Showing posts with label young adult. Show all posts
Showing posts with label young adult. Show all posts

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Forward Me Back To You, by Mitali Perkins: touching story of teens finding their way through trauma, identity and friendship (ages 13-17)

Mitali Perkins' newest YA novel, Forward Me Back To You, pulled me in with characters navigating their way through trauma and secrets. It is a book that wrestles with many heavy topics, yet the story shines with sweet moments and fully developed characters. 
Forward Me Back to You
by Mitali Perkins
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan, 2019
Google Books preview
Amazon / your local library
ages 13 - 17
*best new book*
The core of the story takes place in Kolkata, India as three teens travel to spend the summer helping an organization supporting survivors of human trafficking. And yet each of them realize that their personal stories, their backstories, impact the way they walk through the world.

As the story opens, Katina King struggles to recover from a sexual assault at school by a popular boy. Although Kat fought him off using her training in martial arts, the school authorities don't believe her. In order to help her heal and move forward, her mother sends her to Boston to finish the semester with a family friend, Grandma Vee.

I so appreciate the way Perkins brings readers into Kat's point of view. Right from the beginning, she introduces the way Kat sees people classified into types -- canines, felines and birds -- based on the way they act, react and treat others.
"Katina King classifies herself as a mountain lion.

She might have become a tame cat in a safer world. But when she was eleven, her body changed so fast it turned her into prey. Nothing she could do to stop luring canine eyes, so she’d put on a feral mask since then to prowl the hills of Oakland.

Fangs, claws, snarl.

They should have kept wolves away, but they didn’t."
In Boston, Kat meets Robin (Ravi) Thornton, who's struggling with his own past. Adopted from an orphanage in India, Robin numbs himself to his own pain by keeping the world at a distance. When his church group leader suggests a summer service trip to Kolkata, Robin decides to take the opportunity, in part to see if he can locate his "first mother." Once they are in India, Robin asks to be called Ravi, his original name.

The second half of the novel takes place in Kolkata, as Ravi, Kat and Gracie, Ravi's long-time best friend, work to support survivors of human trafficking. Kat and Gracie work in a shelter, while Ravi helps with data entry and trains with a local policeman. Perkins shows the complicated aspects of volunteer-tourism, and yet she also shows clear love for the city of Kolkata and the value of connecting across cultures.

Perkins excels at weaving together characters. Main characters and secondary characters have full backstories that create multidimensional, relatable people. The characters of Bontu, Miss Shireen, Kavita and Grandma Vee will stay with me. Perkins explores heavy, important issues of identity, trauma, international adoption and human trafficking, yet the characters' journeys and growth remain central.

I especially think teens will be drawn to the way Kat and Ravi move through their pain. They both find it hard to share their stories, and both more naturally retreat within themselves; yet it is through sharing, feeling and connecting that they are able to move forward. I absolutely agree with the way Barbara Moon describes this novel:
"This search for identity and recovery is a sweeping saga that explores the serious problem of international human trafficking. Gripping storytelling, eye-opening adventure in a faraway city, Forward Me Back to You packs an emotional gut punch that lingers long after the final page. A story not to be missed."
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Shout, by Laurie Halse Anderson: true story of a survivor who refused to be silenced (ages 13 - 18)

As we celebrate Women's History Month, I want to make sure we pay attention to all women's stories. Listening to young women is essential; I especially find women's memoirs powerful when they share about their teenage years. In her powerful new memoir Shout, award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson shares her experience as a survivor of rape and advocate for women's rights, but she goes far beyond this, plumbing the impact of her father's PTSD, her mother's silence, and the rape culture that surrounds us. I highly recommend this powerful, personal reflection.
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Viking / Penguin Random House, 2019
Amazon / your public library
ages 13 - 18
*best new book*
Twenty years ago, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak helped give survivors of sexual violence a voice, showing how Melinda coped with the trauma of her rape the summer before her freshman year. Anderson begins Shout saying:
"Finding my courage to speak up twenty-five years after I was raped, writing Speak, and talking with countless survivors of sexual violence made me who I am today. This book shows how that happened." 
Writing in free verse, Anderson explores the impact of her father's PTSD from WWII and her mother's silence in a household filled with alcohol-fueled tension. She explains the rape she survived at age 13, and how that led to a downward spiral as high school began. And she shows her recovery as she discovered her voice and her love of language as an exchange student in Denmark.
"In Denmark, in Scandinavia, across Europe
memories of World War II ache like a scar
does when the weather changes or a storm draws near
old countries are riddled with battle wounds
that split open, bleed, and cause new pain if not cared for,
just like us

