My Favorite Books, 2010 edition

31 12 2010

I have been reading everyone else’s favorite books lists and I just couldn’t help but jump in on the action.  I’m including the publication date as not all of these books were published in 2010 (yup, I caught up on some oldies but goodies this year).  With no further ado, and in no particular order:

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper (2010): 11 year old Melody has cerebral palsy and has never spoken a word.  She gets a speaking machine and everything changes–except people still think she’s stupid because she drools and she’s stuck in a wheelchair.  Issues in this book were spot on, in only as many words as were necessary (as teen books get longer, I appreciate the ones that choose their words wisely more).

Chains (2008) and Forge (2010) by Laurie Halse Anderson: My review of ChainsForge is just as good, even though it’s not narrated by Isabel but by her friend Curzon, who winds up becoming a rebel soldier.  Good cold weather read as the soldiers at Valley Forge with no shoes or blankets or houses are colder than you’ll ever be.

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John (2010): Piper is deaf but somehow she becomes the manager of a hard rock band.  Premise sounds absurd but Piper is awesome.  Another book where you get to be in the head of someone totally different–like Melody from Out of My Mind.  I’m a sucker for this.

White Cat (Curse Workers #1) by Holly Black (2010):  Science fiction!  Curse workers and mafia and more twists and turns than I can explain without spoiling the book.  Trust me, the set up is worth it.  And the next one comes out in April!

Wolves, Boys and Other Things That Might Kill Me by Kristen Chandler (2010): I was so worried this was going to be paranormal when I read the title.  But it’s actually about real wolves in real life–the wolves that were reintroduced into Yellowstone.  KJ gets wrapped up in boys, wolves and small town politics.  Well-written and outdoorsy.

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines (2009) My review on this blog

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga (2006): Unclear why I never read this one.  Fanboy spoke to me, in all his graphic novel and frustrated teenage glory.  I actually read the companion novel, Goth Girl Rising, right after I finished the first, which means I loved the characters.

Hate List by Jennifer Brown (2009): I almost forgot this one!  How could I do that?  Yes, it’s a book about the aftermath of a school shooting.  Valerie’s boyfriend was the shooter and to inspire him, he used the “hate list” that the two of them had created together.  Nick is dead but Valerie is going back to school.  As you might imagine, she is traumatized and ostracized. Just reading that description doesn’t do the book justice.  There is no moral high ground in this book–that’s the part I liked the most about it.  Valerie is struggling and you get to struggle along with her.  This shooting is also not based on any particular real life shootings and that helps it a lot.  Suffice it to say, this is a book about a school shooting that is not like any others you’ve read.  And that is probably why I was so moved by it.

I’m excited for lots of new books this coming year, including the one book I got for Christmas: Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld!  Happy New Year everyone!


And the Winner Is..

8 04 2010

If you’re a kidlit nerd like me, you know who the SLJ BoB winner is: Marching for Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge, by all accounts an incredible non-fiction title.  That I haven’t read despite making an effort to get my hands on it.  Oops.  It looks very serious, and I’ve heard it’s very moving.  Perhaps my favorite review can be found here, on Emily Reads. In the SLJ BoB commentary, Katherine Paterson said it “stirred her soul.”  I’ll admit she’s probably right and move on to talking about books I have read.  Sorry Marching for Freedom!  I’ll get to you some day.

The Storm in the Barn: A Graphic Novel Review

30 03 2010

Isn’t that a beautiful cover?  It’s definitely indicative of the artwork inside.  I am finding, after reading more and more graphic novels, that I now have no problem following the panels as they are laid out.  Of course, now that I’ve said that, the next graphic novel I read is going to confuse me to no end.  But today’s beautiful graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan, was not confusing to read–at least not in terms of following the panels.  It’s the story of Jack Clark, an eleven-year-old boy with little to do during the Dust Bowl years.  Normally, he would be helping his family with work on the farm but because of the drought, there is no farm.  And his sister is sick with “dust pneumonia.”

Jack is the kind of kid I always identified with; he is ignored and bullied and told not to do or touch things by his father.  He has a friend at the soda pop shop in town.  The soda jerk tells Jack stories about more famous Jacks, who have defeated kings and other mythical creatures.  These stories are illustrated in a different way than Jack’s life.  They look more like comic books, utilizing the graphic format brilliantly.  In time, Jack finds himself in a bit of a fairytale in his neighbors’ abandoned barn.

