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A Teen and Tween Librarian's thoughts on books, reading and adventures in the library.
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Each day I walk into the library, I get to look forward to something new. While the general routine may be the same each day holds something different. I never know what questions I'm going to be asked and I love that! Here's what my day looked like today:
8:20- arrive at work, go through opening procedures for department
8:35-gather story time books and music
8:40-check in with M about plan for the day, what needs to be done
8:45-set up story time. Since I was doing back to back story times, I decided to do all sings and dancing without any crafts or activities to make the set up easier
9:05-check email, respond to messages that need answers right away, email manager about an upcoming staff meeting
9:15-on desk, youth services coordinator visits department to get feedback about sumner reading program, branch manager stops by to get stickers fir an outreach visit, sign up for upcoming staff training
9:30-P arrives for shift. We talk about the May schedule and I make adjustments to the schedule
10:00-time for toddler story time! The Freeze Dance and playing with the parachute were the kids favorite parts of story time
10:50-set up story hour room for preschool story time, adjust music I need for my preschool group.
11:00-this us only my third week back from maternity leave, so I'm still seeing lots of my regular patrons for the first time since I've been back. I got to catch up with one if my story time families and talk books and movies which is always fun!
11:15-preschool story time. I ended up reading the same books (Dance With Me, If You're A Monster and You Know It, and From Head to Toe) but I added longer songs. I included Greg and Steve's Listen and Move-one of my favorites! The kids loved it!
11:45-clean up story time and put books in bin for a repeat of my story time plan on Friday
12:05-rove through the teen department, take DVD cases up front to the circulation department, check mail, visit youth services coordinator to talk about purchasing a new diecut for our machine to use for summer reading, catch up with C when she arrives for the afternoon and talk about the schedule and email it out to staff, reply to emails
1:30-3:00-supervisor training webinar
3:00-visit teen department then head back to children's department after training, catch up with staff about what's been happening, make list of what to talk to branch manager about during meeting tomorrow, answer questions at desk and help patrons, update calendar with meetings and schedule for May, swap story times with M for next week and adjust the schedule (there is always so much to do with the schedule!!!)
4:20-answer questions at desk, visit teen department, straighten up department, organize desk for tomorrow, make to do list for tomorrow, one last email check
Sarah Albee writes nonfiction for middle grade readers. She is the author of Poop Happened and Bugged. You can find her online at: http://www.sarahalbeebooks.com/
I write nonfiction for middle graders, and my mission is to get kids who’ve been traumatized by deadly-dull social studies textbooks to unthink that they hate history. One tactic I use is to select a subject kids will be interested in—be it sanitation, insects, clothing, disease, poison—and trace it chronologically through history. I feel an obligation to entertain them, to astonish them, to make them laugh. After all, they could be reading fiction. I want them to see that history is full of conflict, tension, controversy, emotion, drama. Humorous writing does not equal unserious writing. Some of my favorite adult writers – Mary Roach, May Berenbaum, Stephen Jay Gould--are serious scholars and hilarious writers. Most of my favorite middle school history writers are that, too. They understand that to snag the interest of a middle school kid, to expect her to pick up a nonfiction book that hasn’t been assigned to her, it’s our job to make it irresistible. How? Through the use of humor, offbeat topics, engrossing stories, and lots of fascinating—or disgusting, or lurid--details. Here are some of my favorites, new and backlist, that may help change kids’ minds about history. How They Choked by Georgia Bragg (Walker, May, 2014) A delightful follow-up to her wickedly-wonderful How They Croaked (Walker, 2011), both of which are enhanced by Kevin O’Malley’s evilly-funny illustrations. Bragg combines humor with impressive research, as she recounts stories of famous flawed figures and their fabulous fiascoes. As she points out in her intro, “sometimes historians lose sight of the fact that their subjects were human beings. Real people make mistakes (even historians).” The Raucous Royals Test your Royal Wits: Crack Codes, Solve Mysteries, and Deduce Which Royal Rumors are True written and illustrated by Carlyn Beccia (HMH 2008) Beccia’s biographies of twelve European rulers are funny, fascinating, and thoroughly-researched. She’s a hilarious writer (check out her blog here). http://www.raucousroyals.com/ Her breezy, conversational style engages readers and invites them to be active participants, to recognize that contemporary sources can be unreliable, to learn to interpret biases and sort out facts from rumors. It’s an excellent mentor text for helping kids “identify author’s point of view and purpose.” Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures that May or May Not Existby Kelly Milner Halls, Rick Spears, and Roxyanne Young (Millbrook Press, 2006) For kids fascinated by cryptozoology (and I know many), this book gives evidence for and against mythical monsters like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and Champ, as well as examining confirmed real-life monsters like giant squids and the coelacanth. The authors present eyewitness accounts, blurry photos, and speculative reconstructed models. They include interviews with experts on both sides of the argument, and discuss famous hoaxes. “For Further Investigation” provides websites and sources for curious kids interested in following up. Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of Trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers by Brandon Marie Miller (Chicago Review Press, 2013) Miller profiles 16 women of the western US, and every story sucks you in with electrifying details and masterful storytelling. Kids will love the gritty, gripping accounts of life on the frontier, liberally interspersed with fascinating excerpts from letters and diaries and other primary sources. Miller’s unflinching accounts of the horrors of privation, insects, disease, and, yes, laundry—make every story a page-turner. Lives of the Explorers by Kathleen Krull (HMH, August 2014) I am a big fan of all of Krull’s Lives of… books and can’t wait for this one!
Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, and Other Female Villains by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple (Charlesbridge, 2013)
I love the sound of this book for its approach to the lives of some of the baddest (or possibly just misunderstood or misguided) women in history. As Booklist’s reviewer put it, “ . . . both an introduction and afterword focus on how history changes its opinion on people’s actions, the way history’s winners get the glory, and whether circumstances shape events more than personalities do.” Plus it’s got an awesome cover.
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I'm over at the ALSC Blog today talking about some of my favorite librarians in literature. Join me and tell me who some of your fictional librarians are!
I'm over at The Nerdy Book Club
talking about a few of my favorite middle grade reads! Come check it out!
I'm excited to reveal the cover of Shattered by Mari Mancusi, the sequel to Scorched.
And check out Mari Mancusi's blog for a very special giveaway of a dragon egg pendant:
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Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Contemporary/Greek Mythology
Release Date: 3/11/2014
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Haden Lord is a prince of the Underrealm-but he's a disgrace to his father and the court. It comes as a surprise when Haden is chosen by the oracle as the new Champion-the one to cross through Persephone's gate in order to bring back the latest boon. Only Haden's quest is different. His chosen girl, Daphne Raines, isn't an ordinary boon-she's the cypher and could be the key to restore immortality to the Underrealm. Haden goes undercover at Olympus Hills High School and has six months to return with Daphne. But fate has other plans as Daphne and Haden uncover more secrets about the Underrealm and their destiny.GreenBeanTeenQueen Says:
I really love stories based on Greek Mythology, so when I first heard about Into the Dark
I was excited but wary. The Persephone myth seems like a popular trend right now in YA and I wasn't sure how yet another offering of the story would measure up. I was not disappointed as Into the Dark
has a fresh, unique take. It may be inspired by the myth of Persephone, but the story is original take on the myth of Persephone as a launching point for a new tale about the Underrealm.
At first glance, it might seem like another girl meets boy with supernatural powers romance. But don't let first impressions deceive you. Yes there's romance between Haden and Daphne, but it's not insta-love. It's a relationship that's brewing all throughout the novel as the two spend time together and get to know each other. Haden isn't a brooding, mysterious lead. Instead he's somewhat awkward as he's trying to navigate a human world he doesn't understand. He's from the Underrealm and his lessons about humans are dated at times so his language and manners are a bit stiff as he tries to figure out how to communicate with Daphne. I found this aspect of Haden actually charming and funny at times. Sometimes his mannerisms reminded me of a cross between Sheldon Cooper and Data from Star Trek which is kind of an odd statement about a romantic lead I know but I found it endearing.
