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Results 1 - 25 of 178
1. Review of Lair of Dreams

bray_lair of dreamsLair of Dreams: A Diviners Novel
by Libba Bray
High School   Little, Brown   691 pp.
8/15   978-0-316-12604-5   $19.00   g
e-book ed. 978-0-316-36488-1   $9.99

Seventeen-year-old flapper Evie O’Neill (The Diviners, rev. 11/12) and friends confront another supernatural threat. As before, Bray follows multiple characters, many of them also paranormally gifted; while Evie (now a radio star known as the “Sweetheart Seer”) is still a focal point, here dream walkers Henry DuBois and Ling Chan also come to the fore. Several plot threads intertwine when Ling and Henry begin dream-walking together (Henry hopes to communicate with Louis, the love he left behind in New Orleans; Ling meets another dream walker, a Chinese girl named Wai-Mae) and a frightening “sleeping sickness” descends on New York City, sending people into comas, then death. As the sleeping sickness spreads, Henry and Ling start to notice disturbing things about the dream world…and about Wai-Mae. Bray’s vividly detailed descriptions, which take readers from glittering high-society parties to claustrophobic tunnels filled with ghastly creatures, give the novel a sweeping, cinematic quality. Sweet relationships (romantic, platonic, and familial) and snarky banter filled with period slang balance and accentuate the suspenseful horror. Through it all, new questions arise as mysteries from the previous novel deepen. What is the connection between the Diviners and the government’s ominous Project Buffalo? Who is the man in the stovepipe hat lurking at the edges of all this supernatural violence? Despite its considerable length, fans will barrel through this second installment and emerge impatient for the next.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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2. #YA audiobook reviews

Here are two #YAlit audiobooks that I recently reviewed for AudioFile Magazine. I am not permitted to reprint the reviews here, but have provided the links (which include audio excerpts).  Both books offer a unique viewpoint of the adolescent male experience - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl through the medium of film making, and 100 Sideways Miles through the medium of abstract conceptsBut now I've had my fill of angsty boys for a bit.  Time for a change of pace.  Up next:  Sci-fi and a new picture book roundup.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. by Jesse Andrews, 2013
Read by Thomas Mann, R.J. Cyler, Keith Szarabajka, Hillary Huber, Kirby Heyborne, Abigail Revasch, Adenrele Ojo
6.25 hrs.

I didn't see the movie, but the audio book was fantastic! Here's the link to my review:

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith, 2015
Read by Kirby Heyborne
7 hrs.

 If you're looking for a change of pace, this may be the one for you.  It's quirky in a good way.

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3. Intentions and He Said, She Said

alexander_he said, she saidI have written before about our summer program* with Boston Green Academy, and we just finished our two-week institute with ninth and tenth graders from BGA and my students from Boston University. For this summer’s core text, we chose the book He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander, and it has been fun to watch the students absolutely fall in love with the book.

It is the story of a popular teen named Omar who sets his sights on an ambitious girl named Claudia. She resists at first, thinking he is just a jock with nefarious intentions. In order to win her over, Omar gets involved with a cause that Claudia is passionate about, and their relationship shifts as they come to see each other and activism more clearly.

The essential question we chose for this summer for our anchor text and supplementary texts was, “What matters more, our intentions or our actions?” Omar’s initial intentions in getting involved with Claudia’s cause are, well, less than honorable, but they drive him to commit his time and energy to a great cause. And Claudia sometimes has intentions that aren’t unkind, but they manifest in actions that are harsh.

As students engaged the text and had discussions about the essential question, they had quite a lot to say about actions and intentions, and it allowed us to connect to goal-setting and putting those goals into action. Our students had lots of disagreement about whether intentions or actions were more important, and they were deeply into the book and the debate. In addition to our essential question, we were also able to have great discussions about gender norms, peer expectations, and authors’ intentions.

Throughout the institute, our students kept sneaking books home with them to read all the way to the end as quickly as possible. And when we asked what the best thing was about each day, our students always said the book was the best part! It was a very rich experience for all involved.

* This year’s team also included Marisa Olivo and Rosemary Finley from BGA and Scott Seider from BU.

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4. Manga Review: Limit V 3 by Keiko Suenobu

Contains Spoilers


It’s been a while since I read the first two volumes of LIMIT, but I didn’t have any problems jumping back into the series again.  This is a survival story; a bus of high schoolers is headed to the mountains for a camping trip.  There’s a terrible accident, and the bus plunges off the road and down the mountainside.  There’s only a handful of survivors, and they are all girls.  Bickering and power struggles begin at once, and Morishige, the only one with a weapon, quickly takes charge.  Morishige has issues.  She has grudges against the other girls, and establishes herself as the leader of her battered, hungry, and terrified classmates.  When Isui changes to power dynamic by running off with Morishige’s scythe, there’s a rebellion against Morishige’s cruel leadership.