scars may look stronger than unwounded skin,
but they're not
once broken, we're easily hurt again, or worse
the temptation is to hide behind shields,
play defense, drown ourselves in sorrow
or drug our way to haunted oblivion
until death erases hope"
For me, much of the story's power comes in those ah-ha moments, recognizing hard truths I've learned, moments that speak to my core. This is a story that will mean something different to each reader. Above all else, it will create a conversation--perhaps just two sides of your brain talking to each other, or perhaps among friends.

I want to hold onto her advice for us, especially for young people. She does not sugar-coat her life, or her advice to young people. Take one step at a time.
"Trying to figure out what you want to do,
who you want to be, is messy as hell; the best
anyone can hope for is to figure out
the next step."
Anderson speaks raw truth about the impact of sexual violence and the importance of supporting survivors. Shout is also a powerful call to action, encouraging survivors to find their voice and reminding all of us that we have a responsibility to continue the conversation. Her poetry uses metaphors and similes with graceful, evocative power. The poem "shame turned inside out" is one of my favorites:
shame turned inside out
"Sisters of the torn shirts.

Sisters of the chase
around the desk,
casting couch, hotel
room, file cabinet....

Sisters fishing
one by one
in the lake of shame ...

Sisters, drop
everything. Walk
away from the lake, leaning
on each other's shoulders
when you need
the support. Feel the contractions
of another truth ready
to be born: shame
inside out
is rage."
Laurie Halse Anderson is in the middle of her tour for Shout. See if she's coming to a town near you. She is a powerful speaker.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Ten outstanding audiobooks (ages 4-18)

Is your family taking a long drive this winter? Consider listening to an audiobook together, letting it take you on an adventure, laugh together or learn about something new. You'll notice that I'm including three memoirs here -- I especially find listening to some tell their story on audio particularly inspiring.

Try downloading e-audiobooks through your public library for free; check if your library uses OverDrive, Axis 360 or Hoopla Digital.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah: Comedian Trevor Noah narrates his memoir, sharing his harsh experiences growing up in South Africa in the final years of apartheid and the chaotic aftermath as the son of a white Dutch father and a black Xhosa mother. Listeners get to hear Noah tell these stories in his South African accented English and several other South African languages. He is engaging, funny and relatable, while also delivering thoughtful and perceptive social criticism about race, gender and class. (ages 13 and up)

Dominic, by William Steig, narrated by Peter Thomas: As Dominic leaves home in search of adventure, young listeners will be captivated by this delightful hero’s journey. Dominic bumbles his way through his journey with curiosity, goodwill and a solid sense of right and wrong as he makes friends, helps others in need and battles the Doomsday Gang. (ages 6-9)

Dory Fantasmagory, by Abby Hanlon, narrated by Suzy Jackson: Dory (called Rascal by her family) wants to play with her big brother and sister, but they complain that she's a pest. Narrator Suzy Jackson captures Dory's 6-year-old voice, with a full range of enthusiasm and emotions. Families will recognize themselves in Dory's attention-getting strategies, her mom's exasperation or her siblings' bickering. A joyful, funny celebration of imagination and resilience. (ages 4-9)

Track series: Ghost, Patina, Sunny & Lu, by Jason Reynolds, narrated by Guy Lockhart, Heather Alicia Simms: Ghost is an all-time favorite, and I've loved the audiobooks for the rest of this series. Guy Lockhart captures the emotions and voice of each different character, with energy and enthusiasm. I especially appreciate how he balances the humor with the darker moments in each book. I've just started listening to Lu, and his swagger and confidence is perfect. Heather Simms captures Patina's many different moods, moving from sassy to tender with ease. All together, these are outstanding audiobooks--"for real for real", as Lu says. (ages 9-14)

I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope, by Chessy Prout: As a freshman at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, Chessy Prout was sexually assaulted by an upperclassman. In her raw and honest memoir, Prout shares her experience of assault and the subsequent journey with the tumultuous trial, media attention and search for healing and change. As I read this, I was particularly angered by the way the school resisted Chessy's search for justice and struck by how the legal system does not help our young people find the resolution they need. A powerful memoir. (ages 13-18)

