Good morning, book people! It’s sunny & kinda-sorta warm in Cambridge this morning – I actually ran outside! And now I’m home, with my boys, coffee, warm beignets, and a pretty fun day ahead, showing my cousin around town. What more could a girl ask for? Oh, wait…Easter eggs! Fortunately, the Mir-Cat has a few to offer around…
Yesterday, ex-Agent (wow, that makes him sound like a Bond villain) Nathan Bransford posted about virtual witch hunts and respect within the writing community. A must-read.
Agent Kristin Nelson has a short video (1:58 minutes) with a couple of useful query tips. She also has The Book Lantern, an in-depth look at the supporting characters in a story. It’s broken down into “Parents,” “Mean Girl,” and “The Friends,” and is very, very useful. Works as a great checklist for avoiding stereotypes.
SLJ’s A Chair, A Fireplace, & A Tea Cozy has a very well done review of Melina Marchetta’s The Piper’s Son. Marchetta is an Australian author; her first book, Looking for Alibrandi, is on a lot of reading lists back home. SLJ’s review is very positive–which I mostly agree with–though I don’t think Marchetta’s “teen/twenties guy” voice is as strong as her “teen/twenties girl.”
Check out The Big Kahuna Round of SLJ’s Battle of the Kids Books. So far, I’ve only read A Conspiracy of Kings–which I loved–but all these books look good.
And finally, another must read–Library Journal’s Annoyed Librarian on the Devolution of Public Libraries, and privatization. It’s a little old in internet time, but an essential post.
And that’s it, folks. I’ll try and take some more pics of Borders while I’m in town, so we can see how the remaining stores are holding up. Have a great day!Read More
If the term “literary” frightens you, you’re not alone. It’s something of a buzz word, and a confusing one at that. Literary YA, though, is a little different to literary adult fiction–generally speaking, it’s more accessible, and a great place to get started if you’re curious about lit fic, especially if you love language. These novels run the gamut from fantasy through contemporary, some light, some dark, some in between, each with a strong focus on character. Some are closer to middle grade, but all will appeal YA lovers.
1. BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS, Shannon Hale
When Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren, her mistress, are shut in a tower for seven years for Saren’s refusal to marry a man she despises, the two prepare for a very long and dark imprisonment. As food runs low and the days go from broiling hot to freezing cold, it is all Dashti can do to keep them fed and comfortable. But the arrival outside the tower of Saren’s two suitors—one welcome, and the other decidedly less so—brings both hope and great danger, and Dashti must make the desperate choices of a girl whose life is worth more than she knows.
With Shannon Hale’s lyrical language, this forgotten but classic fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm is reimagined and reset on the central Asian steppes; it is a completely unique retelling filled with adventure and romance, drama and disguise.
2. STARDUST, Neil Gaiman
Tristran Thorn falls in love with the prettiest girl in town and makes her a foolish promise: he says that he’ll go find the falling star they both watched streak across the night sky. She says she’ll marry him if he finds it, so he sets off, leaving his home of Wall, and heads out into the perilous land of faerie, where not everything is what it appears. Gaiman is known for his fanciful wit, sterling prose and wildly imaginative plots, and Stardust is no exception.
3. THIS IS WHAT I DID, Ann Dee Ellis*
Eighth-grader Logan is struggling to deal with a violent situation he witnessed a year ago between his best friend, Zyler, and Zyler’s abusive father but insists to everyone around him that he is fine. Just fine. Reluctant readers will be drawn into this story, which also includes bullying classmates and a dismal winter camping trip. Frequent line breaks, screenplay-style dialogue, and e-mails and notes illustrated with black icons break up the scenes. Logan gets to play one of the Lost Boys in the school play, and finds that the theater crowd offers a respite from bullies. A friendship with a girl named Laurel (a palindrome collector who is is thinking of changing her name to Laral), and a relationship with a counselor help Logan to begin the healing process and convince him to reconnect with Zyler. This psychological drama effectively explores our failure to protect youth from abuse inflicted by peers or adults. Caution: there’s a slang term for scrotum on page 1. — Dobrez, Cindy for Booklist