Things are pretty grim for our tiny group of survivors.  Usui has run off into the fog and hasn’t been seen since.  There’s only a little food to share, and Morishige is still trying to keep herself in control through threats and violence.  Since she doesn’t have her weapon anymore, that is only getting her so far.  She and Ichinose fight, bickering about how misguided Morishige’s behavior has been.  In a fit of rage, Morishige storms off.

In the morning, Konno goes off in search of Isui.  Weak and cold, she falls into a lake and almost drowns.  At the last minute, she’s saved!  By Hinata, who everyone thought was dead.  And boy am I glad he’s not, because I really like Hinata!  If I was stranded on a mountain with bleak prospects for rescue, I’d want to see his cheerful face.  Hinata is a force of positive thoughts and good vibes, and if anyone can make the impossible come true, I firmly believe it’s him.  Of course, his sudden resurrection doesn’t sit well with Morishige, especially after he calls her out for her previous “leadership” skills.  Morishige, getting back to her issues, has a real problem with males.  After a flashback to her dreadful homelife, one can’t help but understand where her lack of people skills stems from.  The victim of abuse, she doesn’t know how else to deal with her problems other than to strike out against them.

LIMIT is a very fast read that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  It’s brutal, suspenseful, and creepy.  The dire situation isn’t bringing out the best in everyone, and in fact, the utter hopelessness is turning some of the cast into evil little monsters.  There’s very little one for all and all for one until Hinata shows up.  There’s a lot of self-destruction and back-stabbing, as well as resource hogging, because who wants to share when it means that you may not have enough to eat and starve to death?  Desperate times means really, really bad behavior! 

I love the art, which matches the tenor of the story perfectly.  It’s detailed and expressive, but also dark and brooding.  Moods change in an instant from hopeful to oh my gosh we are all going to die, and the art clearly reflects that.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by publisher

In the third volume of The Limit the survivors’ worst fears have come true. One of their members has fallen. And this death amongst them will test the limits of their unity. New fears will be born from this tragedy and instead of using their combined strength to search for a way home, their lack of trust will force them all to retreat into their own micro-cliques. The balance of power is now undone, and a new face-another survivor-will eventually turn things upside down!

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5. Review of Storm

by Donna Jo Napoli
High School    Wiseman/Simon    357 pp.
2/14    978-1-4814-0302-3    $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-0304-7    $10.99

Sixteen-year-old Sebah, a Canaanite girl, survives a massive flood that kills her family. As the rains continue for weeks on end, she and another survivor, Aban, are forced to build a raft to escape the rising waters. Barely alive, they encounter a giant boat — Noah’s ark, as it turns out — but only Sebah is strong enough to climb the rope someone has let down from a porthole. Exhausted and grief-stricken, Sebah finds herself in a cage with a pair of bonobos, with whom she soon bonds and names Queen and The Male. Bonobos, readers learn, are capable of compassion and empathy (hence the rescue and their decision to keep Sebah hidden from Noah). Bonobos are also known to be very, very sexually active; thankfully, Queen decides she is Sebah’s protector and that the girl is off-limits for The Male. (Phew!) Napoli’s story thoroughly humanizes Noah and his family — loyal to God but traumatized by the human devastation and frustrated with their fate. Readers witness the emotional and physical toll, on both humans and animals, of weeks of darkness and rain, then months of captivity, and will admire resourceful Sebah’s ability to make the best of an oppressive situation. The characters (including the loyal bonobos — and another human stowaway) that Napoli creates to flesh out her retelling of the classic story of survival and faith add both veracity and depth.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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6. Autumn Falls, by Bella Thorne | Book Review

Autumn Falls touches on light bullying, loss, dyslexia, realistic high-school life with accuracy and grace, with plenty of fun in between.

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7. Review of March: Book Two

lewis_march bk 2star2 March: Book Two
by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin; illus. by Nate Powell
Middle School, High School   Top Shelf Productions   192 pp.
1/15   978-1-60309-400-9   $19.95   g

Lewis and Aydin begin this second volume of the graphic memoir trilogy in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2009 (President Obama’s first inauguration), then they move back in time to 1960 to pick up where March: Book One (rev. 1/14) left off. Dramatic descriptions and vivid black-and-white illustrations of SNCC’s direct action campaigns in Nashville (sit-ins at fast-food restaurants and cafeterias, “stand-ins” at a segregated movie theater) are followed by accounts of the Freedom Rides into the “heart of the beast” in the Deep South, and on through the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, where Lewis spoke alongside Dr. King. (Back matter includes the original draft of Lewis’s speech, a more fiery, radical version of the speech he delivered, a debate about which took place up to the moment he stepped onstage.) Since this is Lewis’s personal story, the account has the authority of a passionate participant, and the pacing ramps up tension and historical import. Events and personalities aren’t romanticized in the text or the illustrations, which themselves don’t flinch from violence; in addition to exploring the dream that drove the civil rights movement, the story also portrays its divisions. Flash-forwards to Barack Obama’s inauguration appear judiciously throughout, an effective reminder to readers about the effects of the movement. Among the many excellent volumes available on the subject of civil rights this is a standout, the graphic format a perfect vehicle for delivering the one-two punch of powerful words and images.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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8. Review of X: A Novel

shabazz_xstar2 X: A Novel
by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
High School   Candlewick   375 pp.
1/15   978-0-7636-6967-6   $16.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7425-0   $16.99