Like Vanessa, by Tami Charles, narrated by Channie Waites: Eighth grader Vanessa Martin dreams of winning her school’s beauty contest, despite feeling too fat, too dark and too shy. Her spirits soar with Vanessa Williams’ historic win as the first black Miss America. But the journey is hard -- will her talented singing shine? Or will her doubts weigh her down? Channie Waites’ narration brings Vanessa’s worries, laughter and grace to life, and her voice sparkles with magnetic charm. (ages 10-14)

The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo: Elizabeth Acevedo shines narrating her debut novel, using her talents as an award-winning slam poet to bring passion and life to Xiomara’s story. A first-generation Dominican-American, Xiomara struggles balancing her mother’s strict Catholicism with her own desire to find her place in the world. Writing poetry helps Xio come into her own, channelling her feelings, worries and questions. Acevedo’s poetry is beautifully crafted and the audiobook brings the passion and pacing of the rhythmic free-verse poems to life. (ages 14-18)

Proud: Living My American Dream, by Ibtihaj Muhammad: U.S. Olympic fencing medalist, Ibtihaj Muhammad shares her inspiring memoir, showing how faith, hard work and determination helped her reach her goals. She frankly talks about the many obstacles she faced, yet she comes across as both humble and realistic. She conveys the excitement of winning, and the frustrations and self-doubt she faced. Even though I know nothing about fencing, I couldn't put this down. Ibtihaj is a true American hero. (ages 10-16)

Refugee, by Alan Gratz: Gratz alternates the stories of three children from different periods of time, each of whom are fleeing their homes in search of refuge. Josef is escaping persecution from Nazis in Germany during World War II. Isabel and her family are fleeing Cuba in 1994, escaping the riots and unrest under Castro's rule. And Mahmoud's family flees Syria in 2015 after their home was bombed. These parallel stories are engrossing and compelling. The structure keeps the suspense high, and helps readers see how each character must cope with extreme stress, separation and loss. Gratz uses historical fiction at its best to help readers understand global issues in a way that inspires hope and empathy. (ages 10-16)

The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, narrated by Jayne Entwistle: My students have particularly loved this audiobook and its sequel, The War I Finally Won, finding the story of Ada inspiring as she realizes how she's able to overcome many odds stacked against her. As the story opens, ten-year-old Ada has a clubfoot and is kept locked in her family's one bedroom apartment in London, during World War II. Ada practices making herself walk, so she and her younger brother, can escape and join a train of children being evacuated to the countryside. Jayne Entwistle's narration brings Ada's complexities to life, with her layers of distrust and strength, courage and doubt. (ages 9-12)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Ten top books for speaking your truth (ages 7-18)

As I continue to celebrate 10 years of blogging, I want to turn to books that encourage us to speak our truths. While books can't change the world, they can help give us the courage to stay true to our beliefs, to do the right thing in difficult situations. These stories focus on young people courageously speaking up for themselves in the face of difficulties.

Anger Is a Gift, by Mark Oshiro: Black teen Moss struggles with panic attacks and anxiety, a result of his father's death from police brutality six years earlier in Oakland, CA. When school administrators bring armed police in for random locker searches and install metal detectors, Moss and his friends organize a protest. I especially appreciated how Oshiro balances Moss's personal journey and the way his community comes together to protest the authoritarian administration. A powerful book, with an authentic local setting, for fans of The Hate U Give. (ages 14-18)

Front Desk, by Kelly Yang: Mia's family has recently immigrated from China, and finding a steady job has been really tough for her parents. When an opportunity to manage a motel comes their way, they leap at it. Mia's excited that she can help out, managing the front desk while her parents clean the rooms. Kelly Yang bases this story on her own experience, immigrating from China to Los Angeles. She weaves humor and compassion into her story, speaking from her personal experience to frankly address poverty, bullying and the importance of family. (ages 8-12)

Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes: After being killed by a white police officer, a 12 year old black boy returns as a ghost to process what has happened and how it is affecting his family. The ghost of Emmett Till, a black boy murdered in 1955, and other "ghost boys" who have been murdered, help Jerome understand the larger historical context. The chapters jump back and forth in time, weaving together the social and political framework to help young readers grapple with the impact of police violence on communities of color. (ages 10-15)