4. SPEAK, Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country.
5. THE UNDERNEATH, Kathi Appelt
Appelt’s impressive novel (her first) entails animals in crisis—a topic of enduring popularity. But the author, whose path from picture books to fantasy is discussed in the Story behind the Story, breathes new life into the sentient-animals premise, introducing strong currents of magic realism into a tale as rich and complex as “the gumbo-like waters of the bayous.” Chained and starved by cruel trapper Gar Face, lonely hound Ranger finds companions in a stray cat and her two kittens. When Mother Cat falls victim to Gar Face’s abuse, the surviving animals, especially sensitive kitten Puck, struggle to keep their makeshift family together. The animals’ caring, generous bonds juxtapose with the smothering love of an ancient shape-shifter in a moving parallel story. Joining Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting as a rare example of youth fantasy with strong American underpinnings, Appelt’s novel folds in specific traditions of the Caddo peoples of east Texas, and casts the bayous as a kind of enchanted forest laden with spirits and benign, organic presences. Some readers may struggle with Appelt’s repeated phrases and poetic fragments, and wish the connections and conflicts in the story came to a faster boil. But most children will be pulled forward by the vulnerable pets’ survival adventure and by Small’s occasional, down-to-earth drawings, created with fluid lines that are a perfect match for the book’s saturated setting and Appelt’s ebbing, flowing lyricism. –Jennifer Mattson for Booklist
6. THE STAR OF KAZAN, Eva Ibbotson
Abandoned as a baby, Annika is found and adopted by Ellie and Sigrid, cook and housemaid for three professors. Growing up in early-20th-century Vienna, she learns to cook and clean and is perfectly happy until a beautiful aristocrat appears and claims to be her mother, sweeping her off to a new life in a crumbling castle in northern Germany. Annika is determined to make the best of things, and it takes a while for her to realize that her new “family” has many secrets, most of them nasty. With the help of Ellie, Sigrid, the professors, and friends old and new, Annika escapes from a ghastly fate and learns to face the truth about her relatives. Winding like a braid through this story is a mystery involving a chest of worn costumes and junk jewelry left to Annika by an old woman she has befriended. This is a rich saga in the tradition of Frances Hodgson Burnett, full of stalwart friends, sly villains, a brave heroine, and good triumphing over evil. Annika’s determination to do the right thing is both laudable and utterly frustrating, especially when readers realize that her loyalty is misplaced. Almost every character is distinct, but the ones that stand out are the “regular folk,” individuals whose sense of decency propels them into amazing acts of courage. Vienna itself is colorfully portrayed, brimming with pastries, coffee, and dancing Lipizzaner horses. An intensely satisfying read.–Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library for School Library Journal
7. A THOUSAND NEVER EVERS, Shana Burg
Set in rural Mississippi during the civil rights movement, this gripping first novel offers an up-close look at the racism and violence endured in an African-American community. By the time Addie Ann Pickett, the narrator, enters junior high, she is well aware of the racial divisions in her county. She has been warned not to stay on the white side of town after the sun has set and not to “look at white folks too close.” But her older brother and the local minister have different ideas and argue that “there comes a time when a man’s dignity’s worth more than his life.” Caught between her mother’s rule to stay away from trouble and the call to take action, Addie must make decisions, especially when the lives of two family members are at stake. References to significant historical events (Medgar Evers’s assassination, the March on Washington) add authenticity and depth, while Addie’s frank, expertly modulated voice delivers an emotional wallop. –PW
8. A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, Megan Whalen Turner
Following The Thief, a 1997 Newbery Honor Book, and The King of Attolia, a 2007 Best Book for Young Adults, Turner continues her exquisite series with another rich story that examines peace, power, leadership, and loyalty. After initial, tense prison scenes focused on Eugenides, the king of Attolia, the novel’s viewpoint switches from third to first person, and Sophos, the reluctant king of Sounis who prefers poetry to politics, relates the adventures that precipitated his rise to questionable power. Tutors have drilled Sophos in imaginary attacks, but after he loses his family in a real invasion, he is bereft and goes into hiding as a slave on a nobleman’s estate in order to avoid his sovereign responsibilities. Even though Eugenides’ fans will miss his presence, he continues to pull strings from the sidelines as he joins leaders in high-priced alliances and prepares for an invasion. Turner’s plotting remains deft, and the subtlety with which she balances her characters’ inner and outer worlds will delight both series newcomers and fans, who will be waiting to grab this stand-out, stand-alone adventure, filled with all the expected intrigue and political machinations, from the shelves.–Cindy Dobrez for Booklist
9. NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL, Justina Chen Headley
Sixteen-year-old Terra seems to be a typical high-achieving high-school student. Under her heavy makeup, though, she hides a port-wine colored birthmark on her cheek that makes her feel like an outsider. During yet another attempt to remove the birthmark, Terra runs into Jacob, a gorgeous Goth with a cleft-palette scar. That encounter initiates a transformation in both Terra and her subservient mother. Headley has written an exquisite book that explores the difference between physical and true beauty as Terra and her mother travel from Washington state to China, and from the home of a shame-faced, cruel cartographer into the presence of an adventurous, strong woman and her insightful teenage son. Headley uses map metaphors throughout, even in the activity, geocaching, which helps bond Terra and Jacob in both Washington and China. She also uses Terra’s artistic medium, collage, as a literary device to create layer upon layer of experiences and insights into a artfully written journey of self-discovery, self-actualization, and love. With every carefully chosen word, well-crafted sentence, and fully developed character, Headley maps out a wholly satisfying reading experience that takes readers from terra nullis to terra firma. –Frances Bradburn for Booklist
10. A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, (series), Ursula K. LeGuin
Often compared to Tolkien’s Middle-earth or Lewis’s Narnia, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea is a stunning fantasy world that grabs quickly at our hearts, pulling us deeply into its imaginary realms. Four books (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu) tell the whole Earthsea cycle–a tale about a reckless, awkward boy named Sparrowhawk who becomes a wizard’s apprentice after the wizard reveals Sparrowhawk’s true name. The boy comes to realize that his fate may be far more important than he ever dreamed possible. Le Guin challenges her readers to think about the power of language, how in the act of naming the world around us we actually create that world. Teens, especially, will be inspired by the way Le Guin allows her characters to evolve and grow into their own powers.
In this first book, A Wizard of Earthsea readers will witness Sparrowhawk’s moving rite of passage–when he discovers his true name and becomes a young man.–Amazon
11. WHEN YOU REACH ME, Rebecca Stead
Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.??By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner. But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:
I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.
The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.
12. STARGIRL, Jerry Spinelli
“She was homeschooling gone amok.” “She was an alien.” “Her parents were circus acrobats.” These are only a few of the theories concocted to explain Stargirl Caraway, a new 10th grader at Arizona’s Mica Area High School who wears pioneer dresses and kimonos to school, strums a ukulele in the cafeteria, laughs when there are no jokes, and dances when there is no music. The whole school, not exactly a “hotbed of nonconformity,” is stunned by her, including our 16-year-old narrator Leo Borlock: “She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl.”