Shabazz, Malcolm X’s third daughter, and YA author Magoon (Fire in the Streets, rev. 9/12; How It Went Down, rev. 11/14) team up to present a vivid, immediate fictionalized portrait of the civil rights activist and the forces that shaped him. Readers are immersed in young Malcolm’s world, from his fractured and tragic Depression-era childhood in Lansing, Michigan (father killed, mother committed to an asylum, siblings placed in separate foster homes), through his heady teen years in Boston and Harlem (where “everything’s a hustle, and I got my own hustle now”), through his conviction and imprisonment for larceny, ending with his conversion to Islam in his mid-twenties. Thanks to the strength of the intimate first-person voice, readers experience right along with the adolescent Malcolm his thirst for excitement, the seductive “siren call” of 1940s Roxbury and Harlem street life, his increasingly risky and dangerous choices, and finally his growing awareness of the impact of racism on his and his family’s past and on his present and future. In prison: “The guard who knocks me down and puts his foot on my face…he didn’t build these walls. He didn’t invent the word nigger, however well he’s learned to throw it. It’s all so much bigger, and so built-in.” The direct cause-and-effect connection between Malcolm’s epiphany that he doesn’t need to “fight Papa” anymore and his acceptance of Islam feels imposed, but there’s very little else that doesn’t ring true in this powerful, compelling work of historical fiction. Extensive back matter includes a bibliography that steers young people toward further reading about Malcolm X and black history.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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9. Ilyasah Shabazz on X

shabazz_xIn our May/June 2015 issue, reviewer Martha V. Parravano talks to author Ilyasah Shabazz about her approach to writing a novel about her father, Malcolm X. Read the starred review of X here.

Martha V. Parravano: Why did you choose to present the story of Malcolm X’s formative years as fiction, rather than nonfiction — and told in the first person, at that?

Ilyasah Shabazz: I wanted to write a book that portrays my father in the light my family remembers him. I chose fiction to illuminate the true spirit of Malcolm that a straight biography couldn’t possibly capture. I wrote X to show teens who may share my father’s feeling of rejection by society that circumstance does not determine destiny. Through passion and hard work, any young person can rise up and make a difference. Writing in the first person enabled me to take the reader inside Malcolm’s head to experience his journey from lost adolescent to human-rights icon as he did — through his own eyes.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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10. Lives and times

The settings of these narrative nonfiction titles span decades and geography — from WWII Denmark to contemporary Malawi — but the issues they explore are incredibly timely.

kamkwamba_boy who harnessed the windWhen heavy rains, then drought, devastated his country of Malawi and the corrupt government didn’t respond, young William Kamkwamba used his scientific ingenuity to help people in need. His windmill made from “bottle-cap washers, rusted tractor parts, and [an] old bicycle frame” was a success; soon William dreamed of conquering darkness, pumping water to the villages, and fighting hunger. Cowritten with Bryan Mealer, Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition (illustrated by Anna Hymas) is inspiring — a well-told true tale of one young man’s passion for science making his world better. (Dial, 9–12 years)

The Boys Who Challenged HitlerPhillip Hoose introduces readers to a little-known resistance movement in The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club. When Hitler invaded Denmark, teenaged Knud Pedersen (with his brother Jens and some mates) decided that “If the adults would not act, we would.” First using civil disobedience then employing increasingly dangerous acts of sabotage against the country’s Nazi occupiers, the group inspired widespread Danish revolt. Hoose brilliantly weaves Pederson’s own words into the larger narrative of wartime Denmark, showing how the astonishing bravery of a few ordinary Danish teens started something extraordinary. A 2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book and an outstanding addition to the WWII canon. (Farrar, 11–15 years)

lewis_march bk 2Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin’s March: Book Two picks up where the previous volume left off in relating Lewis’s personal experiences of the civil rights movement. Dramatic descriptions, along with Nate Powell’s vivid black-and-white illustrations, relate direct action campaigns in Nashville (sit-ins at fast-food restaurants and cafeterias, “stand-ins” at a segregated movie theater), Freedom Rides into the “heart of the beast” in the Deep South, and the 1963 March on Washington, where Lewis spoke alongside Dr. King. Among the many excellent volumes available on the subject of civil rights this is a standout, the graphic format a perfect vehicle for delivering the one-two punch of powerful words and images. (Top Shelf Productions, 11–15 years)

