)

Plot Summary:

Liesel Meminger is learning to live with a new foster family in a small town in Germany during World War II. In many ways, Liesel is a typical child; she fights with boys, she makes friends, struggles with loss and how to understand a world going mad around her.

She is also a book thief. After her stepfather, Hans Hubermann notices the first book she stole, The Grave Digger’s Handbook, he decides to teach her how to read and write thus cementing the growing bond between the pair and helping Liesel feel like she belongs. Books continue to help Liesel relate to her community and her neighbours through the ensuring years.

When the son of a Jewish friend, Max Vandenburg, needs a place to hide, the Hubermanns  bring him to live in their basement. Liesel soon befriends the confused and frightened young man. Their friendship is tested when the Hubermanns decide to send him away when a kind act performed by Hans brings them to the notice of the Nazis.

Critical Evaluation:

The lyrical quality of Zusak’s writing immediately captivated me. The mood of this sophisticated story is wistful and intriguing; much like how the narrator feels about the humans he walks among. Zusak’s use of language is beautiful and absolutely necessary for a book that is, fundamentally, about the power of words. Death as the narrator is a convention that is used very successfully in The Book Thief. One could write a paper just on the character of Death. Using Death as a narrator does allow the author a certain latitude with the timeline.

To begin with, Death is relating this as a story already lived. As a result, there is a lot of foreshadowing since Death already knows the outcome. The fluid nature of time also fits very well with the episodic nature of the story. Because the plot covers a number of years, it is necessary to have a natural reason to skip to the important episodes or events. Death’s visiting of this town and checking in on Liesel provides an excellent reason for the pacing of the novel. Another interesting result of having Death as a narrator is that the reader is able to see at a macro level, the scope of the War, and at the micro level of individual lives in a small town in Germany. So, although the Holocaust is in the backdrop of the story, The Book Thief is not a Holocaust story.

The Book Thief is also a book about books. Most of Liesel’s relationships can be described through the stealing, reading, and creation of books.

Reader’s Annotation:

The Book Thief is the story about the power of words to bring death and hope to the residents of a small town in Germany during World War II.

Information About the Author:

Markus Zusak was born in Australia on 23 June 1975 but his roots actually go back to the Germany of his mother’s childhood. In his Printz Award Honor speech Zusak (2007) said that his childhood was different than his friends because his parents’ stories were of the War they lived through in Austria and Germany. He praises his parents for their ability to tell their stories “in a beautiful, meaningful, and compelling way (p. 17).  

Markus started writing when he was sixteen years old, which he also credits his parents for. He says that his parents felt it was important that he could read in English and filled their house with books. Before he became an author, Zusak was a high school English teacher after attending the University of Sydney.

For more information on Markus Zusak, please see his biography.


  • Historical fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • World War II
  • Holocaust
  • Point of view

Booktalking Idea:

  • Start with book burning activity
  • Feature a reading of Death’s description of War
  • Book trailer by ExpandedBooks

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up
  • Reading level 5.1

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

I read The Book Thief after I read the review in Kirkus and fell in love with the language.


  • 2006 – Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (South East Asia & South Pacific)
  • 2006 – Horn Book Fanfare
  • 2006 – Kirkus Reviews Editor Choice  Award
  • 2006 – School Library Journal Best  Book of the Year
  • 2006 – Publishers Weekly Best Children Book of the Year
  • 2006 – Booklist Children Editors’ Choice
  • 2007 – ALA Best Books for Young Adults
  • 2007 – Michael L. Printz Honor Book
  • 2009 – Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Master List


Markus Zusak. (2009) Contemporary Authors Online. Gale.

Markus Zusak. (2009). Retrieved from

Zusak, M. (2007). Printz Award Honor Speech. Young Adult Library Services,
6(1), 16-17.

Code Name Verity won the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery

Congratulations to Elizabeth Wein for winning the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery for her book, Code Name Verity. For more information please see the Edgars Press Release:

2014 MYRCA list announced

I am happy to announce the 2014 nomination list. Some may be young for high school but there are some really great reads on the list. I marked the ones that I think may appeal to my students.

Circle of Cranes – Annette Le Box (Penguin)

* Crush. Candy. Corpse. – Sylvia McNicoll (Lorimer)

* Guilty – Norah McClintock (Orca)

Making Bombs for Hitler – Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (Scholastic)

Margaret and the Moth Tree – Brit Trogen & Kari Trogen (Kids Can Press)

Middle of Nowhere – Caroline Adderson (Groundwood Books)

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny-Detectives Extraordinaire – Polly Horvath (Groundwood Books)

My Name is Parvana – Deborah Ellis (Groundwood Books)

Redcoats and Renegades – Barry McDivitt (Thistledown Press)

*Seraphina – Rachel Hartman (Doubleday)

Small Medium at Large – Joanne Levy (Penguin)

*Such Wicked Intent – Kenneth Oppel (HarperCollins)

The Grave Robber’s Apprentice – Allan Stratton (HarperCollins)

*The Lynching of Louie Sam – Elizabeth Stewart (Annick Press)

*The Prisoner of Snowflake Falls – John Lekich (Orca)

*The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen – Susin Nielsen (Tundra)

Ungifted – Gordon Korman (Scholastic)

Yesterday’s Dead – Pat Bourke (Second Story Press)


Chocolate, onion rings and archives.

