Sunday, October 23, 2016


If I was truly creative, I would write this in verse.  But - that's not going to happen.  So I will just try to explain what this unit was about.  I know that books written in poetic form have been around for thousands of years.  One of my classmates made the argument that The Iliad and The Odyssey are, in fact, verse novels.  Along with T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. There are also those that call this a genre. And those that feel they should be shelved in the 811s with other poetry.  But - I don't think so.  I think that what we call verse novels today are different from those written a long time ago and that they aren't another genre - they are just another medium. And shelving them with the 811s would mean they would check out less, in my opinion.  Sometimes, even if you build it - they don't come.
Anyway -- books in verse are somewhat popular right now.  They offer writers a new avenue for characters to express themselves in a more personal and direct manner. As with other books, the perspective is sometimes one person, sometimes two and sometimes multiple.  I like poetry and so it's not a surprise that I also enjoy books in verse. Occasionally.  And this is what I read this week.

One by Sarah Crossan is about conjoined twins - Tippi and Grace.  They are joined right around their waist area -- they have separate upper torsos but share a bottom half.  They each walk with a crutch for stability.  Their parents were Alfred Hitchkock fans and that is, indeed, the source of their names.  They also have a younger sister.  There are a few problems at home - being conjoined is expensive - lots of medical bills.  And their dad has been laid off. So the girls, who have always been homeschooled, are being sent to a private school because the state will pay for it.  The book chronicles their experiences. It is told from Grace's perspective only. At first I wasn't sure about this one. But just after I finished reading it, the news feed was busy talking about conjoined 13-month-old twins in almost the same area where Tippi and Grace lived that had been separated. Only they were joined at the tops of their heads. They survived the surgery. It's all free verse - not rhyming. The chapters are short - and it's a quick read, but not necessarily an easy read. It does offer a glimpse into what most teens struggle with - to be different but to want to fit in; to have friends besides your sister; to maybe even fall in love. Try it - keep a few tissues handy.

The BraidThe best book I read was The Braid by Helen Frost. It was amazing. It is historical, set in the 1850s. The story starts in Scotland.  Tenant farmers were evicted from their land because the owners discovered it was more lucrative to raise sheep than it was to pay farmers - so they forcibly removed them to new locations like American, Australia, and Canada.  The Braid is the story of two sisters - one who remains in Scotland; and one who makes the journey to Canada. One chapter is told from the perspective of Sarah; the next from the perspective of Jeannie. And there are eight-line praise poems that separate them. And each beginning line of the praise poem is a mixture of words that were in the last line of the previous poem.  The whole book is meticulously woven together - fashioned after a Celtic knot - and amazingly beautiful.  Sarah stays with her grandmother and lives on a small island where she catches sea birds and ekes out a living and falls in love.  Jeannie on the other hand, must learn to make her way in Canada with just her mother and little brother. It's just a beautiful story about a fascinating slice of history that I had never heard of before.  It makes me wonder if some of my own ancestors headed to America at the same time...

I also read How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson.   This is one that sort of fits into the category but could also be in a poetry collection... though it does definitely tell a specific story. And it is part fiction and part memoir.  Nelson based the poems on her memories of growing up and moving from base to base with her family. But she also admits that there are parts she could not remember so - she filled in as best she could. Each poem could stand alone - but together they do tell the story of growing up African American (her father was one of the first African American officers in the Air Force) and the both blatant and subtle racism they experienced plus the anxiety of the Cold War and the hope of the Civil Rights movement.  Much of what she wrote about was familiar to me - either because it reminded me of my own experiences in the military or because it was a time frame I grew up in also. 

All this to say - if you've never read a novel-in-verse, try one.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The National Book Awards Short List Was Announced!

Here are the five books on the list - 

Ghost by Jason Reynolds.  The Teen Librarian here at Smith Public Library read this and said it is fantastic.  Aimed at a middle school crowd, it is the first book in a series called Track that focuses on kids on an elite middle school track team.  This one is all about Ghost - or Castle Crenshaw.

ghost march raymie sea-turned-to-silver sun  
MARCH Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. This is the third - and final - volume in a series of Graphic Novels focused on the Civil Rights Movement, told through the perspective of civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis.  Essential reading for grades 8 and up. I'm rooting for this one to win.

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. I love everything this woman writes.  This is a book about loss and hope and friendship for middle grade (4th - 6th).

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin. This is a companion book to two others that Lin has written that are based on Chinese folktales.  I loved Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky so I can only imagine that I will love this one also.  The reviewers say ages 9-12. 

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon - I don't know much about this one except that it is a love story about Natasha and Daniel.  Natasha's Jamaican; Daniel is Korean and the book alternates between their viewpoints.  It won't be published until November 1st so I will have to wait until then to know more.  It is aimed at a Young Adult audience.