blumenthal_tommyIn Tommy: The Gun That Changed America, Karen Blumenthal traces the history of the Thompson submachine gun (a.k.a. the Tommy gun) and its times. After the Spanish-American War, Army officer John Thompson believed that America needed a lightweight, automatic rifle. The Army did not share his opinion, so Thompson left the service and developed his own weapon, completed with superior bad timing on Armistice Day in 1918. Without a ready military market, the Tommy gun wound up in the hands of crooks and bootleggers. Blumenthal shows the complexity of gun culture then and now with thorough research and impeccable documentation. (Roaring Brook, 11–15 years)

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


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11. Terminal, by Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs | Book Review

The Morris Island gang is back in Terminal, the fifth and final full installment of Kathy and Brendan Reichs’ NY Times Bestselling Virals series.

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12. Picturing fantasy

Funny, action-packed, thought-provoking (and sometimes all of the above), these three graphic novels and one…well, what do you call Brian Selznick’s books? take readers on fantastic adventures.

selznick_marvelsBrian Selznick defined his own format with The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. He pushes the envelope even further in The Marvels. Black-and-white drawings (over four hundred pages’ worth) wordlessly tell the story of a storm, a shipwreck, and a rescue in a theater. In the text narrative that follows, a boy named Joseph runs away from boarding school to his uncle Albert’s house in London, a place that feels strangely from another time. Selznick is a unique and masterful storyteller, and his story-inside-a-story unfolds an emotional narrative that will leave readers marveling. (Scholastic, 10–12 years)

mccoola_baba yaga's assistantIn Marika McCoola’s Baba Yaga’s Assistant, Masha answers a help-wanted ad to become assistant to the mortar-and-pestle-riding, child-eating folkloric character. To win the position, she must creatively accomplish challenges set forth by Baba Yaga. Masha draws on lessons learned through her grandmother’s stories and her own inherited magical ability, uncovering her family’s complex connection to the witch along the way. Illustrator Emily Carroll‘s vividly colored digital art establishes setting and tone. Comprised of short chapters, this graphic novel shines in its pacing, harmony of image and text, and use of flashbacks to advance plot. (Candlewick, 12–14 years)

watson_princess decomposia and count spatulaWith her hypochondriac father taken to his bed, capable Princess Decomposia of the Underworld — star of Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula — is running the show…and running herself ragged. A baker named Count Spatula joins the castle staff, and his nourishing food and supportive demeanor help the princess get through her hectic days. When the king has him fired, the princess must decide whether to stand up to her father. Andi Watson’s unique and funny graphic novelpopulated by friendly creatures of the night — has a decidedly supernatural twist, but at its core is a relatable tale of self-actualization and blossoming romance. (Roaring Brook/First Second, 12–14 years)

stevenson_nimonaBallister Blackheart — ex-knight and current supervillain — is focused on the destruction of the Institute of Law Enforcement and Heroics. He also wouldn’t mind getting even with Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, a knight-school acquaintance who shot off Blackheart’s right arm. Just as Blackheart’s plans are coming to fruition, plucky young shapeshifter Nimona shows up on his doorstep claiming to be his new sidekick. Set in a medieval-type kingdom mixed with futuristic science, Noelle Stevenson’s webcomic-turned-graphic-novel Nimona entertainingly tweaks both the science-fiction and fantasy genres. Nimona herself is beautifully flawed and refreshingly unstereotypical. (HarperTeen, 11–15 years)

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


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13. Review of Poisoned Apples

hepperman poisoned apples Review of Poisoned Applesstar2 Review of Poisoned Apples Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty
by Christine Heppermann; 
photos by various artists
High School    Greenwillow    106 pp.
10/14    978-0-06-228957-5    $17.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-06-228959-9    $9.99

For this poet, there is no dividing line between fairy tales and reality: “You can lose your way anywhere,” claims the poem with which she begins this collection of fifty pieces on the devastating conjunction of girls’ vulnerability, the rapacious beauty industry, and fairy tales. Caustic, witty, sad, and angry, Heppermann (a former Horn Book reviewer) articulates what some of her readers will no doubt perceive already but what may be news to others: the false promises, seductions, and deathly morass of popular culture’s imagery of girls’ bodies. What makes Heppermann’s poetry exceptional, however, is not the messages it carries but the intense, expressive drive that fuels it. In “The Anorexic Eats a Salad”: “Mountains rise, fall, rise again. / Stars complete their slow trek into oblivion. / A snail tours the length of China’s Great Wall / twice. / All those pesky cancers — cured…She has almost made it through / her first bite.” Or, in “The Wicked Queen’s Legacy”: “It used to be just the one, / but now all mirrors chatter. / In fact, every reflective surface has opinions / on the shape of my nose, the size / of my chest…” These poems dwell fiercely and angrily within the visual and verbal cacophony heard and seen by girls, offering an acerbic critique, mourning, and compassionate, unrelenting honesty.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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14. 187 Reasons Why a Teacher Needs Books

Today’s guest blogger, Sarah Kilway, wrote to us after receiving hundreds of new books for her students. We couldn’t resist sharing her story with you.

