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The Horn Book editor's rants and raves. Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996
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1. Week in Review, February 23rd-27th

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

March/April 2015 Horn Book Magazine preview

March/April 2015 editorial: “The Difference That Made Them

From the March/April issue: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s HBAS 2014 keynote speech “Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger:

Out of the Box:

Lolly’s Classroom:

Events calendar

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to keep up-to-date on our articles!

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2. Editorial: The Difference That Made Them

Inadvertently or not, ALA heeded the call of the zeitgeist when it honored six books (out of ten in toto) by people of color in the 2015 Newbery and Caldecott medals and honors, announced last month at the Midwinter conference in Chicago. The winners were Kwame Alexander (African American) for Newbery and Dan Santat (Asian American) for Caldecott; the honor recipients included women of color Jacqueline Woodson for the Newbery and Yuyi Morales, Jillian Tamaki, and Lauren Castillo for the Caldecott. This is all wonderful news.

Yet another honoree represents diversity of a different kind: Cece Bell, who won a Newbery Honor for the graphic-novel memoir El Deafo, is deaf. At that same ALA conference, ALSC held a day-long institute about diversity in books for young people. While speakers were careful to note that diversity included identifiers beyond ethnic group, more than one opined that what we were “really” talking about on this day was the depiction of people of color in children’s and YA literature. While that topic is more than enough for a day’s work, is it, “really,” all we are talking about?

Cece Bell presents one valuable exception; the five men whose work is profiled by Barbara Bader beginning on page 24 present another. No one would claim that these men were invisible; among them, they have fifteen Caldecott or Newbery citations and three Laura Ingalls Wilder medals. (Sendak takes the lion’s share while Remy Charlip, always ahead of the curve, has none.) And coming of artistic age at a time when such things were secret — or at least private — they all were gay. Tomie dePaola, God bless him, alone among them is still alive and flourishing: witness his glorious cover portrait of himself among brothers, convened in a party by noted hostess and self-proclaimed genius Gertrude Stein. (Who wouldn’t pay to see Jim Marshall try to make Gertrude Stein laugh? I bet he could and she would.)

Jokes about Frog and Toad being more than friends aside, none of these men ever wrote explicitly about being gay — first, one assumes, because of the strictures of the times and, second, because they created books for very young children. What enabled them to do so with such heart and intelligence? Only Arnold Lobel had children, but they all could, as Bader writes, “think big on a small child’s level.” Does their being gay have anything to do with this? I think yes.

Much is made by diversity advocates of the need to have cultural insiders create books that convey a culture with empathy, authenticity, and respect. True enough. But don’t outsiders have something to offer as well? The five artists Bader profiles grew up in an era in which gays and lesbians could not even look to their own families, never mind the wider community, for affirmation. Gay kids grew up alone, attentive to all the ways in which they did not belong. It tends to make one an extremely good observer, the first step in becoming an artist. Never underestimate the payoff of a lonely childhood.

I am certainly glad times are different now. Out gay artists, along with all those represented in the alphabet soup that is queer identity today, create picture books and novels and nonfiction for young people that forthrightly address a spectrum of sexuality and gender identity, and fewer people blink every day. But may these same artists also remember their rich legacy and continue to create wild things and clowns of God, friendly frogs and hippos, arm in arm in arm in arm to touch the imaginations of our children all.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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3. There Is a Bird On Your Head | Class #2 2015

thereisabirdMo Willems has become THE master of easy readers. With pre-book work including Sesame Street and animation, he had the perfect training to create child- and teacher-friendly easy readers. I think he deserves every one of his many awards. What do you notice in this deceptively simple book? What does he do with simple shapes and lines in the art and very few words to create distinct characters? Would you share this book with children who are learning to read?

(Note to the Mo fans out there: I recommended a road trip to Amherst MA to visit the Eric Carle Museum. While you are out there, save some time to visit the R. Michelson Gallery in Northhampton where you can see — and buy — original Mo Willems sketches of Elephant and Piggie.)

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4. Buy the book

wnbalogoI’m a judge for this year’s Pannell Award for children’s bookselling and our slate of nominees has been announced. Anything you want to tell me?

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5. Review of Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny

himmelman_tales of bunjitsu bunnystar2Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny
by John Himmelman; illus. by the author
Primary   Holt   128 pp.
10/14   978-0-8050-9970-6   $13.99
e-book ed. 978-0-8050-9972-0   $9.49

Young rabbit Isabel is known as Bunjitsu Bunny for her proficiency in martial arts class. Himmelman’s thirteen short, generously illustrated chapters relate Isabel’s adventures as she demonstrates that “bunjitsu is not just about kicking, hitting, and throwing…It is about finding ways NOT to kick, hit, and throw.” Each droll tale contains a lesson — about avoiding fights (with tough jackrabbits), outsmarting bullies (especially fox pirates), dealing with nightmares (of scary monsters), never giving up (when being “bearjitsu”-ed), and more. Cleverly wrapped in an entertaining package, the zen-type morals are edifying but not preachy and serve to genuinely enrich the stories. Solid brush-like strokes in black give the drawings the clean look of block prints, the only added tint a soft red used mainly to set Isabel apart from her classmates, her flame-colored martial-arts uniform aptly matching her zippy personality.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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6. Review of Smick!

cronin_smickSmick!
by Doreen Cronin; illus. by Juana Medina
Preschool, Primary   Viking   32 pp.
2/15   978-0-670-78578-0   $16.99   g

