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Results 1 - 25 of 196
1. Wonder Woman at Super Hero High, by Lisa Yee

This super cutie book showed up in the post the other day, and I promptly snagged it to take it home. I constantly on the look-out for all things super hero, and when there is a girl power theme, I'm all for it.  Plus, Lisa Yee?  I'm all in.

Wonder Woman has lived on Paradise Island with her mother her whole life, and she has been happy there. But Wonder Woman actually goes behind Hippolyta's back and applies to Super Hero High. It's not that Wonder Woman wants to leave home and her mother, but she does want to spread her wings and figure out who she is.

Wonder Woman is ecstatic when she finds out she is accepted, and is even more thrilled when her mother lets her go.

The thing is, Wonder Woman hasn't exactly been around the block. Have you ever met someone who takes everything literally?  Well, that is Wonder Woman to a "t"!  When she is told to get a clue she goes looking for one! Imagine moving from Paradise Island to being roomies with vlog obsessed Harley Quinn?

Permeating the school are the regular high school cliquey concerns, but what is on the minds of everyone is the upcoming team selection for the elite Super Triathlon Team.  Whispers around the hallways say that Wonder Woman was recruited for this very task, and that she's a shoe in.  Wonder Woman is starting to believe it too, because someone is leaving her nasty notes encouraging her to leave the school.  Can Wonder Woman live up to her mother's standards while figuring out the ropes of high school?

Readers meet so many characters along the including Beast Boy, Bumblebee, Star Sapphire, Cheetah, Frost, Golden Glider, Katana, Green Lantern, Red Tornado, Crazy Quilt, Hawkgirl among others.  I was grateful for an internet search or two to figure out who is who.  Perhaps a back-matter listing of characters and attributes would be helpful.

Overall, this is a super fun start to a series that will fill a gap.  While the characters are over the top in a comic book way, their larger than life characteristics obviously fit the occasion.  Even though the books are branded as DC SuperHero Girls, boys will pick up these titles as well.  The pages are filled with plenty of action and drama, and I can't wait to see what comes next!




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2. Review of The Smell of Other People’s Houses

hitchcock_smell of other people's housesThe Smell of Other People’s Houses
by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Middle School, High School   Lamb/Random   228 pp.
2/16   978-0-553-49778-6   $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-553-49779-3   $20.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-553-49780-9   $10.99

Through sensory details that viscerally evoke the story’s physical and emotional landscapes, readers are transported to 1970s Birch Park, Alaska, where hunting and fishing are both livelihood and way of life for most families. As the book’s title suggests, richly described scents are pervasive. Sixteen-year-old Ruth associates the smell of freshly cut deer meat with her happy early-childhood home, in sharp contrast to the clinical, Lemon Pledge–clean of Gran’s house, where she and her sister have been raised in rigid austerity since their father’s death. A wealthy family’s lake house smells of cedar, while the heavily trafficked Goodwill “smells like everyone’s mud room in spring…moldy and sweaty.” Four distinct first-person narrative voices — no small feat — breathe life into the adolescent protagonists, whose engaging individual stories, thematically linked by loss and yearning throughout the seasons, are enriched by their intersections. Escaping her alcoholic father’s abuse and mother’s neglect, Dora finds a welcome haven in the bustling energy of Dumpling’s family’s fish camp. A few stolen nights with handsome Ray Stevens lands Ruth scared, alone, and pregnant on a bus to Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow, an abbey with unexpected ties to her family. While some character crossings strain credulity, all the story lines are grounded in emotional honesty.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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3. Two historical fiction books | Class #3, 2016

One Crazy Summer     No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Supplemental readings:

  • Rita Williams-Garcia’s profile in July/August 2007 Horn Book Magazine
  • No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Historical fiction is a balancing act of storytelling and character development with real-world events. How do these different aspects interact in each of these works? How do the authors engage readers in both the lives of the characters and their time and place in history?

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4. Three nonfiction books | Class #3, 2016

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin    Claudette Colvin    marching for freedom

Bomb: the Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steven Shenkin

Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose

Marching For Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge

Good nonfiction shares many of the qualities of good fiction; the best writers pay as much attention to narrative, style, and characterization as to careful research of the facts. Design is another important feature of much nonfiction. Which literary elements are most notable in the works for this week?

