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  • May 2011
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Teen review: White Cat by Holly Black

My name’s Leo. I’m a ninth grader at Pittsburgh Obama Academy 6-12 (Also known as IB High and formerly Schenley). I’m a gender-queer, lesbian, mentally ill writer. I’ll be reviewing books, with occasional graphic novels and music — I mostly read fantasy and horror, and listen to various forms of rock.

White Cat by Holly Black
White Cat by Holly Black

Cassel is an ordinary boarding school student – or at least, that’s what he’s trying to be. Magic, which is illegal, runs in his family, as does the con and a connection with a famous crime family.

His charade falls through when he wakes up on the roof of his dorm building, and is unable to come down without calling for help. Soon, he finds himself on “medical leave” – back with his family.

This is a wonderful book and you should all go out and buy it right now.

Okay, gushing over, now I’m going to be coherent. The prose in this book is very accessible. Cassel’s constant thoughts about how to pull off conning people are kind of fascinating, although I did find his change from hating it to loving it to be a little fast and unsupported.

The real beauty of it, though, is the plot. The significance of the white cat is totally unsuspected, but makes perfect sense – and that’s largely the case for all of the twists in this book. The one real problem is that at the beginning of the story, it’s difficult to like any of the characters if you’re particularly set in them being nice. Things get better in that regard, though.

Johnstown Flood

It has been raining a lot lately, and it has been getting me down—but it is nowhere near as bad the rainstorm that came through the area in 1889.

Today is the 122nd anniversary of the infamous Johnstown Flood, a catastrophe that killed over 2200 people and caused $17 million of damage ($407 million in today’s money).

This was not a natural disaster; the flood was caused by the failure of the South Fork Dam that held back Lake Conemaugh. The failure itself was caused by years of neglect and poor maintenance of the dam. One of the owners even sold parts of the dam for scrap!

A record downpour caused stress on the dam, and though some people tried to prevent it from eroding it was too little too late. On May 31, 1889, the dam failed and poured 22 million tons of water from Lake Conemaugh onto the small Southwestern Pennsylvania towns below.

The catastrophe has inspired many novel, including this novel in verse from last year:

Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood by Jame Richards

Sixteen-year-old Celestia is a wealthy member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, where she meets and falls in love with Peter, a hired hand who lives in the valley below, and by the time of the torrential rains that lead to the disastrous Johnstown flood of 1889, she has been disowned by her family and is staying with him in Johnstown.

To learn more you can visit the Johnstown Area Heritage Association here or the Johnstown Flood National Memorial here.

~Eva, CLP-Allegheny

Double Your $$$: Free Stuff Friday and #FF @CLP_Teens

A refresher on the rules:

  • Be the first teen today to comment on a CLPTeensburgh blog post & win a $10 gift card (Target, Barnes & Noble, or Eat n’ Park)
  • There are no other rules…it’s easy.
  • BUT if you want to DOUBLE YOUR WINNINGS get 5 friends to follow us on Twitter @CLP_Teens in addition to posting a blog comment. That’s $20 in gift cards for very little effort. ; )

The Fox Is Black – The Desktop Wallpaper Project

There are certain things about computers and their operating systems that most of us have been conditioned to just accept–boring screensavers, generic desktop wallpapers, everything about Windows–but now you can check one of those off. The Fox Is Black is a great art/design website featuring the wonderful Desktop Wallpaper Project.

If you’re like me, you enjoy prettying up your PC/laptop/phone with a nice custom wallpaper. The tricky part about doing this yourself is that most images found on the web aren’t made to fit the dimensions of your preferred computing device. That’s why the Destop Wallpaper Project is so great–all of the featured artwork (by myriad contemporary artists) is custom-made to fit a bunch of screen resolutions: 1280 X 800, 1440 X 900, 1680 X 10501920 X 1200, 2560 X 1440, as well as custom images to fit your iPod and iPad screens!

Bobby Solomon (creator of The Fox Is Black) has this to say about the project:

I decided to write all of my favorite artists and designers, many of which you’ve seen featured on this blog, and see if they’d contribute a wallpaper. As it turns out, my favorite artists and designers happen to be some of the nicest people out there, and so many of them were more than happy to help and be a part of this project.