With minimal text, a clever use of sight words and word families, and a bounty of playfulness, Cronin introduces preschoolers (and early readers) to their new best friend: good-natured, tail-wagging, droopy-eared dog Smick. A game of fetch between dog and offstage narrator (“Stick?”) gives way to the discovery of a new friend when Smick is distracted by a “Cluck!” in the distance. Smick, stick, and the newly introduced chick, who is now comfortably situated on Smick’s head, attempt to resume the game, with mixed results (“Slow, Smick, slow!”). All ends in joyful doggy friendship: “Sidekick… / Sidechick. / Side lick! ick.” Digitally rendered art incorporates photo images of a flower petal (transformed into the chick by the addition of a few added black lines for wings, legs, eyes, and beak) and a wooden stick. However, it mostly consists of simple black lines, stark against the expansive white space, that communicate Smick’s constant motion and boundless energy with economy, verve, and apt detail (i.e., one ear lifted in the direction of a new sound). The handful of words per page play with meaning via order and context à la Gravett’s Apple Pear Orange Bear (rev. 7/07), allowing readers to flesh out the story themselves and encouraging independent reading. “Go, Smick, go!” cheers the narrator, in homage to the classic Eastman easy reader. Readers will cheer along.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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7. Using wordless books in the classroom

It is easy to underestimate wordless (or nearly wordless) picture books. At first glance, they can seem simplistic and their educational value can seem limited since so much focus is placed on reading in the classroom, but if used in the right way they can contribute to a number of learning objectives across a wide range of grade levels. The books below illustrate some of the types of wordless books that are available and offer some suggestions for how to make them part of your lesson plans.

arrivalThe Arrival by Shaun Tan
This book tells a universal tale of immigration through pictures of a man travelling to an alien world in search of work and a better life. The retro-futuristic setting, sepia-toned images, and alien language will make this book relatable to any reader. Geared towards middle school or older readers, this book could be used in a social studies or history class while reading about the immigrant experience in the U.S. and could just as easily be used in a literature class to teach students how to “read” images.

Robot DreamsRobot Dreams by Sara Varon
It might seem surprising to say that a wordless book about a robot and a dog who are friends packs an emotional punch, but that is certainly the case here. Varon successfully uses images to pull readers into the story and vividly convey emotions without the need for dialogue. The bright colors of the drawings will make this book appealing and accessible to readers in third and fourth grade, where it can be used to prompt discussions around friendship and how art can prompt an emotional reaction.

harris burdickThe Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg
Though not completely wordless, this book from famed writer and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg is definitely not a typical picture book. It consists of a series of drawings, each of which has a title and a caption and no further words associated with it. While the drawings all share an odd, off-kilter quality that makes them mysterious and not quite of our world, they are not explicitly connected to one another. As such, they make ideal short story prompts for virtually any age. This book could be used as inspiration for creative writings projects from grade school through high school. If you don’t believe me, you need look no further than the new version of the book published in 2011 under the name The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, which included a story written by a best-selling author to accompany each of the pictures.

mirrorMirror by Jeannie Baker
Here the wordless format is combined with a unique physical format that has readers unfolding each side of the book to reveal side-by-side images of two families, one living in Sydney, Australia and the other living in a small town in Morocco. This layout juxtaposes life in these two locations, showing readers the differences but also the important similarities between the two families. This is an ideal book for younger readers from preschool through early grade school, who will delight in pointing out the similarities and differences between the images. It would work well for teaching vocabulary related to the images as well as for larger discussions about cultural differences around the world.

I hope these ideas will encourage some readers to reconsider the place of wordless books in their classes, but beyond this, I would also love to hear how readers have already been using them. I hope you’ll consider sharing your favorite wordless books and how you use them in your curriculum in the comments!

 

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8. Fools, rush in.

dudleybranch

Dudley Branch Library, Boston Public Library

This Saturday I will be speaking on a panel organized by Irene Smalls for people interested in writing books for children. At the Dudley Branch Library, 65 Warren Street in Roxbury, the panel, free and open to all comers, will run from 3:00 to 4:45, optionally followed by dinner (ten bucks) at Haley House. I hope to see you there!

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9. Recommended reading on “the circuit”

In his 1998 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award acceptance speech for The Circuit, Dr. Francisco Jiménez said, “The blowing of the horn for The Circuit will draw attention to and compassion for the thousands of migrant families and their children of yesterday and today. This sound is truly music to my ears.” These books, all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide, similarly highlight the experiences of migrant farmworker families.

Primary

adler_picture book of cesar chavezUsing quotes from the subject’s autobiography, David A. Adler and Michael S. Adler’s A Picture Book of César Chávez tells Chávez’s abbreviated life story, from migrant farm work in childhood through his life of activism to his death in 1993. Marie Olofsdotter’s warm-hued illustrations reflect the man’s heritage and commitment to his cause. The book’s source notes and other ancillary material are excellent. (Holiday, 2010)

brown_side by sideMonica Brown makes a significant contribution to the increasing number of books about César Chávez by focusing equally on his partner, Dolores Huerta, in Side by Side / Lado a lado: The Story of Dolores Huerta and César Chavéz / La historia de Dolores Huerta y César Chávez. Their life stories are told in parallel until they meet and “side by side…began their journey.” Huerta’s accomplishments are admirable, and she gets her due in this heartfelt bilingual volume enhanced by Joe Cepeda’s emotion-filled mixed-media illustrations. (HarperCollins/Rayo, 2010)

krull_harvesting hopeIn Harvesting Hope: The Story of César Chávez, Kathleen Krull shows how Chávez developed into an advocate and spokesman for migrant workers, focusing on the march he led as part of a grape-pickers strike. The brief text creates a complex view of Chávez, and Yuyi Morales’s mixed-media paintings are suffused with a variety of emotions. There are no sources, but this is an excellent choice for furthering understanding of racism, of nonviolent protest, and of the lives of workers before unions. Look for Spanish-language edition Cosechando esperanza: La historia de Cesar Chavez. (Harcourt, 2003)

mateo_migrantIn a straightforward first-person narration, Migrant by José Manuel Mateo recounts a child’s memories of his migration from Mexico to Los Angeles. The dramatic journey includes jumping a train, scaling a wall, and being chased by dogs. Javier Martínez Pedro’s intricately detailed black-and-white artwork is presented as one long vertical image with an accordion fold, in the style of ancient Mayan codices. The reverse side of the book presents the Spanish translation. (Abrams, 2014)

