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Another series ended

23 Apr

This weekend, I finished Purple Hearts, the third and final book in Michael Grant’s Front Lines series.

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What a fabulous ending! Not only did we get to follow our characters from the Normandy invasion to their end of the war, Grant also includes a fast forward ending that includes their obituaries so we know what they did with their lives as a whole.  We can imagine all the parts in between. It is really the best of both worlds for readers.

Publisher’s Summary: New York Times bestselling author Michael Grant unleashes the gritty and powerful conclusion to the Front Line series and evokes the brutal truth of World War II: War is hell. An epic tale of historical reimagining, perfect for fans of Code Name Verity and Salt to the Sea.

Courage, sacrifice, and fear have led Rio, Frangie, and Rainy through front-line battles in North Africa and Sicily, and their missions are not over. These soldiers and thousands of Allies must fight their deadliest battle yet—for their country and their lives—as they descend into the freezing water and onto the treacherous sands of Omaha Beach. It is June 6, 1944. D-Day has arrived.

No longer naive recruits, these soldier girls are now Silver Star recipients and battle-hardened. Others look to them for guidance and confidence, but this is a war that will leave sixty million dead. Flesh will turn to charcoal. Piles will be made of torn limbs. The women must find a way to lead while holding on to their own last shreds of belief in humanity.

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A break from poetry for zombies

19 Apr

Faithful readers know I don’t do scary. Normally, I wouldn’t read a book about zombies. But the cover of Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation was just too enticing.

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A work of alternate history, the book is set in a world where slavery has been abolished Despite that,  Native Americans and African-Americans aren’t treated much better than before the war and the rise of the zombies.

Ireland’s word-building is great. I was totally immersed in this new America. I was especially grateful that the book wasn’t scary and  descriptions of the killing of zombies weren’t graphic or gross. They were treated rather matter-of-factly, which was just right given the tone of Jane’s narration.

The story bogged down a bit in the middle when we were transported out of Maryland and into Summerland, Kansas, but I kept going because I really liked Jane. A few mature topics, like prostitution, are mentioned obliquely, but I feel very comfortable putting this one in my classroom library.

Publisher’s Summary:Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.

In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.

But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.

But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.

And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

When I first picked it up, I thought it was a stand alone. Although the ending is satisfactory, as I approached it, I realized this was the  first book in a series because no way were all the loose ends going to be tied up. So, I will have await the second book to find out if Jane will ever get to see her mother again.

A great graphic novelization

9 Apr

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Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, based on her personal experience of being raped when she was a teenager, first appeared in 1999.

It won  the 1999 National Book Award and the 2000 Printz Award, among many others. It has also been challenged in a number of schools around the country because of the difficult subject matter.

 

 

download-1Now, almost twenty years later, the original story has been  reproduced as a graphic novel, illustrated by Emily Carroll.

The use of grayscale for the illustrations is the right choice for this book, given Melinda’s state of mind through most of the book. In this age where women are speaking up about their experiences of sexual assault, a new audience will have a chance to encounter this powerful story in a new way and learn the importance of having a voice and speaking up.

Back to the books

2 Apr

The SOLSC Challenge is over, so now I am back to writing mostly about books – except on Tuesdays when I will post a weekly Slice of Life Story.

I read a number of books in March, but I will use today’s post to list the books I finished during Spring Break.

Picture Books

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The Great Dictionary Caper by Judy Sierra
illustrated by Eric Comstock

 

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Grace for Gus
written and illustrated by Harry Bliss

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On the Other Side of the Garden written by Jairo Buitrago
illustrated by Rafael Yockteng

 

Middle Grade Novels

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Arlo Finch in the Valley of  Fire by John August

 

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Ice Wolves by Amie Kaufman

 

Young Adult Novels

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Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller

The dead shall speak

26 Feb

Trayvon Martin was killed six years ago today.

