Wednesday, February 13, 2013

READING ADVICE IN A SNOWPOCALYPSE

All it takes to get a new blog post up is a huge snowstorm that brings any regular life obligations to a grinding halt. It should last a few days at the very least, so that a person gets bored of TV and Youtube and eating and puzzles and plucking eyebrows and naps, and even gets some random household to-do tasks done, like hanging up pictures that have been leaning against the baseboard for seven months. If you are in need of reviving your blog, really that's all you need. It's so simple. You should try getting your own Snowpocalypse.

But seriously, since we've had so much time to read at our house these last few snowy days, I've been thinking a lot about what makes a person like a book. Specifically, I've been trying to figure out what kind of recommendations to offer my 8-year-old. As a librarian, I generally make a lot of assumptions about a reader when I rattle off titles as suggestions. I mean, I have to, right? And just because in this case (or probably EXACTLY because) I'm his mom, means he likely won't give my suggestions a chance.

When his older brother introduced him to Erin Hunter's Warrior series, he couldn't put them down (yes, he has read them all AND all the Seekers and Survivors titles that are out). It was the first time he was actually choosing to read for the pleasure of it, which was exhilarating to see. How fun to have a voracious reader in my own home! Think of all the wonderful books I can tell him about! So I think, hmm, he likes animal fantasy. And I can think of a dozen books that fit the bill. But the reality is, that's not necessarily what he wants. The question is, what is it about the Warriors books that he likes so much? It could be anything from the swiftness of the plots to the like-able cat characters, to the predictability in the pattern of the series as a whole. I'm still not sure since he's not necessarily the most talkative kid (unless the topic is Minecraft or Roblox).

It turns out, I can sometimes catch his interest by reading a book aloud to him, and he likes it enough to finish it without me: The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell (with "Decorations" by Maurice Sendak), and Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (I love this version with Lauren Child's illustrations).



And some books simply sell themselves, like for instance, I handed A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz to him and he proceeded to speed through it without any encouragement. He then confiscated the companion book, In a Glass Grimmly, from my stack of "Currently Reading" and read that too. The Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka also took next to no encouragement.




So, I sit here and wonder stuff like why he liked these enough to finish them. I know why I like them. But what is it about these books, the combination of all their elements, and his brain, that compelled him to keep going? And if I could gather that data and study it, would it help me know what book to recommend next?

I think about the books I loved as a child and am trying to remember what it was I liked about them. Bunnicula, anything with Ramona Quimby in it, How to Eat Fried Worms and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. And why I didn't pick up other books that were recommended to me? Like Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden, Little Women etc. (it seems like the main deterrent was, as I remember it "if my sister liked it, then it's not for me" which I can see now was a singularly irrational bias that kept me from reading some really great stuff, but all kids have their irrational biases, right?)

So I guess the thing about readers' advisory is that you never know, I mean REALLY know, what book a person is going to like or why. It's always about trial and error. By the way, do you know any 8-year-olds? And what are they reading?

Friday, November 16, 2012

WHEN THE WIND CHANGED

PICTURE BOOK HIGHLIGHT #1

I love picture books. I love the books for their own sake and not only because I use them when I work with children, I just love them. Unless they are the dumb ones. So, as I begin to highlight some of my favorites, I'm going to warn you now that my personal tastes in picture books lean towards the odd, darkly humorous, silly, bizarre and wacky. But just because these are my favorites doesn't mean I choose them for storytime at the library. Which is not to say that I haven't chosen them, either.

One of my favorite books to look at and to laugh at was introduced to me by my sister-in-law. When I first read the hilarious and slightly disturbing When the Wind Changed (1980), written and illustrated by Australians Ruth Park and Deborah Niland respectively, was a bit too much (read: gruesome) for my then preschooler. But I relish in the twisted, fleshy illustrations and almost avant-gardist absurdity, and find myself laughing out loud no matter how many times I've read it. And the text is composed of understated humor and straight-faced wit, giving the book a word/image combination that produces the best kind of storytelling.

As I read through When the Wind Changed today to write this post, I asked myself why I like it - why it's so funny to me. And I suppose a major part of it is how ugly Josh's face gets. It's funny because it's so uncomfortable to look at, for the other characters in the book, and for the reader. Does that mean I'm also laughing at ugliness in general? Maybe my thoughts are a bit heavy on this topic because I recently read R.J. Palacio's humorous and thoughtful book Wonder (2012), in which the main character was born with and lives everyday with a facial deformity, despite having gone through several facial surgeries. I don't necessarily want to bring up questions of political correctness, sensitivity, and what we should or shouldn't laugh at, but it did make me stop and think. And I decided that it's okay and it's funny and I bet even Auggie would get a kick out of this picture book.

Friday, November 9, 2012

PICTURE BOOK CELEBRATIONS



Did you know that November is Picture Book Month? I just learned it. What a great super special and cool thing to have!

There's also a year-long thing going on over at Candlewick's Reading Starts Here site where they are celebrating the picture book with 365 videos, posting a new one each day for a year (they started in August).

I love picture books! Since it seems like the season to celebrate them, I think I'll highlight some of my favorite picture books this month.

And while we're on the topic of how much I like picture books, I found this interesting site to browse called Picturing Books. It covers lots of information about picture books and the things that make up picture books.

And if you just want picture book eye candy, try this pinterest board, which could lead you to a million more amazing illustrations. The thing I love about Pinterest is how it can take you through an unending gallery of awesomeness.





{Images by Brian Wildsmith, whose illustrations I love. They are stunning and colorful. I have four of his books in my personal collection, but not Fishes (top), this beautiful version of A Child's Garden of Verses illustrated by him (middle), or Python's Party (bottom). Wishlist!}

Friday, October 26, 2012

HOUSE HELD UP BY TREES

Kooser, Ted. House Held Up by Trees. Jon Klassen, illus. Candlewick Press, 2012. 32 p. ISBN 978-0763651077

SUMMARY: "When the house was new, not a single tree remained on its perfect lawn to give shade from the sun. The children in the house trailed the scent of wild trees to neighboring lots, where thick bushes offered up secret places to play. When the children grew up and moved away, their father, alone in the house, continued his battle against blowing seeds, plucking out sprouting trees. Until one day the father, too, moved away, and as the empty house began its decline, the trees began their approach. At once wistful and exhilarating, this lovely, lyrical story evokes the inexorable passage of time — and the awe-inspiring power of nature to lift us up."