Davis 9th grade center 7_croppedI teach 187 kids at Ben Davis Ninth Grade Center in Indianapolis, IN. The majority of my students live in poverty. Most have only one parent at home.

Not many of my kids own books, nor were they read to as children. Even as 9th graders, they lack basic common knowledge of fairy tales, fables and iconic book characters.

Our school has many great resources, but when something is lacking, my colleagues and I step in. This often means spending my own money on books and other items for my students, but it’s totally worth it. I also have First Book.

Davis 9th grade centerThanks to First Book, I was recently able to give a new book to every single one of my students – all 187! A few told me it was the first book they’d ever owned. Some said it was the first book they have ever finished. Such a proud moment for me and them – one that I wanted to share with you.

My students now ask me to go to the library on a daily basis.

Please give to First Book today so I can continue helping them discover and enjoy reading, and so other teachers can too. Your support puts a whole new world within their reach.

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15. Are you ready for some football…books?

I love the fall. I do not love people asking me, “Hey, how about that [insert-local-football-team] game?” I have nothing against the sport; it’s just not my thing.

Working at an all-boys school, though, I am surrounded by a mass of gridiron fans. As stereotypical as it may be, I think any of my coworkers would agree that the vast majority of our guys live for sports. They play them. They watch them. They passionately debate about them. And in the fall that means football.

Being a sneaky English teacher, I try to capitalize upon this interest to trick kids into reading. Here’s a list of books about football I find myself recommending to students time and time again.

wallace Muckers 198x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   bradley CallMeByMyName 198x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   herbach StupidFast 200x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   bissinger FridayNightLights 197x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   smith winger 196x300 Are you ready for some football...books?

Muckers by Sandra Neill Wallace
Based on a true story, Muckers follows a 1950s quarterback from a struggling mining town as he tries to lead his team to a state championship in the final year before the high school closes. A great look at a town on the cusp of historical change and the spirit of determination found in athletes.

Call Me By My Name by John Ed Bradley
Set in a slow-to-integrate Louisiana town, Bradley tells the story of two friends and teammates — one black, one white. It’s a well-told tale that explores the power and limitations of athletics to bridge the racial divide.

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
A growth spurt punts a once-runty kid into the world of the jocks. With a wonderful voice, Herbach tells a hilarious and real story about navigating sudden change. (My “reluctant” readers often tear through this one.)

Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger
The source material for the movie (best soundtrack ever) and the TV series (one of the best TV shows ever), Bissinger spends a season with the Permian Panthers of Odessa, Texas. It’s a great look at what happens when gifted high school athletes are treated like throwaway gods.

Winger by Andrew Smith
Winger tells the story of a 14-year-old high school junior and rugby player as he tries to navigate life and girls at a boarding school. Smith’s hilarious and soul-crushing novel perfectly captures both the real and tenuous bonds that exist between teammates. (Yes, I know that rugby is not football. But I don’t foresee myself making a “books about rugby list” anytime soon, so here it is.)

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16. Eleanor and Park

rowell eleanor park Eleanor and ParkRainbow Rowell’s nontraditional romance novel Eleanor and Park portrays a young love that is genuine in its intimacy and awkwardness, as well as the painful realities of life that are well beyond the control of the young protagonists. What are the entry points in the story for readers whose lives are very different from those of the two main characters, set in the 1980s? Why, do you think, has this book resonated so powerfully with young readers and critics alike?

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17. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

absolutely true diary The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time IndianIn The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie tells Junior’s story with a lot of humor, but pulls no punches in depicting the brutal truths of alcoholism, poverty, and bigotry both on and off the reservation. Does humor have a place in a realistic novel about tragic circumstances? If you’ve had classroom experience with this book, how have your students responded to Junior’s story?

We are also reading Alexie’s Wall Street Journal article, “Why the Best Kid’s Books are Written In Blood.” Go ahead an comment on that article here, too.

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18. Windows and mirrors book discussion

Lauren had her first adolescent lit class last night at HGSE (Harvard Graduate School of Education). For last night’s class we talked about How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I love this part of a course when the students go from names and faces on a roster to real people with opinions about books. Lauren gave an excellent overview of literature for adolescents: the history, the jargon, the genres.

oct27readings Windows and mirrors book discussion

For next Monday’s class the theme is Windows & Mirrors and they will all read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. For their second book, they have a choice between Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and Cynthia Kadohata’s The Thing About Luck. Tough choice!