Separate Is Never Equal In 1947 the Mendez family fought for — and won —the desegregation of schools in California. Author/illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh uses a child’s viewpoint to succinctly capture the segregated reality of Mexican Americans in Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation. The straightforward narrative is well matched with illustrations in Tonatiuh’s signature style, their two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of the Mixtec codex but collaged with paper, wood, etc. to provide textural variation. An author’s note with photos is appended. (Abrams, 2014)

 

Intermediate

atkin_voices from the fieldS. Beth Atkin’s Voices from the Fields: Children of Migrant Farmworkers Tell Their Stories features children and teenagers of migrant workers, depicted in black-and-white photographs, speaking about family experiences, work, gangs, friends, and assorted fears, hopes, and dreams. Poetry by the young people, printed in both English and Spanish, is interspersed among the interviews. (Little, Brown, 2000)

jimenez_the circuitFrancisco Jiménez’s The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child was originally published only in paperback (by University of New Mexico Press). The hardcover edition of this moving and transcendent book — which won the 1998 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for fiction — includes an appended author’s note drawn from Jiménez’s acceptance speech for that award. (Houghton, 1999)

jimenez_breaking throughBreaking Through, Francisco Jiménez’s sequel to The Circuit, follows the pattern of the coming-of-age novel. Francisco and his family obtain visas that allow them to enter and stay in the United States without fear of deportation. Like its hero, the book’s pace is steady and deliberate, relying upon natural development rather than theatrics. For all its recounting of deprivation, this is a hopeful book, told with rectitude and dignity. (Houghton, 2001)

ryan_esperanza risingIn Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan’s poignant novel of the realities of immigration, thirteen-year-old Esperanza, daughter of an affluent Mexican rancher, is forced to trade fancy dolls and dresses for hard work and ill-fitting hand-me-downs after her beloved father dies. Laboring in the United States, picking grapes on someone else’s land for pennies an hour, Esperanza is transformed into someone who can take care of herself and others. (Scholastic, 2000)

 

Older

brimner_strikeIn his comprehensive history Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights, Larry Dane Brimner recounts the movement for better wages and working conditions among migrant farm workers in the Southwest, from California’s burgeoning need for farm workers in the twentieth century to the story of César Chávez, the United Farm Workers of America, and the Delano grape workers’ strike. The compelling narrative includes both textual and visual primary sources. (Boyds Mills/Calkins, 2014)

jimenez_reaching outFrancisco Jiménez (The Circuit, Breaking Through) continues the fictionalized story of his maturation in Reaching Out, here describing his character’s college years in the early 1960s. The writing is precise and evocative, with the author’s affection for family and friends being especially palpable. A quietly compelling book for older teens and an important contribution to the body of works addressing the immigrant experience. (Houghton, 2008)

young_cesar chavezJeff C. Young’s thorough, well-documented biography César Chávez [American Workers series] recounts Chávez’s progression from fieldworker in California to activist, union organizer, and civil rights advocate. Chávez’s untiring efforts, extremely modest salary, refusal to back down, hunger strikes, and growing awareness of political process are emphasized, with the United Farm Workers Union as his crowning achievement. Considerable primary material is used, and captioned photographs illustrate the text. (Morgan, 2007)

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10. “These children need a champion”: an interview with Gretchen Bircher

Gretchen Bircher is an instructional aide at Adam Elementary School in Santa Maria, California. (She’s also my amazing mom!) Today she is submitting a proposal to the Santa Maria–Bonita School District, advocating that a new elementary school be named in honor of Dr. Francisco Jiménez — author, recipient of a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, and an alum of the district’s schools.

Francisco-Jimenez

Dr. Francisco Jiménez

1. Tell us a little about Dr. Jiménez’s life and accomplishments.

GB: Francisco Jiménez was born in 1943 in Tlaquepaque, Mexico. When he was four years old, his family immigrated without papers to California’s San Joaquin Valley, where they hoped to find a better life. But things were very hard for the family, which eventually grew to ten. They moved constantly to follow the crops (working the “circuit”), living in tent camps and worse. Francisco began working in the fields at the age of six.

Only English was spoken in school, so Francisco had a difficult time communicating with his teachers. He loved learning, though, and kept a notepad with him to write down new words and ideas.

At one point, his family was deported to Mexico. Immigration officers came to Francisco’s eighth grade classroom to take him away. They were fortunate to find a legal way back to the U.S. when a sharecropper agreed to sponsor them.

Francisco realized that education was his means to escape the fields. He dreamed of staying in one place so that he could attend school full-time. That dream came true when the family settled in Santa Maria, California. He persisted in his education and was elected student body president at Santa Maria High.

After graduating from Santa Clara University, Francisco attended Harvard, then earned both a master’s degree and PhD from Columbia under a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. He went on to become Chairman of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department at Santa Clara University as well as the Director of the Division of Arts and Humanities.

In 1997, Dr. Jiménez published his autobiographical work The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, which won numerous awards, including the Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature and a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award. He followed The Circuit with several more award-winning books. His stories have been published in more than fifty textbooks and anthologies and have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish. In Santa Maria, we have The Circuit and its sequels Breaking Through and Reaching Out in our classrooms and school libraries.