Very cool. So, without further ado, here are a few–very small versions–of the wallpapers available on the site. (For the full size, click on the picture link and check it out for yourself!):

This one is by artist Ben Newman. Bobby Solomon says, “I love his style for his use of bold, geometric shapes and punchy colors. Some people have compared his work to Charley Harper, which I think is a perfect compliment for him.”

This next image is a promotion for the band Broken Social Scene by artist Matias Palacios-Hardy. The artist says, “This wallpaper is an illustration about the misconceptions of being a successful musician. Broken Social Scene is a successful Canadian band. And being a successful Canadian band is not the same as being a successful American band.”

Lisa Congdon is a great contemporary artist whose work is available to view on her blog A Collection a Day. This one features a collection of ordinary tags, collected and (suddenly) beautiful and diverse.

Last, but certainly not least, we’ve got Corey Thompson’s incredible ballin’ T-Rex. This illustration leaves me speechless. If you feel the same way, I suggest you simply allow it to wash over you with its stupendous absurdity.

On this Friday, I am grateful for the Internet and the wonderful art projects that have multiplied like bunny rabbits under its protective umbrella of possibility. I hope you enjoy The Fox Is Black and the wonderful Desktop Wallpaper Project!

Corey, CLP – Main (who currently has THIS ONE as his wallpaper)

Hunger Games Casting

The newest issue of Entertainment Weekly had a great article about the cast of the Hunger Games movie.  There was a lot of controversy when Jennifer Lawrence was picked to play Katniss Everdeen.  Some people thought she was too blond, too old or too attractive to play Katniss.  But it seems that the contoversy has somewhat died down, especially after author Suzanne Collins said she was happy with the pick of Lawrence.  Some of the other big names that will appear in the movie are Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark. 

What do you think of the casting for the movie?  Have you read the Hunger Games series?  Are you looking for something to fill the void til the movie comes out?  You might want to try reading another book with a strong female protaganist or maybe something for reluctant readers who loved the Hunger Games.  Either one will help you while you anticipate the movie’s release next year!

Jim-CLP West End

Teen blogger: An interview with Harry and the Potters

This Sunday, the wizard rock band that started it all is playing Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main (Oakland)! That’s right, Harry & the Potters will be “wrocking” out from the library steps. (“Free to the People” indeed.)


Harry and the Potters
Sunday, May 29, 2011
2:30 PM – 4:00 PM
CLP, Main (right out front!)

In anticipation of the show, we asked seasoned teen volunteer Renata to interview the band. (And she did a great job!):

Harry and The Potters How did you get started? What made you start one of the first Harry Potter inspired bands?

We started our band back in 2002. We were really interested in the massive cultural effect that the Harry Potter books were having on a generation of readers. At the time, we really just thought it was a silly and weird idea that Harry could have his own rock band and maybe we could convince some librarians to book a loud rock band to play for the kids. But it was also a way for us to recontextualize Harry Potter for our own subversive purposes. We’ve been able to bring punk rock to a new generation of kids by speaking to them in a language they understand: Harry Potter.

How do you come up with the catchy lyrics?

Thanks. I think our main focus with the lyrics is to, hopefully, be smart, witty and tuneful all at once. There’s certain instances where we get pretty serious abotu stuff that happens in the books, but we want our music to reflect a lot of the joy that these books have brought to the world, so we mostly keep it rather lighthearted. We have to do some extrapolation about Harry’s character – JK Rowling never mentions his rock band – but for the most part, we try and keep our songs and our lyrics true to the canon of the books.

How do you feel to be a part of the Harry Potter Alliance?

Full disclosure here: I co-founded the Harry Potter Alliance and currently serve on the Board of Directors for the organization. The Harry Potter Alliance is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that uses enthusiasm for the Harry Potter books as a way to engage young people in social activism. The Harry Potter fandom has generated a lot of really innovative re-appropriations of the original work (specifically things like wizard rock and quidditch as a sport), but I think the HP Alliance is maybe the fandom’s most important offspring. It’s acutely harnessing the enthusiasm of Harry Potter fans and giving them an outlet for creating social good. It’s allowing them to be a part of real world Dumbledore’s Army and to become the heros that they read about. So how does it feel to be a part of this? AMAZING!

