Cat-alogers, Unite!

A Reader's Advisory – of Sorts

“No, the sky, it is not a contest or an exam. The only question is, can you look up? Can you take it all in? As for names of constellations, they are not the be-all and the end-all. The stars, they are not bound to one another. They are meant to be gazed upon. Admired, enjoyed. It is like the fly-fishing. Fly-fishing is not about catching the fish. It is about enjoying the water, the breeze, the fish swimming all around. If you catch one, good. If you don’t… that is even better. That mean(s) you come out and get to try all over again!”

– C. Vanderpool

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I’m not talking grad school thesis stuff, but ummm like where I might end up – what might happen with my career, love life, you know – the things people probably start to really really question in their mid-twenties. I’m trying not to get completely carried away with thoughts of the future, but I find it funny how they often dictate what we do during our present. Be that as it may, I’m trying to enjoy the length AND width of my life, learning to appreciate the messy stuff as it’s happening. After all, that stuff is a part of life too. I simply take at least one minute each day, close my eyes, breathe in and say, “This moment is going to be gone as soon as you open your eyes – so just listen to everything around you for a second.” It sounds really stupid, I know, but it’s helping me to calm down amidst the chaos running wildly through my head that I’m usually less-than-understanding about. The latest book I finished, Navigating Early, by Clare Vanderpool is a wonderful reminder of how beautiful the messy and unknown complexities of life can be.

The book is not one I would typically pick up, but the cover drew me in: two little boys in a boat under a sky full of stars. The story is about a young boy who lost his mother and is sent to a boarding school. There he meets Early, a very strange boy with interest in explaining pi as a story and finding meaning in absolutely everything. What unravels is an odyssey-like tale that sends the boys on a quest across the Appalachian Trail. It might not really sound like much, but it is a wonderful tribute to rain, Billie Holiday (goodness knows I love her), mothers, friendship, and other things that sound really simple, but are very complex underneath their exteriors. You will not be sorry you read this one.

Gary gives it four paws, every whisker, and a tail swish.

Honors and Awards:

A Michael L. Printz Honor Winner
An ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection
An ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book
New York Times Editor’s Choice
A New York Times Middle Grade Bestseller
An Indie Pick
A Bankstreet Best Book of the Year
A School Library Journal Best Books 2013
A Kirkus Best Book
A Booklist Books for Youth Editors’ Choice Selection
A BookPage Best Children’s Book
A Texas Lone Star Reading List Selection


“Just the sort of book that saves lives by igniting a passion for reading.” –James Patterson


Caterwauling One Another

We judge people. We might not like to admit it, but we do. It’s a part of life, I suppose – but sometimes I wish it wasn’t. We even judge ourselves. This part we might like to admit even less. See the model in that magazine? I don’t look like her. Why am I not good enough? Then we respond by changing ourselves to fit into a nonexistent mold – but one that becomes very real in the back of our minds if we think about it long enough. Sometimes we can use our judgments to better ourselves – maybe giving up negativity or being kinder to others. Though I’m not proud of it, this entire judgment cycle is something very much at my core and it became more apparent to me after reading R.J. Palacio’s, Wonder.

August, or “Auggie,” is a ten-year-old boy who has an obsession with Star Wars, loves his dog, and is interested in the same things as every other ten-year-old. But Auggie has a terrible facial abnormality. His ears aren’t in the right place, nor are his eyes, and one can barely tell if he is smiling or not. His parents have decided after years of homeschooling that it’s time for Auggie to attend a real school. The story that unfolds then after is one that will not easily be forgotten. Told from various viewpoints, this “wonder”ful story seems geared towards middle school students and their parents, but also one that young adults will appreciate for its grace and acceptance in the midst of a judgmental (self or otherwise) world. We must at least try to stop being so selfish, love ourselves for who we are, and embrace others for who they are too. Wonder is a good reminder.

Gary gives it three paws.



#1 New York Times bestseller

A School Library Journal Best of Children’s Books 2012

A Publishers Weekly Best of Children’s Books 2012

A Kirkus Reviews Best of Children’s Books 2012

A Booklist Best of Children’s Books 2012

This One’s No Catnap!