 

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5. Infinite in Between by Carolyn Mackler

2015, HarperTeen

They are all beginning to converge on one of the most important days of their lives.  The month: September.  The place: high school in the small town of Hankinson.  The event: freshmen orientation...

Gregor is the quiet one.  He has a close-knit family and an older sister in high school who dispenses advice which may or may not be the best (you know how siblings are).  His best friend Dinky, whose nickname suits him, carries the excitement for both of them.  And although Gregor isn't enthused, he knows this is the day which will usher in the next four crucial years.

Zoe left beautiful Los Angeles to live with her aunt in Hankinson, New York.  Totally out of her realm, Zoe must make the best of it while her famous actress mother goes through yet another stint in rehab.  She knows nothing about her aunt, except the sisters don't get along, and she isn't told why. She's not looking forward to going to freshmen orientation, especially since everyone's seen the infamous video of her and her mother....

Jake has mixed feelings as well about becoming a high-schooler, especially after what happened last year.  His best friend Ted has moved on from him and is the guy all girls want to date - handsome, athletic, popular.  The problem is, Jake let him know how he felt about him and it changed not only their friendship, but his status in school.  Now, the game is to avoid his ex-best friend as much as possible during the next four years.

Whitney bounces and glows wherever she is.  Beautiful and popular, she makes friends easily, is involved in all kinds of clubs, and dates guys beyond their freshmen year.  The thing is, Whitney doesn't condone bad behavior, especially when her friends are being horrendously rude and because of her morals, she begins to be excluded from things.  Four years of icy shoulders is a long time, but can her sunny disposition melt the ice?

Mia dresses in black, wears her hair and make-up dark, and doesn't say much.  She is the anti-establishment of her parents and their country club tennis looks and isn't going to change.  Four years ahead of her is going to be a long journey, but she's ready for it because she has her endgame in mind- to leave this town as fast as possible.

All five of these teens are thrown together during orientation and are tasked with coming up with a "bonding" project to get to know each other more.  They don't run in the same circles, so they come up with the only solution they agree on.  Write a letter to their future selves and meet up on graduation day to read them.

And the next four years of their lives begin...

And this is where the reader gets to be the fly on the wall as we watch all five teens change and evolve physically, morally and emotionally.  There are turns in the roads for all of them in their personal and school lives. Their lives even weave and intersect at times in very interesting ways. What makes this novel so appealing is the reader will be able to see themselves or those they know in any of the characters and which makes this book become personal...the ultimate nod of an excellent YA novel.  As I posted on Twitter, this novel is  part Breakfast Club, part St. Elmo's fire, part New Year's Eve.  LOVED it!!

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6. Review of The Trouble in Me

gantos_trouble in me_170x256The Trouble in Me
by Jack Gantos
Middle School, High School   Farrar   208 pp.
9/15   978-0-374-37995-7   $17.99   g

By the summer before eighth grade, young Jack Gantos didn’t think much of himself. He had the “milky physique of a very soft boy” and looked like a “boneless squid.” His “mouth bully” of a father called him “ass-wipe,” “shithead,” and “brain-dead.” About to start at his sixth school in eight grades, he had no friends, and girls paid him no mind. He was a “drifty kid who was lost at sea…easily led off course.” Bored with his own life, he tried to be somebody else and fell into the orbit of juvenile delinquent neighbor Gary Pagoda. Suddenly, he felt alive doing stupid stuff with Gary — diving into a pool of flames; being catapulted from a tree, over a house, and into a swimming pool; roller-skating down a sheet-metal slide through a hula-hoop ring of fire. Gary was Peter Pan; Jack, his shadow. Jack could feel Gary molding him into “an Adam or a golem or some magical creature that had once been a handful of dirt but was now under his spell.” Gantos effectively narrates his own story in this memoir, reviewing portions of his life to identify the character flaw that led him to abandon his “better self” in favor of later becoming a drug smuggler who ended up in a federal penitentiary. As explained in the afterword, this volume acts as a preface to Hole in My Life (rev. 5/02), and readers who read both will experience the full arc of Jack’s wild behavior, severe consequences, and, ultimately, redemption.

