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Novels in verse

4 Feb

I’ve mentioned before how much I love novels in verse. As I play catchup with the 2015 books I missed, I have surprised myself by finding a few and two of these are sitting on my shelf right now.

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One by Sarah Crossan

All I can say is conjoined twins!!!!!

Publisher’s Summary:Grace and Tippi. Tippi and Grace. Two sisters. Two hearts. Two dreams. Two lives. But one body.

Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins, joined at the waist, defying the odds of survival for sixteen years. They share everything, and they are everything to each other. They would never imagine being apart. For them, that would be the real tragedy.

But something is happening to them. Something they hoped would never happen. And Grace doesn’t want to admit it. Not even to Tippi.

How long can they hide from the truth—how long before they must face the most impossible choice of their lives?

The other book is Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton.

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Publisher’s Summary:It’s 1969, and the Apollo 11 mission is getting ready to go to the moon. But for half-black, half-Japanese Mimi, moving to a predominantly white Vermont town is enough to make her feel alien. Suddenly, Mimi’s appearance is all anyone notices. She struggles to fit in with her classmates, even as she fights for her right to stand out by entering science competitions and joining Shop Class instead of Home Ec. And even though teachers and neighbors balk at her mixed-race family and her refusals to conform, Mimi’s dreams of becoming an astronaut never fade—no matter how many times she’s told no.

This historical middle-grade novel is told in poems from Mimi’s perspective over the course of one year in her new town, and shows readers that positive change can start with just one person speaking up.

Straddling two worlds

20 Sep

The only library book I have ever lost and had to pay for was Margarita Engle’s The Firefly Letters. 

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I think I accidentally packed it into a box of books I was giving to Goodwill. I paid for the book, hoping someone at Goodwill would encounter it and return it to the library, but no one ever did. I hope whoever found it enjoyed it as much as I did and discovered a new writer.

I have read just about every book Engle has written because I know I am sure to get something a little different from what everyone else is writing, novels in verse focusing on the history of Cuba, picture books or novels with a Cuban or Latino connection.

Her latest book, Enchanted Air, follows that pattern, but adds a new twist. It is a poetic memoir of Margarita’s childhood growing up as a child of two cultures, United States and Cuba, during the Cold War.

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Goodreads Summary:Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.

Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

I love novels in verse and Engle seems to be a master of this genre. Her poems capture the angst of growing up, feeling torn between two countries, longing for adventure and travel, not always fitting in, confusion over politics and culture clashes, the beauty of Cuba and America. Things that a lot of kids feel , though maybe in a different way. My class this year is made up f children who are predominantly children of immigrants from India, China and Korea. Their experience straddling two worlds is not that different from Engle’s. I will recommend this to my students and I hope you do too.

Smokey detour

23 Aug

Yesterday the sky was eerie, due to wildfire smoke that was blown down the Columbia River Gorge and into Portland. It truly transformed the city. It also got me thinking about books with smoke on the cover, in pictures or words.

Although it is not smoke from a wildfire, the cover of Looking for Alaska by John Green is quite striking. This is my absolute favorite John Green novel. I loved TFIOS, but this one is even better!

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Publisher’s Summary: Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .

After. Nothing is ever the same.

Local author Laini Taylor captured my attention a few years ago with The Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

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Publisher’s summary: Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Ellen Hopkins followed up her novel in verse Burned, with a sequel entitled Smoke. 

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Burned: Seventeen-year-old Pattyn, the eldest daughter in a large Mormon family, is sent to her aunt’s Nevada ranch for the summer, where she temporarily escapes her alcoholic, abusive father and finds love and acceptance, only to lose everything when she returns home.

Smoke: After the death of her abusive father and loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn runs away, desperately seeking peace, as her younger sister, a sophomore in high school, also tries to put the pieces of her life back together.

Another great novel with a sequel comes from E. K  Johnston.

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The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim: In an alternate world where industrialization has caused many species of carbon-eating dragons to thrive, Owen, a slayer being trained by his famous father and aunt, and Siobahn, his bard, face a dragon infestation near their small town in Canada.

Prairie Fire: Every dragon slayer owes the Oil Watch a period of service, and young Owen was no exception. What made him different was that he did not enlist alone; his two closest friends stood with him shoulder to shoulder. Steeled by success and hope, the three were confident in their plan. But the arc of history is long and hardened by dragon fire… and try as they might, Owen and his friends could not twist it to their will. At least, not all the way…

The air in Portland smells a little less smokey this morning and the air should be clear sometime tomorrow. Fortunately, even after the smoke has cleared, we’ll still have these great books.

 

#alaac15 – Day 4 – quiet, but amazing

29 Jun

Yesterday started off with the YALSA Coffee Klatch with YA Authors. I met up with some Beaverton colleagues and we sat at table 10 of about 50. This was another speed dating event, with authors rotating about every 10 minutes. We only got about 10 authors, but WOW, we got some good ones:

Mariko & Jillian Tamaki of This One Summer

Andrew Smith who was promoting The Alex Crow

Leigh Bardugo talking about  Six of Crows

Marissa Meyer talking about Winter

When it was over, I dashed out to get to Andrew Smith’s book signing & got a copy of his sequel to Winger,  entitled  Stand-off. The I went to watch the parade. I didn’t stay for the whole thing because I was too short to see much and then the crowd was starting to get to me. I don’t really enjoy crowds.