In time, incredulity gives way to out-and-out adoration as the student body finds itself helpless to resist Stargirl’s wide-eyed charm, pure-spirited friendliness, and penchant for celebrating the achievements of others. In the ultimate high school symbol of acceptance, she is even recruited as a cheerleader. Popularity, of course, is a fragile and fleeting state, and bit by bit, Mica sours on their new idol. Why is Stargirl showing up at the funerals of strangers? Worse, why does she cheer for the opposing basketball teams? The growing hostility comes to a head when she is verbally flogged by resentful students on Leo’s televised Hot Seat show in an episode that is too terrible to air. While the playful, chin-held-high Stargirl seems impervious to the shunning that ensues, Leo, who is in the throes of first love (and therefore scornfully deemed “Starboy”), is not made of such strong stuff: “I became angry. I resented having to choose. I refused to choose. I imagined my life without her and without them, and I didn’t like it either way.”
13. THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, Mary E. Pearson
Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox awakens after more than a year in a coma to find herself in a life—and a body—that she doesn’t quite recognize. Her parents tell her that she’s been in an accident, but much of her past identity and current situation remain a mystery to her: Why has her family abruptly moved from Boston to California, leaving all of her personal belongings behind? Why does her grandmother react to her with such antipathy? Why have her parents instructed her to make sure not to tell anyone about the circumstances of their move? And why can Jenna recite whole passages of Thoreau’s Walden, but remember next to nothing of her own past? As she watches family videos of her childhood, strange memories begin to surface, and she slowly realizes that a terrible secret is being kept from her. Pearson has constructed a gripping, believable vision of a future dystopia. She explores issues surrounding scientific ethics, the power of science, and the nature of the soul with grace, poetry, and an apt sense of drama and suspense. Some of the supporting characters are a bit underdeveloped, but Jenna herself is complex, interesting, and very real. This is a beautiful blend of science fiction, medical thriller, and teen-relationship novel that melds into a seamless whole that will please fans of all three genres.—Meredith Robbins for School Library Journal
14. THE BOOK THIEF, Marcus Zusak
Zusak has created a work that deserves the attention of sophisticated teen and adult readers. Death himself narrates the World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger from the time she is taken, at age nine, to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family in a working-class neighborhood of tough kids, acid-tongued mothers, and loving fathers who earn their living by the work of their hands. The child arrives having just stolen her first book–although she has not yet learned how to read–and her foster father uses it, The Gravediggers Handbook, to lull her to sleep when shes roused by regular nightmares about her younger brothers death. Across the ensuing years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books as well as a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayors reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and especially her foster parents. Zusak not only creates a mesmerizing and original story but also writes with poetic syntax, causing readers to deliberate over phrases and lines, even as the action impels them forward. Death is not a sentimental storyteller, but he does attend to an array of satisfying details, giving Liesels story all the nuances of chance, folly, and fulfilled expectation that it deserves. An extraordinary narrative.–Francisca Goldsmith for School Library Journal
15. THE GIVER, Lois Lowry
In the “ideal” world into which Jonas was born, everybody has sensibly agreed that well-matched married couples will raise exactly two offspring, one boy and one girl. These children’s adolescent sexual impulses will be stifled with specially prescribed drugs; at age 12 they will receive an appropriate career assignment, sensibly chosen by the community’s Elders. This is a world in which the old live in group homes and are “released”–to great celebration–at the proper time; the few infants who do not develop according to schedule are also “released,” but with no fanfare. Lowry’s development of this civilization is so deft that her readers, like the community’s citizens, will be easily seduced by the chimera of this ordered, pain-free society. Until the time that Jonah begins training for his job assignment–the rigorous and prestigious position of Receiver of Memory–he, too, is a complacent model citizen. But as his near-mystical training progresses, and he is weighed down and enriched with society’s collective memories of a world as stimulating as it was flawed, Jonas grows increasingly aware of the hypocrisy that rules his world. With a storyline that hints at Christian allegory and an eerie futuristic setting, this intriguing novel calls to mind John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. Lowry is once again in top form–raising many questions while answering few, and unwinding a tale fit for the most adventurous readers.–PW
16. JELLICOE ROAD, Melina Marchetta
Taylor Markham isn’t just one of the new student leaders of her boarding school, she’s also the heir to the Underground Community, one of three battling school factions in her small Australian community (the others being the Cadets and the Townies). For a generation, these three camps have fought “the territory wars,” a deadly serious negotiation of land and property rife with surprise attacks, diplomatic immunities, and physical violence. Only this year, it’s complicated: Taylor might just have a thing for Cadet leader Jonah, and Jonah might just be the key to unlocking the secret identity of Taylor’s mother, who abandoned her when she was 11. In fact, nearly every relationship in Taylor’s life has unexpected ties to her past, and the continual series of revelations is both the book’s strength and weakness; the melodrama can be trying, but when Marchetta isn’t forcing epiphanies, she has a knack for nuanced characterizations and punchy dialogue. The complexity of the backstory will be offputting to younger readers, but those who stick it out will find rewards in the heartbreaking twists of Marchetta’s saga. –Daniel Kraus for Booklist
17. CRANK, Ellen Hopkins
Seventeen-year-old Kristina Snow is introduced to crank on a trip to visit her wayward father. Caught up in a fast-paced, frightening, and unfamiliar world, she morphs into “Bree” after she “shakes hands with the monster.” Her fearless, risk-taking alter ego grows stronger, “convincing me to be someone I never dreamed I’d want to be.” When Kristina goes home, things don’t return to normal. Although she tries to reconnect with her mother and her former life as a good student, her drug use soon takes over, leaving her “starving for speed” and for boys who will soon leave her scarred and pregnant. Hopkins writes in free-verse poems that paint painfully sharp images of Kristina/Bree and those around her, detailing how powerful the “monster” can be. The poems are masterpieces of word, shape, and pacing, compelling readers on to the next chapter in Kristina’s spiraling world. This is a topical page-turner and a stunning portrayal of a teen’s loss of direction and realistically uncertain future.–Sharon Korbeck for School Library Journal
18. PUSH, (Precious), Sapphire *
An electrifying first novel that shocks by its language, its circumstances, and its brutal honesty, Push recounts a young black street-girl’s horrendous and redemptive journey through a Harlem inferno. For Precious Jones, 16 and pregnant with her father’s child, miraculous hope appears and the world begins to open up for her when a courageous, determined teacher bullies, cajoles, and inspires her to learn to read, to define her own feelings and set them down in a diary.