2. What would be the significance of naming the new elementary school in his honor?

GB: The significance would be twofold: first, it would honor an amazing man who, despite incredible odds, went on to have a distinguished academic and literary career. Secondly, it would give the many farmworker students in our district a role model, someone who has been where they are now and who has succeeded through education.

Dr. Jimenez deserves to have the school named after him, but even more than that, our students need it. I’ve been an aide in this school district for twenty-six years, and I’ve seen how much these children need a champion. They need someone to relate to, someone from the same background who has succeeded, to show them that the fields aren’t their destiny. It’s about time that they had a hero of their own! Dr. Jiménez is a perfect choice.

People around the world are inspired by his books, and I think there should be schools named after him all over the world! But particularly here in Santa Maria — Dr. Jiménez went to schools in our district; he worked in the same fields as some of our students.

Last March, I attended a lecture presented by Dr. Jiménez at Allan Hancock College here in Santa Maria. The auditorium was packed. I was moved and impressed by the deep affection Dr. Jiménez has for Santa Maria and the profound emotional response of the audience. During the question-and-answer portion of the presentation, people (including children) got up to speak to Dr. Jiménez. They were crying, thanking him and telling him how much his work means to them. It was an amazing and powerful experience.

jimenez_the circuit3. As an educator, have you observed unique challenges facing migrant children in the school system? How do your school and school district address these challenges?

GB: Not all of our farmworker children are migrant. Some move with the crops and some stay in the area all year. I worked with AmeriCorps in a tutoring program at one of Santa Maria’s subsidized farmworker housing units, which allows one parent to leave to follow work while the rest of the family stays here. But many of our students live in difficult circumstances, including multifamily housing situations.

Another challenge occurs at school registration; without birth certificates, medical records, etc., a child’s age and appropriate grade level can be difficult to determine.

Often these children are very much like Francisco was when he first attended school. They sit, look, and listen. Their parents work very, very hard in the fields and generally speak little or no English. Although it is not a bilingual curriculum, all classrooms have a Spanish-speaking teacher and/or aide. Some of our families are Mixtec — they are from Mexico, but have their own spoken language and do not speak Spanish. None of the teachers in our district speak Mixtec and we have very few translators in the district because they are very hard to find. We call on them at parent-teacher conference time.

Our district has a free breakfast and lunch program for all students, as well as a grant that provides for a daily snack of fruits or vegetables. Students from the nearby California Polytechnic University come into the classrooms with a nutrition program to teach the children how to choose and prepare healthy snacks.

An after-school tutoring program helps students with their homework. Our students’ parents are hardworking and caring, but they are often unable to help their children with schoolwork due to language and education barriers they face.

4. You mentioned the importance for your district’s farmworker students to see that “that the fields aren’t their destiny,” that there are other possible futures for them. Have you seen this in action?

GB: Some of our students won’t finish school, but others will. Some go on to our local community college. We have former students who visit the elementary school and tell us that they want to be teachers. They have that same drive, that love of education, that helped Dr. Jiménez succeed.

5. Is there a piece of wisdom from Dr. Jiménez’s writing or lectures that particularly inspires you in your work as an educator?

GB: I love this quote from Dr. Jiménez’s 1998 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award acceptance speech:

“I wrote (these stories) to give voice to a sector of our society that has been largely ignored. Through my writing I hope to give readers insight into the lives of migrant farmworker families and their children, whose backbreaking labor picking fruits and vegetables puts food on our tables. Their courage, their hopes and dreams for a better life for their children and their children’s children, give meaning to ‘the American Dream.’ Their story is the American story.”

For The Horn Book’s reviews of The Circuit and its sequels, plus additional recommended reading on the experiences of migrant farmworker children, click here.

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11. Reading rainbow? Not quite

Yo, Marsala, I’m happy for you, I’ma let you finish — but Eggplant is the real Color of the Year. At least according to this entire shelf of purple-jacketed books.

purple books

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12. Week in Review, February 9th-13th

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

Starred reviews, March/April 2015 Horn Book Magazine

February Notes from the Horn Book: 5Q for Lucy Cousins, outside-the-box concept books, PB bios about African American music icons, intermediate historical fiction, YA about sleazy corporations

Reviews of the Week:

Out of the Box:

Calling Caldecott: Shutting down the shop (for now)

Lolly’s Classroom:Empathy spells understanding

Events calendar

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to keep up-to-date on our articles!

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13. New swag!

“Katie! There’s a pretty package for you!” Martha said this morning when the mail arrived. For me?

Sure enough, the holographic, hot pink package was addressed to me, and inside was…

ballet cat book

ballet cat tote

a galley of Bob Shea’s early reader Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret (Disney-Hyperion, May 2015), a super-cute tote bag, and a letter addressed “Dear Friend of Ballet.” Being both a friend of ballet and a friend of cats, I claimed the tote bag before anyone else even got to see it. (MY Ballet Cat tote bag! MINE!)

Another recent delivery — also from Disney-Hyperion — was more conducive to sharing. A crate of apple-shaped stress balls emblazoned “Wickedly Good!,” “Bad Apple,” “Rotten to the Core,” etc., arrived to promote Melissa de la Cruz’s novel Isle of the Lost (May 2015).

isle of the lost crate

isle of the lost apples

Isle of the Lost is a prequel to the Disney Channel’s upcoming Descendants movie, which will follow the banished children of Disney villains such as Maleficent, Jafar, and Cruella De Vil. Tucked in with the “apples” was a note (which shrieks when you open it!) reading “We cordially dare you to share these wickedly good apples, produced on the Isle of the Lost.” All five stress balls went to happy homes on Horn Book desks.

Thanks, Disney-Hyperion!

