Katherine Luedke's blog

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The Baby-Sitters Are Back!


The Summer Before coverThe Baby-sitter's Club was one of my absolute favorite book series when I was a kid. In this series by author Ann M. Martin, a group of middle school girls come together to form a neighborhood babysitting service called The Baby-sitter's Club. Throughout the series, these friends experience various middle school adventures, both on the job and off. The stories running throughout the series are funny, heart-warming, exciting, realistic, engaging, and more! I loved getting to know the different characters, each with their own distinct personalities and quirks. There's headstrong and athletic Kristy, artistic and eccentrically-dressed Claudia, shy and sensitive Mary Anne, sophisticated city-girl Stacey, California-girl environmentalist Dawn, and the "junior members," Mallory and Jessi. And now, the burning question that my friends and I used to debate...What BSC member are YOU most like? Now you can find out with an online quiz.

 

I was happy to discover that Scholastic is introducing the Baby-sitter's Club series to a whole new generation of readers. They’ve republished the first several books in the series (with some minor adjustments to “modernize” the series, according to this article), and Ann M. Martin recently wrote a great prequel to the series called The Summer Before. This book follows the four original BSC members during their summer before 7th grade and before the start of the Baby-sitter’s Club, (which is Kristy’s Great Idea, the official first book of the series). I recommend The Summer Before to readers in grades 3-6 who want to start reading this great series for the first time, or to any former children of the late 80's-90's out there that want to reminisce about these familiar characters from our childhood.



Teen Fiction: The Running Dream


The Running Dream coverIn the opening chapter of The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen, high school junior Jessica wakes up in the hospital to find that the lower half of her leg is gone, damaged beyond repair in a horrible bus accident that also claimed the life of one of her track teammates. Jessica is devastated. Running meant everything to her, and now she can't even get out of bed. However, her will is strong, and with the help of her loving family and friends, she is quickly on the road to recovery and to walking once again with her new prosthetic leg. But will Jessica ever run again?

 

As someone who also loves to run and gets what that runner's high feeling is all about, I can't even imagine how crushing it would be to have it taken away. Despite the odds and the setbacks along the way though, Jessica is inspiring, positive, and full of hope. While still recovering and confined to a wheelchair, Jessica ends up befriending a girl with cerebral palsy in her math class named Rosa, and as they become good friends, Jessica makes the connection that like Jessica, Rosa wants to be seen as Rosa, not as the girl with a disability. In the end, you can't help but cheer for Jessica like an excited fan along the track.

 

While losing a limb would surely be an awful tragedy, this story ends up being a feel-good "best case scenario" of what would happen in the aftermath of such a terrible event, thanks to Jessica's determined spirit and her wonderful support network. Parts of the book are certainly sad, but there are plenty of humorous and heart-warming scenes that keep this from being just another tear-jerker. I also found the bits about Jessica's recovery and prosthesis to be really informative. If you're looking for other inspiring stories like this one, try Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham, The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk, or Owning It : Stories About Teens with Disabilities.



Teen Fiction: If I Stay (& Where She Went)


If I Stay by Gayle Forman is one of those well-executed stories that has stayed with me since reading it a few years ago. It is an achingly-sad yet touching and beautiful story full of music, love, and loss. Be warned...If you read this book, you will likely cry. Even this typically dry-eyed reader had a hard time holding back the tears during the last few pages (which was awkward considering that I was in the break room at work). But if you are up to the emotional challenge, I encourage you to take it. I'll try not to spoil it too much for you:

 

If I Stay CoverMia is a Portland-area high school senior with a gift for classical cello, dreaming of making it into prestigious Julliard. She has a great relationship with her lovely family, made up of her cool punk rock parents and her little brother. The message that true passion for music transcends genres runs throughout the book, and this is what brings her together with her rocker musician boyfriend Adam, despite their superficial differences.

 

Unfortunately, it's about to get really, really sad. The book opens with a devastating car accident that leaves the other passengers dead and Mia critically injured in a coma, and the rest of the novel unfolds in out-of-sequence vignettes from Mia's life leading up to the accident. These scenes weave in and out with Mia's out-of-body experience watching her loved ones during the aftermath. Mia has suffered an unimaginable loss, but does she have the strength to stay and endure it? The characters are well-developed and lovable, which makes the emotional connection all the more strong and therefore painful. I absolutely adored her amazing family, and her boyfriend Adam is endearing to astronomical proportions. And yes, the whole post-trauma limbo "Should I stay or should I go?" thing has been done before, but this was done very well.

 

There's talk that this will be made into a movie, but no info yet about directors or casting now that actress Dakota Fanning has left the project. But guess what? There's a brand new sequel! Again, no spoilers, so I'll just tell you that it's called Where She Went (available now in the catalog), and it's about my dear book-crush Adam.



Spring is Here at West Valley Branch Library!