Has anyone read any of these books?  Who do you think will win?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

He said, She said - Books with Multiple Narrators and/or Points of View

 Point of View
Usually, when you read a story, it is told from either one person's point of view or from an omniscient perspective - a narrator that knows what is going on and relays that information to the reader. But if an author wants to present a story from more than one perspective, they can write it from multiple points of view using different narrators.  That was our unit last week in Young Adult Literature - reading books with multiple narrators.  Often it is only two.
P.S. Longer Letter LaterOne of the first books I can remember reading that was written in this style was P. S. Longer Letter Later by Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger.  It's about two tween almost teen girls - Tara*Starr and Elizabeth, who are best friends.  When Tara*Starr moves away, the girls write letters back and forth - and that's the book.  Tara tells here story; Elizabeth tells hers as the correspond back and forth.

A similar book is Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. The book is set in an alternate 1817 England where magic is a thing. Think Jane Austen meets Georgette Heyer with magic added in.  It is written from the perspective of two young ladies - Cecelia (or CeCe) and her cousin Kate.  Again, it is written in an epistolary fashion - letters between the two main characters. Delightful!  And it's the first book in a trilogy.
Image result for bruiser shustermanBut author's don't always use letters - sometimes they just use alternating chapters.  An example of this is Bruiser by Neal Shusterman. Shusterman wanted to write about an empath and thus, Bruiser was born.  The blurb in my library's on-line catalog states “Inexplicable events start to occur when sixteen-year-old twins Tennyson and Brontë befriend a troubled and misunderstood outcast, aptly nicknamed Bruiser, and his younger brother, Cody." And the book is told from these four very different perspectives - Tennyson, Brontë, Brewster, and Cody. The story starts out like a typical realistic fiction.  Brontë likes stray dog type boys and her latest project – and love interest - is Brewster.  Tennyson objects since Brewster a.k.a. Bruiser has been voted Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty. Tennyson and Brontë squabble.  Their parents’ marriage teeters on the brink of divorce.  Tennyson threatens Brewster.  Tennyson stalks Brewster, follows him home, and ends up being his friend. But what neither Tennyson nor Brontë realize is that Brewster is – different.  REALLY different.  Or maybe special is a better way to describe Brewster’s gifts.  (I gave you a hint but you’ll have to read the book in order to figure out exactly what they are.) 
Shusterman wrote each character’s “voice” in a different style.  Tennyson speaks in first person past tense, Brontë in first person, present.  Brewster’s chapters are in free verse and Cody’s are stream of consciousness. This book is definitely thought provoking in a Twilight Zone/Stephen King kind of way (and I'm thinking more along the lines of Green Mile for the King comparison... ) If you enjoy just a touch of the supernatural, then check out Bruiser. Even though it addresses sensitive topics like child abuse and complicated divorce, this is a book that I would recommend for 8th grade and up. I liked this book because it made me think about what happiness is and how "happily ever after" may sound like it would be awesome -- but maybe not.  Pain, hurt, happiness - all things that we may not truly understand.

Image result for beauty queens brayAnd then there are books that are told from LOTS of different perspectives.  That was the way Libba Bray chose to write Beauty Queens.   She got the idea from a writing prompt - "An airplane filled with beauty queens crashes on a deserted island." Just think of the possibilities!  In Beauty Queens, the airplane is filled with 50 older teens all vying for the title of Miss Teen Dream Queen!  Ooh-ah.  The pageant is run by "The Corporation" - and their advertisements appear regularly throughout the book (one of the many "voices" that appear). The girls are flying to an island somewhere off the coast of Florida to do some practicing when the plane's engine bursts into flames and they crash, rather spectacularly, on a supposedly deserted island.  All the adults are killed - and most of the girls. The book outlines their attempts at survival.  This is not a serious book.  It is snarky, satirical, and extremely funny.  You learn early on that the island is not deserted - it is the headquarters for a secret arms deal between a rogue Central American-type nation and Ladybird Hope (a thinly disguised Sarah Palin). They are, of course, backed by "The Corporation". Oh - and there are pirates.  Did I mention the pirates?  And an ornithologist eco-terrorist.  Anyway - the story is presented from MULTIPLE points of view.  Miss Nebraska; Miss Texas (Taylor - probably my favorite character); Miss Rhode Island; Miss New Hampshire (Adina); Miss California and Miss Colorado; an agent working for "The Corporation"; Ladybird Hope; the crazy dictator and his stuffed lemur...  The list goes on.  Be aware that this is a book written for OLDER teens.  It has sex.  And language.  And things get blown up.  With lots of sequins.  READ THIS BOOK. (or listen to it - Bray does the audio and it is hysterically funny)  It will make you laugh.  And maybe even be relevant to our current political climate. Plus it makes you look again at how women are exploited and talked down to -- Tiara's response to being called, "Dumb!" for example - particularly eye opening.  There are obvious comparisons to Lord of the Flies but unlike the boys, being stranded on the island gives the girls the space they need - and the challenges - to really figure out who they are and what is important.
 So go find some books with multiple narrators, y'all!  That's what Taylor would say. After doing a triple back flip.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The National Book Award Long List is Here!