Daphne is a strong character who is independent-and not about to be swept off her feet by a mysterious stranger. Daphne and Haden don't have a "meet cute" moment. In fact Haden messes up their first meeting pretty badly and ends up getting punched in the face-not your typical love at first sight moment which I appreciated. Daphne wants to make her own choices about her future and Haden wants her to as well instead of trying to control her or decide her future for her. And there's no love triangle-yay!!!
The cast of supporting characters is well rounded and not just stock sidekicks and best friends. They are all involved in the future of the Underrealm-even if they don't realize it. Both Daphne and Haden have characters around them but they are all woven into the story together. The story is mainly about Daphne and Haden but there are rich subplots with Daphne's new friend Tobin determined to find his missing sister and Daphne's estranged father wanting to make up for lost time. I really enjoyed the layered plot and how all the stories and characters tied together. I felt it made the novel have more of a mystery feel than just romance. There are lots of twists and while some things were a bit predictable, I was still pleasantly surprised by others.
This is the first in a series and while there are still many unanswered questions at the end, I didn't feel as though I was led hanging. The book had a good conclusion that left me satisfied while still eager for more. A great start to a new series perfect for fans of mythology.
Full Disclosure: reviewed from egalley from publisher
I am so excited to be part of the tour of Bree Despain's new book, The Shadow Prince. This is the start to a great new series, Into rhe Dark, which is inspired by the Persephone myth.
As a librarian, I always love to hear from authors about their library experiences. After reading about Bree's, I'm sure we're kindred spirits. I love her story of a remolded library and how far she'd go for the book she wanted!
And be sure to check out the other spots on the tour!
Some of my fondest memories are of making new discoveries in libraries. One of my earliest childhood recollections is of the story-time room in my little local library. I remember getting to pick out my own carpet square and look at the rainbow colors on the walls while one of the librarians read from books like Chicken Soup With Rice and Where The Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak was always my favorite) and then begging my mom to let me search the aisles of books to discover something new to borrow. I remember when my library got a computerized cataloging system for the first time (wow, that makes me feel old) and I’d sit in front of the kiosks, entering the names of famous people, subjects, and authors, and being amazed by the lists of books that would pop up in front of my eyes. (Can you tell I was the kind of kid who would read the dictionary for fun?)
At the time, I had no idea how publishing worked. The way books were made was a mystery to me, and authors didn’t seem like real people at all. They were magical as far as I was concerned. I didn’t know that I wanted to be an author yet, but I still daydreamed about being able to type my own name into the computer catalog and find a list of books either by me or about me. How cool would it be to know that I had left a piece of myself behind for someone else to discover?
When I was in middle school, I found YA books for the first time in the shelves of the library’s used book sale. YA wasn’t very much of thing when I was a teen (remember, I’m old) and I was intrigued to find a book that seemed like it was written just for me. I bought it for fifty cents and took it home—and became obsessed. I spent the next few years searching the shelves of my little library to find more books like that, and then sharing them with my younger sister.
Then I went off to college and walked into my university’s massive library for the first time and discovered that there was more than the hundreds of books I’d had at my disposals as a kid—there were now hundreds of thousands of them. I remember walking up and down the aisles and aisles of books and wondering if I ever wrote a book how anyone in the world would ever find it among all the others?
Discovering books in that seemingly endless library became quite the unexpected adventure. At the time I was obsessed with the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters—a series of books about a family of archeologists who solve mysteries in Victorian/Edwardian Egypt. I remember asking a librarian for help to find the next book in the series, and her replying, “How badly do you want it?” I blinked at her and said “desperately.” That’s when she said, “You’ll need these,” and handed me a flashlight and a hardhat. As it turned out, the library was under going renovations (to become even bigger!) and the floor with the book I wanted was under construction. With no electricity, I had to use the little flashlight and crawl under what felt like miles of plastic sheeting in the dark, between looming shelves, to find the book. I felt like an archeologist myself, searching for hidden treasure. I have to admit, it was kind of scary experience, but undaunted, I returned week after week to go crawling through the dust and the dark for the next books in that series. I always wondered if someone out there would be willing to do the same to find a book that I had written.
Years later, when I was a new mother and young writer, I would take my toddler son to the new Salt Lake City library for story time. I’d help him pick out his own carpet square and listen to the librarian read books like Chicken Soup With Rice and Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak was always his favorite) and then we’d brave the glass elevators (I’m afraid of heights) to go up to the YA section where I would check out books for myself by Meg Cabot and Laurie Halse Anderson—throwing in a few “how to get published” guides—and daydream about entering my own name in the computer catalog system and showing my son my list of books.
A few years later, I sold my first book, and a year after that it hit the bookshelves. Now I had two sons, and took them to our local library with the hopes of finding my name in the computer catalog. Maybe we would even see it on a shelf. I held my breath, not knowing what I would discover when I entered my name. And then it happened, the thing I had been daydreaming about since I was kid: a book by me appeared on the screen. But the library didn’t have my book—because all the copies had been checked out. And not only that, it had more than sixty holds on it. People—lots of people—had discovered my book among all the others. I burst into tears in the middle of the library and my kids thought I was total nut-ball, but they let me cry and point at my name on the screen until they pulled me away, begging to search through the aisles of books to discover something new for themselves.
With the publication of The Shadow Prince last month, my list of books in the library catalog has grown to four—and looking up my own name to see if others have discovered them never ever gets old.
Want to win a copy of The Shadow Prince? Leave a comment below with your own library memory.
-US or Canada address only
-one entry per person
-ends April 8
-giveaway thanks to Egmont USA
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Rating: 5/5 Stars
Release Date: 4/1/2014
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A. J. Fikry is the curmudgeonly owner of a small bookstore on Alice Island. Since his wife died, A. J. has been isolating himself from everyone on the island, his bookstore isn't making much money, and now his prized book of rare Poe poems has been stolen. But things take an unexpected turn when a special package arrives at the bookstore. It's a mysterious package that gives A. J. a new outlook and second chances.GreenBeanTeenQueen Says:
Every once in awhile a book comes along that is so special and delightful and wonderful that you just want to hold it close and sigh with happiness as you read it. And The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
is one of those books for me-and I think it will be that type of special book for book lovers, avid readers, librarians, and storytellers. At the center of the novel is books-how they can change our lives, how they connect people who might not otherwise come together, and how sharing them can give us insight to those around us.
I read The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
during middle of the night feedings with my newborn son. You know you've found a very special and wonderful book when you find yourself wanting to stay up a little bit more just so you can read a few more pages-even when you're very sleep deprived! I was already a fan of Gabrielle Zevin before this novel, but this book solidified my fandom even more. She's not just a writer, but a reader and that comes across in her understanding of the book world and how she writes about A. J. and those around him. This book made me wish I could own an island bookstore someday-and made me glad that I work with books and that part of my job as a librarian is helping people discover books to read.
It's hard to talk about this book without saying too much about the plot because it's best to leave the plot as a surprise. I think it makes the story more of a treat for the reader if you don't know much about the story other than it's an utter delight. If you are a book lover, this book is for you. The inner workings of a bookstore will resonate with those who work in the book world on a daily basis and the commentary of how much loving books and reading can impact your life will be sure to have readers nodding their heads in agreement.
The way the characters talk about reading, books, and life is spot on. This book gave me one of my new favorite questions to ponder-"if you had to eat at a restaurant themed after a work of fiction, what would you choose?"