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14. Empathy spells understanding

harrypotter_boxedset_260x233If there’s one thing my students have come to know about their teacher, Ms. Tell, it’s that I have an extreme passion for, and knowledge of, the Harry Potter series. I won’t get too much into it (I’ll save that for another blog post), but it’s true. It’s not just the magical characters and enchanting spells that draws me towards the series; it’s that as I’ve grown older, I’ve been able to appreciate some of its deeper lessons, concerning the acceptance of others that may seem “different,” and the notion of taking responsibility for your actions.

It was in the midst of my daily Google search that I came across an article in New York Magazine entitled, “Can Harry Potter Teach Kids Empathy?” Well, if I see Harry Potter in a headline, you can guarantee that I’ll click that link. Now, while Harry Potter was definitely used as a hook to draw readers into the article, I became more enthralled by the ongoing study being described in which research has begun to discover that reading fiction can have major impact on one’s social perceptions and understanding of different viewpoints around the world.

In lieu of the holidays and the spirit of the new year, the time that dedicates itself to appreciating what you have and offering up new resolutions to better oneself, my mind shifted towards what I truly believe to be one of the most important facets of a child’s education — shaping character. Thinking about whether or not we are raising our students to be genuine, kind men and women of society can often fall to the wayside in favor of mastering multiplication facts for the test or meeting the deadline in completing a personal narrative report. This year, my class has taken a particular look at the word empathy, which we’ve come to define as, “I’ll try to imagine how it is you are feeling before I speak or do anything.” This definition has served as a guidepost for how we host discussions in third grade, how we find our “teachable moments,” and how we select our Read Alouds!

I’ve compiled a list of Read Aloud texts (some picture books, some chapter books) that have not only sparked incredible discussion post-reading, but have also seeped their way into discussions throughout our school day. Empathy is at work when a child has a rough time losing in the competitive handball game at gym, or someone feels left out when her friends race over to the swings without her. Books have served as an indirect confidante for when those moments become too big for students to express themselves. In a moment of clarity, books can help them think about how someone else may be feeling.

Here is our Read Aloud list for empathy:

  • The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
  • The Potato Chip Champ by Maria Dismondy
  • Uncle Rain Cloud by Tony Johnston
  • Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
  • Wonder by R.J Palacio
  • Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear by Lensey Namioka

hundred dresses     Potato Chip Champ     Uncle Rain

Wilfrid     wonder    Yang the Youngest

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15. Review of Welcome to the Family

hoffman_welcome to familyWelcome to the Family
by Mary Hoffman; illus. by Ros Asquith
Primary   Frances Lincoln   28 pp.
12/14   978-1-84780-592-8   $17.99

This chatty, informative book covers all the bases — and then some — in its survey of how families are made. Friendly cartoon illustrations highlight various permutations, from families formed by birth and adoption to foster and blended families. Same-sex and single parents are represented in the art and text; mixed-race families are depicted in the illustrations. After a very brief and age-appropriate explanation of reproduction (“You need two cells to make a baby — one from a man and one from a woman”), the discussion touches on in vitro fertilization and — somewhat misleadingly — sperm donation (“when there are two mommies”) and surrogacy (“when there are two daddies”). This catalog-like approach means some information is given short shrift, which may be confusing. The tone throughout is light and straightforward, though Hoffman acknowledges that things don’t always “go smoothly” in families. A little teddy bear appears on most spreads, adding its own commentary (“Two moms. I never had one”) or clarifying information. The final page offers this discussion starter: “How did you come into YOUR family?” Nine kids (and one teddy) chime in with speech-bubble answers: “I’ve got two daddies”; “My foster dad was adopted”; “Me and my brothers ALL started in a glass dish.” With more detail than Parr’s The Family Book if less depth than Harris and Emberley’s It’s NOT the Stork! (rev. 9/06), this is a useful and accessible treatment.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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16. Review of I Was Here

forman_i was hereI Was Here
by Gayle Forman
High School    Viking    272 pp.
1/15    978-0-451-47147-5    $18.99    g

Meg Garcia is brilliant and passionate — a standout in her dead-end Washington State hometown and a constant in best friend Cody’s unstable life. But just months after escaping to college on a prestigious scholarship, Meg checks into a motel and drinks a bottle of industrial cleaner. Cody is blindsided and guilt-ridden; when she finds an encrypted document on Meg’s laptop containing explicit suicide instructions, Cody slips down an investigative rabbit-hole that leads her deep into Meg’s hidden personal life. Cody reaches out to Meg’s college friends, and most agree that Meg was troubled. But when scouring Meg’s remaining digital footprint turns up correspondence with a disturbing pro-suicide web forum, Cody pursues this lead with reckless desperation. Capable and tough, Cody is a relentless but self-destructive detective bent on untangling a grim and dangerous mystery that offers no possible redeeming solution. A volatile but tenderly drawn romance with Meg’s tormented musician ex–love interest offers moments of tentative hopefulness for Cody, but her struggle with grief and complicity is intense and affecting up until an emotional gut-punch of a conclusion. Once this compelling case is closed, what remains is a haunting, elegiac tale about enduring and understanding loss.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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17. Most popular boys’ names 2025?