I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope, by Chessy Prout: As a freshman at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, Chessy Prout was sexually assaulted by an upperclassman. In her raw and honest memoir, Prout shares her experience of assault and the subsequent journey with the tumultuous trial, media attention and search for healing and change. As I read this, I was particularly angered by the way the school resisted Chessy's search for justice and struck by how the legal system does not help our young people find the resolution they need. A powerful memoir. (ages 13-18)

#Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women, by Lisa Charleyboy: This anthology shares the voices, art, poetry, and insight of modern Native women about their life experiences--the good and the bad, the joyous and the painful--creating a powerful message of the importance of speaking the truth and being visible in a culture that it so often dismissive or manipulative. I especially appreciate the wide diversity of Native women that is represented here. Brilliant and moving collection. (ages 12-18)

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang: Prince Sebastian feels comfortable identifying both male and female, often wearing dresses and going out as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia. When he hires Frances, a young seamstress, to make him a wardrobe of boldly beautiful, dazzling dresses, Frances hesitates at first, but they soon discover a shared passion for fashion. Incorporating the feel of classic fairytales, Wang creates a story that revolves around friendship, following your dreams and speaking your truth. (ages 10-15)

The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo: A first-generation Dominican-American, fifteen-year-old Xiomara struggles balancing her mother’s strict Catholicism with her own desire to find her place in the world. Writing poetry helps Xio come into her own, channelling her feelings, worries and questions in her journal, as she explores her blossoming romance with Aman, her science partner. As Xio starts figuring out how she can stand up for what she believes, she discovers the power of her voice through the poetry club at school. This powerful coming-of-age story poignantly speaks to teens finding their voice. (ages 13-18)

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say, by Angela Dominguez: Stella is shy, self-conscious about her accent and the way she jumbles Spanish and English when she can't find the right word. As third grade starts, she's also worried about being in a different class from her best friend Jenny. I  especially appreciate how Stella's Mexican-American family supports her and cheers her on as she discovers her courage and voice. (ages 7-10)

Swing, by Kwame Alexander: Noah, Walt and Sam (Samantha) have been best friends since elementary school, but ever since they got to high school, Noah hasn't been able to figure out how to tell Sam that he really likes her. No matter how much Walt (aka Swing) encourages him to take a chance, Noah struggles to express his feelings for Sam. Inspired by love letters he finds in a thrift store, Noah finally starts to put his feelings onto paper using both art and poetry. While I related to Noah, I was utterly charmed by Swing's humor and optimism. Readers will want to talk when they reach the end--be there for them, as they find their voice about the larger issues impacting our society. (ages 13-18)

The Witch Boy, by Molly Ostertag: This graphic novel will appeal to readers with its magical setting and strong protagonist. In Aster's village, there are very clear expectations: girls will learn witchcraft and spells, while boys will learn to become shapeshifters. Yet Aster yearns to learn the spells that his sister is perfecting, and is not interested in the other boy's aggressive play. When several boys go missing, Aster tries to use his developing magical abilities to solve the mystery. I especially appreciated the way Aster questions society's gender expectations and stays true to himself. A delightful graphic novel -- I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, The Hidden Witch, which has just come out. (ages 8-12)

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Ten winning sports books for kids (ages 5-14)

Whether you play sports with your kids or love watching games together, you’ll have fun sharing these books. You'll find a balance of nonfiction and fiction and a wide range of sports. One thing I'm noticing is that I haven't read as many novels with girls playing sports -- clearly, that's a goal for 2019!


Baseball: Then to Wow! by the editors of Sports Illustrated Kids: Whether it’s looking at changes in equipment or comparing playing styles then and now, this high-interest book provides opportunities for fans to analyze different aspects of the game. Great layout, photographs and illustrations engage kids and help them see the progression of the game over the past 150 years. (ages 7-12)

Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery, by Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Bryan Collier: Although his athletic skills brought Ernie Barnes success as a professional football player, his true passion was art. He would quickly sketch scenes as he sat on the bench between plays. Barnes pursued his dreams, eventually becoming the official artist for the American Football League. (ages 6-10)

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon, by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Micha Archer: In 1966, Bobbi Gibb became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, even though the authorities would not recognize her efforts. Despite the authorities’ rejection, she decides to run alongside the registered racers, determined to prove that the rules were wrong. An inspiring picture book biography of defying the odds. (ages 5-9)