Please join us as we discuss these books before Monday evening’s class. Things tend to pick up steam later in the week, but we like to put up the posts early for those who are reading ahead.

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19. Review of Into the Grey

kiernan into the grey Review of Into the GreyInto the Grey
by Celine Kiernan
Middle School, High School    Candlewick    295 pp.
8/14    978-0-7636-7061-0    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7636-7409-0    $16.99

When their home burns down, twin teens Patrick and Dominick move with their family to the shabby seaside cottage where they usually spend summer holidays. Almost at once, Pat sees that Dom is being haunted by the ghost of a young boy, while Pat himself is visited by nightmares of a soldier drowning in the muddy trenches of World War I. Eventually Dom is utterly possessed by Francis, the ghost of a boy who died of diphtheria decades ago, and Pat is desperate to do what he can to retrieve his brother. Family and local history come together as the twisting plot makes its way toward resolution: another pair of twin brothers, a senile grandmother, Irish lads turned British soldiers, and a series of surreal dreams and psychic landscapes all fall into place. Sometimes Kiernan’s storytelling is fraught and overdrawn; at its best it is confident, pungent, and poetic. Family love, loyalty, and protectiveness are palpable in a well-drawn cast of characters, and the pace is frequently galvanized with energetic drama and dialogue pierced with Irish dialect.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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20. Guest Post and Giveaway: Robin Talley, Author of Lies We Tell Ourselves


Robin Talley hijacked the virtual dashboard this morning to chat about her research for Lies We Tell Ourselves.

Top 5 most surprising facts I learned while conducting research for Lies We Tell Ourselves:

I had to do a lot of research to write Lies We Tell Ourselves.

Since the story follows the relationship between a black girl and a white girl during the Virginia school integration crisis in 1959, I read memoirs, oral histories, and news articles about the desegregation process, trying to learn everything I could about what life was like for the students on the front lines of the battle.

But I also needed to know more run-of-the-mill facts about life for high school students in the late 1950s. So I spent a lot of time pouring over vintage yearbooks and reading up on day-to-day life at the time.

Here are a few eyebrow-raising tidbits about life in the 1950s:

1. You didn’t wash your hair every day.

Today’s routine of showering and shampooing daily would’ve sounded crazy in 1959. How often teenage girls actually washed their hair varied, but this vintage hair-care video suggests washing “with a mild soap” every two weeks:

By the way, in 1959, you basically had one hairstyle option if you were a teenage girl. Long hair and straight hair were both unthinkable. Your hair didn’t fall past your chin, and it was curly, and that was that. If your hair wasn’t naturally curly, you got a perm or you set it up in rollers every night. Presumably using the time you saved by only washing it every two weeks.

2. School dress codes were no joke.

No one ever wore jeans to school. Boys would wear khakis with belts and solid-colored Oxford shirts with socks to match. Girls, meanwhile, would never think of wearing pants to school at all. Everyone wore loafers, saddle shoes, or flats, since high heels were forbidden, except for dances. Skirts were long ? well below the knee ? and tights hadn’t been invented yet, so to stay warm in the winter, you either wore knee socks or you just shivered. This yearbook photo shows girls wearing thick coats over bare legs ? and somehow smiling in spite of it.

3. Relationships were no joke, either.

The rules for dating and romance were formal for high school students in the fifties. Boys asked girls on dates ? never the other way around, except for Sadie Hawkins dances ? and, after a sufficient number of outings to movies or football games, a boy might ask a girl to go steady. To do this, he’d give her something of his to wear ? an identity bracelet, a class ring, a football pin, a letter sweater ? and whatever it was, she’d wear that thing every day of her life until they broke up. Going-steady couples walked down the school hallways together with the boys carrying the girls’ books. My mother told me about a trend she remembered where girls would wear blouses that had loops of fabric at the back of the collar. She remembered one going-steady couple at her school who walked down the hall together with the boy’s finger looped through the fabric at the back of her blouse collar. It sounds like nothing short of a leash.

4. Double standards for girls were the norm.

As I mentioned up in #3, the decision of who dated whom and who went steady with whom was almost entirely up to boys ? they were the only ones who could suggest a date or a relationship. After that, though, it was up to girls to keep the boys in check. It was considered normal for boys to want to hook up, but girls were supposed to stop them, or else. Even if you were going steady, girls were still supposed to rein their boyfriends in when they got “carried away.” A girl who kissed on a first date was “easy.” So was a girl who wore a skirt that was deemed too tight. My aunt told me about one classmate she remembered who was known for routinely too far with boys ? meaning she and the boys she dated would engage in extended kissing sessions. The other girls at their school referred to this girl in whispered voices as a “make out.”