What’s a mystery? Are they only stories with murders or crimes of some sort? Perhaps. But mystery can be so much more than that! This list brings together ten unusual mysteries, where characters learn about themselves and their worlds, stories that’ll rip you out of your comfortable, expected reading zone, get inside in your head, and rearrange things until you’re thoroughly confused–but dying for more.
*book may be hard to find
** mature content, but accessible to younger readers
1. THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, Mark Haddon
Christopher Boone has had some bad knocks: his mother has died (well, she went to the hospital and never came back), and soon after he found a neighbor’s dog on the front lawn, slain by a garden fork stuck through it. A teacher said that he should write something that he “would like to read himself”-and so he embarks on this book, a murder mystery that will reveal who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. First off, though, is a night in jail for hitting the policeman who questions him about the dog (the cop made the mistake of grabbing the boy by the arm when he can’t stand to be touched-any more than he can stand the colors yellow or brown, or not knowing what’s going to happen next). Christopher’s father bails him out but forbids his doing any more “detecting” about the dog-murder. When Christopher disobeys (and writes about it in his book), a fight ensues and his father confiscates the book. In time, detective-Christopher finds it, along with certain other clues that reveal a very great deal indeed about his mother’s “death,” his father’s own part in it-and the murder of the dog. Calming himself by doing roots, cubes, prime numbers, and math problems in his head, Christopher runs away, braves a train-ride to London, and finds-his mother..–Kirkus Reviews
2. THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, Elizabeth George Speare *
Forced to leave her sunny Caribbean home for the bleak Connecticut Colony, Kit Tyler is filled with trepidation. As they sail up the river to Kit’s new home, the teasing and moodiness of a young sailor named Nat doesn’t help. Still, her unsinkable spirit soon bobs back up. What this spirited teenager doesn’t count on, however, is how her aunt and uncle’s stern Puritan community will view her. In the colonies of 1687, a girl who swims, wears silk and satin gowns, and talks back to her elders is not only headstrong, she is in grave danger of being regarded as a witch. When Kit befriends an old Quaker woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, it is more than the ascetics can take: soon Kit is defending her life. Who can she count on as she confronts these angry and suspicious townspeople?–Emilie Coulter for Amazon
3. THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY, (series), Trenton Lee Stewart
After Reynie Muldoon responds to an advertisement recruiting “gifted children looking for special opportunities,” he finds himself in a world of mystery and adventure. The 11-year-old orphan is one of four children to complete a series of challenging and creative tasks, and he, Kate, Constance, and Sticky become the Mysterious Benedict Society. After being trained by Mr. Benedict and his assistants, the four travel to an isolated school where children are being trained by a criminal mastermind to participate in his schemes to take over the world. The young investigators need to use their special talents and abilities in order to discover Mr. Curtain’s secrets, and their only chance to defeat him is through working together. Readers will challenge their own abilities as they work with the Society members to solve clues and put together the pieces of Mr. Curtain’s plan. In spite of a variety of coincidences, Stewart’s unusual characters, threatening villains, and dramatic plot twists will grab and hold readers’ attention. Fans of Roald Dahl or Blue Balliett will find a familiar blend of kid power, clues, and adventure in Society, though its length may daunt reluctant or less-secure readers. Underlying themes about the power of media messages and the value of education add to this book’s appeal, and a happy ending with hints of more adventures to come make this first-time author one to remember.—Beth L. Meister, Pleasant View Elementary School, Franklin, WI for School Library Journal
4. THIS IS WHAT I DID, Ann Dee Ellis **
Eighth-grader Logan is struggling to deal with a violent situation he witnessed a year ago between his best friend, Zyler, and Zyler’s abusive father but insists to everyone around him that he is fine. Just fine. Reluctant readers will be drawn into this story, which also includes bullying classmates and a dismal winter camping trip. Frequent line breaks, screenplay-style dialogue, and e-mails and notes illustrated with black icons break up the scenes. Logan gets to play one of the Lost Boys in the school play, and finds that the theater crowd offers a respite from bullies. A friendship with a girl named Laurel (a palindrome collector who is is thinking of changing her name to Laral), and a relationship with a counselor help Logan to begin the healing process and convince him to reconnect with Zyler. This psychological drama effectively explores our failure to protect youth from abuse inflicted by peers or adults.–Cindy Dobrez, for Booklist
5. MONSTER, Walter Dean Myers **
In a riveting novel from Myers (At Her Majesty’s Request, 1999, etc.), a teenager who dreams of being a filmmaker writes the story of his trial for felony murder in the form of a movie script, with journal entries after each day’s action. Steve is accused of being an accomplice in the robbery and murder of a drug store owner. As he goes through his trial, returning each night to a prison where most nights he can hear other inmates being beaten and raped, he reviews the events leading to this point in his life. Although Steve is eventually acquitted, Myers leaves it up to readers to decide for themselves on his protagonist’s guilt or innocence. The format of this taut and moving drama forcefully regulates the pacing; breathless, edge-of-the-seat courtroom scenes written entirely in dialogue alternate with thoughtful, introspective journal entries that offer a sense of Steve’s terror and confusion, and that deftly demonstrate Myers’s point: the road from innocence to trouble is comprised of small, almost invisible steps, each involving an experience in which a “positive moral decision” was not made.–Kirkus Reviews