A delightful book that you should pick up immediately-but make sure you've cleared your day first because you want to stop reading.Full Disclosure: Reviewed from egalley sent by publisher on Netgalley
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Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Alternate History/Fantasy
Release Date: 4/1/2014
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: Aelwyn Myrddn is returning the palace after four years away in Avalon. She is the daughter of the Head Merlin and will serve the kingdom and her childhood friend Princess Marie and the Franco-British Empire with her magic. In order to secure peace with Prussia, Marie is to marry Prince Leopold, but she has no desire to rule.
Leopold was previously engaged to Isabelle, but that engagement is dissolving and Isabelle is determined to keep Leopold for herself-she needs an escape from her awful cousin and guardian. Leopold's brother, Wolf, is reckless and rebellious and an embarrassment to the kingdom. Ronan Astor is traveling to London for the season to catch a rich titled bachelor to save her family's wealth.
Aelwyn and Marie find themselves caught between duty to the kingdom and dreams of a different life. So when they devise a plan that could grant their wishes for the future, will they follow their heads or hearts?
GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: The Ring and the Crown reminded me of The Luxe Series with magic. The story is set in an alternate turn of the century where magic can equal power. The main story revolves around Marie and her impending peace keeping engagement to Leopold, but there are many characters in play making this a wide cast of characters all looking for their own perfect path.
At first the many plot lines and characters don't seem to connect, but as the story continues, everyone's path crosses and the stories begin to intertwine.
I would describe this book as fantasy light. While there's a magical system in play, we never get much backstory of how it works. We're offered some glimpses, but there are few rules set forth. It's set in an alternate history which means the author can get away with a lot because it's not true history, I didn't have a problem with the alternate history timeline and enjoyed it, despite the fact that little is explained of the kingdoms. The world doesn't come with many details. There's not a lot of in depth world-building and the characters are interesting enough but I'm not sure they have much depth to them.
Despite the light character development and world-building, I really enjoyed The Ring and the Crown. It's a fun, escapist pleasure that filled my desire for a quick read. I especially liked that the story didn't follow the typical path you would expect and while somewhat predictable, I liked that it wasn't too much of a formulaic romance. The happy ending isn't the typical romance happy ending but I still felt very satisfied with the way things turned out and it felt true to the characters. There were some major plot points that were brushed over very quickly in the end in what felt like an "oh by the way, here's a quick explanation about that" way. I would have liked more details, but it was still fun.
I would give this one to your readers looking for a gossipy read with a Downton Abbey feel. If they want magic, romance, duty, honor, royalty, titles, money and power all wrapped up in a juicy historical bow, this title would be perfect.
Full Disclosure: Reviewed from e-galley received from publisher.
Book pairings: The Luxe by Anna Godberson (for gossipy historical romance),The Diviners by Libba Bray (for sweeping large casts and history and magic)
Why I Love Upper Middle Grade Stories
Natalie Aguirre is an aspiring middle grade and YA fantasy writer. She’s an attorney by day, a wife, and a mother of one child. She blogs at Literary Rambles and interviews mostly debut and/or middle grade authors, spotlighting their books with ARC or book giveaways on Mondays and some Wednesdays. You can also follow her on Twitter @NatalieIAguirre or on Facebook.
I’m a huge fan of upper middle grade stories because they’re usually very plot driven, have great main characters and voices, move the story along quickly, and often have sweet romances that don’t overtake the plot. And middle grade is such a fantastic time for kids to get excited about reading before the demands of homework, sports, and other activities often sadly make it harder for high school kids to find time to read for pleasure. Good upper grade books help kids make the leap from shorter novels to longer, more in depth ones.
I thought I’d share a few of my favorites and tell you a bit about why I think they work so well.
Like many adults and kids, one of my favorites is the Harry Potter series. It has such amazing characters, a fantastic world, magic, mysteries, danger, and the typical relationship issues between middle grade kids. This is an amazing series that inspires kids in grade school and middle school to tackle those larger middle grade books.
The Percy Jackson series is another favorite of mine that has the same great features as the Harry Potter series. Plus the Greek and Roman mythological add a unique dimension to the story. This is another one that encourages kids to take the plunge on longer books. My daughter and her friends loved this in grade school and she read it multiple times over her middle grade years.
Because both of these series are so popular, the series are much longer than the typical three book trilogy. So the characters grow into YA characters with the readers so kids (and adults) can continue the series. Yet, like most middle grade series, the romance is sweet and complicated, but doesn’t overshadow the plot.
I don’t read much contemporary but there are two contemporary novels with a touch of magical realism that are favorites of mine. First, I love SEEING CINDERELLA by Jenny Lundquist. Jenny does an amazing job nailing middle grade life. Callie faces all the issues of middle grade like fitting in, changing friendships, and boy crushes. Then she gets these huge, geeky glasses giving her the power to read peoples’ thoughts. This is a fantastic story that transported me back to middle school. I could so relate to Callie’s issues of not fitting in and wore glasses like her. Wish mine had been magical. And I think lots of kids who aren’t in the popular crowd can relate to it too.
The next one is A SNICKER OF MAGIC by Natalie Lloyd that was just released the end of February. Twelve-year-old Felicity moves to Midnight Gulch, a fantastic small Southern town that’s lost its magic, with her roaming mom. She sees words everywhere and with her friend Jonas tries to find her own and the town’s magic in a desperate attempt to get her mother to finally stay in one place. Felicity, Jonah, and all the other characters in the story are so well developed with fantastic voices that you can’t help loving them. And Midnight Gulch
is a rich, vivid setting for the story. This is one of my favorite debut stories this year.
Finally, I’m totally in love with THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer Nielsen. I nominated this for the Cybils last year and was thrilled it won. It so reminded me of Megan Whalen Turner’s THE QUEEN’S THIEF series with all the political intrigue, deceit, and the main character Sage, a totally self-assured guy who’s resourceful and never afraid to speak his mind. Sage’s voice is fantastic and the story is filled with plenty of action, danger, and plot twists. And there is a bit of romance that begins in this book that continues throughout the series. But again, it’s sweet and low key. The two other books in the series, THE RUNAWAY KING and THE SHADOW THRONE (just newly released) take the story in great directions and end in a way I found really satisfying. I can’t wait to read Jennifer’s next series.
So these are some of my favorite middle grade books. What are your favorites and why?
It's the first day of Spring-hopefully Spring is coming soon! To celebrate, here's a special So You Want to Read Middle Grade post all about natural magic.
Julia Mary Gibson’s novel Copper Magic has grandmothers in it, and a girl who believes she needs magic. Visit juliamarygibson.com to find out more, or follow her on Twitter @juliamarygibson.
NATURAL MAGIC AND THE GRANDMOTHERS
Growing up, my summers were spent in the woods. Our woods weren’t very wild (no bears, no way of getting lost), but there were plenty of fern shadows and shafts of magical sunlight and mossy places that my grandmother said fairies might visit if we left a crumb of sponge cake for them. To me, magic lived in the wind and tangled roots and completely existed. And so my favorite books were about feasible magic, believable magic, the magic of natural law. Of course there could be borrowers like Arrietty Clock beneath our floor. Of course there could be a way into Narnia if one happened to stumble into the right wardrobe.
Maybe because my own grandmother was a gatherer of wild plants with ESP who claimed familiarity with mystical realms, I resonated with the powerful magical females featured in stories about natural magic. Too often in fairy tales, the ancient crone is a destroyer, an eater of children, a feared outcast. Baba Yaga thrilled me, but I got solace and affirmation from the stories where the old lady wisdomkeeper is a conduit to animals, elements, and the departed ancestors.
Some of these books are mainstays, read and reread tens of times as an alienated teenager and into adulthood. Others came into my life more recently. Most of them can be enjoyed by anyone over eight or ten.