Who are your favorite characters and or theme to sing about in your songs?

Recently we’ve been really embracing the arcane elements of the book series. We got so deep into the mythology and we noticed how serious people were taking it (intense fan discussion and entire books being written on certain subjects). The thought there was some humor in that level of detail hunting and we started writing to that. So we’ve got a song called “the Economics of the Wizarding World Don’t Make Sense” that wonders how unicorn hairs can cost 10 galleons and Ollivander only charges 7 galleons for a wand (where unicorn hair is a typical wand core). It just doesn’t add up. In another song, “Alohomora,” we ask the wizarding world why anyone would ever bother locking doors when a first year magic student can just cast a spell that unlocks pretty much anything. So I guess that’s how we’ve been amusing ourselves lately. But more generally, I think I get the most satisfaction from exploring the adolescent romance happening at Hogwarts. That seems to be the stuff that Harry would actually write songs about if he really had a band, so I guess I feel like we’re really being true to his character when we write those sorts of songs.

How do you come up with the catchy names? (They are truly hilarious)

Some of our songs just have very plain old utilitarian titles. But I guess with some others, we just try to take some of the humor of the song and infuse that into the title. I didn’t anticipate this at the time, but the songs with better titles always sell better on iTunes. Llet that be a word of advice for aspiring comedic songwriters.

Did you ever think it would get this big?

Certainly not. We always envisioned this as a weird weekend side project. We figured maybe once or twice a month we’ve have a Saturday afternoon show in a library around Boston. Keep in mind that back when we started 9 years ago, we had no idea that there was already a thriving and well-networked legion of Harry Potter fans out there. So once they heard about what we were doing, everything changed and suddenly anything seemed possible. A few years later I quit my job as an engineer to become a full-time wizard.

What is it that you like most of what you do? I guess what I like most is knowing that what we do has a real and tangible net positive effect for humanity. We just booked a show last week with a band called ShiSho. They’re opening for us in Cleveland on the day after our Pittsburgh show. The band consists of a 14 year-old girl and her 10-year old sister. They’ve been playing together for 6 years. Apparently they got inspired after seeing us play in the basement of bookstore in Cleveland on our first tour in 2004. The frontwoman, Vivian Ramone(!) would have been SEVEN at that time. It’s just beyond awesome to know that we helped inspire these young women to start their own band.

Road Trip!

In just a few short hours I’ll be packing up my car for a road trip to my home town for a visit.  I’m excited, but there is still so much to do.
When planning a road trip you have to remember so much.  You have to pack the map or the GPS, you have to remember your tooth-brush, and most importantly you have to plan some entertainment.  I’ve been thinking of tunes to load onto my iPod and books to read for weeks.

They say “Getting There Is Half the Fun” and I couldn’t agree more. And getting there is so much better when you have your favorite music and books along for the ride.  With summer coming, I bet I’m not the only one with a road trip on the horizon, so check out this list for inspiration.

Sixteen year old Bridgette is a member of a family of Travelers or Gypsies who sometimes resort to theft and dishonesty to make their way in the world.  Bridgette feels trapped by this type of life but fears stepping away from her family for a more conventional life of school and friends.

After her free-spirited Aunt Peg’s death, Ginny receives a plane ticket to Europe.  Thus begins a mysterious journey.  Ginny is guided by Peg’s European friends and also 13 letters written before just before her aunt died.

After a traumatic event kicks off this story its main characters, Jordy a homeless, gay teen and Chloe an abused and homeless girl set off on a healing cross-country adventure.  At the start of the book neither of them have anyone to lean on, but through their friendship they create a lasting family in each other.

After his most recent dumping by a girl named Katherine (all of his girlfriends have had the same name) and anxiety over not living up to his genius reputation post high school, Colin is depressed.  So his best friend Hassan decides the best way to cheer him up is an epic, rambling road trip.   The journey ends in Tennessee with a girl, who isn’t named Katherine.

Happy Trails,

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