6. ABARAT, (series), Clive Barker
Like The Thief of Always, Barker’s first book for children, this tale finds a bored protagonist venturing into a fantastical world. The novel begins with a rather cryptic scene of three women on a “perilous voyage… [emerging] from the shelter of the islands.” The action then shifts to Candy Quackenbush of Chickentown, Minn., who hates her life as the daughter of an alcoholic father and a depressed mother. One day, humiliated by her teacher, Candy skips out of school and heads for the prairie, where she stumbles on a derelict lighthouse and a creature with eight heads, John Mischief. The opening scene and the thrust of the novel gradually connect, as Candy begins an adventure to a mysterious archipelago called Abarat. Skilled at fantasy, Barker throws plenty of thrills and chills at readers. Candy becomes a pawn between Mischief and the man (Christopher Carrion, “Lord of Midnight”) from whom Mischief has stolen something of great value. However, by the middle of the novel, readers may feel that Barker pulls out too many stops; he floods the pages with scores of intriguing characters and a surfeit of subplots (some of which dead-end, perhaps to be picked up in one of the three planned sequels). The author’s imagination runs wild as he conjures some striking imagery (“Dark threads of energy moved through her veins and leaped from her fingertips” says one of the three women in the opening scene) and cooks up a surreal stew of character portraits (rendered in bold colors and brushwork, they resemble some of Van Gogh’s later work). But much of the novel feels like a wind-up for the books to follow and, after this rather unwieldy 400-page ride, readers my be disappointed by so many unresolved strands of the plot.
7. THE THIEF, (series), Megan Whalen Turner
Things are not what they seem in this story of wit, adventure, and philosophy. Gen, an accomplished thief incarcerated for stealing the king’s seal, is dragged from his cell by the king’s magus, who is on a quest. The prize is Hamiathes’s Gift, said to be a creation of the gods that confers the right of rule on the wearer. During the quest, the magus and Gen take turns telling the youngest member of their party myths about the Eddisian god of thieves. Turner does a phenomenal job of creating real people to range through her well-plotted, evenly paced story. No one is entirely evil or completely perfect. Gen is totally human in his lack of discipline, seeming lack of heroism, and need for sleep and food. The magus makes the transition from smug, superior scholar to decent guy in a believable fashion. Turner also does a neat job of puncturing lots of little prejudices. There are many deft lessons in this story. As absorbing as it is, the best part lies in the surprise ending. Though it is foreshadowed throughout, it is not obvious?its impact is more like morning sunlight than a lightning bolt. This book is sure to be a hot item with adventure and fantasy lovers, and YAs who like snide, quick-tempered, softhearted heroes will love Gen.?Patricia A. Dollisch, DeKalb County Public Library, Decatur, GA for School Library Journal
Once upon a time, graphic novels were “those things my dorky kid brother reads”. Over the past few years, though, graphic novels have come into their own, and popular titles are being adapted to the format in an effort to reach a broader audience (or sell more books to collectors, *ahem* Twilight *ahem*). Here are a few great reads you may’ve missed the first time around.
* book may be hard to find
** best for older teens
1. THE BOOKS OF MAGIC, Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, & Paul Johnson
Considered by some to be an early Harry Potter, The Books of Magic introduce Timothy Hunter, a weedy kid with glasses and a pet owl. Timothy is introduced to the world of magic by the Trenchcoat Brigade, a quartet of fallen mystics (and familiar faces to DC readers) who are aware that the boy has the potential to be the world’s greatest magician, but that his allegiance to good or evil is undecided. They take him from the birth of the universe all the way through to its eventual death, ostensibly teaching him about the possibilities – and the price – of wielding magic before he decides whether to embrace his destiny. Along the way, Tim meets some of the DCU’s more prominent magicians and fantasy characters, whilst his allies try to protect him from the machinations of the Cult of the Cold Flame. Following his misadventures, Tim decides that the price is too high . . . only to find that everything he has learnt from his supposed mentors has made it impossible for him to turn away from magic.
2. AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, Gene Luen Yang
As alienated kids go, Jin Wang is fairly run-of-the-mill: he eats lunch by himself in a corner of the schoolyard, gets picked on by bullies and jocks and develops a sweat-inducing crush on a pretty classmate. And, oh, yes, his parents are from Taiwan. This much-anticipated, affecting story about growing up different is more than just the story of a Chinese-American childhood; it’s a fable for every kid born into a body and a life they wished they could escape. The fable is filtered through some very specific cultural icons: the much-beloved Monkey King, a figure familiar to Chinese kids the world over, and a buck-toothed amalgamation of racist stereotypes named Chin-Kee. Jin’s hopes and humiliations might be mirrored in Chin-Kee’s destructive glee or the Monkey King’s struggle to come to terms with himself, but each character’s expressions and actions are always perfectly familiar. True to its origin as a Web comic, this story’s clear, concise lines and expert coloring are deceptively simple yet expressive. Even when Yang slips in an occasional Chinese ideogram or myth, the sentiments he’s depicting need no translation. Yang accomplishes the remarkable feat of practicing what he preaches with this book: accept who you are and you’ll already have reached out to others.