RISKS: Um...grown-ups might like it more than children? Is that a risk?

EVALUATION: I should put it out there right away that I love this book. House Held Up by Trees is not the kind of book I would label fun, its colors are not bright nor its story cheery. The art is enthralling, painted with subdued colors and clean lines. The story is sort of melancholy, but beautiful and mesmerizing, I would even say mystical and sublime. Some elements of the book - perhaps the tone and simplicity of the story, or the feeling that there is something deeper happening, not just what is obvious and visible - bring to mind the film The Straight Story (1999). But, that connection is tenuous and could be entirely my own construction - especially since it's been a number of years since I saw the film. Anyway, as soon as I read this book I had to have it on my shelf. And then I had to give it to my mom to for her shelf. Great picture books need to have language and images that come together in a way that tells the story so perfectly and completely that it would be hard to imagine it any other way. I think Kooser and Klassen have done this.

TOPICS: nature; trees; passage of time; change; growing up; families; homes; abandoned buildings

AWARDS: A bit early to say, but this book has been talked about lately (see links at the bottom of this post). And what finally got me to check it out from the library was Flavorwire's article on the 20 most beautiful picture books of all time, which has a great selection of truly gorgeous books.

You can watch Ted Kooser talk about his inspiration for the book, and see the mysterious house in this video. (Thanks, mom, for sending me the link!)

Other blog posts that talk about House Held Up by Trees:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

READING PRESENT AND FUTURE

I can get so immersed in blog reading, I forget that I started posting again. And when I do remember to post something, I'm frequently too overwhelmed by all the cool things I could write about that I don't know what to do. Therefore, I will do a post today on - BY FAR - the coolest and most interesting thing out there: "What I am reading and planning to read." I know you can hardly contain your excitement.

Sometimes I think it's a good idea to leave "things I need to do" out in plain sight so that I don't forget about them. This tendency clashes with the part of me that hates clutter. I suppose having stacks of books lying around is the most tolerable of all clutter, so I cut myself some slack when I leave books out in order to remember them. But I probably only forget about them because I read too many at a time. I'm so easily distracted. Sometimes I think it's a terrible habit.

{Reading}

My Name is Asher Lev by Chiam Potok
{Re-reading this wonderful book for a book club. I acquired this well-loved mass market paperback signed by the author years ago, while teaching in China. Don't know who left it in the teacher's lounge for the taking, but thank you!}

If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino
{Reading this for another book club. Not sure how to respond to the second person POV when I feel like it is implied that "you" (the reader, me) is a male.}

Crossover Picturebooks by Sandra L. Beckett
{Brilliant. Makes me wish I was doing scholarly research on picture books.}

Saint Morrissey by Mark Simpson
{Actually I paused this one in order to read the heavily referenced A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney (not pictured).}

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
{Reading this aloud with my son and loving it. It's all I can do to keep myself from reading ahead because we only read about a chapter each night.}

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
{For another book club. Yes, I am in 3 different book clubs. Does that make me unfaithful?}

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
{Mysterious and fascinating and beautiful. Just beautiful.}

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
{Re-reading just because I started it again for a past book club meeting.}

Draw it with your eyes closed: The art of the art assignment published by Paper Monument
{John brought this back from a conference and it's quite entertaining. Plenty of stories about crazy stuff art teachers assign their students to do.}

So...I like to think the stack pictured below contains the next books I'll pick up because I'm excited about them right now in this moment. But we'll see. I am easily distracted. Notice that 2/3 of them are library books, which I constantly bring home from working in the children's department. How can I help it?

{To read}

Friday, October 12, 2012

HALLOWEEN PICTURE BOOKS

Halloween is kinda my favorite holiday. I like to be scared. I like the whole carvival, surreal atmosphere of people in costume or wearing masks. I like pumpkins and candles and especially when you put them together. I like candy. And I like a bit of macabre in my books now and then. In honor of the coming spooky season, I am posting about a few of my favorite Halloween-ish picture books today. Usually I'm not thinking far enough ahead to put up a post about Halloween books before the actual holiday. The catalyst for this post was an invitation to be in a Google+ hangout with blogger friend Amy of Delightful Children's Books.

Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara (2008) could be a spooky tale of a haunted house, but the cover assures little readers that it's a safe, friendly read. A girl - but not an ordinary girl, this one is an adorable, resourceful witch - moves into a haunted house and makes it into a lovely home. If you so desire, an environmentally friendly subplot could be pointed out as you read this to a child, since the girl not only catches the ghosts, but washes and reuses them!

Mommy? by Authur Yorinks and Maurice Sendak (2006) is a beautifully elaborate pop-up book with a humorous, not-quite-scary scenario. The book follows a baby through a succession of monster lairs as he tries to find his mommy. Unfazed by the monsters, he is able to avoid all kinds of peril with ease. He just wants his mommy, and these monsters will not stand in his way. And, of course he find his mommy in the end, though she might not be what you expected.

Goodnight Goon by Michael Rex (2008) is a silly, gruesome, monster-ridden parody of the classic, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I love the original, but I'm not opposed to having a little fun at its expense. This picture book will appeal most to children ages 5 and up, and who like a good monster scenario. Especially if they grew up having Goodnight Moon read to them.

You can read about the picture books Amy shared during our hangout on her blog and you can watch a recording of the hangout below.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A TALE DARK AND GRIMM


Gidwitz, Adam. A Tale Dark and Grimm. Dutton Children's Books, 2010. 252 p. ISBN 978-0525423348

SUMMARY: "Follows Hansel and Gretel as they walk out of their own story and into eight more tales, encountering such wicked creatures as witches, along with kindly strangers and other helpful folk. Based in part on the Grimms' fairy tales Faithful Johannes, Hansel and Gretel, The seven ravens, Brother and sister, The robber bridegroom, and The devil and his three golden hairs."

RISKS: Blood and guts, frightening images, bizarre and disturbing situations.

EVALUATION: Reading the back of the book jacket will give you some idea of what this book is like. But it is also more than that. It is dark and bloody and humorous and self-conscious and completely unbelievable/fantastical. But there is something wonderful and true about it as well. One of the reasons I like this book is because of its uniqueness. It pushes and tests the boundaries of genre and of what makes a children's book. By the end (the REAL end), I am seeing the characters as more than flat individuals ruled by crazy fates, which is how I usually see fairy tale characters. I also really like something I read in the author's acknowledgments, which says "to trust that children can handle it." Now, this all depends on the individual child, but I sometimes think we protect our children from too much when it comes to literature. A second book in the Tale Dark & Grimm series, In a Glass Grimmly, was just published last month. I haven't read it yet, but it's definitely on my short list. I have high hopes for it.