Kwame Alexander, “Booked”
(Kwame was awarded the Newbery for The Crossover which was about basketball; this one is about soccer - novel in verse)
Kate DiCamillo, “Raymie Nightingale”
Hooray for Kate!
John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, “March: Book Three”
(Graphic Novel about Civil Rights - fascinating and well done!)
 Grace Lin, “When the Sea Turned to Silver”
(I love Grace Lin's books based on Chinese folklore!)
Anna-Marie McLemore, “When the Moon Was Ours”
(Magical realism!  Sounds intriguing!)
Meg Medina, “Burn Baby Burn”
(This one is YA Historical - set in New York City during the Son of Sam murders)
Sara Pennypacker and Jon Klassen (Illustrator), “Pax”
(It's about a fox - I have this one in my book bag!)
Jason Reynolds, “Ghost”
(This is the first in a new YA series  called Track about four kids on an elite track team.)
Caren Stelson, “Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story
(Sachiko was six when the bomb fell. Look for it after 10/1 - it sounds really amazing.)
Nicola Yoon, “The Sun Is Also a Star”
(Booklist says it is "full of hope, heartbreak, fate" - publishing on Nov. 1, 2016)

Ready? Set - READ!
Which ones do you think will be on the short list?  

Sunday, September 11, 2016


The books to read this week have all been selected for an awards list.  They have either received the National Book Award OR they are a Printz winner or honor book.  First - a brief intro to these two awards.
The Printz is a literary award, and so when choosing an award winner or honor book, literary merit should be valued above everything else. YALSA does want kids from 12 to 18 to read the book BUT popularity is never the standard for the award. Controversial topics are sometimes considered a good thing – they make for interesting discussion. The Printz selection committee is made up of nine Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) members. They read and discuss and read and discuss and nominate books and have straw pools and repeat that process and finally reach a consensus.  One winner and up to four Honor Books. Want more info?  See

The National Book Award is a little different.  Entrants pay to enter their books. The book must be written by an American citizen and published by an American publisher between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year. The five judges read all of the books submitted. In mid-September, they narrow their choice down to ten titles.  By mid-October, that list is narrowed to five titles.  And the winner is chosen from those five titles. This year’s judges are William Alexander (he wrote Goblin Secrets which won an NBA); Katherine Paterson (children’s author); Valerie Lewis (an advocate for young people’s lit); Ellen Oh (We Need Diverse Books CEO); and Laura Ruby (she wrote Bone Gap). 

I had read about 1/4 of the books on the Printz list (we only read 2003-2016 award/honor books) and for the National Book Award we  read 2003-2015 award and short list books. I had read about 1/4 of those also. 

On to the books I read -- or at least two of the four.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi was my favorite from the Printz Award winners (and it did win in 2010). It also was a National Book Award nominee.  It's Dystopian - set in a waterlogged future.  There are lots of really, really poor people and a some really rich people and a few somewhere in the middle.  The book focuses on a poor boy - Nailer ; a rich girl (swank) - Nita; and a genetically engineered half-man named Tool.  The main topic is trust and what is family?  Who can you trust? You should be able to trust your family but - that's not always true.  Nailer's dad was an addict, an alcoholic, and he beat Nailer. I think that's a relatable topic for teens.  It does not fly off of our shelves but it gets read.  And recommended. 

My favorite from the National Book Awards list (it was a finalist in 2008) was Honey, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti.  It's a love story.  It's not a book I would have read if it wasn't for this class.  And - that's sad because it's really a great book.  It's also about family and falling in love.  And it's about being the quiet, good girl who decides one summer she doesn't want to be that anymore so she looks for a bad boy.  She finds him.  And he is bad in a rich, spoiled bad boy way. But the main story of the book is the relationships Ruby develops with a book club of senior citizens called the Casserole Queens.  How do these two seemingly opposite developments occur?  Well, you need to read the book. This book also circulates -- True Love is pretty popular at my library.  But I will recommend it now.  It's a sweet story (with a bit of language). You want to shake Ruby at times but she learns a lot over the summer. And, as Miss June says, Ruby really fell in love with the motorcycle. 