Proud: Living My American Dream, by Ibtihaj Muhammad: U.S. Olympic fencing medalist, Ibtihaj Muhammad shares her inspiring memoir, showing how faith, hard work and determination helped her reach her goals. She frankly talks about the many obstacles she faced, yet she comes across as both humble and realistic. She conveys the excitement of winning, and the frustrations and self-doubt she faced. Even though I know nothing about fencing, I couldn't put this down. Ibtihaj is a true American hero. (ages 10-16)

Rising Above: How 11 Athletes Overcame Challenges in Their Youth to Become Stars, by Gregory Zuckerman with Elijah Zuckerman and Gabriel Zuckerman:  Names like Lebron James, Steph Curry, Tim Howard, & Dwyane Wade will pull in young readers. Strong, accessible writing and inspiring stories will keep them reading. Look for the second in this series, focusing on inspiring women in sports. (ages 10-14)

Fiction for young players

Pedro’s Big Goal, by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Tammie Lyon (Picture Window / Capstone; ages 5-8; $4.95; 32 pp.). First grader Pedro LOVES playing soccer with his friends and dreams of playing goalie. Will he make it as his team’s goalie, or is he too small? Beginning readers will enjoy this fun, accessible series -- perfect for 1st and 2nd graders. (ages 5-8)

The San Francisco Splash, by David A. Kelley, illustrated by Mark Meyers: The Ballpark Mysteries series is great for emerging readers who need short chapter books, and this local story does not disappoint. Cousins Kate and Mike love it when Kate’s sports-reporter mom brings them to a game, and here they start in kayaks out in McCovey Cove trying to catch fly balls. (ages 6-10)

Middle grade & young adult fiction

After the Shot Drops, by Randy Ribay: When high school basketball star "Bunny" Thompson transfers to wealthy private school, where he is one of a handful of black students. Bunny struggles to keep true to himself, stay close to his neighborhood friends, and make new friends at school. Meanwhile, his best friend Nasir struggles with feeling left behind and figuring out what to do when his cousin starts getting into trouble. The conflicts escalate, on the court and off, with an explosive climax. Hand this to fans of The Hate U Give and Ghost(ages 13-18)

Ghost (Track #1), by Jason Reynolds: BOOM! Third time reading this and it still pulls me straight through each time. A 5th grader told me: "I loved how you feel like you're Ghost. You get mad at someone, then forgive them. It feels like your emotions are building up until Ghost takes the shoes. Then they break when his coach brings him back to the store." Catch others in this stand-out series: Patina & Sunny. (ages 9-14)

Rebound, by Kwame Alexander: My students clamored to read Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover, and this prequel is outstanding, with Chuck Bell--Josh & Jordan’s father--taking center stage. Kwame creates a great cast of characters in Rebound, with Charlie's family and close friends. I especially love that two of his close friends are girls. CJ is brainy, sassy and sweet. Roxie can play ball better than most of the boys. Full of humor, heart and poetry slam in comics (!!), this novel in verse is really about how we can hold onto hope even though we feel storm-beaten and shattered. (ages 9-14)

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, December 10, 2018

Ten terrific fantasy books (ages 4-14)

Many students are drawn to fantasies with richly imagined worlds. Here are some favorites for a wide range of ages -- enjoy getting lost in these wonderful worlds. This is an eclectic mix of picture books, graphic novels, middle grade novels and young adult fantasies. To explore a wider range, check out my Goodreads fantasy shelf.

As you look for fantasy books for children, please pay special attention to the variety of characters, legends and racial/ethnic groups represented.

Picture books

Journey, by Aaron Becker: In this sweeping wordless picture book, a lonely girl escapes to a magical world with the help of a red crayon. She travels through several worlds, friendly and hostile, discovering her inner strength as she escapes an army of warlords. Lush illustrations bring these imaginative worlds vividly to life.

The Man in the Moon, by William Joyce: This gorgeous, imaginative picture book opens the series for the Guardians of Childhood, introducing readers to the fantastical legend of the Man in the Moon (MiM). When the wicked Pitch, the King of Nightmares, kills MiM’s parents in an epic battle, the baby MiM is whisked to safety by his guardian Nightlight. As MiM grows up, he is determined to watch over the children of Earth, like Nightlight watched over him.