I read a lot of supernatural romance YA — for the Mag, for the Guide, and for fun — and I’ve been noticing how many dreamy guys in recent series are named either Jared or Cole. Bonus points for a Jared/Cole in a love triangle with the female protagonist, or if the protagonist and said Jared/Cole have a heartbreaking misunderstanding. For your consideration:

In Kami Garcia’s The Legion series, protagonist Kennedy must choose between Jared and his twin Lukas as they bust ghosts and come up against the demon Andras.

garcia_unbreakable garcia_unmarked
Kami is torn between Jared Lynburn and his half-brother Ash — both of whom she’s been connected to telepathically — in Sarah Rees Brennan‘s Lynburn Legacy trilogy. Complicating their love lives further is the boys’ seriously dysfunctional, magic-using family.

brennan_unspoken brennan_untold brennan_unmade
Nikki, protagonist of Brodi Ashton’s Everneath series, is in true-love-always with boyfriend Jack, but finds herself drawn to dangerous (read: life-sucking) immortal Cole after she thinks Jack has cheated on her.

ashton_everneath ashton_everbound ashton_evertrue
Ali, zombie-slaying protagonist of Gena Showalter’s White Rabbit Chronicles, is on-again, off-again with fellow slayer (and soulmate) Cole.

genashowalter_alice in zombieland showalter_through the zombie glass showalter_queen of zombie hearts
This one is cheating a little… Cole St. Clair, rockstar/werewolf, is one of several narrators (including his love interest, Isabel) in Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. Cole gets his own story in spin-off Sinner.

stiefvater_shiver stiefvater_linger stiefvater_forever stiefvater_sinner
Interestingly enough, the data from this small sample indicates that Jareds tend to be love-of-your-life types, while Coles tend to be bad boys with hearts of gold. Occasionally Cole is both the love of your life and the bad boy with a heart of gold.

Any Coles or Jareds I missed? Thoughts on what (or who) might have inspired the trend?

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18. From the Editor – February 2015

Roger_EdBriant_191x300The ALA has spoken, and this year’s roster of awards for children’s and young adult books is impressively diverse and Diverse. The forthcoming issue of The Horn Book Herald includes all the lowdown about the Newbery, Caldecott and other book awards announced earlier this month in Chicago — and 2015 Newbery medalist Kwame Alexander gets the Horn Book’s five-question treatment. Look for the Herald in your inbox next week.

roger_signature

Roger Sutton,
Editor in Chief

From the February 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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19. Build a Boyfriend

jones_build a boyfriendThere are so very many things I could say about Kiki Jones’s Build a Boyfriend (Penguin/Price Stern Sloan, May 2015). Are there overly mature sexual innuendos for children ages ten to fourteen? Sure! Is there a strong message expressing that physical appearance is of the utmost importance when procuring a partner? Yep! What about an intense focus on stereotypical hetero-female desires? Absolutely! Does this “activity” book show young readers that society’s obsession with feminine physical attributes is okay because, hey, it’s being done to dudes, too? Yes, indeed! I could say all of that about this book. Instead, though, let’s get to the more important matters.

  1. Penguin Young Readers Group’s catalog states that there are “over 1,500 unique boyfriend combinations” in Build a Boyfriend. How is a girl to choose with so many options? The front cover instructs the reader to “create the cutest guy ever” but, with over 1,500 possible combinations (1,728 to be exact), how can a girl ever complete the task? Building a boyfriend has become my new job. How will girls ages ten to fourteen, with school, homework, and extracurricular activities, manage it? Perhaps this is the sneaky lesson in Build a Boyfriend: get ready, girls, you have to do it all and you have to do it all at the same time. My suggestion? Take them out of school! It will give them more time to focus on their Cutest Guy Ever.
  2. He has “fun, floppy hair that’s as wild as he is” but, if you ask me, that hair looks awfully well groomed. How to know if his “floppy” hair really indicates fun? I need a “scent” option to see if my Cutest Guy Ever smells like product, Perfection, or unwashed hair and too much fun. One of them “looks so cute in hats” but why, I ask, is he wearing that hat? Is it because he hasn’t showered in a few days? This is an easy fix! I suggest a scratch and sniff addition, for the girls who care whether their Cutest Guy Ever smells like Cheez Whiz.
  3. What if I want the attributes listed in the text, but not all of the attributes displayed in the accompanying photo? I certainly want “a mysterious and sensitive soul that stares straight into mine…” but that stare comes with some pretty tacky earrings. And that “smile that makes me weak in the knees” sounds fantastic but, well, he’s wearing a mustard-yellow turtleneck sweater. Honey, you can’t wear mustard yellow — it washes me out.
  4. There are only three choices per page: hair, eyes, and mouth. So, I can create a boyfriend who has “a gentle wave of soft, dark, luxurious locks…Playful hazel eyes that say ‘let’s try something new’…And a strong, chiseled jaw…Sigh.” But, what if I want eyes that say “let’s try something new” and also “might get me into trouble”? I mean, who knows what this “something new” is? With only three options per page, my choices for distinct characteristics are incredibly limited. Yes, Build a Boyfriend, I want my Cutest Guy Ever to have “lips so soft I wonder if they are actually there when we kiss” but I also want him to have “a smile that could melt a thousand hearts (including mine).” Let’s fix this, shall we? I propose MORE die-cuts. Or perhaps transparent pages with text so I can layer attributes. But, oh no, this is going to lead to far more options than 1,728…
  5. And, finally, my Cutest Guy Ever has a very serious problem: none of his parts match up. His red hair and barely-there beard are way too big for his trim face. I’m worried about him. How does that thin face support such a giant forehead? Why are his cheeks so sunken in? Is he going to make it? Don’t make me choose again, Build a Boyfriend — I’ve already spent my entire work day finding a perfect guy.

 build a boyfriend 2build a boyfriend 1
This spiral-bound activity book comes out in May, at which point you, too, can spend a significant amount of your time finding true aesthetic perfection. That is, as long as it can be found in the 1,728 options given. If not, well, I guess you’re just out of luck. Better option? Give it to the young readers in your life — they’re much more malleable and, now that they’ve been taken out of school, have way more time to decide.

(Oh, and if you can’t wait until May, there’s a Build a Boyfriend Instagram!)

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20. Week in Review, February 2nd-6th

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

ALA coverage roundup

ALA Awards 2015: Horn Book reviews of the winners

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: “What Makes a Good Acceptance Speech?”

Calling Caldecott:

Read Roger: “One for YOU, and one for YOU, and one for YOU, and one for YOU…”: how many honor books is too many?