5. Air raid drills were part of life.

The 1950s were near the height of the Cold War. During classes, it was routine for a practice air-raid siren to go off. Students were expected to duck down under their desks or go out into the hallway and kneel against the wall with their arms over their heads. These tactics wouldn’t have helped in the slightest if there had been an actual nuclear attack, of course ? nuclear weapons do far too much damage for it to make a difference what position you’re in ? but they did a great job of freaking out the students who went through the drills, and of reminding them of the Communist threat that loomed over everyone’s heads.

About the book:

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever. 

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily. 

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.” 

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another. 

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.

US addresses only, please

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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21. No Crystal Stair

Nelson Crystal Stair 212x300 No Crystal StairNo Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Documents, photos, fictionalized and true accounts of historical figures and events are woven together in this portrait of Nelson’s larger-than-life great uncle Lewis Michaux. What to you make of the blending of elements and genres in this work (which I described as “defying categorization” when presenting the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction in 2012)?


Note from Lolly: Here is a link to Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s and R. Gregory Christie’s acceptance speeches when this book won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award:

YouTube video
Print version

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22. Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

May Contain Spoilers


Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brutally frank look at one of the most racially charged moments in the history of the United States.  Sarah Dunbar is a teenager, and she’s one of the first black students to attend a traditionally white school in the south.  Sarah is a bright girl with a promising academic future – until her parents enroll her Jefferson High School.  She faces opposition every day, and the honor student’s schedule is full of remedial classes, because the school administrators don’t want these new, unwanted students holding back the rest of the class.  The white students don’t want her there, their parents don’t want her there, and even the faculty looks the other way as she is tormented daily. 

After reading this, all I can say is “Wow.”  I don’t know where Sarah found the strength to endure the daily abuses she suffered at the hands of her white classmates.  To say that she was constantly bullied understates her situation.  She was taunted, called names, spit on, tripped, pelted with spitballs – the list goes on.  There was no one at school for her to ask for assistance because the teachers practiced selective blindness when it was happening.  Before even starting at Jefferson, Sarah and the small group of teens who were selected to attend with her were given training and strict instructions to never talk back, to always be polite, and to never fight back.  I don’t think I could have done it.  I know I wouldn’t have lasted more than a day or two if I had been in Sarah’s shoes.

Linda is one of Sarah’s white classmates.  Her father is the editor for the local newspaper, and he is very outspoken in his thoughts on integration.  He is totally against it and he’s still fighting it, tooth and nail, even after the court order paving the way for Sarah to attend the former all white school.  Linda’s relationship with her father is contentious, but what she wants most in the world is his approval.  Even a shred of attention is uplifting.  To gain his approval, she parrots his views on the colored interlopers at her school, but as she gets to know Sarah, against her will, she starts to question her own poisonous views.

I enjoyed getting to know the girls so much.  The story is told in alternating POV, and Sarah’s narrative made it difficult to put the book down.  It took a while for me to warm up to Linda, because of the things she said and did.  Every now and again she would do the right thing, then, in the next breath, she would do something to negate her selfless acts.  Argh!  She made me so frustrated!

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot.  Lies We Tell Ourselves is a thought-provoking read that will make you angry, sad, and ultimately, hopeful.  I loved the ending, and it left me reassured that both Sarah and Linda would find their place in the world, and they would meet each new challenge with courage and strength.

Grade:  A

Review copy provided by publisher

From Amazon:

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever. 

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily. 

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.” 

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another. 

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.

The post Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley appeared first on Manga Maniac Cafe.

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23. On Bullying

I know I've written about bullying before, but recent events have hurt someone dear to me. Please forgive. I'm starting this at 4-something in the morning because I'm mad. In my neck of the woods, we sometimes say "pissed" when one is this mad. Not "pissed" drunk like our friends across the pond, but "pissed off."

I am.

I'm tried of bullies. I'm tired of them at my job as a middle school/high school guidance counselor and I'm tired of the unfortunate reality that bullies exist as adults, too. Once upon a time, I believed in some fairy tale version of adulthood in which all the bullies matured and shed their evil skin. Like all fairy tales, this one is fiction.

Bullies are everywhere and every age, and if they've shed any skin, it's only to grown a more insidious one in its place. 

The bullies at school are sneaky. A teacher turns away and one boy punches another. They wait until I pass during lunch duty, and call their target names. In many ways, the girls are worst. I could relate scores of personal examples from my job, and it wouldn't take much to do a simple Google search and find stacks of digital articles on the subject.