3. EMMA, Kaoru Mori
Meticulously researched and beautifully rendered, EMMA is a beloved, award-winning series that was adapted into an acclaimed anime series in Japan. In Victorian-era England, a young girl is rescued from a life of destitution and raised to become a proper British maid. Emma meets William, the eldest son of a wealthy family, and immediately falls in love with him. William shares her feelings, but the strict rules of their society prevent their relationship from ever coming out in the open. Traditional class distinctions and rich, historical details provide the backdrop for this appealing romance.–DC Comics
4. THE WALL: GROWING UP BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN, Peter Sis **
Born out of a question posed to Sís (Play, Mozart, Play!) by his children (Are you a settler, Dad?), the author pairs his remarkable artistry with journal entries, historical context and period photography to create a powerful account of his childhood in Cold War–era Prague. Dense, finely crosshatched black-and-white drawings of parades and red-flagged houses bear stark captions: Public displays of loyalty—compulsory. Children are encouraged to report on their families and fellow students. Parents learn to keep their opinions to themselves. Text along the bottom margin reveals young Sís’s own experience: He didn’t question what he was being told. Then he found out there were things he wasn’t told. The secret police, with tidy suits and pig faces, intrude into every drawing, watching and listening. As Sís grows to manhood, Eastern Europe discovers the Beatles, and the Prague Spring of 1968 promises liberation and freedom. Instead, Soviet tanks roll in, returning the city to its previous restrictive climate. Sís rebels when possible, and in the book’s final spreads, depicts himself in a bicycle, born aloft by wings made from his artwork, flying toward America and freedom, as the Berlin Wall crumbles below. Although some of Sís’s other books have their source in his family’s history, this one gives the adage write what you know biting significance. Younger readers have not yet had a graphic memoir with the power of Maus or Persepolis to call their own, but they do now.–Publishers Weekly, ages 8 & up.
5. PERSEPOLIS, Marjanne Satrapi
Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up. Edgy, searingly observant, and candid, often heartbreaking but threaded throughout with raw humor and hard-earned wisdom–Persepolis is a stunning work from one of the most highly regarded, singularly talented graphic artists at work today.
6. THE RABBI’S CAT, Joann Sfar **
Sfar, the French cartoonist behind the Little Vampire children’s books, has come up with a hilarious and wildly original graphic novel for adults. The nameless, scraggly-looking alley cat who narrates the story belongs to an Algerian rabbi in the ’30s. When the cat eats a parrot, he gains the power of speech and tries to convince his master to teach him the Torah, raising the question of whether the appropriate age for his bar mitzvah should be in human years or cat years. Of course, being a cat, he has plenty of impertinent opinions about Judaism. That’s a delicious setup on its own, but it gets better when the cat loses his speech again halfway through, and the story becomes a broader, more bittersweet comedy about the rabbi’s family and the intersection of Jewish, Arab and French culture. The rabbi’s daughter Zlabya marries a young man from a nonobservant family in France. The Algerian family’s visit with their Parisian in-laws is the subject of the final and funniest section of the book. Sfar’s artwork looks as mangy and unkempt as the cat, with contorted figures and scribbly lines everywhere, but there’s a poetic magic to it that perfectly captures this cat’s-eye view of human culture and faith.
7. EPILEPTIC, David B. **
The cartoonist’s memoir of growing up in a family in which his brother’s grand mal epilepsy regularly took center stage is packaged here in its entirety. Although the first part of this book appeared in English in 2002, published by L’Association, there is no demarcation within the current volume to show where that break in the story occurred–nor does there need to be. David B. reports on the childhood adventures and interests he and his siblings shared–including warrior fantasies, a fascination with World War II, and drawing–and the family’s increasing involvement in seeking help for coping with the epilepsy. The latter half of the complete work continues through adolescence and into manhood, including David B.’s education in art college and his founding of L’Association. His brother’s failure to respond for any duration to any form of treatment or to adjust to life with a chronic disease is presented with unsentimental but humane forthrightness. The heavily inked images include many hallucinatory panels, and subplots involve the grandparents’ prejudices, David’s developing relationships outside the family, and his continued interest in his family. While the final difficulties revolve around the author and his inability to become a father, most of the book is both accessible and of high interest to teens.–Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
8. THE RUNAWAYS, Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Adrian Alphona
This unusually clever, fun teen comic is based on the novel premise that parents don’t just seem evil, they actually are evil supervillains. Or so some kids find out one night while eavesdropping on a dastardly meeting they take to be a cocktail party. Although the children are each a “type” right out of sitcom land-the goth girl, the brain, the jock, the dreamboat, the shy one-they’re also fairly empathetic characters. Vaughan’s closely observed dialogue lends them authenticity and pathos as they go through the disturbing realization that their parents aren’t just jerks but actually mass-murderers. The plot builds from this initial discovery, as the kids band together, discover they, too, have superhuman powers and engage their parents in good, old-fashioned superhuman fisticuffs. The group goes on the run and discovers their parents have all of Los Angeles in their pockets-it’s enough to make a teenager feel more alienated than ever. Alphona’s dynamic, manga-influenced artwork agreeably complements Vaughan’s crisp writing. They tell the story with clarity, a dollop of drama and just enough pizzazz to hook video game-obsessed readers. Packaged in a manga-size paperback, Marvel’s attempt to tap both the manga and the young adult market nicely succeeds.–Publishers Weekly