Being human, we have a desire to connect with people, to communicate with and understand one another.  But at least once in our lives, we meet another person who we KNOW we know from somewhere else or feel as though we’ve met them previously.  It’s a bizarre sensation, but it happens to many of us.  I like to think of it in the same way I think of déjà vu: a reminder that you’re in the right place at the right time – you’re hitting all the flags on the carefully crafted path of life – even with free will thrown at you.  Look at you go!  It starts to make us question our existence and wonder why things around us work the way that they do.

Marcus Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood is the ALA’s Printz Award winner of 2014 and is a bizarre and twisting piece of fiction that explores the ideas of past and present lives.  I cannot write much about it without giving away its secrets – so please just take my word for it and READ IT!  I do not believe in reincarnation, but after reading this, I can understand why others might.  As an English teacher, it would be phenomenal to study in a class, yet it’s also a fun, interesting, quick read for those who do not want to analyze a text.  The use of patterns and symbols throughout the story connects every smaller story within it together and just – is awesome. I won’t say that I loved it – because that would be the wrong word, but I am fascinated by it.  I do not know how an author is able to carefully craft a story such as this one…  it’s beautiful, haunting, brilliant, and a true award winner.

Gary gives it four paws and asks that the lame cover not fool you!

2014 Printz Award Winner

Pawing for Explanations

Life is short.  We are busy.  We rarely consider repercussions of our actions, thoughts, or words in a time where everything needs completed – successfully – before we die.  Jay Asher’s novel Thirteen Reasons Why, highlights these harsh truths of life through the ears of Clay Jensen and the words of Hannah Baker.  Clay, an average high school student, receives a mysterious box on his porch after school one day.  He finds it filled with cassette tapes from his classmate and crush – Hannah Baker.  The catch: Hannah committed suicide two weeks prior to the arrival of the tapes.  Heartbroken Clay must listen to the tapes that unravel the reasons of why Hannah decided to leave.

I did not want to read this story.  Death alone is difficult to understand, especially when we lose someone close to us.  We ask ourselves, “Is there something I could have done to prevent this?” and “Why?” and a million other things.  The death of a young person is beyond tragic.  Having lost a young and beloved family member just prior to my reading this, I wasn’t sure if I was ready.  I kept replaying the last things I said to her and that she said to me.  And suicide – well, in combination with death and youth especially… it’s impossible to explain.  I was approaching this novel determined to find out why Hannah did what she did, expecting justification of her actions.  In her young mind, her taking her life is justified – but in my 26-year-old brain, it’s still unacceptable.  So why read this book?

Answer:  WE are still here.  We must be the voices of those who cannot speak up for themselves.  We need to look beyond the facades – no matter how long our days were or how many things we have to do before the weekend.  We need to care.  We need to be human and realize that other humans are just as important.  We need to consider our last words – or any words for that matter – to others.  I’m not suggesting that it’s possible to save every person, nor should we seek out the innermost problems of individuals.  We just simply need to be kinder.  It might be a simple “hello” or smile or really working hard internally to not flick off that driver who just cut you off – to save a life.  We just never, ever know.

This book is worth a read by anyone, but especially young people who need a little kick in the pants AND their teachers.  So teachers, that’s EVERY last one of you.

Gary gives it 3 paws.


2011 – Paperback edition became a #1 New York Times bestseller in the US

2010 – Georgia Peach Book Awards for Teen Readers

2009 – International Reading Association Young Adults’ Choice list

2009 – Writing Conference’s Literature Festival

2008 – Best Books for Young Adults YALSA

2008 – Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers YALSA

2008 – Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults YALSA

2008 – California Book Award winner – Young Adult

You KNEAD to Read This One!

Stories are everything.  They are born before us and if they ever die, they die long after us.  Stories allow us to retell history, recall a special memory, invent an idea, and are sometimes even combinations of the three.  Stories change over time, depending on the need for them.  And we truly need them because we desire to know who we are and where we came from, so that it might help us to figure out how we fit into this great big world.