TOPICS: Grimm's Fairy Tales; fairy tale characters; brother-sister relationships

AWARDS:A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2010), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee (2010), Publishers Weekly's Best Children's Books of the Year for Fiction (2010), New York Times Editor's Choice Book (November 2010), ALA Notable Children's book (2011)

Ages 8 & up

Thursday, October 4, 2012

REDIRECTION OF A BLOG



In my attempts to make this blog more my own thing rather than a left-over class assignment, I'm going to start adding stuff. Stuff in addition to stuff about controversial books for young people. Stuff I'm interested in and that probably has to do with children's and teen lit. Neat stuff. Cool stuff. Rad stuff. This stuff may or may not include series posts, Kidlit happenings, philosophical musings, author name-dropping, guest posting, cross-posting, cross-dressing, stylish dressing, pony rides, puzzles, riddles, pretty pictures, poetry, and lively debates.

DON'T BE AFRAID of change (that was mostly for me). As I go along, I'm sure this blog will evolve organically, reshaping and redirecting itself, and I'll find a kind of rhythm and language that fits. But until that happens, please bear with me. It could be bumpy and sporadic, but hopefully interesting.

Also, I just barely started pinning (not pining) today. I've been reluctant to add more time-sucking additives to my daily screen time, but I felt it was time for this. So, now you can follow my pins and/or my tweets. Not too many tweets or pins yet. But. Hooray for time-sucking!

{Image found on Homedsgn.com}

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

BBW 2012 - 9/30-10/6



I began this blog for a class on censorship during my MLIS program. One of my favorite things to do as a librarian is advocate for the freedom to read. So it seems appropriate restart some regular posting on this blog during Banned Books Week. All the book titles in my previous posts have been challenged or banned somewhere. But I'm hoping to expand the scope of this blog as time goes on.

Back to being banned. If you are like me, the fact that a book is banned only makes you want to read it. You can find lists of challenged books on ALA's website (note the box entitled "Banned and Challenged Books" on the sidebar). You might be surprised by some of the titles on those lists.

I'm thinking in honor of Banned Books Week, I'll pick up a few books from Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Alice series. It's been in the top ten challenged lists for a number of years now. What are you reading that's controversial?

Monday, October 1, 2012

KIDLIT CON 2012 INSPIRATION



I was lucky enough to go to the 6th annual Kidlit Conference this past weekend in NYC. It was one of those experiences where I didn't know a single person there, but instantly felt like I was with "my people." Authors, illustrators, librarians, bloggers, editors, teachers - all connected to children's and/or teen literature in some way. The whole weekend was perfectly inspiring, full of enthusiastic and intelligent bibliophiles and located in the beautiful and historic New York Public Library Schwarzman Building on 5th Ave and 42nd St. I connected with some fascinating people and hope we'll continue to connect (including at next year's conference). Hooray for Kidlit!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

BACK ON THE SCENE

Having been absent from this blog for a while, I thought I'd get back into the scene with a little children's book love. Did you know it was March Into Literacy Month? Then we'll see if I can get regular posts up about everything I'm reading in children's and teen literature.
Most Loved Children's Books - MAT@USC
Via MAT@USC: Become a Teacher
{infoGraphic from http://mat.usc.edu/most-loved-children-books-infographic/}

Thursday, June 17, 2010

CUT


McCormick, Patricia. Cut. Push, 2002 (c2000). 151 p. PBK $7.99 ISBN 0439324599

SUMMARY: "While confined to a mental hospital, thirteen-year-old Callie slowly comes to understand some of the reasons behind her self-mutilation, and gradually starts to get better."

RISKS: trigger cutting behavior

EVALUATION: McCormick uses just the right details, doesn't overdo it on the description, and develops an authentic protagonist - a tricky thing when the character is silent for most of the novel, in addition to dealing with emotional problems and behavior issues at a "residential treatment facility." Not only did McCormick do extensive research for this book, but she is also emotionally capable as a writer. She truthfully and gently handles the pain in each of her characters, and creates an intimate world full of both harshness and tenderness where readers can hopefully come to understand a little better some of the difficulties many young people face.

TOPICS: self-injury; cutting; eating disorders; substance abuse; emotional problems; mental health; psychiatric hospitals; family problems; sibling relationships; psychological trauma

AWARDS: Arizona: Grand Canyon Reader Award Nominees, 2005; Illinois: Lincoln Award Nominees, 2005; Texas: Tayshas Reading List, 2004; South Carolina: YA Book Award Nominees, 2003; ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2002; Kentucky: Bluegrass Award Nominees, 2002; ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2001

Ages 12 & up

Saturday, June 12, 2010

LUNA


Peters, Julie Anne. Luna. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2006 (c2004). 256 p. PBK $7.99 ISBN 0316011274

SUMMARY: "Fifteen-year-old Regan's life, which has always revolved around keeping her older brother Liam's transsexuality a secret, changes when Liam decides to start the process of 'transitioning' by first telling his family and friends that he is a girl who was born in a boy's body."

RISKS: transsexuality & transgender characters, issues, and discussions

EVALUATION: Peters tells the story of a transgender teen through the eyes and experience of his/her younger sister. The struggle, the feelings, the characters and their choices all ring true. This is one of very, very few books for teens that honestly and tenderly address transgender issues. Hopefully there will be more in the near future.

TOPICS: transsexuality; identity; family problems; sibling relationships

AWARDS: Missouri: Gateway Readers Award Nominees, 2007; ALA Popular Paperbacks , 2006; Texas: Tayshas Reading List, 2006; ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2005; Michigan: Thumbs Up Award Nominees, 2005

Ages 12 & up

Monday, January 11, 2010

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER


Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Pocket Books, 1999. 213 p. PBK $14.00 ISBN 978-0671027346

SUMMARY: "Charlie, a freshman in high school, explores the dilemmas of growing up through a collection of letters he sends to an unknown receiver."