9. 1001 NIGHTS OF SNOWFALL, Bill Willingham, illustrated by Charles Vess, Esao Andrews, & more **
Probably the smartest mainstream comic going, Fables usually concentrates on the contemporary activities of characters from children’s stories who now are living as secret refugees in New York. This collection gives glimpses of their individual backstories before the armies of the brutal Adversary drove them out of Fairyland. Readers will learn, for example, what spoiled the Big Bad Wolf’s disposition and what happened to the witch after Hansel and Gretel pushed her into the oven. It would be relatively easy to do clever, merely cynical readings of the fairy tales, but Willingham is after something much more interesting. Like Neil Gaiman and Tanith Lee, he’s reimagining the old stories, trying to see why they have survived and also to point out the aspects they somehow neglect: it’s only natural that Snow White would take revenge on the seven little rapists who abducted her, but the independent way she goes about it casts doubt on her subservient relationship to Prince Charming. Willingham reminds readers of how much they ignore in their anxiety to believe that all stories end happily ever after. Artists like Charles Vess, Mark Buckingham and Jill Thompson work up to the level of the perceptive scripts, making this a memorable, uncomfortably amusing treat.–Publishers Weekly
10. BUDDHA, VOLUME 1: KAPILAVASTU, Osamu Tezuka
Tezuka, the master of Japanese comics, mixes his own characters with history as deftly as he transfers the most profound, complex emotions onto extremely cartoony characters, and his work defies easy categorization. In Buddha, originally serialized in the 1970s and one of his last works, he lavishly retells the life of Siddhartha, who isn’t even born until page 268. Instead, Tezuka introduces Chapra, a slave who attempts to escape his fate by posing as the son of a general; Tatta, a crazed wild child pariah who communes with animals; Chapra’s slave mother, who stands by him no matter what; and Naradatta, a monk attempting to discover the meaning of strange portents of the Buddha’s birth. Throughout the book, the characters engage in fresh and unexpected adventures, escapes and reverses, as they play out Tezuka’s philosophical concern with overcoming fate and the uselessness of violence. Despite episodes of extreme brutality and broad humor, the core of the story revolves around various set pieces, as when Tatta sacrifices himself to a snake to save Naradatta and Chapra’s mom. After a moment of intense emotion, the scene is upended by the arrival of a bandit who mocks their attempts at keeping their karmic slates clean. “Why were you all fussing over some stupid trade? Why not just kill the snake and eat it?” The answer unfolds over succeeding volumes. Heavily influenced by Walt Disney, Tezuka’s often cute characters may take some getting used to, but his storytelling is strong and clean. Appearing in handsome packages designed by Chip Kidd, this is a stunning achievement.–Publishers Weekly
Today is the third day of the Jewish Holiday, Passover. Here are eight books – one for each night – that discuss different aspects of the holiday, from fitting everyone around the table (Only Nine Chairs) to hosting a Seder during the Holocaust (The Secret Seder).
*Book may be hard to find
1. THE FOUR QUESTIONS, Ori Sherman and Lynne Sharon Schwartz
Why is this book different from all other books? It is an elegant, accessible retelling of the Four Questions asked at a Passover Seder. Sherman’s glorious jewel-toned paintings are patterned and richly detailed, with a curious menagerie of animals, wearing yarmulkes and some clothing, acting out the symbols of the holiday. Each of the Four Questions is asked in English; turn the book upside down, and the question appears in Hebrew calligraphy. The facing picture is split, with images facing each direction as well. This technique enables the book to be used during the Seder: those on each side of the table can see what is going on. The story itself is exciting and timely, telling of the slavery of the Jews, the ten plagues, the exodus from Egypt, and the hope for freedom throughout the world. The book explains the history and the symbolism of the holiday and the items on a Seder plate. The final spread shows the order of the Seder. The pictures are exquisite, the telling lyrical. This is the most eye-catching, most refreshing book available for young children on this holiday. Older children can get more information from Miriam Chaikin’s Ask Another Question: the Story and Meaning of Passover (Clarion, 1986), but The Four Questions will find a wider appreciative audience. –David Gale, for School Library Journal, ages 3 & up
2. THE MATZAH MAN: A PASSOVER STORY, Naomi Howland
Howland (Latkes, Latkes, Good Enough to Eat) makes the story of the Gingerbread Man kosher for Passover in a picture book that improves with repeat readings. Set in an indeterminately old-fashioned community where ladies wear white gloves, hats and fox stoles to go shopping, the story opens as the baker has made a little man out of leftover matzoh dough. Here it is Cousin Tillie, sampling her tender brisket; Auntie Bertha, the shopper; Grandpa Solly, chopping onions for gefilte fish; Miss Axelrod, adding the last matzoh ball to a pot of chicken soup; and a variety of animals who chase after the impish Matzah Man. The storytelling seems attenuated the first time around but all those matzoh-chasers play a role in the satisfying surprise finale. Children will want to return to the beginning to see how neatly Howland sets up her premise. Collage elements (these create the Matzah Man) mingle unobtrusively with almost drab gouaches in the illustrations, which, despite their unprepossessing first impression, are crammed with lively details.–Publisher’s Weekly, ages 4 & up
3. ONLY NINE CHAIRS: A TALL TALE FOR PASSOVER, Deborah Uchill Miller, illustrated by Karen Ostrove
