Thursday, September 27, 2012


Code Name Verity
by Elizabeth Wein

Maddie Brodart and “Queenie” AKA “Verity” AKA “you’ll bloody find out later” meet while working as wireless operators for the Royal Air Force during World War II.  Maddie is an experienced pilot but has limited opportunities to fly because of her gender; Queenie, who is super cool under pressure, is fluent in German.  Their friendship sparks when a confused, wayward German pilot flies into British airspace, thinking he is over France.  He came under fire, his crew was killed and he lost an engine.  Maddie gets his distress signal and coaches Queenie to give him the information he needs to neatly land the plane and promptly be apprehended.  This impressive feat does not go unnoticed by their superiors.  When they are approached by a Special Operations Executive to join covert operations, Maddie gets the opportunity to fly transport planes, and Queenie can use her natural acting ability to become a secret agent. What more could a descendant of William Wallace want?  Both eagerly sign up, but the exciting adventure they envision turns into a terrible nightmare.

Code Name Verity opens with Queenie being held by Nazi interrogators in Ormaie, France.  Her captors give her a pen and paper so that she can provide them any information that may be useful.  After being brutally tortured, she does give them sets of wireless code and uses the paper to slowly tell them her story. Her narrative focuses mostly on her friendship with Maddie, but she drops a few details about herself and her horrific imprisonment.  Queenie documents how she and Maddie came into Ormaie and how she was captured. Though some may consider Queenie a turncoat, she does not give up her information easily.  Using her intellect, Scottish defiance, and cool resolve, Queenie keeps her interrogators and the reader questioning who is really in control.

It is very difficult to write about this unique novel without giving away its beautiful plot twists.  There are hints in Queenie’s narrative that she might not be the most reliable narrator, but Wein weaves a much more complex story than the reader anticipates.  This book is not an easy read.  For the first 57 pages, you’re not really sure who is the narrator.  There are lots of literary and historical allusions to Kipling, William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, Horatio Nelson, and Peter Pan, just to name a few.  There is also a tremendous amount of detail about flying and airplanes, which threaten to bore the reader to tears.  The narration is also often problematic. It’s hard to believe a torture victim, soon to be executed, would waste so much time and paper on pointless descriptions.  I almost gave up on this novel, but then those twists kicked in and I was hooked.  Code Name Verity is a book to be read multiple times and studied.  Much like reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, if you can put up with the sometimes confusing and seemingly superfluous details, you will be rewarded with an amazing story.

Code Name Verity is tale of friendship, loyalty and sacrifice. Using heroic female protagonists, it shows the important role women played in WWII.  Wein’s novel is not perfect, but it is very, very good.  How often do you finish a young adult novel and feel the need to immediately reread it?  I’d say that’s an impressive feat that should not go unnoticed.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Recommended for grades 10 and up

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Venturing into the Ebook Frontier

For the past couple of years I have been struggling with what to do about ebooks.  I did not want my library to be deemed “outdated” because we only have printed books, but the copyright and management issues surrounding Nooks and Kindles really frightened me. There are not enough hours in the day to purchase those devices, purchase the books, load the books on the devices, update the devices with new purchases, get permission for students to check out the devices, and troubleshoot any problems along the way. I want ebook to enhance my library program, not take it over.

When our school decided to go to a 1:1 iPad program last spring, I finally settled on an ebook platform: Follettshelf.  Follettshelf appeared to work well with our Destiny Library Manager, purchasing the ebooks seemed straightforward, there are no copyright issues to worry about, and students would be responsible for loading the books they wanted on to their own device. Since last April, I have ordered 151 ebooks at a cost of $1,807.50.  Follett added 66 free classics to our shelf, bringing our current collection to 210 titles. In the first two months of the school year, we have circulated 273 ebooks and 463 print books to our patron base of 365 students and 42 staff members. 

Here are the pluses and minuses I have found with our ebook system thus far…

The good
  • Purchasing the books is easy through Titlewave.
  • It only takes about 3 days from purchasing to have the books available for students.
  • Ebooks are affordable. The average cost of an ebook in our collection $11.97.
  • Newly purchased ebooks automatically appear in the Follettshelf, and it is very easy to download the records into Destiny.
  • Students can search the collection, find a book, and download it to their iPad in minutes.
  • The circulation policies are easy to manage.
  • Follettshelf provides great circulation and collection reports.
  • No more overdue books!  At the end of the checkout period, the book is automatically returned to the library.
  • No more damaged or lost books.  A student may leave his or her iPad in the rain, but the library ebook will be okay.

The Not-So-Good
  • There are not many fiction ebooks available to libraries.  All librarians know this.  I think we have some great books in our collection, and I am thankful to Scholastic, Candlewick, and Disney/Hyperion, and Harcourt for making their books available for libraries.  I wish more publishers would do the same.
  • Importing patrons is NOT easy.  Despite over an hour on the phone with Follett customer service, I could not download my patron records.  They could not figure out my problem.  I eventually gave up and had to enter all my students individually, which took about 3 hours.
  • Not every ebook works.  We have discovered a few bad titles that are not compatible with the iPad despite being marked as working with iPads in Titlewave. This has resulted in numerous calls to customer service.  Follett has told me that they will be releasing an updated app, which will fix these issues.  That means I have to get the new app loaded on every device during the next scheduled student update.  Hopefully, their app will be ready before the next student update, or I will have to wait until December for the next opportunity.
  • There are glitches that happen during checkout. Sometimes an ebook get “stuck” during the checkout or download process.  Sometimes that glitch fixes itself in a day and sometimes I have to call customer service to get them to force check-in the book.  I cannot manually check-in a book that a student has; only customer service or the student can return the book to the library.
  • The design is not as elegant or easy to read as the Kindle/Nook app or iBooks.  Students have complained that the books are “blurry.”
  • Collection development is tricky.  I plan to write more about this later, but suffice it to say, I’m playing it safe with the books that I order because my patrons are in grades 5 through 8.

I recently sent a survey to all my students who have checked out an ebook. Though 71% of the respondents said they are likely to check out an ebook again, 62% responded that they prefer printed books to electronic books.  The biggest issues my student listed were the shortage of titles in the collection and problems with bookmarking and returning to the last page.  With Follett, you must bookmark your page when you exit the app.  Students accustomed to using a Kindle or Nook are used to the last page being automatically saved for them.

I believe the positives of the Follettshelf program outweigh the negatives.  I will continue to use this ebook platform.  I will also continue to survey my students and share their feedback to Follett.  I believe with time their product will improve and more publishers will sell their books to libraries.

Please share your ebook experiences.  I love hearing how other libraries are approaching this new frontier.