I won’t spoil it for you but I will say this–I had trouble with some of the panels inside the barn.  I think that Phelan deliberately makes them somewhat blurry, so the reader can feel the uncertainty that Jack feels.  This might work better for a more visual learner than myself.  At times, I found my self missing the words.  However, Phelan’s deliberate use of repeat panels to show long pauses was brilliant and helped me pace myself.  Even the choice of page color–a yellow, dusty color–was deliberate.

And so, I can’t really dislike this book.  I think it would make for better reading alongside a non-fiction book about the Dust Bowl, so that you really understand the magnitude of the problem early in the story (though Phelan does drop in some facts later in the story).  It deserves to be read far and wide, and it manages to make historical fiction into a fantasy/fairytale/folklore.  That being said, it lost it’s SLJ BoB match today to Tales from Outer Suburbia and I can’t say I’m up in arms about it.

Bottom line: If you like swishy watercolors and American folklore, you want to read this book.  Even if you’re a bit older than the middle grade kids it’s marketed to.

Tales from Outer Suburbia vs.When You Reach Me

24 03 2010

Spoiler alert!  If you haven’t read Judge Julius Lester’s decision at the SLJ BoB website, you might not want to read on, because I read it and I know the winner…it’s Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan!

If you haven’t had a chance to read it, you can click the picture to take you to Amazon and take a look inside or you can go find it at your local library or bookstore and read it.  It does not take long to read at all–I read it in an afternoon, and I spent probably as much time reading it as looking at the artwork.  In the library world, this book is causing much pain and suffering because librarians don’t quite know where to put it.  In my library, it was shelved in juvenile fiction.  Some places put it with their graphic novels, or shorts stories.  Really, it could fit any of those places.

But what is it about, you ask?  Lester says that the first sentence drew him in: “When I was a kid, there was a big water buffalo living in the vacant lot at the end of our street, the one with the grass no one ever mowed.”  The illustration that accompanies this is another one I just want to hang on my wall and stare at forever.  And it actually gives depth to the story.  The illustrations truly are important–they give the stories the feel of urban legends, only these are suburban legends, a concept I find hilarious, especially as I just moved back to the ‘burbs and am waiting for a water buffalo to move in down the block.  That being said, this book was not the book for me.  It just didn’t have quite enough substance to be my favorite book, though I could see introducing it to teens and tweens in the library.  Also, using it in class or for writing workshops.  It’s fantastic, digestible, inspiring short stories.

Which brings me to When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, a book I was lucky enough to be “forced” to read last semester.  I had actually heard so many good things I bought this book, something I rarely do.  Let me tell you: it was worth it.  Somehow, this book manages to combine historical fiction, time travel and smart girly-ness all into one book.  The time travel puts off some people, Julius Lester included.  But not me.  I’m a time travel kind of girl, so long as it’s well-used.  And if you haven’t read it, I feel kind of bad for telling you about the time travel but because it took me by surprise.  This is not a book you expect to turn any kind of sci-fi, which is why I thought it would win over non-sci-fi fans.  It may!  Just not in this competition.

Though I am saddened by When You Reach Me‘s loss today, it does already have a Newbery medal so I can’t really complain.  Plus, Julius Lester reminds us all that reading is subjective, an obvious point, maybe, but one that bears repeating and remembering during this exciting but addictive Battle of the Books.

SLJ’s Battle of the Books

23 03 2010

I know, I know, I promised to post about School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books (which will henceforth be referred to by the bizarre acronym BoB). If you don’t know what this is, it’s March Madness for kid’s lit.  Everyone seems to have some sort of bracket in March these days.  I turned on the oldies station on the radio the other day and even they have some ridiculous bracket type competition where people call in and vote whether they like Michael Jackson or Paul McCartney better.  That one seems more bizarre than most.  But SLJ’s BoB bracket includes some great kid lit, including a lot of librarian favorites that were bypassed by the formal awards(Printz, Newbery, etc.).  Matches are random and judged by a variety of distinguished kid lit authors.  What’s not to love?

I just have one simple problem: I haven’t read all of the books.  In fact, I’ve read only 9 out of the original 16.  And of the next 8, I will have only read 4.  It’s not for lack of trying!  For instance, I have The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge in my bag right now (winner of Match 4).  I just haven’t cracked the spine yet.  (That’s because I’m dog/housesitting and one of the daughters has the entire Gossip Girl series.  Which means I have to read one just to know what the writing is really like, since I’ve maligned the books for years without actually having read one.  More on that in a day or two.)  So what’s a girl to do?  How am I to judge what the judges say if I haven’t even read the books?