The whole family is coming for Passover in Only Nine Chairs. Deborah Uchill Miller’s rollicking rhyming story mixes tradition with fun, taking young readers through a Passover meal that lacks seats for ten people. Should some sit on the stairs? In the attic? Karen Ostrove’s expressive cartoons add to the humor of this hilarious text as parsley is dipped with fishing rods and a matzah mountain formed. Kids will love searching the pictures to discover how each family member is trying to solve the problem. The family finally finds a believable and utterly satisfying solution to their problem—until one final guest arrives.–Mary Quattlebaum, for Barnes & Noble, ages 3 & up
4. SAMMY SPIDER’S FIRST PASSOVER, Sylvia A. Rouss, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn
In this seasonal follow-up to Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah, the eager arachnid’s mother teaches him to make a web when theirs is laid waste by a “monster”–a broom being used to ready the Shapiros’ home for Passover. Though Sammy becomes fascinated by his mother’s explanations of the holiday traditions, he is repeatedly told, “Spiders don’t celebrate Passover. Spiders spin webs.” Following instructions, Sammy completes a new web and participates in the Shapiro family observance after all. Using cut-paper artwork made festive with cheery patterns, Kahn depicts a contemporary human family (complete with kitty), and a mother-son spider duo reminiscent of Eric Carle’s creations.–Publisher’s Weekly, ages 3 & up
5. DINOSAUR ON PASSOVER, Diane Levin Rauchweger
The friendly, oversize creature from Dinosaur on Hanukkah returns to celebrate Passover with a boy and his family. In silly, rhyming text, the reptile tries to help perform the holiday rituals: removing the forbidden foods, preparing the horseradish, singing the four questions, drinking the wine, retelling the story of the Exodus, eating matzah, searching for the afikomen, and welcoming the prophet Elijah. While his size, enthusiasm, and clumsiness wreak havoc on the family Seder, by the end of the story he is curled up in a heap fast asleep. The illustrations are bright and sophisticated, complementing the cheery mood of the text. A brief endnote explains Passover, but the book will be best enjoyed by children already familiar with the holiday.–Rachel Kamin, Temple Israel Libraries & Media Center, West Bloomfield, MI for School Library Journal, ages 3 & up
6. ON PASSOVER, Cathy Goldberg *
As a young girl prepares for Passover with her family, she uses all her senses to experience this important Jewish holiday. Everyone in her family answers her questions (which are an integral part of Passover) and playfully encourages her to understand more deeply what they are celebrating. Her father tells her that it is important for Jewish people to celebrate Passover every year so that they can always remember what it was like when people were slaves in Egypt, and so they can pray for all the people in the world who don’t have freedom. The girl learns that Passover has things to see (feathers, candles, and spoons), smell (gefilte fish and chicken soup), taste (matzah bread), hear (songs and blessings), and feel (the softness of the silk matzah cover). Passover is a time to ask questions. But most of all, she says, Passover is “a wonderful feeling in my heart, dyenu.” (Hebrew for “it would be enough.”)
Cathy Goldberg Fishman’s gentle, lilting child’s-eye-view of Passover is a quiet extravaganza of the senses. Melanie W. Hall’s wonderfully Chagall-like collagraph and mixed-media illustrations create a mystical backdrop that evokes history and tradition as it commemorates ancient symbolic ritual. This is one of four in a series by the author/illustrator team, including On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, On Hanukkah, and On Purim.–Emilie Coulter for Amazon.com, ages 5 & up
7. THE SECRET SEDER, Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
Amid the plethora of Holocaust children’s literature emerges yet another picture book that uses the themes of exodus and freedom associated with Passover to contrast the reality of Nazi-occupied Europe. The narrator is a French boy whose family lives openly as Catholics, but secretly observes their Jewish faith. Despite the fear that their true identity will be discovered, he and his father attend an all-male Seder held in an abandoned shack in a nearby forest. They arrive with a roasted egg for the meager Seder plate, which lacks many of the traditional ingredients. One man says, “We have no bitter herbs to dip in salted water,” while another replies, “We do not need bitter herbs….Our lives are bitter enough.” The highlight of the evening is when the boy recites the four traditional questions, which he had secretly practiced with his mother. The men provide secondary answers to the customary ones: “I think tonight is different because tonight all over Europe, Jews are being murdered.” Their sadness, fear, and misery are underscored by the idea that tonight they are free in their hearts and by their hope for a brighter future. Watercolors depicting gloomy, foreboding images of the village, forest, and shack counter the child’s memories of happier meals at his grandmother’s home. Rappaport interweaves themes and descriptive text to create a meaningful story in a distinctive setting. An excellent discussion starter. –Rita Soltan, Oakland University, Rochester, MI for School Library Journal, ages 8 & up
8. THE MATZAH THAT PAPA BROUGHT HOME, Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Ned Bittinger
A charming rephrasing of the traditional cumulative song “Had Gadya” that captures all the excitement, magic, inspiration, high jinks, and eventual exhaustion of a family celebrating a Passover Seder. Here, instead of a goat, the poem revolves around the matzah that Papa brings home, which inspires the feast that Mama makes, the seder they all share, etc. While the text is well done and great fun, the illustrations, rendered in oils, are stellar. Each masterful painting has a subtext. The family members are constantly moving or gesturing while some are intent on praying or singing, a girl is shushing the dog, and a boy is intent on stealing the matzah. During the recapitulation of the plagues, the artist depicts real frogs and locusts jumping out of the wine glasses. The search for the hidden afikomen is positively frenetic, and the picture of the youngest child standing tall and proud (and still) to ask the Four Questions has great impact. Three pages at the end tell the story of Passover. A unique, lively offering.–Marcia Posner, Federation of New York and the Jewish Book Council, New York City, ages 4 & up