The real highlight of the day were the speeches at the Newbery Caldecott banquet. TEARS!!!!

Dan Santat, who won the Caldecott for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimagnary Friend.

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That man moved the crowd with his soul-baring honesty. If you have a chance to read or listen to his speech, please do so. I am teary-eyed now. I bet you will see yourself in what he has to say.

He was followed by Kwame Alexander,who won the Newbery for The Crossover.

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He essentially gave a spoken word performance that was breathtakingly beautiful.

Today will be mundane after all that. My first stop is the on site post office where I will ship books home. I hope the line isn’t too long.

Faith

5 Feb

I’ve been running across a number of YA books that deal with faith and religion lately. The first one I want to tell you about is Rumble  by Ellen Hopkins.

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Publisher’s Summary: Matthew Turner knows it doesn’t get better.

His younger brother Luke was bullied mercilessly after one of Matt’s friends outed Luke to the whole school, and when Luke called Matt—on the brink of suicide—Matt was too wrapped up in his new girlfriend to answer the phone. Now Luke is gone, and Matt’s family is falling apart.

No matter what his girlfriend Hayden says about forgiveness, there’s no way Matt’s letting those he blames off the hook—including himself. As Matt spirals further into bitterness, he risks losing Hayden, the love of his life. But when her father begins to pressure the school board into banning books because of their homosexual content, he begins to wonder if he and Hayden ever had anything in common.

With brilliant sensitivity and emotional resonance, bestselling author Ellen Hopkins’s Rumble explores bullying and suicide in a story that explores the worth of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Matt lives near Eugene, Oregon, in a small town where there is a large evangelical Christian presence at his high school. His girlfriend, Hayden, is part of that presence, though Matt is an atheist. Told in Matt’s voice, we see him struggle with his relationships as he deals with his brother’s suicide. This is a sensitively told story and I think a lot of teens will connect to Matt’s struggles with the ideas of religion, faith and God.

I listened to this on an Audiobook generously provided by Audiobook Jukebox. The text is narrated by Kirby Heyborne. At first I felt as though his voice was a little flat, but it grew on me, so don;t give up if you start listening and feel the same way. The audiobook is made up of 7 CDs and runs 9 hours and 8 minutes.

Right now, I’m reading Jesus Jackson by James Ryan Daley, but I’m not far enough into it to tell you much about it. I’ll save that for another day.

Oh, the Audacity

19 Jan

I’ve spent a lot of time this long weekend doing book committee work. To give myself a break from the “must reads”, I picked up this novel in verse, Audacity by Melanie Crowder.

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It is inspired the real life story of Clara Lemlich who worked to improve the working conditions  in the factories on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. I’ve written recently about my love for novels in verse and this one meets my expectations. This is not a happy story and the verse form helps lighten the darkness of the situation. Clara defies her family and society to do what she knows is right. Not a bad thing to read on MLK day, is it!

And the writing is beautiful. Crowder uses  beautiful imagery and percussive language to create an achingly beautiful novel.

Younger readers can learn about Clara Lemlich’s work in  Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel.

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Thinking about union activities gets me thinking about Billy Bragg, my favorite leftist singer. Here are two of my BB faves.

 

 

Poetry & History

5 Jan

I have always enjoyed novels in verse and I think, if I ever write a work of fiction, that might be the form it takes. I have fantasies about books I’d like to write, and I am a better nonfiction writer so I think this might be a good form for me to attempt fiction. I don’t say that because I think it is easy. In fact, I think it is quite hard to capture the details of the story you want to tell and capture the voice of the person telling that story.

School Library Journal has a great article about novels in verse from November 2013 that you can read Here.

I read two really great novels in verse this week. The first was  A Time to Dance  by Padma Venkatraman.

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Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. When an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. Adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling, but Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers from a young man named Govinda. He approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit, and as their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

This book reminded me a lot of  The Running Dream  by Wendelin van Drannen, in which a runner becomes a below the knee amputee and who, with the help of a special prosthetic, returns to running. I liked the Indian setting and I think verse worked really well for A Time to Dance  because of the music and rhythm of dance. This was a really interesting and enjoyable read.

Like Water on Stone,  by Dana Walrath, tells the story of a family’s experience during the Armenian genocide.

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As the Ottoman empire crumbles,  Shahen Donabedian dreams of going to New York. Sosi, his twin sister,hopes to stay and marry a boy she has fallen in love with. Their father  counts Turks and Kurds among his closest friends, but this is not enough to save the family when the Ottoman empire set in motion their plans to eliminate all Armenians. After a horrifying attack leaves them orphaned, they flee into the mountains, carrying their little sister, Mariam. But the children are watched over by an eagle  as they run at night and hide each day, making their way across mountain ridges and rivers in their search for safety.

A verse novel really let each of the characters’ voices come through clearly. It also let the author convey the horror of the massacre without begin graphic.

 

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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