With the recent heavy rains and sunny weather and plant life starting to reappear, spring is finally here! We are celebrating spring at West Valley this April with a variety of interesting and informative events.

 

Spring book cover

Open Space Authority: Wildflowers & Butterflies. Tuesday, April 12 at 6:30pm

The Open Space Authority returns to West Valley with more stunning visuals and engaging information. This time, spring is the thing, with all things wildflowers and butterflies. You won't want to miss these beautiful images! Check these books out for some pointers on how to take your own lovely pictures of flowers and plants.

 

Alternatives to Lawn Culture. Saturday, April 16 at 1:00pm

Why stick with a boring, water-hungry, and time-consuming lawn when you can explore beautiful, sustainable, and low-maintenance alternatives using native plants? I can't wait for this workshop. My yard is turning into a bit of a jungle after all this rain, and I'd love to explore some different options. Check these natural landscaping books out for some unique ideas before you put on the gardening gloves.

 

Master Gardeners: Gardening for a Healthy Diet. Wednesday, April 20 at 6:30pm

The Master Gardeners' excellent monthly events shouldn't be missed, and they're back in April with another great and timely topic: vegetable and fruit gardening! Learn how you can start planting now to enjoy the healthy fruits (and vegetables) of your own labors all year long. Start growing!

 

Our City Forest: Eating with the Seasons. Saturday, April 30 at 2:00pm

After you've learned from the Masters about how to plant your own garden, why not come back and learn more from Our City Forest about the many health and environmental benefits to eating with the seasons? We are fortunate here in California to be able to enjoy many delicious and unique foods during each of the four seasons, and spring is no exception! Try Clean Food or The Harvest Eating Cookbook for delicious recipe ideas.

 

I don't blame you if you'd prefer to spend most of your time this spring enjoying the great outdoors, but be sure to stop in and visit us for these great events or to pick up some seasonal reads for your next picnic. Happy spring!



Teen Fiction: Prepping for Prom


Spring is here, which means many high school juniors and seniors are starting to think about the prom. Some achingly count the days until they can don fabulous attire, ride in a limo, and dance with their sweethearts while others relish in re-inventing the prom or skipping it entirely as an act of nonconformity and independence. Whether you love it or hate it, the high school prom has become a traditional social custom for many American teens, and as a result, a variety of funny, dramatic, romantic, and/or unconventional stories about proms can be found in our Young Adult Fiction areas. Check these out!

 

Cindy Ella by Robin Palmer

Sophomore iconoclast Cindy Gold publishes an anti-prom letter in her high school newspaper, but when she develops a crush, she begins to doubt her own convictions.

 

Prama by Jamie Ponti

Six high school seniors deal with the drama that goes along with attending the senior prom.

 

Prom Queen Geeks cover Prom Queen Geeks by Laura Preble

When self-proclaimed "queen geek" Becca decides there should be an alternative to the prom, her best friend Shelby cannot decide whether to support her friends or to go with her boyfriend to the traditional prom.

 

21 Proms edited by David Levithan and Daniel Ehrenhaft

These short stories run through the whole spectrum of the prom experience, featuring awesome YA authors like John Green, Rachel Cohn, Sarah Mlynowski, and Jacqueline Woodson.

 

Zombie Queen of Newbury High by Amanda Ashby

While trying to cast a love spell on her date on the eve of the senior prom, Mia inadvertently infects her entire high school class with a virus that will turn them all into zombies.

 

Also, be sure to check out Operation Prom Dress, which is a unique opportunity for hundreds of girls in the San Jose area to score a new or gently used prom dress for FREE. Going to the prom doesn't have to break the bank. So whether you decide to go to your school's event with a special someone or a bunch of your best pals, or perhaps create your own "anti-prom" event, or maybe just skip it altogether, just choose what feels right for you. You'll probably have a story or two of your own to share about it later on.



Swimming for Exercise


Well, we're almost a quarter of the way through 2011 now...How are those New Year's resolutions going? If you're like me, perhaps you've vowed yet again to get (and stay) active this year. One of my goals was to take up swimming again as part of my exercise routine. I had just been contemplating local lap swim pools in my area a few weeks ago when I spotted Swimming for Exercise among the new books. It was like fate telling me to get back in the pool. I bought a new suit, cap, and goggles, and I was ready to go.

 

Swimming for Exercise coverSwimming for Exercise has all of the basic information that you'll need to start or get back into swimming as an exercise routine, including tips and advice about what you'll need to get started, sample workout plans (adjusted for beginners, intermediate, and advanced), a techniques refresher on the four major strokes, and stretching & strength-training exercises to improve swim performance. It's also filled with lots of nice full-color photos. This simple but useful book was exactly what I needed as a final push to literally take the plunge. I'm happy to report that I've been swimming laps twice a week for a few weeks now, and I feel great! Here are some local pools in the San Jose area that offer lap swim. You can also check our catalog for additional books & DVDs about swimming.