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

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7. Review of All American Boys

reynolds_all american boysstar2 All American Boys
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
High School   Dlouhy/Atheneum   316 pp.
9/15   978-1-4814-6333-1   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-6335-5   $9.99

Teens Rashad (who is African American) and Quinn (who is white) are high school classmates and not much more — neither even knows the other’s name. But when a quick stop at the corner store for a bag of chips on a Friday night suddenly escalates into a terrifying scene of police brutality, the two boys are linked and altered by the violence — Rashad as its victim and Quinn as its witness. During the week following the incident, and in alternating voices, the teens narrate events as Rashad deals with his injuries and the unwanted limelight as the latest black victim in the news; and as Quinn tries to understand how a cop he considers family could be capable of such unprovoked rage, and where his loyalties are now supposed to lie. Faced with an all-too-common issue, both narrators must navigate opposing views from their friends and families to decide for themselves whether to get involved or walk away. Written with sharp humor and devastating honesty, this nuanced, thoughtful novel recalls the work of Walter Dean Myers and is worthy of his legacy. Reynolds and Kiely explore issues of racism, power, and justice with a diverse (ethnically and philosophically) cast of characters and two remarkable protagonists forced to grapple with the layered complexities of growing up in a racially tense America.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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8. Boys to remember

Four novels featuring teenage boys — in both contemporary and historical settings — take on big issues, with memorable results.

reynolds_all american boysAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is a ripped-from-the-headlines story written with nuance, sharp humor, and devastating honesty. When a quick stop at the corner store suddenly escalates into a terrifying scene of police brutality, two high school classmates are linked and altered by the violence — Rashad (who is African American) as its victim; Quinn (who is white) as its witness. The authors have brought together issues of racism, power, and justice with a diverse cast of characters and two remarkable protagonists forced to grapple with the layered complexities of growing up in racially tense America. (Atheneum/Dlouhy, 14 years and up)

leavitt_calvinThe seventeen-year-old star of Calvin by Martine Leavitt believes that his life is inextricably linked to the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes — a belief reinforced by the constant presence of the voice of tiger Hobbes in his consciousness. Recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, he’s convinced that if he can persuade the famously reclusive cartoonist Bill Watterson to draw a final cartoon of a teenage Calvin without Hobbes, he himself will be cured. On a pilgrimage to find Watterson, Calvin sets off across frozen Lake Erie, accompanied by old flame/current frenemy Susie. Along the way, Calvin and Susie examine — sweetly and humorously — their relationship and ponder the big existential questions of life. (Farrar/Ferguson, 14 years and up)

quintero_show and proveIn the summer of 1983, best friends — and alternating narrators in Sofia Quintero’s Show and Prove — Raymond “Smiles” King and Guillermo “Nike” Vega are working as camp counselors at a summer enrichment program in their South Bronx neighborhood. Smiles is crushed when he loses out on a promotion to senior counselor; Nike thinks that winning a break-dancing competition will impress his crush. As the summer goes on, neighborhood tensions and secrets are revealed, from the camp’s budget concerns to racial and religious conflicts among black Caribbeans, Puerto Ricans, and Palestinians. The novel features two vibrant, fully realized narrators with complex lives, a memorable supporting cast, and a complete immersion in the zeitgeist of the eighties, from music to politics. (Knopf, 14 years and up)

schmidt_orbiting jupiterIn Gary D. Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter, sixth-grader Jack’s family fosters a fourteen-year-old boy with a troubled past. Joseph attacked a teacher, was subsequently incarcerated at a juvenile detention center, and has a baby daughter whom he’s never seen. Jack and his parents gradually peel away Joseph’s protective veneer, but the teen’s single-minded desire to parent his daughter — and then the arrival of Joseph’s violent father — leads to strife. The book’s ending is bittersweet but as satisfying as a two-box-of-tissues tearjerker can possibly be. (Clarion, 11–14 years)

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

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9. Five questions for Tim Wynne-Jones

Tim_Wynne-JonesAt the start of Tim Wynne-Jones’s The Emperor of Any Place (Candlewick, 14 years and up), Evan, reeling from the death of his single father, has no choice but to contact his paternal grandfather, Griff — whom Evan’s dad called a murderer. A gripping story-within-the-story unfolds about a WWII Japanese soldier stranded on a haunted island. How Wynne-Jones weaves these strands together is elegant, surprising, and exhilarating.