Females--girls and grown women--like to do their bullying in different ways than boys. They often ostracize and exclude. They post hideous untruths online and laugh when their target's life falls apart. They've found ways to belittle via social media I shudder to recall. The motives are varied, but one constant keeps surfacing: if one is the bully, it steers attention to someone else. In the bully's mind, as long as someone else is the target, it's not her.

It hurts me to watch the cruelty at my job and hurts me in my neighborhood. Yes, my neighborhood lives in the shadow of a bully and I'm tried of it. Just like the girls at school, adult bullies ostracize and exclude. They manipulate and maneuver to make sure the target is not them. Sometimes the cruelty wears the most subtle cloak--for example, repeatedly leaving someone's name off a mailing list about neighborhood activities.

I was the target of bullying in middle school. The ride from my school to the high school for band class in 7th grade was especially agonizing. We would load the unsupervised bus--because let's be honest about the driver's ability to both drive and make sure passengers weren't being douche bags--and take a five minute jaunt from one school to the other. I heard "fag" and "gay" more times than I could count during those five minutes. A group of boys a year or two older than me would hound me after school during an arduous walk home. The walk was only four blocks, but it felt like four hundred.

Sometimes I feel so powerless when confronted with bullying at my job. It's especially difficult as an adult in my own neighborhood. No one--not one living creature--has the right to make anyone else feel like those ass hats made me feel in middle school. It turns my stomach that so many continue their cruelty long after the bus engine has gone cold.

So what do we do? Talk about it... write about it. Stand up and be counted among those who will not tolerate such behavior. There are more victims than bullies, and like most forms of darkness, this one cannot stand the light.

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24. The Book Review Club - Don't Call Me Ishmael

Don't Call Me Ishmael
Michael Gerard Bauer

If the cold, dreary, dark days of January have blanketed you, this is just the right read. Don't Call Me Ishmael is Bud, not Buddy hilarious and set in Australia, where, currently, it is summer! So pull up a chair and toast your toes on the warmth and humor of this story.

Basic plot: Ishmael Leseur, a Year Nine student (that's down under for ninth grader), suffers from ILS, Ishmael Leseur Syndrome, which is Ishmael's name for his particular brand of adolescent/early teeanage agony. It's made up of a "crawl in a hole" embarrassing story why he parents named him after one of literature's most renowned protagonists, a bully who teases him about said name, a girl whom he is crazy for but who doesn't know he exists, and a group of misfit friends who are constantly getting themselves into embarrassment squared messes.

I discovered this book in, of all things, German (although the author is from and story set in Australia, so no worries, you can easily get it in English). My husband comes from ye olde country and we've raised our daughters bi-lingually, which has meant a lot of audiobooks "auf Deutsch". I chose this title for its length. Shameful, I know, but it was six hours long instead of the meager two so many middle grade German audible books come in at. So there you have it, random parameters (barrage young ears with as much second language as possible) unearthed a humor goldmine.

I wish I could say I know how Bauer does it, but I don't, which is why I've gotten the other two books in this series to get behind his humor trick. He is spot on with adolescent funny. My daughters and I laugh out loud in the car on the way to school every morning. Me, maybe more. The agony of teenagerdom maybe hits a little too close to home for barrel laughs for them. Theirs is more the "somebody else is going through this?!?" ha-ha-whew.

So there you have it. Pick up a copy of Don't Call Me Ishmael and start 2015 off with a good laugh and an uproarious story. For more cheer in these bleak months, check out the reviews on Barrie Summy's website (and pray that groundhog doesn't see his shadow!)

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25. Review of Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom

lowery_turning 15 on the road to freedomTurning 15 on the Road to Freedom:
My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March

by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley; illus. by PJ Loughran
Middle School, High School   Dial   128 pp.
1/15   978-0-8037-4123-2   $19.99   g

Lowery offers a revealing look at a childhood spent in the midst of the civil rights movement. As a teenager, the Selma, Alabama, native was there to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak out for black voting rights; she was tear-gassed and beaten on “Bloody Sunday” (as Lowery writes, in perhaps the understatement of the century, “It was not a good day to be around white people”); and she was among the three hundred people who marched from Selma to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery in 1965. Lowery’s voice is consistently engaging (“After that first time [in jail], I wasn’t so afraid, because I was with my buddies and we knew we had each other’s back. What we could do with each other’s backs, I don’t know. Those white policemen had billy clubs and guns”) and casual even as she parcels out often-harrowing memories (such as her time spent in the jail’s “sweatbox”: “There was no air…There was no toilet…There was nothing but heat in an iron box”). Period photos are incorporated seamlessly into the book design, and Loughran captures the emotions of the times with boldly colored illustrations. An epilogue of sorts — “Why Voting Rights?” — gives an excellent explanation of the significance of the right to vote for African Americans while making mention of the Supreme Court’s controversial 2013 changes to the Voting Rights Act. A strong addition to the canon of civil rights books for young people.


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