Telling a terrible truth: #GNCelebration

8 Oct


I have a penchant for non-fiction, and the increasing number of graphic non-fiction books warms my heart. These are excellent tools to expose kids to difficult or complex topics, and discover the joy of reading non-fiction.

In 1993, five-year-old Michel Chikwanine was kidnapped and forced to become a soldier in a brutal militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He tells his story in Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War, written by Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys, and illustrated by  Claudia Davila.


Michel’s rather brutal story is told in a way that kids could understand without being graphic. Ironic in a graphic novel. But Davila’s illustrations help the reader understand how terrifying the ideal must have been.


Narrated in the first person, the story open with Michel’s idyllic childhood as the son of a civil rights lawyer. This is sharply contrasted with the life he experienced in the camp, from which he eventually ran away, and how alienated he felt after returning to his family. Although Michel escaped the militia, his family continued to suffer. His father was arrested and he and his sisters fled the DRC eventually settling in Canada after years in a refugee camp.

One of the last things Michel’s father told him was that everyone can do something to make the world a better place. Michel has become an activist, retelling his story and working to make people aware of the plight of child soldiers all over the world. Backmatter tells more of his story after arriving in Canada and about the work he does. It also provides information about child soldiers in other parts of the world and organizations that are working on their behalf.

Pair this graphic novel with War Brothers:The Graphic Novel,  by Sharon E. McKay and Daniel LaFrance, which is  graphic novelization of McKay’s YA novel about child soldiers in Uganda.


 Both of these books tell a disturbing story in a deeply humane manner and will give kids cause to pause and think.

You can join the Nerdy Book Club’s  Graphic Novel Celebration, or read about more great graphic novels HERE.

Other perspectives

7 Oct

Yesterday, I listened to an interview on NPR with Stephanie Meyers talking about the 10th anniversary re-release of Twilight. It contains bonus material entitled  Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined,  in which Meyer tells her classic story from a male point of view. Bella is replaced by Beau; Edward by Edith.

This was particularly interesting because I am reading Another Day, David Levithan’s retelling of the A and Rhiannon story from Levithan’s highly successful Every Day,  from Rhiannon’s point of view.


It opens on the day that A is Rhiannon’s boyfriend, Justin. It’s been a while since I read Every Day, but I remembered enough of the story. I actually think you could pick this one up and totally enjoy it even without first having read its companion novel.

I really enjoyed Every Day and was a little worried to start a retelling of the story but Leviathan pulls it off. A remains the character we loved and getting some insight into Rhiannon helped me understand her much better. I think, overall, reading  Another Day,  has actually enhanced my enjoyment of Every Day. I think it would be interesting to read the books one right after the other.

Publisher’s Summary: Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin, even established guidelines by which to live: Don’t be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.

Until the morning everything changes. Justin seems to see her, to want to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning. Confused, depressed, and desperate for another day as great as that one, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Then, one day, a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with, the one who made her feel like a real person . . . wasn’t Justin at all.



A little linguistic fun: A Slice of Life Story

6 Oct


Ah, the Humanities.

Last week we started our year long study of Latin stems. Additionally, we did a jigsaw activity about Populism. Before we could start the activity, though, I thought I’d connect the two.

I opened the lesson by writing pop=people on the board and explained that it  was a stem we’d meet later but tied into that day’s lesson. Naturally, I asked kids for other words they knew that had “pop” in it. I got the expected responses: population, popular. Then someone asked, “What about popcorn?”. We all knew they were trying to be funny.

All eyes looked at me. I replied, as they expected, “That one doesn’t work because that comes from the verb “pop” which is not from Latin.” I paused and thought a bit, then added, “However, it could apply because popcorn is the snack of the people!”



Connecting stories

5 Oct

A couple of weeks ago, I was on Facebook and noticed a message in a friends timeline that referenced someone named Bonnie-Sue who had a connection to salmon and Alaska. I knew there was no way that this Bonnie-Sue could be the same Bonnie-Sue I met at ALA. We met at that fantastic dinner at The Waterbar where guests were introduced to three YA debut novelists in a panel hosted by David Levithan. You can revisit my post about that evening here.

It turns out it was the same Bonnie-Sue.

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock was my friend Sandy’s college roommate. She is also the author of The Smell of Other People’s Houses, which is scheduled to be released in February 2016.


Bonnie-Sue sat next to me through one course  of the dinner and we had a great chat about Portland and a somewhat funny discussion about my poor sense of smell and the fact that San Francisco smelled of marijuana and urine to my not so sensitive nose. Little did we know then that we had Sandy in common.

I just finished reading the galley of her book, a debut I can talk about because it will be released  after my Morris tenure is over.

It is heartbreakingly beautiful, the intertwining stories of four teens with difficult lives. The content is mature, without being graphic, and the stories feel real. The prose is spare but beautiful, in the same way that the Alaskan landscape can seem wide open and empty, even as it teems with life.

Publisher’s Summary: In Alaska, 1970, being a teenager here isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else. This deeply moving and authentic debut is for fans of Rainbow Rowell, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, and Benjamin Alire Saenz. Intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America’s Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare talent.

Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck strikes. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance, with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.

Four very different lives are about to become entangled. This unforgettable book is about people who try to save each other—and how sometimes, when they least expect it, they succeed.

I have no idea what the 2017 Morris committee will think of this novel, but I hope they give it some serious consideration.

On reading books in a series

2 Oct

I love series.

I love returning to familiar characters who feel like friends. I love the sense of accomplishment it brings as I finish another book in the series. It feel the way I imagine it feels to scale a mountain. When I finish a series I feel like am standing at the top of a mountain with both arms raised.


I’ve not yet reached these heights with my current series, Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles. 


I’m a couple of chapters away from the end of the second book, Scarlet  and the third book, Cress, which I’ve had on hold for a while, has now arrived at the library and is ready to be picked up.

Now, I have a book dilemma.

Do I set aside what I’d had lined up next and dive into Cress, or should I read what I’d planned to read next and give myself a break in between the two, making the return that much sweeter. I’m leaning towards the latter.

Gavrilo Princip: A Graphic Assassination

1 Oct


We have a tendency t think that young people who go off and become radicalized are a new phenomenon. It isn’t really so, and Henrik Rehr’s Terrorist: Gavrilo Princip, the Assassin who Ignited World War 1 gives us some insight into how it can happen.

Let me start off by saying that the realistic illustrations are top notch. In black and white, the emulate the newsreels and photographs of the era that would have informed people about the assassination. In fact, when I first opened the book, I almost gasped, astonished at the research Rehr must have done to so faithfully portray the events of the assassination.

Here is an illustration


Here is a photo taken that day


The publisher categorizes the book as fiction, and I think rightly so. Although it is filled with excellent research and historical fact, the nature of a graphic retelling of history, full of speech bubbles, almost demands fiction status. The conversations Princip had with colleagues and coconspirators probably rings true, but we will never know exactly what was said.  This is an issue in narrative nonfiction generally, where we see quotes in books, which, when endnotes are checked, revealed that they come from interviews or memoirs. they are what someone remembered themselves or someone else saying. As we work on our personal narratives in writer’s workshop, I tell student to write the gist of what was said as we practice adding dialogue and I suppose that is what Rehr has done here. It works for this book because it is really historical fiction.

All that aside, I found this to be an excellent book and a good introduction to issues of World War 1.


On my radar

30 Sep


My “to be read” pile is an every changing collection.

These days, my Morris pile of “to be reads” is very small. The Morris “to discuss” piles is shrinking and the “nominations” pile has become two piles.

The other shelves in my house also shift continually, but there are a couple I am currently keeping near the top. I hope to get to them soon. Here are my top three at the moment.


Publisher’s Summary:Firefly. Cricket. Vole. Peter. Can four creatures from four very different Nations help one another find their ways in the world that can feel oh-so-big? Delve into this lush, unforgettable tale in the tradition of Charlotte’s Web and The Rats of NIMH, from the author of the New York Times bestselling Someday.

Firefly doesn’t merely want to fly, she wants to touch the moon. Cricket doesn’t merely want to sing about baseball, he wants to catch. When these two little creatures with big dreams wander out of Firefly Hollow, refusing to listen to their elders, they find themselves face-to-face with the one creature they were always told to stay away from…a giant.

But Peter is a Miniature Giant. They’ve always been told that a Miniature Giant is nothing but a Future Giant, but this one just isn’t quite as big or as scary as the other Giants. Peter has a dream of his own, as well as memories to escape. He is overwhelmed with sadness, and a summer with his new unlikely friends Firefly and Cricket might be just what he needs. Can these friends’ dreams help them overcome the past?


Publisher’s Summary: The author of OPENLY STRAIGHT returns with an epic road trip involving family history, gay history, the girlfriend our hero can’t have, the grandfather he never knew, and the Porcupine of Truth.

Carson Smith is resigned to spending his summer in Billings, Montana, helping his mom take care of his father, a dying alcoholic he doesn’t really know. Then he meets Aisha Stinson, a beautiful girl who has run away from her difficult family, and Pastor John Logan, who’s long held a secret regarding Carson’s grandfather, who disappeared without warning or explanation thirty years before. Together, Carson and Aisha embark on an epic road trip to find the answers that might save Carson’s dad, restore his fragmented family, and discover the “Porcupine of Truth” in all of their lives.


Publisher’s Summary:In September 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history—almost three years of bombardment and starvation that culminated in the harsh winter of 1943–1944. More than a million citizens perished. Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, their relatives having neither the means nor the strength to bury them. Residents burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and—eventually—one another to stay alive. Trapped between the Nazi invading force and the Soviet government itself was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who would write a symphony that roused, rallied, eulogized, and commemorated his fellow citizens—the LeningradSymphony, which came to occupy a surprising place of prominence in the eventual Allied victory.

This is the true story of a city under siege: the triumph of bravery and defiance in the face of terrifying odds. It is also a look at the power—and layered meaning—of music in beleaguered lives. Symphony for the City of the Dead is a masterwork thrillingly told and impeccably researched by National Book Award–winning author M. T. Anderson.

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