I have a confession to make. I love old stuff. I love looking through old photographs and letters. I find old newspapers fascinating. The language used is similar but so different from the English I use today. The idioms are unfamiliar, the phrasing seems so stilted, and the ideas are – I want to say old-fashioned but that isn’t really right – just different from today.

I even like the smell, although I usually find myself sneezing. My allergies definitely don’t like old things. Well, that’s nothing new. I always seem to like the things that aren’t good for me – chocolate, onion rings, and archives. What a mix.

The thing is I am afraid that archives are going to disappear in the years to come.Why? Because we don’t appreciate the old things anymore. We don’t want to know the history of a word or a company. We like the shiny new disposable toys. The electronics The computers. The invisible, mysterious web of knowledge shining brightly on the Internet.

But, we can’t physically touch the material created in this brave new world. We certainly don’t file it in the same way or have the same workflows. So, what is going to happen to it in years to come. Well, without proper plans, it is going to be deleted and discarded along with the old technology and 3.5 inch floppies. Data from decades is being lost because we didn’t have the records management processes in place to handle it. We don’t consider that we might want to see an email regarding a special project in 50 years. The letter would have been filed.

We need records management systems NOW more than ever before.

Social media considerations

One of the things I have learned during my time at SJSU is to be judicious in the social media I use. There are so many great social media tools that we can add to our toolbox. As information professionals, it is important to be aware of the trends and to practice with the tools but we need to also remember that tools are meant to help us. If we aren’t careful, these same tools can become time wasters.

So, a few suggestions:

  1. Choose a bookmarking tool that works for you. Delicious and Diigo  are two popular ones. Pinterest and Evernote (I love this tool) are also very popular.
  2. If you use Facebook, take a careful look at what is public. Remember you want to ensure your digital image is professional. Another social networking tool you may consider trying is Linkedin
  3. Check your digital footprint – do a search for yourself. What type of information comes up?  I know employers do this – I have done myself when hiring.
  4. Consider how you are managing how you receive information – do you use a news aggregator, twitter,; it is much more effective to have the information come to you than you trying to find new material all the time.
  5. Back up, back up, back up. You can, of course, use D2L to back up your documents but you might want to try Dropbox or Google Docs. The neat thing about these tools is you can share a document, or set of files, with a group you are working with.
  6. Get comfortable using Blackboard. You will be using it a lot during your time with SJSU so get comfortable with it quickly.

You may be interested in the following Youtube video about social media by totalprofit:

Social Media Revolution

Time management

I was thinking today about schedules and commitments and about how time seems to expand and contract. My kids are loving the summer time; water, sunshine, and freedom. What more can a kid want? I, on the other hand, feel like I have just traded one type of work for another.

I may not be driving my kids to dance, music, and their other activities but I am gardening, doing home repairs, and driving my kids around to their activities. So what does this really have to do with taking courses on SJSU? Well, actually a lot. Here are a few tips to help keep you organized:

  1. Don’t procrastinate! Life happens and usually at the most inopportune moments – like when you have assignments due. Try to have your assignments completed at least a couple of days prior to due dates. That way you have time to do one more edit, if you choose. More importantly, you can say “yes” to that impromptu ticket to the ball game or concert.
  2. Break assignments into bite-size pieces – and schedule them too. Some assignments can feel overwhelming. But a beaver can cut down a tree one bite at a time. (I just came from the lake – you can tell where my minds at. I love beavers; they know how to turn work into something fun.)
  3. Schedule your time. Block time to work on your classes into your calendar. Be creative. I have completed most of my courses in ballet studios. I know some students that turn their notes into PDFs that they download onto their Kindles or other devises. Perfect for reading on the bus during long commutes.
  4. If you are working in the field, consider how you can make your assignments work at work.In a Collection Development course, I used my assignment to develop a plan to renew one aspect of my collection.
  5. This one will be tough for some. Shut off the cell, close down your email, turn off the IM and any other communication tool you use. Shut off the TV. Uninterrupted time is precious. Answering messages and chatting will eat away at eat away at that precious time you scheduled faster than anything else.
  6. Take a little time for yourself. A short walk, a good book –  even pulling weeds – can rejuvenate a person more than a cup of coffee and donut. (When I’m stressed, though, boy do I want that donut!)

I won’t promise that you won’t have the odd sleepless night and I can attest that I have a few more gray hairs than I did before starting the program. But, I can also say that I smile when my daughter brings her homework to the dining room table to work with me. I have a better library now than I did three years ago. And, I have met some amazingly talented and generous people. So I can honestly say that the journey is worth the cost.

What are your tips?