Ocean Meets Sky, by Terry Fan and Eric Fan: In honor of his grandfather who has passed away, young Finn builds a boat for the journey they always wanted to take. Finn then crawls inside to sleep and dreams of a massive golden fish who takes him on a journey, in search of the magical land of his grandfather’s stories. Filled with atmospheric blend of Asian imagery and dreamlike fantasy worlds, this beautiful, magical picture book immerses readers into a young boy’s search for healing.

Middle Grade Novels

Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi: When 7th grader Aru Shah lights the cursed Lamp of Bharata in her mother’s museum, she is thrown into the world of Hindu gods and mythical characters. Aru discovers she has been born with the soul of a Pandava brother, and she must use her powers to defeat the Lord of Darkness. Chokshi draws readers into an immersive world intertwining Hindu folklore, feminist outlook and action-packed thrills.

Endling: The Last, by Katherine Applegate: Perfect for fans of Erin Hunter’s Warriors series, Endling layers excitement, fantasy and probing questions about survival. Byx, a young dairne (imagine a human/dog mix), must survive alone after her entire clan is murdered by the power-hungry humans. With the help of two new friends, she seeks answers and the mythic Dairneholm in this epic fantasy novel.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin: Grace Lin blends Chinese folktales with an epic quest in this enchanting novel. Like her father, Minli is a dreamer and loves stories. Hoping to bring her family good fortune, she seeks the Old Man of the Moon, for he might be able to share his secrets with her. Lovely illustrations intersperse the main action and folktales, all influenced by traditional Chinese stories and art. Readers will be inspired by Minli’s courage, loyalty and quick thinking.

Graphic Novels

Chasma Knights, by Boya Sun and Kate Reed Petty: In this delightful graphic novel, Knights can “catalyze” with their toys, merging and mind-melding their powers. Young readers will empathize with outcast Beryl, who yearns to catalyze with toys, and imagine ways their toys can come to life in this inventive story.

Princeless #1: Save Yourself, by Jeremy Whitley, illustrated by M. Goodwin: When Princess Adrienne’s parents lock her away in a castle guarded by a dragon to await rescue by a prince, she decides to take matters into her own hands. I love this feisty heroine--we have so few stories with characters of color, where race isn’t an issue. Readers are able to enjoy classic fairy tale setting in this graphic novel, while turning so many stereotypes and tropes on their heads.

Young Adult fantasies

Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi: Seventeen-year-old Zélie must save her community of diviners from the king's vengeful genocide in this exciting blockbuster debut. I was captivated by the richly drawn fantasy world full of West Africa imagery, but the action-packed chase and shifting allegiances are what kept me hooked. The Legacy of OrÏsha will continue next spring, as Adeyemi releases the second in the series: Children of Virtue and Vengeance.

Warcross, by Marie Lu: Combining fast-action video game battles with intriguing underworld mysteries, Marie Lu hooks readers with a perfect series-opener. Emika Chen hacks into the immersive virtual reality game Warcross championship games, but instead of getting into trouble, she's invited to meet the game's creator, who's picked her for a top-secret job. As she uncovers a sinister plot, Emi must choose whom to trust. "Absolutely immersive. Cannot put this down," is what I wrote to myself as I zoomed through this.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Heretics Anonymous, by Katie Henry -- teen angst, student activism and personal reflections (ages 13-16)

As a teen, I bristled against rigid authority and strict policies--I wanted to understand why rules were made, and insisted that they were fair. As a teen, I would have fit right into Heretics Anonymous, the secret club at St. Clare's in Katie Henry's debut novel. Henry weaves together a story full of teen angst and student activism as she presents a multifaceted look at religion in a Catholic prep school.
Heretics Anonymous
by Katie Henry
Katherine Tegen / HarperCollins, 2018
Amazon / public library / Google Books preview
ages 13-16
*best new book*
Michael resents moving once again, having to start a new school a month and a half into his junior year of high school just because his dad has a new job. Now he finds himself struggling to fit in at St. Clare's Preparatory School, even though he doesn't believe in any kind of God. How is he going to make friends here, with "a bunch of mindless Catholic sheep people"?