RISKS: Description of date rape, depictions of substance abuse, descriptions of sexual activity, homosexuality, abortion, vulgar language, sexual abuse

EVALUATION: While I wouldn't recommend this book to everyone, primarily because of its gritty elements, I loved it and think it is brilliant. Charlie's voice is constantly authentic and amazingly thoughtful. I might call it a mix between Catcher in the Rye and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Charlie is like Holden in his candor and like Christopher in his guilelessness.

READER'S ANNOTATION: I don't have to come up with one since my assignment it done and my class is over and I don't like writing these anyways!

TOPICS: depression; anxiety; friendship; post traumatic stress; sexual abuse; substance abuse; homosexuality; sex & sexuality; dating; letters; high schools;

AWARDS: Tennessee: Volunteer State Book Award Nominees, 2004; ALA Popular Paperbacks, 2002; Kentucky: Bluegrass Award Nominees, 2002; Texas: Tayshas Reading List, 2002; ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2000

Ages 14 & up

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

AMERICAN BORN CHINESE


Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. First Second Books, 2006. 233 p. PBK $17.95 ISBN 978-1596431522

SUMMARY: Three separate but intertwined stories weave together this representation of a Chinese American teen's thoughts, feelings, and experiences in dealing with his mixed identity. First is the mythical story of the monkey who wants nothing more than to be a god. Next is a realistic story of Jin Wang, one of only three Asian Americans in his school. And last, there is the story of Danny, a blond boy, with a Chinese cousin, Chin-kee, an exaggerated Chinese stereotype who annoys and embarrasses Danny to the point of violence and hatred. The three stories reveal how they are related when they come together in a thought-provoking and hopeful conclusion.

RISKS: Depiction of Chinese stereotypes in Chin-kee's character

EVALUATION: I think this book keenly describes the internal conflict which individuals caught between different cultures might go through. The weaving together of separate and seemingly unrelated narratives in the comic book format makes a compelling reading experience and would make for interesting discussion about the book. Humor is spread throughout the narratives and enhanced by the artwork, which is simple, straightforward, and contains just the right details.

READER'S ANNOTATION: Everyone wonders at times about who they really are. Am I a product of my culture, or am I in control of who I become?

TOPICS: Chinese Americans; identity; schools;

AWARDS: National Book Award Finalist, 2006; ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2007; Michael L. Printz Award, 2007; Will Eisner Best Graphic Album: New, 2007; Booklist Editor's Choice, 2006; SLJ Best Books for Children, 2006; Arizona: Grand Canyon Reader Award Nominees, 2009; New Jersey: Garden State Teen Book Award Nominees, 2009; Pacific Northwest Young Reader's Award Nominees, 2009; Pennsylvania: Young Reader's Choice Award Nominees, 2009; Kentucky: Bluegrass Award Nominees, 2008

Ages 12 & up

Monday, December 7, 2009

AND TANGO MAKES THREE


Richardson, Justin and Peter Parnell. And Tango Makes Three. Henry Cole, illus. Simon & Schuster, 2005. 29 p. TR 16.99 ISBN 978-0689878459

SUMMARY: This is the true story of two male chinstrap penguins in the Central Park Zoo and how they found companionship with each other. A perceptive zookeeper gave this self-proclaimed couple the opportunity to make a family by giving them an egg to hatch. At the end of the book, they are a happy family of three.

RISKS: Depiction of homosexual relationship/parenting - albeit in animal form

EVALUATION: This beautifully illustrated, fun and tender picture book is as innocent or harmful as you make it. These are penguins, in a zoo, who want a family. Looking at the story in a bigger way, it is a universal narrative about love and families and the desire to have someone close. Once again, the representation of homosexuality in whatever guise will no doubt offend some readers. More liberal adults, however (one might add, children, too) will find this story of love and togetherness both touching and refreshing.

READER'S ANNOTATION: Not your ordinary zoo story, or penguin story, or even animal story. Baby Tango stars in this delightful and inspiring true story of a unique family.

TOPICS: penguins; companionship; homosexual parents; familial relationships; zoo animals; Central Park Zoo, New York, NY;

AWARDS: ALA Notable Children's Books, 2006; ASPCA Henry Bergh Children's Book Award, 2005

Ages 4-8

Friday, December 4, 2009

ANNIE ON MY MIND


Garden, Nancy. Annie on My Mind. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007 (c1982). 263 p. PBK $8.00 ISBN 978-0374400118

SUMMARY: "Seventeen-year-old Liza puts aside her feelings for Annie after the disaster at school, but eventually she allows love to triumph over the ignorance of people. Includes an interview with the author."

RISKS: Lesbian relationships

EVALUATION: The fact that this title is still in print and still praised, is a sort of testament of its universality and enduring qualities. It is a simple, straightforward love story, yet not so simple because Eliza is coming to terms with her sexuality. The honesty and sensitivity with which Garden treats Eliza's homosexual experiences and feelings is unparalleled by other books published at the time and for many years afterward. And the ending is completely satisfying, no matter how sad (realistic, imperfect - not everything is wrapped up neatly). NB: Includes a fascinating interview with the author conducted by Kathleen T. Horning.

READER'S ANNOTATION: There are many obstacles to love. When Liza and Annie find a place in their hearts for each other, will there be a place for their love in the world?

TOPICS: love; homosexuality; lesbians; private high schools; New York, NY;

AWARDS: Margaret A. Edwards Award, 2003; Booklist Reviewer's Choice, 1982; ALA Best Books, 1982; ALA Best of the Best lists (1970-1983)

Ages 12-17

Thursday, December 3, 2009

BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE


Klause, Annette Curtis. Blood and Chocolate. Laurel Leaf, 1999 (c1997). 264 p. PBK $7.50 ISBN 978-0440226680

SUMMARY: "Having fallen for a human boy, a beautiful teenage werewolf must battle both her packmates and the fear of the townspeople to decide where she belongs and with whom."

RISKS: Vulgar language, sensual tone, sexual references, graphic violence

EVALUATION: I think this book had better writing than Silver Kiss (also by Klause), and an equally interesting story. Because the protagonist is female, but she is the supernatural creature, this story gives a slight twist on the common "supernatural being loves a human" theme. I thought it was realistic how Aiden reacted to Vivian’s animal form, but I’m not sure how I feel about the overall message that you should stick to dating your own kind. The ending was exciting, suspenseful, and made for a nice, no-loose-ends conclusion. NB: I don't recommend the 2007 movie version - I think it was poorly done.