The Mary Poppins books by P.L. Travers.
Mary Poppins is a world renewal practitioner who maintains relationships with various sky beings – birds, stars, the Sun. She may look young, but she’s an ageless confederate of the cosmic crones who keep the universe in order: the Bird Woman ministering to the feathered ones, Mrs. Corry keeping plenty of stars in the sky, the Balloon Woman reminding us to know ourselves.
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald.
There are twisted, thwarted beings in the world like goblins, and there are protectors, guides, and healers like the princess Irene’s grandmother, ancient and ageless, with her rose-scented fire and her messenger pigeons. The princess Irene and the miner Curdie are courageous and steadfast like the fairy-tale characters that they are, but they have human weaknesses too. The goblins are both funny and scary, and it stands to reason that they exist – why wouldn’t beings become grotesque after generations underground in the darkness of a mine?
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Nature is the fixer and unifier in this much-adapted classic. Unloved Mary and Colin create their own magical belief system and healing modality, with the assistance of animal steward Dickon. Dickon’s mother, Susan Sowerby, is the grandmother figure. Though she’s not technically a crone, her magically-numbered twelve children and elemental wisdom qualify her as a stand-in. Magic is in the bracing Yorkshire air, in Mrs. Sowerby’s nourishing buns and milk, in the unfurling leaves of the hidden garden, and in Mary’s brash honesty.
“The Cat that Walked by Himself,” from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.
One of the many great things about Kipling’s mythic creation stories is that they’re enjoyable at any age. The language is rich, the unfolding of events is masterful, the characters are simple yet complex. In this tale, the Woman makes the First Singing Magic in the world to tame animals and the slovenly Man. Only the Cat keeps some of his wildness, but he and the Woman both win the contest between them.
Gwinna by Barbara Helen Berger.
This is longer and more complicated than Berger’s wondrous picture books, but in the same transcendent vein. Gwinna is given to a childless couple by the Grandmother of the Owls. When Gwinna sprouts wings, her human foster mother binds them, but Gwinna is tasked with finding a lost song and uses her wings and the music well. Berger’s illustrations are as luminous as the story.
The Birchbark House; The Game of Silence; The Porcupine Year; Chickadee by Louise Erdrich.
Erdrich always leaves me breathless. Her writing for children is only very slightly less intricate and meaty than her books for grownup readers, and in this series she deftly braids family conflict, political and social upheaval, the quest for life purpose, adventure, tragedy, backstory, and cosmology with her trademark lyricism and humor. Young Omakayas is much like Laura in The Little House series – inquisitive, observant, capable - except she’s Anishinabe, not a white settler girl. Seven in the first book and a mother in the fourth, Omakayas is in relationship with earth bears and bear spirits. She learns healing and ceremonial arts from her grandmother Nokomis as the family is challenged by disease and dislocation. She has a second grandmotherly relationship, too – the venerable hunter and trapper Old Tallow, the shadow/yang side of Nokomis.
The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch.
Thirteen-year-old Miles is a Rachel Carson devotee and knows more than most people about the sea and its organisms. His findings of rare wonders might have a scientific explanation or might be messages from the deep. Miles’ compulsive beachcombing and knowledge-gathering is the way he contends with his rifting parents and his anguished crush on his compellingly messed-up former babysitter, a singer in a punkish band. The grandmother archetype is Miles’ crotchety neighbor, a self-proclaimed psychic who is rarely right except when it matters.
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Stephanie Smallwood is an Early Literacy Specialist Librarian (and an awesome co-worker of mine!)
Middle grade literature is the equivalent to getting a driver's license to young readers. So much practice for so long leads up to the freedom of finally being able to sit down with a book ALONE and read it. This is a critical moment for children, so much can go wrong at this point: the books can be too hard, too easy, too boring, too far from their comfort zone, too close to their comfort zone, they can fall in love with a book that a friend doesn't like, and so on. Some kids love the freedom, others are overwhelmed and unsure how to choose. So much pressure! What's a librarian/teacher/parent/caring individual to do? Exactly what we've been doing here, talking about different books so when the child that needs that book is in front of us we have something in our head to put in their hands. So, here are a few books that have been important to me, a couple that I remember from my youth, and three that are new.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry: I read this in fourth grade and remember the story sitting with me for weeks. I had already been reading lots of historical fiction, but this was the first book I read about World War II. Prior to this book, bad and scary things happened to people 'a long time ago,' but this was set in 1943, my mother was alive while events similar to these were taking place. That fact mixed with Lowry's frank style made this book a real eye-opener for me, it was the point where I began to understand that there was much more to the world than I realized and scary things didn't just happen in books.
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin: I remember the exact moment I put my hands on this book, I had just started seventh grade and was learning to use the 'big' library for the junior high and high school. I still didn't know my way around it and wasn't finding much I loved, but a paperback of the Westing Game was on display. I thought it looked strange, and the description didn't really sound like something I would like, but I checked it out anyway. And loved it. I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. reading this book with a flashlight and when I finished promptly started over. I thought the mystery and the puzzles were so smart, but looking back I think it was the character of Turtle that really resonated with my 12 year-old self. Turtle wasn't perfect, her family didn't get her and she was a bit rude at times, but she still had value, and not just because she could solve a mystery. I needed Turtle that year, and I've sometimes wondered if that high school librarian didn't somehow know that and put this book in front of me.
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes: This book is perfect in it's simplicity. Nothing huge, nothing overwhelming, but lots of things that kids this age think about. Is there something wrong with me? Is my teacher mad at me? Why is that other kid so mean? Henkes nails the average fears of children entering the big world of school and gives them the respect they deserve.
Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (series) by Maryrose Wood: I have been telling nearly everyone I know that they need to read these books. I haven't quite gotten to the point of putting them in people's hands and standing over them tapping my foot while they read them, but close. Full of smart wit, these books are generally described as a cross between Jane Eyre and Lemony Snicket, but I think they are in a class by themselves. Icing on the cake? 'Incorrigible' is just the beginning of the interesting vocabulary.
Wildwood by Colin Meloy -- Oh how I wish Wildwood had existed when I was ten and desperate to devour longer and more complicated books that were at my interest level! This is a story that a child can completely lose themselves in, the world-building is incredibly detailed and the illustrations (by Carson Ellis) lend just enough. This book is certainly not for everyone, it is long and slowly paced, but is ideal for the reader that wants to really get in to a fantasy.
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Hello to the lovely readers of Sarah’s blog! My name is Kelly Jensen, and I’m a blogger at Stacked, as well as Book Riot, and I’m running on the ballot for the 2016 Printz Committee. Sarah was generous enough to let me talk a little bit about some of my favorite Printz titles in her space today.
But rather than talk about my favorite winners, I thought it’d be fun to talk about some of my favorite honor titles. So here are three awesome Printz honor titles that if you haven’t checked out, you should.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
I was 13 when Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak came out. I don’t think I read it when I was 13, but I know I picked it up and read it when the library developed its first teen-only section and this was one of the books I found in it. I remember finding Melinda’s story and her voice haunting and chilling in equal measure.
It’s impressive that this was Anderson’s first novel. I think that the Printz committee’s decision to award it an honor was not only a good decision because the book deserved that recognition, but I think it helped solidify both the importance of this work and it helped pave the way for Anderson’s future works to be taken as seriously as they should be.
Speak isn’t a book people don’t know about. But Speak is perhaps one of those books that should be picked up and reread periodically, not just because of what it tackles, but also because it’s a well-written, thoughtfully-crafted, powerful book. It is a cornerstone of not just what realistic YA fiction is, but of what YA fiction looks like on a grander scale.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by AS King
Is this magical realism? I easily categorize King’s novels in that genre, but then I always step back and wonder if that’s a completely fair category in which to place them. Because everything here is real.
