Young Adult Fiction for First Book

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Title: Slam
Date Completed: 2/9/2011
Author(s): Nick Hornby
Copyright: 2007, G.P Putnam’s Sons
# pages: 309
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-399-25048-4

When Firstbook asked me to read and review Young Adult Fiction, I jumped at the chance. We have similar missions – getting books into kid’s hands – so I’m happy to help further the mission in any way I can.

But, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous about it. After all, I’m neither a teenager nor male, so I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to understand Slam. I thought to myself, ‘what if I can’t remotely connect with the story line?’ I didn’t want to make a fool of myself or let Firstbook down.

So, I’m happy to say that I not only connected with the story line, I really couldn’t put the book down. For a novel with such a heavy storyline, it had me laughing at very regular intervals. It is a story of a teenage boy who is pretty quiet, somewhat conservative, loves to skateboard and, well, becomes a father at the age of sixteen.

There are two things I really liked about this story. First, Sam gets all of his advice about growing up from a Tony Hawk poster in his bedroom. If you don’t know, Tony Hawk is the granddaddy of all skateboarders. Any problem that Sam has can be addressed by Tony. I never knew skating was so deep! Second, I liked the way that the whole discussion about teenage pregnancy was handled. Sam starts out, like many of us do when faced with a monumental problem, ignoring it and thinking it might go away. When he realizes that isn’t going to work, he faces it head on. The story shows how his life is changed forever. He won’t be able to pursue the future that he had been planning. But, the thing that I like is that it also shows that he moves ahead with the new future that he has been given. He knows that it isn’t going to be what he was hoping for, but it doesn’t have to be the end of his life either.

Most importantly, this book gets the point across that it only takes one mistake, one lapse in judgment to completely alter the rest of your life. It gives kids a glimpse into why it is important to be responsible and make good decisions. It acknowledges that kids-will-be-kids, but also helps them to understand that they aren’t immune to the troubles and tribulations faced by adults.

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What’s your story?

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Title: Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high

Date Completed: 2/4/2011

Author(s): Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

Copyright: 2002, McGraw- hill

# pages: 228

Genre: Business

ISBN: 0-07-140194-6

This book is really a toolkit for helping you when you run into communication problems at home or at work.  If you find yourself either overreacting or completely clamming up when the conversation gets a little emotional, I suggest that you read this book. 

Crucial conversations are when opinions vary, the stakes are high, and emotions run strong.  I’ll be honest…I recognized myself in a lot of the examples used.  I’m guessing you will too. 

One of the light bulb moments for me was the concept of telling yourself another story.   When someone does something that makes you mad, the first thing you do is tell yourself a story about why they did what they did.  Inevitably, they did it because they are a bad, horrible person.  Afterall, it is your story, you can make them do whatever you want (in your own mind).  A coworker excluded you from a meeting that you clearly should have been invited to.  You are impacted by the decisions being made in the meeting, so it is only logical that you should be included.  The story you tell yourself is that the coworker excluded you on purpose so that they could get all of the credit with the management team that is there.  What a jerk!  Trying to get ahead by something as petty as leaving you out of a meeting!

It is a natural tendency to assign negative motives to someone else.  However, before you react, ask yourself what another story might be.  Maybe the coworker thought they invited you and it was just an oversight.  Or, it could be that the coworker was given the list of invitees by a manager, and it was actually the manager who excluded you.  The coworker was only following the directions of the manager.  Or, just maybe, the coworker felt like the meeting would be a waste of your time and didn’t want to bother you with something so trivial.  He may not be a jerk.  He may have just made an error in judgment.

The way that you approach the conversation with your coworker is going to be influenced by the story you’ve told yourself.  In truth, you don’t know the real story until you ask.  So, make sure you come into the crucial conversation with an open mind and a curiosity about why something happened the way it happened.   It will lead to a much more productive conversation.  And, lower blood pressure.

Recommended by a friend

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Title: Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Journey to Change the World…One Child at a Time
Date Completed: 1/24/2011
Author(s): Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin
Copyright: 2009, Puffin Books
# pages: 184
Genre: Autobiography
ISBN: 978-0-14-241412-5

A friend recommended this book, and I’m glad she did. It is the story of an American guy who went to Pakistan to climb a mountain and ended up spending a lifetime building the children of Pakistan schools.

After getting lost on the mountain and getting very sick, he made his way to a village where the local people took him in to recouperate. While he was there, he fell in love with the people and the village and made a promise that he would come back one day and build them a school.

The children of Pakistan generally attend a school where most of the children must learn outside in the dirt and sun. They use a stick and the ground to do their multiplication tables. Yet, they attend school with enthusiasm.

Greg Mortenson came back to the United States and started working on a plan for building a school. He determined that he would need $12,000, and set out to raise the money. He wrote 580 letters to celebrities and successful business people telling them of his plan and asking for donations. He got a $100 check from Tom Brokaw.

Not to be discouraged, he was eventually put in touch with a dot com millionaire who wrote him a check for $12,000 and included a note that said ‘don’t screw it up.’

The rest of the book is Greg’s journey to get that school, and many more like it built. It is a great story of perseverance and inspiration. You’ll also learn more about Pakistan, a country that most Americans knew very little about when Greg started his first school (1995). Although we are all more familiar with Pakistan these days, this book will give you a non-political, human perspective on the Pakistani people.

Checking it twice…

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Title: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
Date Completed: 1/17/2011
Author(s): Atul Gawande
Copyright: 2010, Picador
# pages: 193
Genre: Business
ISBN: 978-0-312-43000-9

I saw this guy on the Daily Show and thought it sounded like an interesting book. I was right. The concept for the book is that you can eliminate errors and improve quality by using a checklist for some of the most common tasks in your business.

The majority of the book focuses on the medical industry and on flying, but you don’t have to be a doctor or a pilot to understand the premise. Most people won’t be surprised about the fact that a pilot uses checklists during every flight. There is the pre-flight checklist, the pre-taxi checklist, the pre-landing checklist. We are not surprised that our pilot goes through a checklist to make sure everything is working before taking the plane into the air. Of course, they also have an engine failure checklist and a checklist for what to do if the door to the plane is opened during flight.

It is a little harder to imagine that in the middle of a crisis the pilot would say, ‘well, shoot, the engine just stopped working. Can you get out the checklist so that we can see if we can figure this thing out?’

But, that is exactly what they do. When Sully landed the plane on the Hudson, he used a checklist. Pilots know that when you are in a sticky situation, it is easy to forget things that might seem obvious, so the checklist ensures that you’ve done the things you should.

If a pre-flight checklist is standard procedure, then surely there is a pre-surgery checklist that doctors use, right? Nope. Atul Gawande set out, with the World Health Organization, to see if implementing such a checklist would improve the overall success rates of surgeries. What they found is astonishing. During a trial period using the checklist, there was a 36 percent drop in major complications after surgery and a 47 percent drop in deaths. All for the cost of asking 7 questions before giving anesthesia and another 7 questions before making this incision.

Seven simple questions. Want to know what they are? I suggest you put this book on your list and find out!