He is just one of many young black people, violently killed by people in power, mentionedin the powerful graphic novel  I Am Alfonso Jones, written by Tony Medina and illustrated by Stacey Robinson & John Jennings.

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Publisher’s Summary: Alfonso Jones can’t wait to play the role of Hamlet in his school’s hip-hop rendition of the classic Shakespearean play. He also wants to let his best friend, Danetta, know how he really feels about her. But as he is buying his first suit, an off-duty police officer mistakes a clothes hanger for a gun, and he shoots Alfonso.

When Alfonso wakes up in the afterlife, he’s on a ghost train guided by well-known victims of police shootings, who teach him what he needs to know about this subterranean spiritual world. Meanwhile, Alfonso’s family and friends struggle with their grief and seek justice for Alfonso in the streets. As they confront their new realities, both Alfonso and those he loves realize the work that lies ahead in the fight for justice.

In the first graphic novel for young readers to focus on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, as in Hamlet, the dead shall speak—and the living yield even more surprises

Although choppy in places, the book does a great job showing how the press and the justice system work against young people like Alfonso.

Many of my students are still a bit too young to pick up The Hate You Give  or Dear Martin,  but I think many of them would pick up I Am Alfonso Jones. I hope they do.

Family drama

22 Feb

In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy posits that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Much literary fiction is built around this principle.

In Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga, our protagonist, Taliah’s problem – the sudden appearance of the father she has never – isn’t unique to literature, but her curcumstances are certainly unique.

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Summary from the author’s website:Taliah Sahar Abdallat lives and breathes music. Songs have always helped Tal ease the pain of never having known her father. Her mother, born in Jordan and very secretive about her past, won’t say a word about who her dad really was. But when Tal finds a shoebox full of old letters from Julian Oliver – yes, the indie rock star Julian Oliver – she begins to piece the story together.

She writes to Julian, but after three years of radio silence, she’s given up hope. Then one day, completely out of the blue, Julian shows up at her doorstep, and Tal doesn’t know whether to be furious or to throw herself into his arms. Before she can decide, he asks her to go on a trip with him, to meet her long-estranged family, and to say goodbye to his father, her grandfather, who is dying.

Getting to know your father after sixteen years of estrangement doesn’t happen in one car ride. But as Tal spends more time with Julian and his family, she begins to untangle her parents’ secret past, and discovers a part of herself she never recognized before.

Songs have always helped Tal ease the pain of never having known her father. Her mother, born in Jordan and very secretive about her past, won’t say a word about who her dad really was. But when Tal finds a shoebox full of old letters from Julian Oliver – yes, the indie rock star Julian Oliver – she begins to piece the story together.

She writes to Julian, but after three years of radio silence, she’s given up hope. Then one day, completely out of the blue, Julian shows up at her doorstep, and Tal doesn’t know whether to be furious or to throw herself into his arms. Before she can decide, he asks her to go on a trip with him, to meet her long-estranged family, and to say goodbye to his father, her grandfather, who is dying.

Getting to know your father after sixteen years of estrangement doesn’t happen in one car ride. But as Tal spends more time with Julian and his family, she begins to untangle her parents’ secret past, and discovers a part of herself she never recognized before.

Taliah is an introvert and the book reflects her quiet exterior life, chock full of a rich interior life. Her awkardness around her new family is understandable. There is a small romance with a neighbor that I think wasn’t necessary, but it doesn’t take away from the essential story. This was a pretty good read – not an over the top book, just a really good read on a snowy day.

 

OMG!

15 Feb

Today, during independent reading, I will finish Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman.

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I thought about bringing it with me to Denver, but didn’t want to be distracted from my work. I love it that much.

I wrote about it o February 5th, so I won’t go into details about plot. Let me just say that Shusterman surprised me, and as someone who reads a lot, that doesn’t happen often. He has also managed to add new characters that take this second book in the series to a completely new level.

Neal Shusterman will be a Powell’s Books in Beaverton tonight at 7 pm. See the details below.

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