Except maybe the talking Pagoda. But maybe that Pagoda isn’t really talking. Maybe that’s all in Vera’s head. Grief does that to you, and since this is a novel about grief, it’s impossible to necessarily separate what’s really going on in Vera’s world with what she’s perceiving is going on in her world. Those things are muddied and confused and rendered brilliantly so. This is a novel about grief, and it’s a novel about how grief is confusing, challenging, painful, and sometimes means what you see and what you experience aren’t always real or maybe are realer than you could have ever imagined before a painful loss.
This certainly deserved its Printz recognition, if not for the excellent writing alone, but for the careful crafting of distinct multiple voices, as well as the creative risks. Though it tackles grief and the challenging nature of relationships more broadly, King’s book is also funny. It’s not maudlin in the least.
Stolen by Lucy Christopher
Christopher’s debut novel lands on my personal list of all-time YA favorites, and one of the biggest reasons is because it’s so divisive. This was a title up for consideration one of the years I served on the Cybils round one panel in YA fiction, and it easily developed the lengthiest chains of discussion among titles discussed any of the three years I served on Cybils.
What makes Stolen so divisive is precisely what makes it such an excellent, thought-provoking read. It’s a story about Stockholm Syndrome -- Gemma is abducted from an airport and taken to the Australian desert by a man named Ty. Written as a letter to Ty, Gemma’s emotions and thoughts about that experience, as well as her feelings to and towards Ty, twist and unravel simultaneously. She loves him and then she hates him. She wants to be close to him but then she wants to be as far away as possible. Gemma’s psychological trauma is evident in how she is unable to fully grasp the situation she was in. Though she’s writing from outside the event, it’s clear to readers that she’s not yet removed from her captivity.
Christopher builds excellent tension in this gulf between what Gemma says and what we as readers see and understand, and she’s also able to create discomfort in the reader, too, as it becomes less and less clear whether Ty is or isn’t a good guy -- we know, but through Gemma, that question hangs in the air and we keep wondering whether we, too, are experiencing the effects of Stockholm Syndrome.
This thriller was awarded the honor the same year that Please Ignore Vera Dietz earned an honor, as well as the same year that Nothing by Janne Teller did. 2009 was a great year for darkness, and the committee honored an array of titles that went to that place of discomfort in very different -- and meritorious -- ways. A couple of other Printz honor titles I really appreciate include E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks and Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Fate.
Kelly Jensen has worked as a teen and youth librarian in Illinois and Wisconsin since 2009, which is when she began blogging about books and reading at stackedbooks.org. She also writes at Book Riot (www.bookriot.com), and she's had her writing featured in VOYA Magazine, The Horn Book Magazine, School Library Journal, BlogHer, as well as The Huffington Post. She has a degree in English, writing, and psychology from Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and she earned her masters in information studies at the University of Texas in Austin. Her first book, The Real Deal: A VOYA Guide to Contemporary Fiction for Young Adult Readers will be published this summer by Voya Press.
Stepahnie Whelan is a children's librarian and blogs at http://shanshad1.wordpress.com/
When it comes to science fiction, let’s face it: the genre tends to get lost in amid more prolific genres on the middle grade shelves. Fantasy (which is often lumped together with science fiction) tends to overshadow the genre. There’s still quite a bit out there if you know where to look and what kind of science fiction you’re looking for.
The last few years we’re beginning to see an upswing in SF books for kids. The first half of my list are all titles that have been published within the last year.
1. The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore (Walker Books, 2013)
This is near-future or contemporary science fiction. One of the better books from last year, it is possible to imagine everything in the story has a fact-based explanation, but for the science fiction crowd, the possibilities also allow for other interpretations. The focus on scientific pursuits and exploration are key themes I love to see for kids. Nonfiction may give the what’s and where’s and how’s, but fiction gives kids the internal story, the why’s, so to speak. Fiction provides the inspiration and the mechanism for thinking about the future in terms of a readers’ own narrative.
2. Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman (Random House, 2013)
Last year also gave us this post apocalyptic futuristic tale. Set in a world where much of civilization has been destroyed by war, surviving communities do their best to invent and improve upon their lives. This isn’t a dystopian future exactly--the community is a positive and nurturing one--but it is one where survival is a lot more chancy and the environment is far from friendly. This is a great stepping stone story for younger science fiction readers to get their feet wet in the genre. Second book in the series will be out this year.
3. Jupiter Pirates: The Hunt for the Hydra by Jason Fry (HarperCollins, 2013)
Just out this past December, this is futuristic space adventure combined with piracy. There’s no reason science fiction can’t be a whole heap of fun! A family of privateers winds up on a mission to track down missing ships in unknown space. There’s battles, there’s treachery, there’s sibling rivalry! Readers who like a good adventure story in an imaginative and fairly positive future setting will enjoy this one.
4. The Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke (Disney/Hyperion, 2013)
From outer space to under the sea. In a dystopian future an oppressive government controls everyone on an increasingly infertile land. The only escape is the ocean. Our protagonists have been genetically altered so that they can survive and live under the water--but they’ll have to escape those hunting them first! A more mature read for those interested in dystopian stories of the future--first in a series.
5. Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown (Scholastic, 2013)
Graphic novels also have their share of science fiction stories. One of my two favorites from last year was this school story with a Star Wars setting. Lots of little touches by the creator to bring in elements of the Star Wars universe, but the main characters are entirely new. Fun, funny and inventive, this one’s a real pleasure to read.
6. The Silver Six by A. J. Lieberman, illustrated by Darren Rawlings (Graphix, 2013)
My other favorite in graphics from last year is this dystopian adventure featuring an oppressive corporation and six plucky orphans who are on a mission to bring it down. Great humor woven into the dramatic plotline to make a nicely balanced story.
I also wanted to bring up a handful of older stories--science fiction that was around when I was a grade-school student. Despite the passage of years, these stories remain relevant and powerful.
7.Norby the MIxed-up Robot by Isaac Asimov and Janet Asimov (Walker Books, c1991)
Isaac Asimov is one of the authors who really brought science fiction to younger readers in the 70s and 80s. One of his best series is that of Norby, an extraordinary robot who takes his owner on a series of adventures in space.
8. The White Mountains by John Christopher (Simon & Schuster, c1967)
This alien invasion trilogy has remained in print since it was first published, and it should be available on most library shelves. Our characters are growing up in a world that has been overtaken by aliens and on the run to find the renegade communities still opposing the alien rule. A great adventure and survival tale that captured my imagination when I first read it--I still love to drop it into the hands of a new reader.
9. Interstellar Pig by William Sleator (Puffin, c1984)
This unusual story has our protagonist meet a group of odd neighbors while he’s on summer vacation. These strange adults aren’t at all what they seem--they’re actually aliens, and their engaged in a strange game called interstellar Pig. Humor combined with bizarre aliens and a wild competition to win at all costs!
10.The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts (Scholastic, c1980)
One of my favorite plots from the 1980s, Katie is a girl with remarkable silver eyes and startling psychic powers that allow her to move items without touching them. When Katie learns that her powers may be due to an experimental drug she begins to dig into the past to see if she can find other kids like her. Psychic power stories are some of my favorites. This one is still available, with an updated cover.
11. The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron (Little, Brown Books, c1954)
Two boys find a glowing green advertisement in a newspaper. When they answer the ad, they wind up on a wild space adventure to a mysterious planet. Classic alien adventure story from the days before we’d sent humans into space. Still lots of fun to read.
12. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, c1962)
One of my all-time favorites. This 1963 Newbery winner tells the tale of a girl and her brother who go in search of her missing scientist father. They have three strange beings who help them travel across the universe by “tessering”: Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit. Still one of the mainstays on library shelves everywhere.