READER'S ANNOTATION: Wild desires are sometimes hard to anticipate and sometimes hard to explain. How much of the wolf in Vivian will she try to reveal to the boy she loves?

TOPICS: werewolves; horror; love; sex & sexuality; identity; family relationships; rites of passage;

AWARDS: ALA Popular Paperbacks, 2008; New Jersey: Garden State Teen Book Award Winners, 2000

Ages 14-17

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

BOY MEETS BOY


Levithan, David. Boy Meets Boy. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2005 (c2003). 185 p. PBK $8.95 ISBN 978-0375832994

SUMMARY: Paul has known he was gay since kindergarten, when it showed up on his student evaluation. He lives in an ideal world for a gay teen, where he is accepted as readily as any other person despite his sexuality. The Gay/Straight alliance is larger than the football team, and the quarterback is also the homecoming queen.

RISKS: Homosexuality

EVALUATION: I love how this book portrays the scenario of a community where homosexuality is accepted and not a big deal. I appreciate the freshness of the love story, where a gay teen can delve into romance and relationships without persecution or hate inhibiting him. But to keep a perspective on a more present reality, Levithan includes Tony, a boy from another school who hangs out with Paul and his group of friends, but has to hide his homosexuality from his own schoolmates and his family. It is truth and fantasy at the same time, and also terribly funny and moving.

READER'S ANNOTATION: Imagine a world where those who live in shame and fear feel comfortable at the center and happy with themselves. Paul's is a dream of a high school experience where normal is larger than you can imagine.

TOPICS: friendship; homosexuality; high school;

AWARDS: Illinois: Lincoln Award Nominees, 2008; ALA Popular Paperbacks, 2006; New Hampshire: Flume Award Nominees, 2006; New Jersey: Garden State Teen Book Award Nominees, 2006; ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2004; ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2004; Washington, D.C.: Capitol Choices List, 2004

Ages 12-17

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME


Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Vintage Contemporaries, 2003. 226 p. PBK $14.00 ISBN 978-1400032716

SUMMARY: "Despite his overwhelming fear of interacting with people, Christopher, a mathematically-gifted, autistic fifteen-year-old boy, decides to investigate the murder of a neighbor's dog and uncovers secret information about his mother."

RISKS: Vulgar language

EVALUATION: The voice of Christopher John Francis Boone is crystal clear and constant throughout this unique novel. There aren't many books out there that utilize the first person with an autistic protagonist as Haddon does - and does well. It is an enlightening and beautiful experience to be inside the mind of Christopher, with quirks and details right on the mark, as he solves the mystery of what initially began as the murder of his neighbor's dog but reveals something much bigger about his own family. Christopher tells the clever story with the accuracy of a Cartesian detective and with perfect guilelessness.

READER'S ANNOTATION: When Christopher's world has gone crazy, perhaps his inability to think like everyone else is his greatest gift.

TOPICS: mental illness; autism; divorce; savants; England; mysteries;

AWARDS: Arizona: Grand Canyon Reader Award Nominees, 2008; ALA Popular Paperbacks, 2006; Colorado: Blue Spruce Award Nominees, 2006; Georgia: Georgia Peach Award Nominees, 2006; Indiana: Eliot Rosewater Award Nominees, 2006; New Hampshire: Flume Award Nominees, 2006; New Jersey: Garden State Teen Book Award Nominees, 2006; New Jersey: Garden State Teen Book Award Winners, 2006; Texas: Tayshas Reading List, 2006; ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2004; Alex Awards, 2004; SLJ Best Adult Books for High School Students, 2003

Ages 15 & up

Monday, November 30, 2009

THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS


Mackler, Carolyn. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things. Candlewick Press, 2005 (c2003). 244 p. PBK $8.99 ISBN 978-0763620912

SUMMARY: "Feeling like she does not fit in with the other members of her family, who are all thin, brilliant, and good-looking, fifteen-year-old Virginia tries to deal with her self-image, her first physical relationship, and her disillusionment with some of the people closest to her."

RISKS: Descriptions of sexual activity, alcohol use, eating disorders, vulgar language

EVALUATION: Of all the "heartbreaking" teen novels out there, I think this one bears the label with more than the usual melancholy. The ending was rewarding, but I was crying through every other chapter (and I should point out, laughing a bit more often than that). There is something so endearing, so real, and so universal about Virginia's character. She gets good grades, she makes lists, she's trying to fit in and find her way through the school year without her best friend around, and she lets her impulses take over a little bit. But what makes these things endearing is the way Mackler created Virginia's voice with a little pep, a little panic, and a lot of authentic teen cynicism. The ending is rounded off with a good dose of self-acceptance and assertiveness on Virginia's part, and a lot of hope.

READER'S ANNOTATION: For Virginia, everyone seems worried about how she looks, and Virginia is starting to think they are right. But, the fight of her life comes when she realizes that the only opinion that matters is her own.

TOPICS: high schools; weight control; self-perception; family problems; date rape; depression; New York, NY;

AWARDS: ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2004; Michael L. Printz Honor, 2004; Arizona: Grand Canyon Reader Award Nominees, 2008; Indiana: Eliot Rosewater Award Nominees, 2006; Maryland: Black-eyed Susan Award Nominees, 2006; New Jersey: Garden State Teen Book Award Nominees, 2006; South Carolina: YA Book Award Nominees, 2006; Tennessee: Volunteer State Book Award Nominees, 2006; Kentucky: Bluegrass Award Nominees, 2005; Texas: Tayshas Reading List, 2005; Michigan: Thumbs Up Award Nominees, 2004; Washington, D.C.: Capitol Choices List, 2004

Ages 14-17

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

FADE


Cormier, Robert. Fade. Delacorte Press, 2004 (c1988). 310 p. PBK $7.99 ISBN 978-0385731348

SUMMARY: "In the summer of 1938, Paul Moreaux, the thirteen-year-old son of French Canadian immigrants, inherits the ability to become invisible, but this power soon leads to death and destruction."

RISKS: Graphic violence, incest, depictions of sexual abuse,

EVALUATION: Fade is one of Cormier's most fascinating and captivating novels, perhaps because he knows how to make the fantastical appear probable and feel like truth. He also knows how to present the darker side of people in a very convincing manner. Readers are left with little question that the fade, whether it is real or not, brings out an uncontrollable evil side in those it plagues, conjuring images of psychosis. This disturbing element in the book will probably deter some readers, but will no doubt intrigue others.