1. How much did you know about WWII Japan and Japanese folklore before writing this book?

TWJ: Very little! I’ve had the good fortune to travel in Japan, and loved it, but I cannot claim any particular prior knowledge of Japanese culture or folklore. For years I had wanted to write a World War II book to honor my father, whose experience of the war in Europe scarred him. What we would call PTSD now, but which he did not acknowledge as more than “shell shock,” haunted him and had an effect on us, his children. War does that: spirals down the years and decades, affecting generations. Whenever I tried to write myself into the war, so to speak, I found it impossible, and only after a great deal of time did I come to the realization that the European war was my father’s war. Which left me with the “Other War,” in the Pacific Theater, the one I knew next to nothing about. That gave me the freedom to research deeply, to dig and imagine and finally find a corner of the war that I could inhabit, fictionally.

As I was getting to know Isamu Oshiro, I realized he would have grown up with the folklore of his people just as I have grown up with the folklore of mine. And as soon as I started reading up on that, I knew it would be an integral part of Kokoro-Jima. I have played with the idea of the jikininki, giving them a unique back-story. This is what Bram Stoker did with Dracula: take an existing folktale and breathe new life into it. It has happened down the ages and was one of my favorite parts of writing this book.

2. Did you write the different threads of the story one at a time or were you working on them all at once?

TWJ: Oh, the threads. The threads were a complete schmozzle! There were so many threads — far more than made the final cut. At one point I had thirteen point-of-view characters all clamoring to tell their stories. “Me, me!,” they shouted until my head hurt. What really came first was the story-within-the-story, that of Isamu’s adventures on the island of ghosts and monsters. Then there was the very lengthy task of finding out who else was going to make their way to that mysterious place and how it would all play out and how those people were related to the contemporary characters. I drew a whole lot of family trees!

wynne-jones_emperor of any place3. Did you make Griff up? Or is he based on someone you know?

TWJ: Griff grew out of my research and wide reading about the war, but with aspects of various people I’ve met, including my father. War shapes a man, whether he wants it to or not. A lifetime of fighting wars has shaped Griff. There was a whole novella-length part of the book that I eventually took out, about when Griff was a young man, Evan’s age, stationed in Iceland, before he was shipped over to the Pacific after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It was, among other things, a love story. He alludes to that in the novel, but originally I had the whole story as part of this book. That was when the novel was over six hundred pages long and…well, something had to go. But I’m so glad I wrote his story. It really helped me to get to know him and see that he wasn’t always like he is now. Once he was young and in love, with his whole life before him.

4. This book is: realistic family story; fantasy; mystery; ghost story; historical fiction; war story; contemporary fiction; story-within-a-story; and more. How’d you make that all work?

TWJ: Phew! Put that way, I’m not sure! It took a long time, I’ll say that much. I usually spend a year or so writing a novel. This one took more than three and a half years. There were so many parts of the story I wanted to tell, and I juggled all that in such a way that there were many, many versions. Gradually, the stories that needed to be there stayed and the other parts fell away. Along with the Griff novella, there was another whole novella telling us Hisako’s story as she lived through the invasion of Sampei. I think it was only when Evan rose to the top as my central character that I knew what I could include and what had to go, no matter how interesting it was to me in and of itself. This is, in the end, Isamu’s and Evan’s book, and there is nothing in it now that doesn’t shore up their stories and, hopefully, weave them together: the Emperor of Kokoro-Jima and the Emperor of Any Place.

5. Do you believe in the afterlife? (Or the beforelife, in this case?)

TWJ: Do you want the long answer, the short answer, or the truth? The afterlife has been a part of human culture — the Human Mind — for so many millennia it’s not something one can simply dismiss. I don’t believe in heaven as a place, per se, so much as a deeply rooted concept, but I do believe that the idea operates on us and through us while we are alive. So in a way it does exist as we live in a world with this unanswered and persuasive question hanging over our heads. It was only after a long time of writing this novel that I came up with the idea of preincarnation, and I loved the poetry of it. I quickly learned that there are other definitions of this word out there, but my own definition and its appearance on Kokoko-Jima captivated my imagination. I love the idea that there was — is — this magical island in the largest of our oceans where the future waits in ethereal form and recognizes us for who we are, if we happen to wash up on the shore there. I suppose that even if heaven is only a metaphor, it’s a particularly powerful one. And I take metaphors very seriously. A metaphor is how we describe something we have no description for. Sounds like heaven to me!