Fortunately, Michael soon meets a group of St. Clare's students who question the school's rigid policies and dogma: Lucy, a feminist  Colombian-American who's a devout Catholic determined to reform the church; gay, Jewish Avi; Eden, a self-described pagan; and Max, a Korean-American Unitarian. At their secret club meetings of Heretics Anonymous, they share their grievances about St. Clare's.
We believe in one fundamental truth:
That all people, regardless of what they worship, who they love, and what they think,
Have a right to exist, and a right to be heard.
(from the Heretics Anonymous Creed)
Michael urges his new friends to do something to change St. Clare's, to go public to make it better for everyone. In a series of hilarious episodes, they take on the school administration, first by annotating the school's outdated sex-ed DVD to make it more accurate, informative and entertaining. Then they create an alternative newspaper to challenge the dress code. But Michael's family tensions impact his judgement and he rashly carries his mission to change the school too far.

I especially appreciate how Katy Henry develops her characters' friendship and respect for each other, even though they are all so different. Through their relationships, they begin to reflect on their own beliefs and accept each other. And in doing so, Henry invites her readers to do the same.

Personally, I identify more with Michael's world view, but I found myself appreciating Lucy's perspective the most. She's a fierce feminist, and she's also a committed Catholic--and both sides fit together in her well-rounded character. Religion can bring comfort, faith and support to people, and Michael sees this in Lucy. But religion has also been used throughout history to enforce social norms and uphold the existing power structures. Above all, I appreciate how Henry asks readers to separate these two strands and think about what they value.

Full discloser: Katie Henry writes in her acknowledgements about her childhood church, Newman Hall-Holy Spirit Parish in Berkeley, California. This was also my childhood church (although in different decades). She tells Kirkus how this liberal Catholic upbringing was so different from what she discovered when she went to college. While this novel stems from Henry's attempt to create a space for kids to think about the complexities and nuances of religion, she keeps it grounded in humor and everyday relationships.

Hand this to teens who want a heartwarming story with characters who question the rules and fight to make the world better for all of us. I purchased the review copy for my school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

After the Shot Drops, by Randy Ribay: authentic, relatable & fast-paced -- a great combination for teen readers (ages 12-16)

When high school basketball star Bunny Thompson transfers to a private school to play ball, his best friend Nasir feels betrayed and left behind. In this powerful dual-narrative, readers hear from both boys as they struggle to repair their friendship. Randy Ribay creates relatable characters, authentically capturing the teens’ voices and struggles. Hand this to teens who loved Kwame Alexander’s Crossover and Jason Reynold’s Ghost.

After the Shot Drops
by Randy Ribay
HMH, 2018
Amazon / public library / Google Books preview
ages 12-16
During the summer after freshman year, Bunny Thompson transfers from Whitman High, his neighborhood public school, to St. Sebastian’s, a private school in the suburbs. It’s a difficult transition—he misses his friends, struggles to fit in, and knows his old friends don’t understand.
“Pride in Whitman High’s basketball team runs real deep around our way, so a lot of people didn’t like that one bit. My main man, Nasir, straight up stopped talking to me.”
Nasir feels left behind and betrayed. Bunny was so focused on himself that he didn’t even tell Nasir about his decision to leave Whitman. Nasir hangs with his cousin Wallace, and is concerned when Wallace tells him he’s about to get evicted from his apartment because they’re behind on rent. Wallace fuels Nasir’s anger at Bunny:
“Wallace lets out a sarcastic laugh. ‘He ain’t your friend. He up and left you to go play ball with some rich-ass white boys. He doesn’t care about you. Bunny Thompson’s looking out for Bunny Thompson. That’s it, Nas.”
Wallace’s anger and resentment build, and he turns to betting against Bunny in order to make rent money. Readers will relate to Nasir’s difficult decision whether to support his cousin’s reckless behavior and how to walk away.

Race and economics play an explicit part of this story, although in a nuanced way. Whitman is a primarily Black community in Philadelphia, and Bunny’s parents work long hours to make ends meet. Nasir’s family is Filipino and Black, providing an alternative to the reductive black/white tropes of urban life. I appreciate how supportive both Nasir and Bunny's families are.

Teens will appreciate the fast pace of this story and the tense climax as Wallace pulls a gun on Bunny. I also appreciated the layered themes of friendship, identity and loyalty. Plus, I’ve got to give a big shout-out for Keyona, Bunny’s girlfriend. She’s a great character, who’s never afraid to set Bunny straight.