If you're an ALA member, you know that the ALA elections are coming up. This year I am thrilled that I was asked to be considered for the 2016 Caldecott Committee.
One of my favorite parts of my job as a Youth Services Librarian is that I get to plan and implement storytimes. I love introducing kids to books and reading and sharing picture books with young readers and their families. I am very passionate about helping kids find the perfect book for them and I love sharing books-old and new-with them. I would be honored to be part of the Caldecott Committee and be able to share my passion for picture books.
In honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Caldecott Medal, I planned a series of Caldecott themed storytimes. This was a great way to introduce my preschoolers (and their grown ups!) to Caldecott titles. I started each storytime with an explanation of the Caldecott Medal and how it was awarded and we would talk about the illustrations in each book we read that week. It was an amazingly rewarding experience when after storytime, the preschoolers would look for the books "with the shiny sticker" on them!
For the past two years, I have started presenting Mock Caldecott programs at my library. Our Mock Caldecott program includes a shortlist of titles I select with readers and then a discussion of the selected list. We've been lucky enough to have past Caldecott Committee members help facilitate our discussion and help give an overview of the criteria. The aspect of this program I'm most proud of is that it has included young children-as young as five-up to adult. It's so fascinating to hear what the kids have to say and their insight is amazing. A five-year-old this year pointed out that she liked The Dark "because it had nice lines" and last year, Chloe and the Lion was not a favorite of a six-year-old because he found "the lion to be too scary and too real." I love getting to chance to discuss illustrations with these kids and share what makes an excellent picture book and their insight always makes me look at the books in a new way. This is my favorite program of the year. In fact I love it so much, I showed up at the library four days after giving birth to my son just so I could participate! Not sure if that's dedication or obsession (or maybe a little of both! :)
More About Me:
Posts of Note:
Check out my Mock Caldecott posts about our 2014 list.
Read about our first Mock Caldecott event.
Building Block Award (Missouri Picture Book Award) Voting Party
Picture Book Reviews
ALSC Blog Posts
2014 Cybils-Elementary and Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, Second Round Judge
2014 Printz Committee-YALSA
2013 & 2014 Audies Judge
2010-2012 Fabulous Films Committee-YALSA
2010-2011-Gateway Readers Award-Committee Member-MASL
2010-Gateway Readers Award-Readers Award-MASL
Booklist Magazine-2013-PresentALSC Blogger
ALA Member since 2007, ALSC, YALSA, PLA
Release Date: 9/10/2013
Add to GoodreadsAbout the Book:
Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. But when her application to The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates is rejected because she's a girl and Hilary discovers that her parents will be sending her off to Miss Pimm's Finishing School to become a proper lady, Hilary knows she must do something! When she sees an ad for a pirate crew, Hilary knows she must apply! Hilary and her talking gargoyle set out on an adventure on the high seas looking for treasure and encounter a terrible villain of the high seas!GreenBeanTeenQueen Says
: I love a good rollicking fun filled adventure and The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates
is the start to an adventurous series that is sure to delight middle grade readers.
Hilary is a spunky main character-just the sort of girl you would expect to sneak her way out of finishing school and join up with pirates. She's joined by a talking gargoyle who is very witty and has a soft spot for romance. The banter between the two characters is charming and hilarious and I loved the uniqueness of Hilary's sidekick being a talking magical object. Hilary has a delightful cast of characters around her-her governess who might just be up for some for adventure, her school roommate who aspires to be an actress, Jasper the pirate captain and his crew, her admiral father who wants to get rid or pirates and even the proper Miss Pimm. All the characters are well fleshed out and have a distinct personality.
The plot is fast paced and full of adventure. There are some great surprises and twists along the way and I loved how the author was able to weave the characters and storylines together. The ultimate bad guy is an interesting twist and I think it opens a lot for future volumes in the series. The writing is wonderfully funny and charming and Augusta is a very well drawn world in which magic is special-but currently being stolen-and pirates are determined by a Very Nearly Honorable League. It's a little bit historical and a little bit fantasy and a lot of action and adventure and fun.
What I especially loved about this one was Hilary herself. She wants to be a pirate and she won't give up on this dream. And she doesn't pose as a boy to make this dream come true. I feel like the girl-disguised-as-a-boy theme is often overdone and I was pleased that that didn't happen in this book but instead Hilary decides she won't take no for an answer and she'll be honest about who she is.
I first learned about this book thanks to the delightful Katherine Kellgren who narrates the audiobook, so I knew I had to listen to this one. I'm so glad I did! Kellgren is once again excellent and gives a rousing narration and you can tell she's having a blast telling this story. The writing is witty and the jokes come across wonderfully on audio. At the end of each chapter, the story is interspersed with letters and newspaper articles and Kellgren is given a chance to flex her narration skills by adding a breadth of voices to these sections. I especially loved her Miss Pimm voice and thought it had a great nod to Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey
(I'm not sure if this was the intent but I loved it and thought it was perfect!) Kellgren gives Hilary a high energy and it balances well with Jasper's gruff pirate voice, Miss Greyson's (Hilary's governess) quiet sensibility, and her best friend from finishing school Claire, who is overly excitable and dramatic. This audiobook Katherine Kellgren doing what she does best-bringing a delightful cast of characters to an engaging story to make an excellent treat for the ears. I can't wait for the next book in the series.Book Pairings: Bloody Jack
by L.A. Meyer, Etiquette and Espionage
by Gail Carriger
Full Disclosure: Reviewed from audiobook I purchased at Audible.com
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Why I Love Middle Grade Romance
By R.J. Anderson
R.J. (Rebecca) Anderson is a UK-bestselling author for children and teens, including the Knife and Swift series of faery books for age 11 and up. Her latest book is Nomad (Orchard Books UK, January 2014), which may or may not include kissing. Visit her website (http://www.rj-anderson.com) or follow her on Twitter (@rj_anderson).
A few years ago, someone asked me whether I read romance novels. Well, I have read a few, and even enjoyed some of them. But I wouldn't consider myself a regular reader of the romance genre, so what I said was, "I don't read romances. I read mysteries for the romance."
What I forgot to add was that I read Middle Grade novels for the romance, too.
I can hear some of my audience sputtering already. Romance, in stories for 8-12 year olds? Inconceivable! Everybody knows that readers of this age deplore "kissing books". They want action, adventure, stories about pets and friends and family -- not a lot of drippy grown-up feelings. Oh, sure, a crush on the girl or boy next door might add a little something to the narrative, but anything serious means it's a book for teens or adults, not Middle Grade. How can anyone say they read MG for the romance, when it’s barely even there?
And yet when adult readers start talking about best-loved literary couples, it doesn't take long for someone to bring up Meg Murry and Calvin O'Keefe from A Wrinkle in Time
, or Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from the original Anne of Green Gable
s trilogy . And when those same readers reminisce about favorite scenes from the books, they're more apt to mention young Anne breaking her slate over Gilbert's head or the clumsy first kiss 14-year-old Calvin gives Meg in Wrinkle than any of the more conventional romantic moments that come later.
I think this shows that even when it comes to teens and adults, what grabs readers isn’t the physical payoff but the spirit of the relationship between two characters, the sense of chemistry and potential between them.  And MG novels can create that sense of deferred longing and anticipation just as well as any other genre -- or better.
Even in books for the youngest of MG readers, there are stories where the love of two children is a central and motivating aspect of the plot -- as in Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs
, where Hazel's yearning for her best friend Jack drives her to undertake a perilous journey to save him.  There are MG books that deal with romantic betrayal and heartache, such as The Penderwicks at Point Mouette
where Jane falls for a boy who turns out to be less perfect than he seems (though as usual with the Penderwicks, there's a whole lot more happening in the book than just romance). There are MG novels where the attraction between characters, though understated, is powerful as any adult romance (as in Alan Garner's The Owl Service
, where Alison, Gwyn and Roger find themselves unwittingly reenacting an deadly love triangle from Welsh legend).