READER'S ANNOTATION: If everything Paul Roget wrote is true, what does it mean when he claims the power of turning himself invisible? Is it a genuine superpower or an effort to grapple with something terrifying in his life?

TOPICS: supernatural; French Canadians; historical fiction; factories; unions; death; mourning; physical abuse; murder; revenge; self-control

AWARDS: ALA Popular Paperbacks, 2003

Ages 12-17

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

FALLEN ANGELS


Myers, Walter Dean. Fallen Angels. Scholastic, 2008 (c1988). 336 p. PBK $6.99 ISBN 978-0545055765

SUMMARY: "Seventeen-year-old Richie Perry, just out of his Harlem high school, enlists in the Army in the summer of 1967 and spends a devastating year on active duty in Vietnam."

RISKS: Vulgar language - including racial & homosexual slurs, graphic violence, horrors of war

EVALUATION: Though not always easy to read because of the harsh, authentic content, this is a beautifully written tribute to young soldiers that have experienced war. In very much a diary style, Myers writes in the most convincing first-person voice of a young man who is continually realizing what a messy, crazy, difficult, jarring event he has volunteered to be a part of. But this book is not just the horrible. However unpleasant the realities depicted, Myers chooses just the right details and just the right humor needed to buoy both the characters in the story and the readers, for an ideally balanced reading experience. While I would not recommend this book to everyone (namely those with little tolerance for violence), I do wish everyone could read it.

READER'S ANNOTATION: Everyone knows that war is hell, but somewhere in that hell Richie has to find a way to stay human and come to terms with the horrors he sees happening to those around him.

TOPICS: historical fiction; military; wars; Vietnam War; African Americans;

AWARDS: Margaret A. Edwards Award, 1994; Coretta Scott King Author Award, 1989; Parents' Choice Gold Award, 1988

Ages 13-17

Monday, November 23, 2009

FAR FROM XANADU


Peters, Julie Anne. Far From Xanadu. Little, Brown, 2007 (c2005). 282 p. PBK $7.99 ISBN 978-0316159715

SUMMARY: "Sixteen-year-old Mary-Elizabeth 'Mike' Szabo, struggling to understand her father's suicide and her own homosexuality, reaches the breaking point when she falls in love with Xanadu, an exotic girl who has moved to small Coalton, Kansas, from the big city."

RISKS: Homosexual characters, substance abuse,

EVALUATION: I love this book and I hate it. Though Peters is adept with her humor, it is not always easy to appreciate it amongst the sadness. Mike Szabo is dealing with enormous burdens during the course of the novel, which sometimes made it drag a little. But there are the gems that make me love the book, including the character Jamie, Mike's moments of self-confidence with softball and with plumming, as well as the mending of her relationship with her brother. Despite the novel being chock full of problems (if there were ever a quintessential problem novel, this might be one), there is a hopeful ending and a refreshing depiction of an accepting, loving small town community. In addition, this book is filling a need in teen literature with the common topic of unrequited love, but in this case, specifically between gay and straight characters.

READER'S ANNOTATION: Her father's death was complicated. Her own life is complicated. Will her new friendship with Xanadu help to clarify her feelings or only make them worse?

TOPICS: sex & sexuality; homosexuality; lesbians; suicide; death; love; obesity; alcoholism; substance abuse; depression; high school; softball; Kansas

AWARDS: 2005 Rainbow Reads, selected by the American Library Association’s GLBT Round Table; Finalist for the 2006 Colorado Book Award in Young Adult Fiction; New York Public Library Books for the Teen-Age List 2006; Booklist Top 10 Romance Fiction for Youth; An American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults, 2006 Nomination; An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2006 Nomination

Ages 12-17

Friday, November 20, 2009

FOREVER


Blume, Judy. Forever. Simon Pulse, 2007 (c1975). 192 p. PBK $8.99 ISBN 978-1416934004

SUMMARY: "Two high school seniors believe their love to be so strong that it will last forever."

RISKS: Descriptions of sexual activity

EVALUATION: Though not the only book in teen literature that deals realistically, but not frighteningly, with teenage sex, it was probably the first. Katherine and Michael are authentic in their feelings, the intensity of those feelings, how they display those feelings, and the quickness with which the feelings can change. Whether readers have been there, done that, or whether they are experiencing new feelings vicariously through Blume's characters, the author does not gloss over the complexity that comes with sexual relationships and the hurt and confusion that can result from that kind of vulnerability, which is, I believe, what adds enormous value to this particular reading experience.

READER'S ANNOTATION: How can you know the way you feel right now will be the way you feel tomorrow? Katherine and Michael want to always feel the love they have for each other now, but feelings are sometimes hard to control.

TOPICS: high schools; dating; sex & sexuality; love;

AWARDS: ALA Popular Paperbacks, 2008; Margaret A. Edwards Award, 1996

Ages 14-17

Thursday, November 19, 2009

GEOGRAPHY CLUB


Hartinger, Brent. Geography Club. HarperTempest, 2003. 226 p. TR $17.99 ISBN 978-0060012212

SUMMARY: Russell thinks he's the only gay kid at his high school, but finds other closeted teens via chat room and in confiding to his closest friend. They decide they want to meet and so they start a secret gay-straight alliance, under the pseudonym of the Geography Club (boring enough that no one else will want to join). This club eventually fails, but at the end of the book, there is an official Gay-Straight Alliance on the school's horizon.

RISKS: Homosexual characters, descriptions of sexual activity, vulgar language

EVALUATION: Hartinger's clever and symbolic use of geography in his enchanting but gritty novel may not be what young readers catch on to, but the connection is there. The aptly but disguisedly named club is perfectly in line with Russell and his friends' effort to find a place where they can feel safe to be themselves in the shifting and complicated terrain of high school. But even without making this connection, both gay and straight readers will no doubt identify with the difficult process of learning to make one's own path to adulthood.

READER'S ANNOTATION: There's nothing worse than feeling utterly alone in a vast, and crowded world. For Russell and his friends, the Geography Club was not just another way to feel like they had a place on the map, but a secret space where they could express their truest selves.