So - seek out award books.  Some are excellent and destined to be classics.  Others you kind of scratch your head and wonder what the committee or judges saw in the book that you don't see. If you are worried about content - read the reviews first.  Like I said earlier, covering controversial topics is often considered a plus. The National Book Awards long list should be announced any day -- I'm looking forward to it!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Week One - The Classics

In my Young Adult Lit class we have a reading list.  Each week is a different category. The first week was Classics. It's hard to define what a "Classic"is, whether you are looking at Adult, Children's or Young Adult Literature.  So books on this list would be considered a "Classic" by some but not by others. And one parameter for the list was that the book needed to be at least 25 years old.  To be honest, I am older than the majority of the books on the list. But that's OK.  There were 46 titles listed; I had read exactly half of them. But - I did not read them as a teen for the most part; I read them as an adult.  To Kill A Mockingbird is probably the one exception. It was published in 1960 and I read it as a teenager.

Image result for a day no pigs would dieBesides Susan Cooper's Under Sea, Over Stone, I had to read two other books on the list that I had not read before. I am listening to most of the books that I am "reading" for the class. Or at least listening to a portion of the book. So that limits my choices to a certain extent.  I have a one and a half hour commute each day - I am happy to spend that time listening to books!  I would never get them all read if it weren't for audio books.  Anyway - I chose to listen to A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck. I have heard about this book for YEARS. It was published in 1972 and I thought people had recommended it... but maybe that was Zindel's The Pigman. I won't say DO NOT READ THIS BOOK!  I will say - please don't force your kids to read it.  It is a semi-autobiographical account of Peck's own life, growing up on a poor farm in rural Vermont in the 1920s.  His parents had Shaker leanings and that influenced a lot of his thinking and lifestyle -- No Frills.  The story opens with Rob rescuing a neighbor's cow who is having a hard time giving birth to her calf (or calves, as it turns out). To thank Rob for saving the cow (and the twin bulls that were born), the neighbor gives Rob a beautiful baby pig.  Rob names her Pinky and they become fast friends. He even takes her to the fair and they win a blue ribbon.  But any comparisons to Charlotte's Web end there.  There are dreams of breeding Pinky and having a fine mess of young pigs to sell - a sure way to make money. But -- Pinky is barren. Mating her with the neigbor's boar is explained in pretty explicit detail but, despite repeated matings, there are no baby pigs.  Pigs that can't breed get eaten. But wait!  The name of the book is The Day No Pigs Would Die!  So that means -- nope.  Pinky dies.  And Rob has to help slaughter her.  As I said - don't make your kids read this book.  I actually liked the character of Rob - he has to grow up pretty fast between the ages of 12 and 13. The title refers to the death of his own father, who slaughtered pigs for a living. But I could never recommend this book to a kid.  It's considered one of the first true young adult books. I think it probably traumatized a few teens along the way.
Image result for Pollyanna book
The third book I read was Pollyana by Eleanor Porter. It was written in 1913. I can't say it was the exact opposite of Peck's book. It's sad in it's own way. And both Rob and Pollyanna were optimistic young people - while at the same time acknowledging that they lived a pretty rough life at times. But the overall tone is definitely different. I loved the Disney Pollyanna when I was growing up!  My fondest memory is Pollyana holding up the crystals and the sunlight making rainbows on the walls.  I still have little crystals hanging all over my house just so the sun will strike them and create rainbows!  At first I was afraid that the crystals were a Disney fabrication.  But it's in the book - it's just not as prominent.  Neither is the tree climbing.  Pollyanna only clambers down the tree outside her window once.  And she never falls - she is hit by a car. So - not a huge surprise - the Disney version is quite different from the book.  I enjoyed the book quite a bit though.  Pollyanna has had her share of heartache but she always strives to see the "glad" in any situation. Playing the Glad game is pretty good advice.  Dance in the rainbows.  And there were sequels to the books!  Lots of them.  I'm guessing she grows up and marries young Jimmy. But I will have to find a copy of the sequel to find out if that is true.  I don't think this would appeal to teens today.  It would make a nice read-aloud, though, for ages ten or so.  And now onto the next section -- Award Winners!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

 "And now we pause from our regularly scheduled YA reviews to present --- "

The Worst Breakfast by China Miéville; illustrated by Zak Smith.
I was so excited to see that China Miéville had written a picture book! And what a book it is! As one sister says, "I'm worried, little sis! something's amiss." And thing amiss is, of course, breakfast - which might possibly be as bad as the WORST breakfast ever - burned toast, underdone eggs, sausages, bacon, porridge, baked beans, tomatoes... What? You don't eat baked beans and tomatoes with YOUR breakfast? Yes - this is decidedly breakfast from a UK perspective. But they acknowledge that fact. The illustrations will have you revisiting pages to see what you have missed. Is that a pterodactyl hatching from the eggs? A shoe in the middle of the beans?
I am looking forward to trying this one out as a read-aloud!  Maybe for the LEGO League kids...
Also - I received this as an Advanced Copy from Library Thing via Katie Martinez at Akashic Books. Thank you!