There are even popular MG novels – albeit usually of the fantasy genre, which gets more leeway due to the faery tale influence – which feature older teen or adult characters who fall unequivocally in love with each other, kiss on-page and/or get married in the course of the stories.  When I wrote my debut novel Knife
(known in the US as Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter
), I thought the story's central romance meant it was only suitable for older teens or adults. But Knife
and its sequels (which also feature teenage protagonists and strong romantic subplots) were marketed as MG on both sides of the Atlantic, and I've received e-mails from eight and nine-year-olds who’ve read and enjoyed the whole series. Some of the most enthusiastic letters were from boys.
To my mind the chief difference between MG romance and YA or adult romance is not its depth or seriousness, but to what extent it’s allowed to dominate the plot. To me, the most satisfying and memorable romances involve two people who care deeply about something bigger than each other, and are drawn together by a shared commitment to that common ideal or goal. In that sense, a great romance has the same basis as a great friendship -- and what genre places more value on friendship, or explores it more fully and frequently, than MG?
Ultimately the very constraints of the Middle Grade genre, in which plot is never an optional extra and characters are compelled to act rather than merely brood, make it ideally suited to creating the best kind of romance -- relationships based on the meeting of true minds and kindred spirits, not mere impulses and hormones. MG romances tend to develop slowly and subtly, sometimes over multiple books, which makes them feel more credible and leads to greater emotional investment than the "Boom! And they were in love" shorthand that's often found in YA and adult novels. It's harder work for the MG writer who’s actually trying to write romance, because it takes patience and a light hand. But as anyone who's visited a fan forum for the Harry Potter or Artemis Fowl or Percy Jackson books can attest, even the tiniest hints of connection or attraction between characters can be enough to get young -- and older -- readers dreaming up a whole epic romance for themselves.
Some parents fret that including romantic elements in an MG novel is too much, too soon. I suppose that depends on the maturity of the child in question, and what kinds of conversations they've had with their parents already.  But I can't think of any MG romances I've read that struck me as potentially dangerous. Because the characters in MG tend to be younger and often going through an awkward phase of development, there's a lot less blathering about physical attributes, and more focus on the personality beneath. And what healthier message is there to share with young readers, than that loving someone means a lot more than just thinking they're pretty?
What about you? Do you have any favorite middle grade romances?
 Which, despite Anne's growing up to marriageable age over the course of the trilogy, is far more of a "kindred spirit" to MG than YA on the whole.
 Case in point: Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, whose dance of love is almost entirely verbal, intellectual and conducted at arm's length. Yet they also invariably show up in readers' lists of top romances as well.
 Admittedly, we're never told that Hazel's love for Jack is romantic, and it may well turn out not to be; but there's no question it's a deep and powerful love, stronger than any of the "grown-up" relationships in the book.
 Proof that such stories appeal even to the youngest readers: a few months ago, as I was reading Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles to my eight-year-old son, he became more and more agitated and anxious to know how the story would end. When I asked him what he was worried about, I expected to hear about the dangers and enemies Taran was facing. But instead he burst out, "Are Taran and Eilonwy ever going to get married?" We think kids, especially boys, aren't interested in the "mushy parts" because they squirm and make faces. But the truth is they're often keenly curious about romance, and just too shy or self-conscious to admit it.
 Though many young readers are already dipping into the YA and adult sections of the library and have probably read much more racy stuff than their parents realize. When I was attending sixth grade way back in 1980, half my classmates were reading Flowers in the Attic.
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It's that time of year for book awards! Of course, the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced last month, but there have been some other exciting award announcements in the book world recently.
I was lucky enough to be part of the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Second Round for the Cybils
this year. Our winning title was Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
. It's a delightfully fun-and sometimes chilling-read that I'm sure middle grade readers who love ghost stories, mysteries and adventure will enjoy.The Audies
are an award for audiobooks and I've never been disappointed by any of the titles chosen on the list. There are so many categories to choose from. The shortlists were recently announced and they are full of wonderful titles to listen to!
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Rating: 5/5 Stars
Release Date: 9/24/2013
About the Book: Flora loves to read The Amazing Incandesto comics and she knows a lot about superheroes. But she never thought she'd encounter a superhero squirrel. Yet that's exactly whet happens when her neighbors new vacuum cleaner sucks up a squirrel-Ulysses the superhero squirrel is born. Not everyone loves Ulysses and he finds an arch-enemy in Flora's mother. Good thing Flora has read every issue of Terrible Things Can Happen To You. She's prepared to help Ulysses and along the way this self-described cynic might just discover new friends, poetry, and the love of a capacious heart.
GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: First off, let me say props to the Newbery Committee for choosing this delightfully quirky tale-what a great pick!
Flora And Ulysses is a classic Kate DiCamillo story-and if you've never read any of her books, remedy that right now because you are missing out. No one can write an eccentric cast of characters quite like Kate DiCamillo. Flora is endearing and while she might say she's a cynic, she grows and discovers friendship, family and love throughout the novel. And Ulysses is an incredible superhero squirrel. He's observant and all about food and I loved getting a peek into his head-the portions of the story that were about Ulysses cracked me up-just how I would think a squirrel would tell a tale. Rounding out the memorable cast of characters are Flora's parents-each with a few quirks of their own-her neighbors and their temporarily blind nephew, William Spiver, and Dr. Meecham, who has lots of oddball insights for Flora to think about. Individually the characters might seem strange, but wrapped up together as an ensemble they blend together marvelously and create many memorable scenes.
The friendship between Flora and Ulysses is a great nod to the bond between children and animals. I loved Flora's developing friendship with William Spiver-it was one of the highlights of the novel for me. An adult reader might read both characters as being a bit odd and awkward, although I'm not sure if young readers will see that or instead just take their quirks with a grain of salt. I almost think kids will just think of them as just fun, silly, characters. But for me as an adult reader, I loved watching their tender, fragile, and yes a bit awkward friendship form. They discover-even if they don't realize it-that they're not alone and that they may just understand each other in a way no one else does.
The novel takes place over the course of a couple of days and I really enjoyed how much Ms. DiCamillo could pack into a story with such a short time span. Nothing felt out of place and the pacing and timing was perfect. The language is fantastic and weaves in wonderful words like malfeasance and capacious without feeling pretentious. The book is very funny and full of humor and heart. The dialogue is witty as is the narration and I couldn't help but fall in love. A great addition to the text are black and white comic panels of Flora and Ulysses's adventures-just perfect for a comic book fan and her superhero squirrel.
This is the sort of novel I think is just begging to be adapted for the stage. Can someone please make a Flora and Ulysses musical???
A tender, charming, and quirky novel that would be a great read aloud, Flora and Ulysses are sure to find a place in your heart.
Full Disclosure: Reviewed from library copy
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So … you want to read middle grade.
Probably you should start by knowing what it is, right?
Only problem is, there’s no one simple definition of it. Middle grade is the literature for those in the middle: the middle of so many changes and the middle of their school careers. But middle school can be different grades by districts and middle grade titles can appeal to ages 9-14. That’s a pretty broad range and that makes middle grade, almost by definition, ephemeral.
So, where can you begin then? Where can you, as a librarian, a writer, a reader, where can you start if you want to explore this genre, come to understand what it means and its impact? There are so many places you could dig in...but why not start with the best?
To me, the genre best example of middle grade fiction comes from Gary Schmidt; the writer who brings structure, definition, and yes beauty to all that is ephemeral about this genre.