TOPICS: high school; clubs; sex & sexuality; homosexuality; gay-straight alliances; bullying;

AWARDS: Indiana: Eliot Rosewater Award Nominees, 2008; New Hampshire: Flume Award Nominees, 2007; Tennessee: Volunteer State Book Award Nominees, 2006; ALA Popular Paperbacks, 2005; Texas: Tayshas Reading List, 2005

Ages 14-17

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES


Newman, Lesléa. Heather Has Two Mommies. Diana Souza, illus. Alyson Publications, 2009 (c1989). 36 p. PBK $12.95 ISBN 978-1593501365

SUMMARY: Heather lives in a loving home with two wonderful mommies, and a dog and a cat. Mama Kate is a doctor and Mama Jane is a carpenter. One day, at her playgroup, Heather's friends are talking about their families and she realizes she doesn't have a daddy like some of them. The playgroup leader begins a sensitive discussion where the children learn about all the shapes and forms a family can come in. They learn that the most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other.

RISKS: Depiction of homosexual parenting

EVALUATION: This is a sweet and straightforward book with simple and beautiful black and white illustrations. The examples of different kinds of families given by Molly, the caregiver for Heather's playgroup, makes this a very affirming story for anyone with a non-nuclear family, not just those with gay parents. There is great sensitivity in this book, and the weight given to the necessity of love in a family is laudable.

READER'S ANNOTATION: Heather had never thought that she was missing something in her life, but when she realizes she doesn't have a father, how will she learn that having two mommies is just another way of making a happy family.

TOPICS: families; parent-child relationships; homosexual parents; diversity; love;

AWARDS: Lambda Literary Award Finalist, 1990

Ages 3-7

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN


Sendak, Maurice. In the Night Kitchen. HarperCollins, 1996 (c1970). 40 p. TR $17.95 ISBN 978-0060266684

SUMMARY: "A little boy's dream-fantasy in which he helps three fat bakers get milk for their cake batter."

RISKS: Illustrations depicting a nude boy

EVALUATION: Brimming with creativity and sumptuous imagery, this picture book makes a young boy's dream seem both heroic and surreal. Sendak has the unique gift of expanding on the vision of a young child with such grace and genuine wonder that children are naturally drawn to it and adults remember a little of what it's like to see the world so vast and full of possibility. The plot doesn't make much sense, but of course, neither do dreams, and so the surreal narrative that emerges in these comic book style panels is perhaps more like Dr. Seuss than Arnold Lobel. But Sendak evokes a seriousness in his magical images that the silliness of Seuss sometimes misses.

READER'S ANNOTATION: As bewildering and fascinating as a real dream - and as vivid - come follow Mickey on his fantasy adventure through the Night Kitchen.

TOPICS: dreams; cake; baking; bakers;

AWARDS: Caldecott Honor, 1971

Ages 4-7

Monday, November 16, 2009

THE OUTSIDERS


Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders. Puffin, 2006 (c1967) 180 p. PBK $10.00 ISBN 978-0142407332

SUMMARY: Ponyboy is 14 years old and lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with his older brothers, Darrel and Soda, ever since their parents died in a car wreck eight months ago. The three brothers belong to the Greasers gang, who are rivals with the Socs (Socials), a gang made up of rich kids from the other side of town. One night Ponyboy and fellow Greaser, Johnny, are out late talking in a park when they are accosted by some Socs. They defend themselves, but one of the Socs ends up dead in the scuffle. Because of this, the Socs challenge the Greasers to a rumble. After the tragic events of that night, including the deaths of two Greasers, Ponyboy has to find his place, motivation, and his voice once again with the quiet support of his brothers as he deals with the aftermath of these events.

RISKS: Gang violence, depictions of teen alcohol and tobacco use, physical abuse

EVALUATION: The Outsiders is remarkable for so many reasons: Susan Eloise Hinton was only 17 when the novel was first published and went on to sell 13 million copies. The book also arrived in bookstores at a moment when young Americans were increasingly dissatisfied with the affluent but banal culture of their "square" parents. It's no surprise, in other words, that a book filled with teen angst, social tension, and a revolutionary ethos would go on to captivate a nation gripped by violent war, new political visions, and young bohemian teens looking for some other way to live their lives. Hinton's tale of gang violence seems dated now (some of the 1950-60s terminology may seem foreign to young readers today--how many kids today use words like "rumble" and "greaser"?), but the themes of feeling marginalized, and of struggling to contain violence are still very much with us today.

READER'S ANNOTATION: There's a rumble coming between two gangs, the Socs and the Greasers. When things get violent, will Ponyboy get caught up in the scuffle, or find a way to make peace with the tragedies and inequalities of his own life and the community around him?

TOPICS: family life; gangs; violence; friendship; loyalty; death; Tulsa, Oklahoma; socioeconomic classes;

AWARDS: Margaret A. Edwards Award, 1988; ALA Popular Paperbacks, 2006

Ages 12 & up

Friday, November 13, 2009

RATS SAW GOD


Thomas, Rob. Rats Saw God. Simon Pulse, 2007 (c1996). 202 p. PBK $6.99 ISBN 978-1416938972

SUMMARY: "In hopes of graduating, Steve York agrees to complete a hundred-page writing assignment which helps him to sort out his relationship with his famous astronaut father and the events that changed him from promising student to troubled teen."

RISKS: Descriptions of and references to marijuana and teen alcohol use, descriptions of sexual activity, vulgar language

EVALUATION: The writing in this memoir-style novel is perhaps too articulate and mature for a teenager to have written on his own, but the author manages to introduce a few important plot elements to account for the brilliant prose. Specifically, the narrator, Steve, is endowed with a kind of genius vocabulary and remarkably mature voice (his SAT score, we are told, is incredible). Once one decides to go along with that assumption, the apt descriptions and engaging plot are very entertaining. The adult language also seems to match some of the adult themes of the novel, including the drama of Steve's relationship with his father, which is complicated by his father's inability to express his emotions.

READER'S ANNOTATION: For Steve and his friends, is starting an art club devoted to Dadaism, where everything means nothing, just an attempt to cover up the search for a meaningful relationship with those closest to them?

TOPICS: divorce; high school; family relationships; sex & sexuality; substance abuse; philosophy; writing

AWARDS: Retro-Printz Award for books published in 1996, 2003; ALA Best Books For Young Adults, 1997; School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, 1996


Ages 13-17

Thursday, November 12, 2009

SHATTERING GLASS


Giles, Gail. Shattering Glass. Simon Pulse, 2003 (c2002). 215 p. PBK $7.99 ISBN 978-0689858000

"Rob, the charismatic leader of the senior class, provokes unexpected violence when he turns the school nerd into Prince Charming."