In Abigail’s Tarttelin’s Golden Boy, many stories are told from different perspectives of each of the novels’ characters.  Max Walker – the perfect child, student, athlete, son, and brother – is intersex.  It’s a secret of course, as his mother is a successful lawyer and his father is standing for Parliament election.  Max’s’ younger brother, Daniel, is a brilliant but troublesome child who sometimes seems to understand things better than most adults – and he idolizes Max with all his heart.

Writing more about the novels’ details will only spoil its beauty, so this will be a short review.  This book absolutely broke me apart and it is one I will not ever forget.  It’s one of those stories that you want to read quickly to find out what will happen but you’re afraid for it to be over because the next book you read will not compare.  I am inspired by each of these characters that an author my own age has created, and I find myself wanting just a few more minutes with each one of them – just as Max suggests of those we are fascinated by.  Though Gender Studies was my favorite class during my undergrad years, one needs no background in it to read this.  I was not even sure that I wanted to read it because it might be a challenge – something different from the norm.  And it was exactly something different – but how beautiful, indeed!  It gets right to the “you” – just underneath your heart, as Daniel would say.  And the stories that can linger long after they’re read or heard – those that creep up under your skin and just make you ache… well, those kinds of stories make it pretty damn wonderful to be human.

Gary gives it four paws, and all 18 claws.  He’s hooked.


Songs to accompany this book:

Gang Starr – Take it Personal (of course)

Sarah McLachlan – Adia

Ray Lamontagne – Are We Really Through?

Ingrid Michaelson – Ghost

Coldplay – The Scientist


2014 Alex Award

Booklist Top 10 First Novel of 2013

School Library Journal Best Book of 2013

Have Mew Found a Love Like This?

We all remember high school.  We all remember what it was like to feel like no one understood us.  Sometimes we still feel like that.  But we also remember how it felt when a person came along who did “get” us – who didn’t require us to explain our jokes, music, or anything.  They simply liked us for who we were and we liked them back and nothing else really seemed to matter because our heads were in a cloud of hearts and wonder and firecracker sparkles every time we thought about or saw the other person and our sentences and thoughts ran on and on forever.  And no one could take away our butterflies, regardless of what was going on around us.  And though we remember how it felt, it seems the older we get, the magic gets a little bit harder to find.

Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park helps us recollect our own first loves and maybe even future ones through the eyes of two teenagers who don’t really view themselves as anything special.  Eleanor, 15, is the new girl at school who faces belittlement from her classmates about her weight, bright red hair, and strange clothes.  She has a difficult home life (to say the least).  Park, a half-Korean boy who is “in” with the popular crowd and comes from a loving family, is forced to sit with Eleanor on the bus.  Through comic books and 80’s alternative music the pair form a bond that is anything but ordinary.

Don’t let the idea of reading about teenagers deter you from reading this sweet little reminder that love can truly save people.  It’s more than worthy of the Printz Honor for this year.

Gary gives it three paws.

2014 Michael L. Printz Honor Book for Excellence in Young Adult Literature

2013 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Best Fiction Book

A Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of 2013

A New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of 2013

A Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of 2013

An NPR Best Book of 2013

Read this Right MEOW!

For those of you who do not know, John Green is the greatest young author of our time – one who ignites hope, courage, and even spirituality within his readers.  One of my dear friends once told me, “I am so happy that you and I are on Earth at the same time.”  That beautiful sentiment is exactly the way I feel about reading Green’s work: he gets under your skin to provoke, encourage, and then stab you, all to keep you coming back for more.  It’s a true addiction.