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

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10. Review of The Emperor of Any Place

wynne-jones_emperor of any placestar2 The Emperor of Any Place
by Tim Wynne-Jones
High School   Candlewick   328 pp.
10/15   978-0-7636-6973-7   $17.99

“So much of grief is unlearning,” observes Wynne-Jones in this perceptive and 
multi-layered page-turner. When Evan’s single father, Clifford, dies suddenly, the high-schooler must work through his own grief while dealing with Clifford’s estranged father Griff, a military man who Clifford had claimed was a murderer. Griff’s also a control freak and is somehow tied to the strange book that was sent to Clifford just before he died. As Evan reads the book — the translated journal of a WWII Japanese soldier stranded on a mystical island with an American Marine plane-crash survivor — he experiences a strange sense of déjà-vu. Wynne-Jones skillfully weaves the World War II journal into Evan’s own story, building suspense and keeping Griff’s part in the proceedings just obscure enough to create a cracking mystery. The author’s conversational tone provides occasional comic relief when things start to get too sinister, and the immediacy of his writing leads to some evocative descriptive passages (such as when Evan and his father listen to Miles Davis: “A night breeze stole into the room and was doing a slow dance under the jazz. Evan could feel it on the back of his neck, the sweat on him cooling. He shivered”). There’s a whole lot going on here: Evan’s and Griff’s shared heartbreak, exhibited in very different ways, and their own increasingly complicated relationship; the stark contrast between the mainly nondescript “Any Place” of Evan’s suburban Ontario and the horror of the desert island; and the unlikely friendship between enemy soldiers in the story-within-a-story. All these seemingly disparate parts come together in fascinating ways, resulting in an affecting and unforgettable read.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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11. Reviews of The Hunger Games trilogy

hunger gamesstar2 The Hunger Games [Hunger Games]
by Suzanne Collins
Middle School, High School     Scholastic      374 pp.
10/08     978-0-439-02348-1      $17.99

Survivor meets “The Lottery” as the author of the popular Underland Chronicles returns with what promises to be an even better series. The United States is no more, and the new Capitol, high in the Rocky Mountains, requires each district to send two teenagers, a boy and a girl, to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a reality show from which only one of the twenty-four participants will emerge victorious — and alive. When her younger sister is chosen by lottery to represent their district, Katniss volunteers to go in her stead, while Peeta, who secretly harbors a crush on Katniss, is the boy selected to join her. A fierce, resourceful competitor who wins the respect of the other participants and the viewing public, Katniss also displays great compassion and vulnerability through her first-person narration. The plot is front and center here — the twists and turns are addictive, particularly when the romantic subplot ups the ante — yet the Capitol’s oppression and exploitation of the districts always simmers just below the surface, waiting to be more fully explored in future volumes. Collins has written a compulsively readable blend of science fiction, survival story, unlikely romance, and social commentary. JONATHAN HUNT

From the September/October 2008 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

collins_catching fire Catching Fire [Hunger Games]
by Suzanne Collins
Middle School, High School    391 pp.     Scholastic
9/09     978-0-439-02349-8      $17.99     g

Six months have passed since Katniss and Peeta won the Hunger Games, and now they are ready to embark on their Victory Tour of the districts, but they do so under an ominous threat to the safety of their family and friends, a threat delivered in person by President Snow himself. It turns out that Katniss’s Games-ending stunt with the berries has been read not only as an expression of her devotion to Peeta but also as an act of defiance of the Capitol — and because most of the districts fester with unrest, the Capitol is pressuring her to reinforce the first interpretation. The Victory Tour and its aftermath give her time to work through her ambivalence toward the rebellion (Does her celebrity obligate her to participate in the uprising?) and romance (How does she really feel about Gale? about Peeta?), but the Hunger Games are fast approaching, and since this is the seventy-fifth anniversary, these Games will be a Quarter Quell, an opportunity for the Capitol to add a cruel twist. This year’s twist seems particularly so, but Katniss and company are equal to it. The plot kicks into another gear as the fascinating horrors of the Hunger Games are re-enacted with their usual violence and suspense. Many of the supporting characters — each personality distinct — offer their own surprises. The stunning resolution reveals the depth of the rebellion, while one last cliffhanger sets the stage for a grand finale. Collins has once again delivered a page-turning blend of plot and character with an inventive setting and provocative themes. JONATHAN HUNT