In a handful of novels (several well-known and a few not-as widely known) Schmidt makes middle grade soar and exemplifies what the genre is all about. Schmidt’s work illuminates how middle grade is not just stories about kids in middle school, but narratives about what it means to transition from childhood to adolescence. Schmidt’s middle grade books also, without fail, contain a quintessential hallmark of the genre: children coming to understand their parents - and the adults in their life - as humans with faults and desires of their own. It’s these transitions and these awareness that make middle grade different than children’s literature, different than young adult literature. And it’s Gary Schmidt’s talent that makes these middle grade books so special.
It is no coincidence that one of Schmidt’s titles, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (2004), was both a Newbery and a Printz honor book - indicating that this was a book that straddled the worlds of young adult and children’s fiction that exemplified the very best of both and ended up as a benchmark middle grade novel.
It’s hard for me to sum up what makes Gary Schmidt’s work so amazing but if I had to narrow it down to just one thing it would be that Schmidt never talks down to his readers. His books are rich with symbolism, historical world events, struggles with faith, and allusions to great literature, art, and sports. Schmidt’s books challenge middle-grade readers to go farther - to think about Vietnam, racial prejudice, gentrification, abuse, and healing. It is in these challenges that we see the fullest realization of what middle grade is.
Oh, and they’re very funny too, with occasionally slapstick humor and always featuring a frank, narrator whose honesty makes you smile. Schmidt’s books have a very solid voice and this translates well: they sound good read outloud. There are wondrous things in them in the most literal sense of the word. This wonder is, for me, another middle grade staple: wonder at your first kiss, your first strides into independence, your ability to go beyond what you ever expected, your first losses, and the moment you know you’ll stand up for what you believe in. All of that, and even more, is in Gary Schmidt’s books.
So … you want to read middle grade.
Where could you possibly begin? With the works of Gary Schmidt, who challenges middle grade to be all it can be and then more.
Recommended Titles Anson’s Way, 1997 - OOP but WORTH TRACKING DOWN!
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, 2004
The Wednesday Wars, 2007Okay For Now, 2011
What Came From the Stars, 2012
Angie Manfredi is the Head of Youth Services for the Los Alamos County Library System. She loves middle grade fiction and all it represents with a fierce passion and can’t wait to see where the genre will go next. You can read more of her writing at www.fatgirlreading.com or follow all her smallest thoughts on Twitter @misskubelik
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I am so excited to be showing off the cover of Holly Schindler's upcoming YA novel, Feral. Holly is a local author-yay!- and I can't wait for her latest release.
What's Feral about?
It’s too late for you. You’re dead.
Those words float through Claire Cain’s head as she lies broken and barely alive after a brutal beating. And the words continue to haunt her months later, in the relentless, terrifying nightmares that plague her sleep. So when her father is offered a teaching sabbatical in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out of Chicago, away from the things that remind her of what she went through, will offer a way to start anew.
But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire quickly realizes something is wrong—the town is brimming with hidden dangers and overrun by feral cats. And her fears are confirmed when a popular high school girl, Serena Sims, is suddenly found dead in the icy woods behind the school. While everyone is quick to say Serena died in an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it—for she was the one who found Serena, battered and most certainly dead, surrounded by the town’s feral cats.
Now Claire vows to learn the truth about what happened, but the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to discovering a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley. . . .With an eerie setting and heart-stopping twists and turns, Holly Schindler weaves a gripping story that will make you question everything you think you know.
Sounds pretty awesome, right?
Check out this beautiful cover:
Want to read it?
Feral will be released on August 26, 2014.
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Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Genre: Graphic Novel/Humor
Release Date: 3/25/2014
About the Book: The Glorkian Warrior received a phone call that was destiny-a pizza order! And it's the Glorkian Warrior's job to deliver that pizza. But where does the pizza belong? And what will he do with encounters with a giant, a spaceship, and a baby alien? And will he eat the pizza along the way?
GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: One of the fun things we do at our library youth services meetings is host a round robin for reader's advisory. During our graphic novel discussion, a co-worker recommended James Kochalka and I've been meaning to read one of his graphic novels ever since.
The Glorkian Warrior Delivers A Pizza is a hilarious madcap adventure. The Glorkian Warrior is a silly alien who thinks he's knows everything, but is often mistaken and finds himself in crazy situations. It's a good thing he has his trusty Super Backpack around to guide him. Along the way to deliver his pizza of destiny, he encounters a giant, spaceship, a baby alien and magic robot-all of which the Glorkian Warrior gets very confused about which adds to the humor.
The Glorkian Warrior is pretty clueless, but his ambition is endearing. His banter with his Super Backpack, who helps guide him to the correct path when the Glorkian Warrior wanders a bit, is witty and fun. ( There's tons of slapstick humor as well. The graphic novel has full color illustrations which are bright and comical. It's a quick read and great for younger graphic novel readers with only a few panels per page. The humor reminds me a bit of Captain Underpants, and I can see this graphic novel being a great read alike for fans of that series.
Full of humor and madcap adventures, The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza is a great for readers looking for graphic novel that will make them laugh.
Full Disclosure: Reviewed from finished copy sent by publisher
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Baby GreenBean is now a month old and I'm finally getting into more a routine, so I'm back to blogging! I'll be posting here and there and hopefully get back to a regular posting schedule soon.
Thank you all for sticking with me through my blogging break. Now enjoy some adorable photos of Baby GreenBean:
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Dear Committee Member-
On the eve of the youth media awards and your committee announcements, I offer you some words of advice from someone who has been there before.
Your choices are amazing. You have done a fantastic job and worked the hardest you have ever worked over the past year. You have read, and re-read, and re-read yet again, taken notes, analyzed, and discussed titles in more depth than you ever thought possible. Your hard work is appreciated.
When the announcement happens and your choices are known, just remember that your titles are amazing. You know why you honored the books you did and now you get to share those amazing titles with the world. You get to watch as others read them and discuss them and discover the intricacies in the plot, setting, characters, and voice that you did. Be proud that you get to share these titles with readers everywhere. Be proud that you have honored an author for their incredible work. Be proud that you get to highlight literary excellence in children's and young adult literature.
Be happy with your choices and don't listen to any naysayers. They don't know these titles as well as you and your fellow committee members. Remember it's not about popularity. That popular mock favorite that you didn't honor? It's OK. The obscure title that surprised everyone? It's OK. The title that everyone has mixed opinions on? It's OK. No matter what you choose, your titles are worth reading, worth knowing, and worth sharing. It doesn't matter if the honored titles don't match everyone's expectations-you know why your books were honored and be proud of giving these books a chance to shine. Feel good about sharing these fantastic titles with readers everywhere and giving them books to discover (or re-discover).
Understand that you just undertook a year of immense critical reading and it's OK to take a break from reading. Your work was exhausting and you deserve a chance to step away from books and not read for awhile. It doesn't make you a bad librarian or a bad reader-you deserve a break. Come back to reading when you're ready-and read something you want to read and find fun. And don't be surprised if the way you read has forever changed-you'll find yourself reading critically, but you can also give yourself a break and read for fun-and sometimes those things will intertwine.
Feel good about the work you did and be proud of your committee. Seek out your titles in a bookstore and library and feel proud when you see that shiny sticker placed on the cover. Be excited when you get to booktalk one of your titles and share it with a reader. And share away-that's one of the best parts of committee work-sharing your titles with others and getting them to read the books you worked hard to honor.
Thank you for your amazing year of reading and re-reading. Thank you for taking the time to discuss titles with your fellow committee member. Thank you for working hard to shine a light on great titles and honoring the best children's and young adult literature has to offer. Thank you for your amazing list of titles and congrats on a job well done! We're all cheering you on!
Now sit back and enjoy celebrating your hard work over the next year!