Green’s first novel, Looking for Alaska, is one of innocence, lust, and everything mentioned above.  Miles (the main character and narrator) seeks the Great Perhaps in his life, leading readers to question their own.  Hope in itself is misleading – we are very capable of hoping, but very few individuals are willing to put in the time and effort to make whatever they’re hoping happen, solely relying on some type of “fate” to piece things together.  The characters in this book see this idea very differently than each other, yet they create some of the most beautiful, chaotic friendships imaginable.  Like friendship, Green explores ideas coming together and falling apart – specifically, love.  Is it something that suddenly forms, or has it always existed just waiting for the right person to ignite it?  Alaska Young, another character, is this magnetic force who challenges all these bases of hope, love and fate.  Let’s face it… everyone has an Alaska in their lives – that person we’re drawn to but don’t know why.  And for that reason alone, you must read this story.

My favorite film director, Wes Anderson, makes these beautiful, clever, special little films that usually have killer soundtracks, dynamic characters (even though they sometimes speak few words), amazing cinematography, and just “something” to them.  Reading this book was like watching one of his films.  You can hear the music, become each character, be present to occurrences (something totally unknown to this current generation as they’d rather Snapchat the present than experience it).  Wes, if you’re reading, here is your next million-dollar film.  Get on it.

This story makes me not want to waste another minute of my life simply waiting.  Life is entirely too short.  If you are content with your present life, stuck in the mundane and naïve now… I feel sorry for you.  You’re lost in the labyrinth of life while others are seeking to find their own Great Perhaps.   But if you feel that you need a bit of a change, just read this awesome book.  You won’t be sorry.  You might be motivated and somewhat mad that you want more out of life… but not sorry at all.

Gary gives it four paws, a whisker, and a claw… he digs it.

Prejudice Stretches its Claws

Mildred Taylor’s, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, is an incredibly picturesque vision of the struggles faced by African American citizens in the 1930’s.  Ten-year-old Cassie narrates the story of her family – black landowners who remain grounded despite turmoil of the depression and Civil War.  Cassie and her three brothers are forced to abandon naivety and recognize that white individuals truly view themselves supreme and will stop at nothing to ensure that every person – black or white – understands it.  At times, black and white ideals remain stark – loyal to one’s own color, a persistent prejudice of others unlike one’s own.  Other times, color lines are blurred and grayer areas emerge.

This is a story for anyone who loves a story.  It does not matter what genre of reading one prefers.  It is simply a story that needs to be read, so that we have a better understanding of faith, violence, hope, and courage and how these ideas existed in the world.  Hatred was alive and exhausting in 1933, as it still is (though no one seems courageous enough to admit it) today.  Combating negativity, the love of family, too existed, and it persevered and flourished during difficult times and joyful times, alike.

It is a story to be read, absorbed in the quiet of one’s heart, and then reflected upon without being so quiet.  Taylor is truly a magnificent storyteller who acknowledges that without God, or any father figure for that matter, we might not know how deep our roots can grow – even if we are as small as a fig tree in the midst of the mighty oaks.

Gary gives it 4/4 paws.

A Game of Rat and Mouse…

If you’re in the mood for a bit of light and easy reading with genuine characters, Kate DiCamillo’s, The Tale of Despereaux is a sweet choice.  The book begins with the humorous, yet very troubling birth of little Despereaux – a mouse born with his eyes open (apparently not a common mouse gene) and ears too large for words.  A misfit from the beginning, Despereaux is anything but a reluctant reader, and wishes to someday save a princess and become the hero of his own fairy tale.  Within castle walls and of very cruel French descent dwells Despereaux’s family, who punish him for talking to humans, loving music more than scurrying for food, and falling in love with a real princess.  To complete the mission, they send him to the dungeon.

Deep in the dungeon we meet Rat, Roscuro, who common to Despereaux, has a love for things unlike his fellow species.  By section three, more characters are introduced, helping to unravel the truth and “light” that the story promises at its beginning.  Readers are drawn into a fairy tale word where soup is forbidden, children (and mice and rats) long for real mothers, and direct questions from the author that prompt one to pay extra attention to something important!

This is the perfect “tale” for any middle school-aged child or for anyone who has ever felt that they do not fit within his/her surroundings.  This is a story of light and darkness, of good and evil, of mouse and rat – one endearing read with which all humans and mice alike, can empathize.

Gary gives it three paws.  But he likes mice – and rats.  So perhaps his rating is a bit biased.

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