Lolly’s Classroom: “Youth Media Awards and teachers”

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger: Goodbye, George“: Roger remembers publisher extraordinaire George Nicholson, who passed away this week

Out of the Box:

Events calendar

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to keep up-to-date on our articles!

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21. Bad company

Conspiracy theory or everyday life? These new YA novels — three thrillers and one dark comedy — star teen protagonists finding their places in worlds manipulated by not-so-scrupulous corporations.

myers_on a clear dayWalter Dean Myers’s posthumously published On a Clear Day takes place in 2035. The Central Eight (C-8) companies rule everything, enriching themselves while the rest of society suffers. Millions are starving, schools have closed, and everyone seems to ignore the collateral damage caused by the seductive “marvelous gadgets” the companies sell. Hope lies in small bands of resistance such as the one joined by sixteen-year-old math whiz Dahlia Grillo. Dahlia is an appealing protagonist in a troubling world not far removed from our own. (Crown, 14 years and up)

bacigalupi_doubt factoryMoses Cruz, leader of a diverse group of orphan teens, has targeted Alix Banks in order to destroy his real objective: her father, whose PR firm defends harmful products sold by Fortune 500 companies. Moses shatters Alix’s sheltered, privileged existence — stalking and kidnapping her — in hopes that she’ll help expose her father’s corruption. In his compelling thriller The Doubt Factory, Paolo Bacigalupi excels at creating two fully rounded narrators: Alix, who transforms from naive rich-girl to activist, and Moses, enigmatic, dangerous, yet somehow likable. (Little, Brown, 14 years and up)

rubin_denton little's death dateIn seventeen-year-old Denton’s world, AstroThanatoGenetics makes it possible — and the U.S. government makes it mandatory — to know the date of a person’s death at the time of their birth. On the morning of his funeral, Denton wakes up in his best friend’s sister’s bed, unsure of whether he’s cheated on his girlfriend. He then spends his deathdate (also the day of his senior prom) wondering how he’ll go — and there are plenty of possibilities. Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin has dark humor in spades, plus fully developed relationships and a mystery that will keep pages turning. (Knopf, 14 years and up)

lippert-martin_tabula rasaIn Kristen Lippert-Martin’s Tabula Rasa, Sarah is one of several young patients in a remote state-of-the-art hospital, living in isolation while doctors surgically remove their memories. Before her final treatment can be completed — and after Sarah has taken a covertly delivered pill that may release her damaged memories — soldiers attack the hospital, killing patients and doctors alike. Sarah taps into a forgotten cache of strength, agility, and tactical instinct to evade the intruders, but to escape the hospital she must ally herself with friendly-but-cagey hacker Thomas. Mysteries stack upon mysteries in this gripping, multifaceted thriller. (Egmont, 12–16 years)

From the February 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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22. ABC, easy as 123

Who says ABC books are just for babies? Why can’t you mix up some colors using just your finger, no paint? The following concept books defy conventions — and expectations.

tullet_mix it upIn Mix It Up!, Hervé Tullet follows the same format as in his hugely entertaining Press Here, but this time the play is focused on colors and what happens when you mix them. Children are directed to press on color splotches or to shake or tilt the book to make the colors “mix” or “run.” Turn the pages to see the results. For example, “If you rub the two colors [red and blue] together really hard…then what happens?” (Page-turn: purple!) Lots of fun, with no messy cleanup. (Chronicle/Handprint, 2–5 years)

carter_b is for boxThat bright, friendly cube from David A. Carter’s The Happy Little Yellow Box: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites is back in B Is for Box: The Happy Little Yellow Box. This time it’s taking a trip through the alphabet, encouraging children to use pull-tabs, lift-the-flaps, and other interactive features every step of the way. The white text and chalklike drawings on black backgrounds introduce multiple upper- and lowercase letters per page. The bold color contrasts and carefully engineered surprises make for a high-energy alphabet book. (Little Simon, 2–5 years)

jeffers_once-upon-an-alphabetEach letter of the alphabet gets its own little four-page story in Oliver Jeffers’s Once Upon an Alphabet. The tales are clever, silly, and thought-provoking; some of them overlap, with characters making their way in and out of one another’s stories. Jeffers’s loose-lined illustrations include lots of visual humor that will appeal to older children who already know their ABCs but can still appreciate a good alphabet book. (Philomel, 5–8 years)

ramstein_before afterThe wordless Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Arégui presents before-and-after sequences: night to day, acorn to oak tree, etc. As the book progresses, some of the sequences become longer (sheep to wool to knitting to sweater), as simple transitions make way for more complex or philosophical ones. Clean, subdued-palette digital illustrations help pave the way for thoughtful discussion. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)

From the February 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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23. Five questions for Lucy Cousins

lucycousinsIf you know any little girls named Maisy (or Tallulah; or, for that matter, any little boys named Cyril), chances are good that it’s because of Lucy Cousins. Her indomitable little-girl-mouse is beloved by toddlers and their grownups the world over, making Cousins one proud mama.

1. Your latest Maisy book — Count with Maisy, Cheep, Cheep, Cheep! (Candlewick, 2–5 years) — is a large-format, lift-the-flap book. You’ve also done Maisy board books, hardcovers, cloth books, Maisy First Science and Arts-and-Crafts books, books with stickers, etc., etc. How do you decide? Does form follow content?

LC: I like to try out any new ideas for Maisy that I can think of. Maybe it’s because she is quite a graphic character, she seems to work well in many different formats. Because the age range for Maisy is so wide, from a young baby who is just grasping things and looking intently to a child who enjoys stories and details, it means there is such a variety of book styles to create. A chunky book is great for a tiny child who might put the book in the mouth and drop it on the floor, whereas an older child will enjoy sitting quietly and studying the pictures and following a story. Whatever the age, I like there to be a choice of Maisy books, some just for fun, some for learning, some for stories. So I aim to create pictures and ideas or stories that are relevant to the format of the book.