From the September/October 2009 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

collins_mockingjayMockingjay [Hunger Games]
by Suzanne Collins
Middle School, High School     Scholastic     392 pp.
8/10     978-0-439-02351-1     $17.99

Katniss has been spirited away from the carnage of the recent Quarter Quell (Catching Fire) to District 13, thought to have been destroyed years ago, but very much alive and kicking. As all of the districts move into open rebellion against the Capitol, Katniss reluctantly but resolutely accepts her role as the figurehead of the movement. As she heals, both physically and emotionally, from her previous ordeal, she works through not only the ethical minefield of warfare but also her complicated relationships with Peeta and Gale. One last desperate mission takes Katniss and company to the Capitol, where she hopes to deal a mortal blow to President Snow and his oppressive regime. Collins has always been able to generate an extraordinary amount of suspense and surprise from a single narrative arc, and that’s certainly true once again. But the events of this story play out on a much more epic scale (rapid changes in time and place and a larger cast of characters), almost demanding more than the single point of view (Katniss’s) Collins employs. Some may be disappointed that this concluding volume features less action and more introspection than the earlier books; others may wish for a different resolution, particularly where romance is concerned. All things considered, however, Collins has brought the most compelling science-fiction saga of the past several years to a satisfying and provocative conclusion. JONATHAN HUNT

From the November/December 2010 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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12. Review of My Seneca Village

nelson_my seneca villagestar2 My Seneca Village
by Marilyn Nelson
Middle School, High School   Namelos   88 pp.
11/15   978-1-60898-196-0   $21.95
Paper ed. 978-1-60898-197-7   $11.95
e-book ed. 978-1-60898-198-4   $9.95

Seneca Village in Manhattan was founded in 1825 by free African Americans; by 1857 it had been razed to make way for the construction of Central Park. In forty-one poems Nelson spans the life of the village through the imagined reflections of its inhabitants. Some we meet just once, while others reappear: Epiphany Davis, forecaster of the future; Frederick Riddles, schoolboy turned soldier; and Sarah Matilda White, hair-braider and gossip. Most of the characters are African American, with a few Irish and German immigrants who also made their home there. Through a range of poetic forms and voices, Nelson communicates the desires, fulfillments, and disappointments of the village residents, along with episodes from daily life and larger historical incidents such as the Shakespeare 
Riot and an address by Frederick Douglass (italicized historical notes help contextualize events). Poems appear on right-hand pages and are prefaced by brief text on the left — reminiscent of stage directions — that helps set the scene (“We’re in Sarah’s kitchen again. The woman whose hair she is braiding looks very shocked”) and knit a light narrative from the chronologically sequential poems. Nelson’s natural and musical poetic lines (mostly in iambic pentameter) suggest reading aloud yet are accessible on the page and lend themselves to multiple reading experiences: as history; as story; as poetry, to be read sequentially or browsed and revisited. The drab cover is unfortunate, but readers who get past it will find one of Nelson’s finest works.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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13. Review of A Song for Ella Grey

almond_song for ella greyA Song for Ella Grey
by David Almond
High School   Delacorte   268 pp.
10/15   978-0-553-53359-0   $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-553-53360-6   $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-553-53361-3   $10.99

A celebration of the wonderful madness of youth, and of the bemusing, soul-confusing power of aesthetic experience, lies at the heart of Almond’s lyrical, contemporary-set take on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Set on the northeast coast of Britain, Almond’s story echoes that of the myth: teen Ella falls in love with Orpheus; they’re wed; Ella dies; and Orpheus retrieves her from death only to lose her at the last minute. Almond’s narrator, Ella’s best friend Claire, takes up her pen to bring her “friend into the world for one last night then let her go forever,” recalling the spiky conversations, parental disagreements, and school assignments that are part of her life and Ella’s. But she strives most to convey the experience of hearing Orpheus’s music, the inchoate yearnings and ecstasy it evokes in herself and her friends: “It was like being blessed,” she writes. “Like truly becoming ourselves. Like being loved.” Almond’s prose has always been intense, sensual, and vivid: here his very subject matter is intensity of feeling with a capital F. Cumulatively, from one page to the next, physical, emotional, and aesthetic bliss becomes ever more potent: a foundation for adult awareness, for the joy that lies in art, nature, and love.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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14. Review of City of Halves

inglis_city of halvesCity of Halves
by Lucy Inglis
Middle School, High School   Chicken House/Scholastic   361 pp.
11/15   978-0-545-82958-8   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-545-83054-6   $17.99