Today’s match, The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan vs. Sweethearts of Rhythm.  I read the second book, a collaboration between the poet Marilyn Nelson and the illustrator Jerry Pinkney.  Nelson imagines, through poetry, what the instruments played by a real integrated, all-girl swing band during WWII would have to say, years after they have been given away or given up by these girls.  Now, I won’t sit here and re-hash the comments made by Judge Anita Silvey, because she’s totally right!  There is something truly confusing about the creative non-fiction Nelson and Pinkney have given us here.  I do, however, really love Pinkney’s artwork because you can feel the rhythm of the music in it, coming right off the page.  The cover (below) gives some idea, though it doesn’t include some of the more abstract elements found in the other illustrations:

I want poster-sized versions of the other art for my wall.  But that doesn’t make it a great book.  Then there’s my own trouble with Nelson’s poetry–I know, that’s not a popular opinion.  There’s just something about her word choice that doesn’t ring true for me.  Anyway, the point of all of this is to say that here, even though I haven’t read The Storm in the Barn (on my shelf!), I can agree with this decision.  Of course, The Storm in the Barn could be flawed as well–I’ve just heard so many good things I can’t imagine having a major problem with the book as I did with it’s opponent.  The problem arises when I love one book but haven’t read the other.  I feel like, for the most part, if I haven’t read the books, I can’t really have anything to add.  This attitude would be why I am going to drag myself through Gossip Girl, despite the fact that I have heard in detail about the books and their various flaws.

Fortunately, tomorrow’s match, Tales from Outer Suburbia vs. When You Reach Me, is a great match-up of books I’ve already read.  I’m rooting for the latter!  Check back with me tomorrow to see what I think about Judge Julius Lester’s decision.  He and I have already had some interesting disagreements on this very blog.

The Wide Range of Tween Books

12 12 2009

Jen made a great a true point on Monday: there are no books for 5th graders that 8th graders want to read.  One of the reasons I took this course was to better learn what a tween was and what kinds of books these kids are reading these days.  Well, it turns out there are many answers to that question, two in particular. 1) They read books targeted to middle school kids.  2) They read books targeted towards high school students.  And to add 3) Sometimes these books overlap but more often, they don’t.  Over the semester, we’ve read books that I couldn’t imagine a high school student picking up, even at gunpoint (see Scat or Every Soul a Star) and books that I know high school students would absolutely love (see The Graveyard Book or Into the Volcano).  Tween readers have a foot in both worlds, making them like teens, only younger, as the name suggests.  Teenagers read books published for young adults and books published for adults.  This is so established that there are prizes like the Alex Awards, recognizing books published for adults that have particular teen appeal.

This topic comes to mind this week, as I’m pulling together the books and websites for my themed resource list.  Intellectually, I know what makes a book relevant to tweens: similar age to that of the protagonist; themes of fitting in, finding yourself, growing up, hitting puberty, etc.; not too much romance; often slightly goofy villains or crimes that aren’t quite as violent as they would be in a book for a different audince.  But figuring out which book is appropriate for which reader is an art, not a science.  I mean, just reading through the age recommendations given by School Library Journal versus Booklist versus Kirkus can make your head spin.  And I have to admit, I don’t have a lot of experience with tweens–at least, not since I was a tween myself.  When I was a tween, there were not a lot of young adult books.  That meant I read things that may have been wholly inappropriate, like the Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series, all about serial killers and forensic pathology and Michael Crichton’s Congo (I have a vivid memory of reading this book in the middle of the night and having to turn on all the lights, due to some odd fear that giant gorillas were going to come crunch my head between rocks).  Now,  I don’t think the books did me any harm.  And, actually, those books were mostly mysteries, a genre that tweens seem to love.

I am impressed by the vast quantity of good books for tweens, whether they are for the younger or older parts of that age group.  As “tween” becomes a more readily recognized term, and a more powerful group in terms of buying power, it seems like there are more and more books that fit into the “tween” category as I see it.  These books are about kids in the tween age group but they are written in a way that gives the characters a lot of power.  I think this is typically why mysteries are engaging at this point in time, since the person solving the mystery is often a tween.  And if they want to read up, there are tons of books for young adults.  Basically, it’s a great time to be a tween.  But as a librarian, it can be a bit overwhelming in the best way possible.