2. You’ve introduced American children to some unusual-to-them names (Maisy, for one; also Tallulah, which is very cute to hear toddlers try to say!). How do you name your characters?

LC: I find naming characters a very difficult thing. I have a few dictionaries of names, which are usually for naming babies, and initially go through all the names starting with the same letter as the animal I’m trying to name. Or I think of names that sound nice phonetically. When I named Maisy, the name was familiar, but only really used by people of my grandparents’ generation. I just loved the sound of it, a soft and friendly name. Now it has become quite a popular name, and I sometimes meet children called Maisy and Tallulah when I am signing books. I was quite excited when my son came home after his first term at university and told us that his new girlfriend’s name is… Tallulah!

cousins_count with maisy cheep cheep cheep3. You’re well known for your work in those bright, bold colors. Have you done work in other styles, or using different media?

LC: I developed my style of illustration using bright blocks of color and a bold black outline while I was studying at art college. It feels very comfortable and natural to paint like that, so I enjoy mostly working in that style. Occasionally I have tried a slightly different approach. For example, my book I’m the Best (Candlewick, 2–5 years) was created with colored inks and a chunky graphite pencil. In the early days of Maisy, I had quite a lot of creative input into the developing of the TV series and merchandising, and I enjoyed working in those different mediums. I love doing creative things for fun, almost anything, from pottery to photography to knitting. But life has been so busy bringing up my four children and creating my books, that I haven’t had much time for experimenting.

4. Maisy is a toddler icon. Do you hear much from nostalgic ten-year-olds?

LC: Yes, it’s always lovely to hear memories of people enjoying Maisy. Especially from six-foot-tall teenage friends of my children. Parents sometimes tell me heartwarming stories about how a Maisy book has been very special to their child during a difficult time, like a hospital visit, or starting a new nursery school. I work in a solitary way, for weeks and months on my books, and sometimes it can be quite a struggle, so it means a lot when I hear about a child who loves Maisy.

5. Following Hello Kitty-gate, do you think of your character as a girl-sized mouse? Or a mouse-shaped girl? Or neither?

LC: I have to say that it is not something I think about, or am inclined to try and understand. For me, she is just Maisy, in Maisy’s world, and it’s completely separate from our world. When I did the very first drawing of Maisy about twenty-five years ago, I could picture her character and her world, and it’s always seemed to me that it’s best not to question that vision. If I start to think about why she is a mouse who behaves like a child, has no parents or family, can do things only adults can do, and is completely independent, it all seems rather confusing. Even her sex is rather ambiguous to me. She is officially a female, but that is a very unimportant part of who she is. She likes wearing trousers and mucking out pigs as much as dancing and baking.  So, Maisy is just Maisy. Simple.

From the February 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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24. Review of Count with Maisy, Cheep, Cheep, Cheep!

cousins_count with maisy cheep cheep cheepCount with Maisy, Cheep, Cheep, Cheep!
by Lucy Cousins; illus. by the author
Preschool   Candlewick   32 pp.
2/15   978-0-7636-7643-8   $15.99   g

Maisy helps Mommy Hen track down her ten little chicks in time for bed. Starting at the stable, they make their way around the farm (“Are there any chicks in the trailer? Or in the tractor? Are there any chicks in the apple tree?”), picking up the little ones as they go. The last chick proves somewhat elusive (spoiler alert: it’s not behind the flour sack, in the wheelbarrow, behind the beehive, or in the watering can), but by book’s end, everyone is accounted for, and the chickens all snuggle into their coop for some zzzs. It’s the simplest of concept books, but well executed. Large pages, friendly illustrations, old friends (Cyril, Charlie, Eddie, etc.), lots of white space, engaging flaps, cute hiding places, clearly labeled numerals, and a very simple story line — but there is one — all play very nicely together.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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25. Books mentioned in the February 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book

Five questions for Lucy Cousins
Count with Maisy, Cheep, Cheep, Cheep! by Lucy Cousins, Candlewick, 2–5 years.
I’m the Best by Lucy Cousins, Candlewick, 2–5 years.

ABC, easy as 123

Mix It Up! by Herve Tullét, Chronicle, 2–5 years.
Press Here by Herve Tullét, Handprint/Chronicle, 2–5 years.
The Happy Little Yellow Box: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites by David A. Carter, Little Simon, 2–5 years.
B Is for Box: The Happy Little Yellow Box by David A. Carter, Little Simon, 2–5 years.
Once Upon an Alphabet: Stories for Each Letter by Oliver Jeffers, Philomel, 5–8 years.
Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthais Aregui, Candlewick, 5–8 years.

Be-bop-a-skoodley!
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryne Russell-Brown, illus. by Frank Morrison, Lee & Low, 5–8 years.
Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Raúl Colón, Knopf, 5–8 years.
Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan, illus. by John Holyfield, Amistad/HarperCollins, 5–8 years.
Bird & Diz by Gary Golio, illus. by Ed Young, Candlewick, 5–8 years.

(Not-so) long ago or far away
Bo at Iditarod Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill, illus. by LeUyen Pham, Holt, 8–12 years.
Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill, illus. by LeUyen Pham, Holt, 8–12 years.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Dial, 8–12 years.
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper, Atheneum, 8–12 years.
The Paper Cowboy by Kristin Levine, Putnam, 8–12 years.

Bad company
On a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers, Crown, 14 years and up.
The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi, Little, Brown, 14 years and up.
Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin, Knopf, 14 years and up.
Tabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin, Egmont, 12–14 years.

These titles were featured in the February 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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