While on reconnaissance for her lawyer father in the City of London, sixteen-year-old Lily is viciously attacked by a two-headed dog and discovers the existence of the other half of the City she thought she’d known all her life. Tall, “eerily beautiful” Regan saves her life with a transfusion of his blood, which miraculously heals her wounds. Lily is plunged into the world of the City’s unseen, inhuman inhabitants, the Eldritche, at a dangerous time when young girls are disappearing and monsters are at large; an ancient prophecy concerning Lily and Regan is coming to pass. The historically distinct City of London, surrounded by an ancient Roman wall and gates, is a perfect setting for Inglis’s credible blending of the mythological and modern and her appealingly extraordinary protagonists. A deft hacker, Lily follows leads for the missing girls into dangerous situations, from which Regan, Guardian of the Gates, rescues her more than once. Slowly unraveling mystery, fast-paced action, and preternatural romance will leave readers eager for the clearly projected sequel.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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15. Review of Carry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow

rowell_carry onCarry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow
by Rainbow Rowell
High School   St. Martin’s Griffin   522 pp.
10/15   978-1-250-04955-1   $19.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4668-5054-5   $9.99

In Fangirl (rev. 11/13), protagonist Cath wrote fanfiction for the fictitious “Simon Snow” fantasy series. Now Rowell has written a novel set in Simon Snow’s universe and using many conventions of fanfiction, most notably “slash” (in this case non-graphic), usually defined as a wish-fulfilling relationship between two characters of the same sex who, in the original work, are not a romantic couple. Simon, the most powerful mage in centuries, uncovers secrets during his final year at Watford School of Magicks that call into question his long-held beliefs about sharp lines between good and evil. He also begins to realize that his obsession with his probably-a-vampire roommate Baz may not be purely antagonistic. The novel is longer than it needs to be — just kiss already, Simon and Baz — and the many alternating narrators are a little dense when it comes to solving several related mysteries. But there’s plenty to enjoy along the way, including clever names for spells (“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” makes oddities like dragon parts on a human unnoticeable) and plenty of wit. Reading Fangirl first isn’t strictly necessary — the brief author’s note covers the basics — and the metatextual concept is somewhere on the spectrum between confusing and fascinating, depending on one’s perspective. A working knowledge of the Harry Potter books and other popular fandoms isn’t absolutely essential either, but it makes this send-up a lot more fun.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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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19. Manga Review: Limit V 3 by Keiko Suenobu

Contains Spoilers

Review:

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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20. 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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21. #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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22. 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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23. Pick your poison

A chilling short story collection, two suspenseful novels, and one book that’s a bit of both: there’s something here for every young adult horror fan.

tucholke_slasher girls & monster boysEach of the fourteen short tales of horror in Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, selected by April Genevieve Tucholke, is inspired by at least one other story, film, or song: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Hitchcock movies, Carrie, Zombieland, etc. With such eclectic antecedents, a wide range of approaches to the theme, and settings that span time and cultures, the resulting collection is satisfyingly diverse and compelling. After encountering the horrors here, variously supernatural and disturbingly human, readers may want to leave the lights on. (Dial, 14 years and up)

lee_this monstrous thingIn Mackenzi Lee’s This Monstrous Thing, set in an early-nineteenth-century alternate-universe Geneva, Alasdair Finch lives with a terrible secret: he’s responsible for the accident that killed his brother Oliver. He’s also responsible for having furtively dug up Oliver’s body and re-animated him entirely with clockwork parts. Now, two years later, an arrest warrant forces Alasdair to flee the city, leaving his monstrous brother behind. This retelling of Frankenstein, set in the year the novel came out—and with Mary Godwin (Shelley’s maiden name) as a character — has all the gothic atmosphere of Shelley’s classic horror story. (HarperCollins/Tegen, 13–16 years)