SUMMARY: Rob is the new kid and an instant hit with everyone - charming, good-looking, sensitive, fun...a real people person. It's his idea to make the school dork, Simon, into the popular kid - but his goal to get Simon voted as "Class Favorite" at the end of the year turns out badly. There are all kinds of mind games going on along the way. Young, the narrator, and his group of friends are entwined in the middle of a business much more sinister than they could have predicted, and see their worst selves come out as a result, in hatred and violence.

RISKS: Violence, descriptions of sexual activity, sexual abuse, vulgar language

EVALUATION: In this suspenseful, psychological thriller, readers are gradually led through the story of a high school con man, Rob, and his innocent friend, Young, and the school outcast, Simon, who are both manipulated by his disingenuous actions. Constructed in a unique montage-type blending of past, present and future, Giles' novel shifts between multiple perspectives. More sophisticated readers may detect a subtle, political critique woven into the strands of Giles' narrative: do the ends justify the means? Rob, in other words, seems like nothing so much as a corrupted political leader, someone who has gained the trust of those around him only to exploit those relationships for the sake of maintaining his power. The manipulations are sometimes hard to read, but viewed in the context of larger societal problems, Shattering Glass begins to take on a special kind of cultural relevance.

READER'S ANNOTATION: In trying to help out the least popular kid in school, Rob seems to be doing something very noble. But when his methods become controlling and manipulative, Rob's friends have to decide just how much they'll let him get away with.

TOPICS: high schools; popularity; bullying; manipulation; sexual abuse; friendship; sex & sexuality; violence

AWARDS: California: Young Reader Medal Nominees, 2007; California: Young Reader Medal Winners, 2007; Illinois: Lincoln Award Nominees, 2007; Indiana: Eliot Rosewater Award Nominees, 2007; Virginia: Readers' Choice Award Nominees, 2007; Georgia: Georgia Peach Award Nominees, 2006; Maryland: Black-eyed Susan Award Nominees, 2006; ALA Popular Paperbacks, 2005; South Carolina: YA Book Award Nominees, 2005; Texas: Tayshas Reading List, 2004; ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2003; ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2003

Ages 12-17

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES


Crutcher, Chris. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. HarperTempest (Greenwillow Book), 2003 (c1993). 295 p. PBK $8.99 ISBN 978-0060094898

SUMMARY: "The daily class discussions about the nature of man, the existence of God, abortion, organized religion, suicide and other contemporary issues serve as a backdrop for a high-school senior's attempt to answer a friend's dramatic cry for help."

RISKS: Graphic violence, sexual activity, physical abuse, vulgar language, abortion

EVALUATION: With some knowledge true-life horror stories to work with, Crutcher is pretty good at making them seem authentic. I would say he has a knack for addressing very serious and difficult issues in his novels, and with a very believable teen voice. Sarah Byrnes and the protagonist, Eric, have a convincing friendship - one that is not perfect and developed from being the pair being equally outcast, though for different reasons, at school. In this story, as with Chinese Handcuffs, the ending seems far-fetched in its closure and completeness of revenge against the villian, but not without reason. I think Crutcher can't resist tying up a pretty neat ending. But it does make you feel better after all the hurting that goes on in the story. Endings that play out the fantasies of readers who are well-invested in the protagonist's plight can be extremely cathartic.

READER'S ANNOTATION: Both outcasts, Eric and Sarah, have had to rely on each other. But when Eric discovers the crimes of her father, will he be able to protect her?

TOPICS: friendship; bullying; physical abuse; swimming; high schools; violence

AWARDS: Margaret A. Edwards Award, 2000

Ages 12-17

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

UNCLE BOBBY'S WEDDING


Brannen, Sarah. Uncle Bobby's Wedding. Putnam, 2008. 28 p. TR $15.99 ISBN 978-0399247125

SUMMARY: "Chloe is jealous and sad when her favorite uncle announces that he will be getting married, but as she gets to know Jamie better and becomes involved in planning the wedding, she discovers that she will always be special to Uncle Bobby--and to Uncle Jamie, too."

RISKS: Homosexual marriage

EVALUATION: While the idea of using guinea pigs (or is it gerbils?) as allegorical stand-ins for such a heavy topic (homosexual marriage) might seem incongruous at first, it's a rather common tactic used by authors of books for younger audiences. There are very few titles that cover homosexual issues for the preschool audience, and Brannen has recognized a gap that needs to be filled and is catering to her audience. The story makes homosexuality merely a fact of life and the real issue is friendships and how they change because of a marriage. For readers horrified by the mere thought of homosexuality, this book will seem like only so much propaganda. For those committed to fighting sexual discrimination, this early lesson in tolerance will be a welcome addition to a rapidly expanding corpus.

READER'S ANNOTATION: Chloe is afraid her uncle's marriage will jeopardize their friendship, but soon she discovers how much fun it is to have two favorite uncles!

TOPICS: families; uncles; homosexuality; marriage; weddings; jealousy;

AWARDS: ALA Rainbow List, 2009

Ages 3-7

Monday, November 9, 2009

THE WITCHES


Dahl, Roald. The Witches. Quentin Blake, illus. Puffin, 2007 (c1983). 206 p. PBK $6.99 ISBN 978-0142410110

SUMMARY: "A young boy and his Norwegian grandmother, who is an expert on witches, together foil a witches' plot to destroy the world's children by turning them into mice."

RISKS: Cigar smoking, occult

EVALUATION: Part of what I admire about Dahl's writing is how he mixes fun, mischief, quirkiness, and humor, with a dash of horror and somehow creates fascinating and well-balanced storytelling. The Witches may be one of his best examples of this. Another part of the formula is that all the adults are unlikeable in some way, except for the one good, trusted adult who aids the child protagonist, and is much of the time a part of the mischief, in this case, the boy and his grandmamma share this adventurous bond. And finally, as Erica Jong put it so well, The Witches is "a curious but honest tale which deals with matters of crucial importance to children: smallness, the existence of evil in the world, mourning, separation, death" (from "The Boy Who Became a Mouse" in The New York Times Book Review, November 13, 1983).

READER'S ANNOTATION: What does a witch really look like? Are witches walking among us? For the hero in The Witches, these are deadly serious questions to be answered, and not without a price.

TOPICS: magic; witches; grandmothers; storytelling; mice; adventures; love;

AWARDS: Whitbread Children's Book Award, 1983

Ages 8-12