hunt_13 days of midnightSixteen-year-old Luke Manchett, protagonist of Leo Hunt’s 13 Days of Midnight, thinks he’s got it made when his estranged father, host of a popular ghost-hunting TV show, dies suddenly. Luke will inherit millions if he just signs the creepy goatskin contract proffered by lawyer Mr. Berkley. Luke does, and soon regrets his decision when it turns out he has also inherited the secret to his father’s success: necromantic power and a mutinous spirit Host. The frequent dark humor of Luke’s narration is balanced by moments of true suspense and satisfyingly complex relationships. (Candlewick, 13–16 years)

shelton_thirteen chairsTwelve strangers meet by candlelight to tell ghost stories in Dave Shelton’s Thirteen Chairs. A thirteenth — Jack, a boy who gate-crashes the gathering — listens and waits for his turn. As the tellers finish, they blow out their candles until only Jack is left…but by then he is certain that the stories are more real than anyone has let on. The ghost stories’ varied subjects and the different voices employed in their narration keep the pace moving along nicely. The common theme of the tales — that the dead seek retribution on their killers, or sometimes on bystanders who are just a little too curious — provides low-key chills. (Scholastic/Fickling, 11–14 years)

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

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24. Telling and choosing our own stories

For this year’s Boston University/Boston Green Academy Summer Institute (which I’ve blogged about before), we decided to change up our usual routine of reading one book, and this year we chose two – Darius and Twig by Walter Dean Myers and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

Our essential question for our rising ninth and tenth graders was about how much we determine our own lives and how much they are determined by others’ expectations of who we will be. I wasn’t sure going into the two weeks how well our books would play together, but I needn’t have worried. These two books about writers were rich ground to explore in our time together.

myers_darius & twigOur students were anxious to find out what would happen to Darius and Twig, the writer and the runner, who face challenges as they navigate coming of age in a world that is far from perfect. (I miss Walter Dean Myers already so much and his wonderful stories of our imperfect world.) Even the most reluctant readers this summer had thoughts about these two characters and the choices they made. And our some of our students found that kinship that happens sometimes with characters whose backgrounds related to their own.

woodson_brown girl dreaming_170x258Then, we began to write our own stories, and we turned to Jacqueline Woodson to teach us how. And she’s a great teacher. Somehow, in her beautiful, sparse vignette poems, our students found inspiration and ideas. But it was more than that – I think her poems became a permission slip of sorts to tell their own stories and to experiment with images and tones to craft their memories into words. I’ve usually had experiences where students have been intimidated by poetry, but that didn’t happen with BGD. Instead, our writers dove right in to writing their own experiences as poems.

All in all, the two books we chose for this year’s essential question fit together after all, and I’ve gotten interested in book pairs that allow us to focus on a theme when reading and can also serve as writing models. I’d love to hear if others have tried this or have pairs that worked well!

 

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25. Review of The Rest of Us Just Live Here

ness_restofusThe Rest of Us Just Live Here
by Patrick Ness
High School   HarperTeen   320 pp.
10/15   978-0-06-240316-2   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-06-240318-6   $10.99

Ness’s latest offering is a fantasy novel — and simultaneously a fantasy-novel send-up — whose true focus is on its cast of innocent bystanders. Mikey’s town is “just like your town,” except that every once in a while impossible things (the undead, vampires, soul-eating ghosts) invade it and are driven out by the heroic “indie kids with unusual names and capital-D Destinies.” This time, the invaders are Immortals with a mission to select someone as a permanent Vessel for their Empress in preparation for taking over the world. Brief chapter openings encapsulate these details, but the rest of each chapter tells what’s happening to ordinary Mikey. He and his siblings and friends sometimes cross paths with the hero indie-kids but rarely take part in their adventures, which the main characters brush off as just another one of their crazy sagas. The novel’s tone, with its ripped-from-current-YA-fantasy indie-kid names (two Finns; a heroine named Satchel; lots of Dylans), encourages readers to view the Immortal invasion the same way. The narrative’s real weight is attached to the mostly realistic events surrounding Mikey: the “loops” that his OCD traps him in; his sister Mel’s severe eating disorder; the outside attention on the family because of his politician mom; a love quadrangle involving longtime friends and fluid sexualities. In this often-hilarious (and just as often poignant) parody of fantasy stories from Harry’s to Buffy’s, not everyone is a Chosen One, but “everyone’s got something”; everybody matters.

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

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