For more about After the Shot Drops, check out Rand Ribay's 5 Questions over at the Horn Book. Randy Ribay now teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read in The Horn Book about his experience teaching in Philadelphia, and why school libraries are so important.

The review copy came from my local library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, February 5, 2018

Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral and Getting It Done, by Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser (ages 12 and up)

Here's a truth that won't surprise many teens: our society has normalized video games that are full of violence, shootings and death, and many have hypersexualized images of women. Here's another truth: while images of violent bloodshed has become normalized, our society still shuns mention of women's menstruation and periods.

Two teens decided to take action to change this. Read their story in Girl Code, a terrific memoir to hand to teens interested in using coding to make a difference and have their voice heard.
Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral and Getting It Done
by Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser
HarperCollins, 2017
Amazon / your public library / read a sample
ages 12-17
Andrea (known as Andy) and Sophie are two New York teenage girls who met at the summer program Girls Who Code. Andy, from the East Village and the Bronx, had some coding experience before from previous summer camps. Sophie, from the Upper West Side, had never coded before. While Andy has been a lifelong gamer and is a programmer's daughter, Sophie was drawn to Girls Who Code as a way to get experience speaking out and finding her voice. Both write clearly about their own nervousness coming into the program and the coding world.

As soon as they started working together, Sophie and Andy knew that they wanted to create a project that combined social commentary with coding in a fun, fresh way. The started talking about the social taboo surrounding menstruation and how it might be fun to create a game that made people talk about this. Their result was Tampon Run, where the protagonist throws tampons at her enemies.

Tampon Run went viral, bringing Andy and Sophie attention and networking opportunities. It's pretty astounding how quickly they went from being kids goofing around with coding to young adults on the national stage. These opportunities presented challenges of their own, and they speak frankly about how they're trying to evaluate their futures.

Teens will enjoy seeing how Andy & Sophie grappled with self-doubt, worked together and persevered to create something fun and meaningful. Most teens know that coding is an important skill for their futures; this memoir shows what it might actually look like.

Find out more at Andy & Sophie's site: Girl Code. The review copy came from my public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Social media & engaging teen readers: Goodreads & Pinterest

It's no secret that many teens love social media. They want to know what their friends are doing, liking and sharing. At Berkeley High, we've been using Goodreads & Pinterest to engage our readers, encouraging them to find more books to read. Goodreads is a social media site for readers, letting you mark books you've read or want to read, add reviews and share them with friends.
BHS Library on Goodreads
While reading might be something you do alone in your own head, its true power comes from sharing the experience. What do our friends think of this? Have they read it, or does it remind them of something like it? If I liked this book, is there another one that I might like reading?

Key to this process is valuing all of the books our students are reading. The masterful teacher Donalyn Miller writes passionately about how we must value and encourage our students' choices in what they read.
Using Goodreads has let us honor and value our students' reading choices, whether they love horror graphic novels like Tokyo Ghoul, powerful nonfiction like The 57 Bus or contemporary YA like Libba Bray's The Diviners.  Each reader is different, with different tastes, preferences and interests. I have loved the conversations that come from learning more about what they like.

Yesterday, I was talking with a freshman who liked reading Nightfall, by Jake Halpern--an intense action-adventure story that kept him up all night reading. When I read his review, it made me think of how much I had liked reading Gary Paulsen's Hatchet. So I built a Pinterest board focusing on wilderness adventures. My student said to me, "Wait, you created this just because I liked Nightfall? Just for me?" It was a powerful moment--and he left the library with a new book to read: Trapped, by Michael Northrop.
Berkeley High Library's Pinterest page:
Survival & Wilderness Adventures @ BHS Library
The true power of using social media to engage teen readers is that it lets our students develop their own authentic voices. I have loved working with fellow Berkeley High librarian Meredith Irby to focus on how we can encourage teens to write authentically about their reading experiences. I so appreciate how thoughtful she is, helping teens develop their writing styles. This type of writing is actually a lot like the personal essays teens will write for college applications. As Donalyn Miller writes in Reading in the Wild:
“If we really want our students to become wild readers, independent of our support and oversight, sometimes the best thing we can do is get out of the way.”
Follow Berkeley High Library on Goodreads & Pinterest  to see what our teens are reading and what we love sharing with them.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Audiobooks for teens: June is Audiobook Month (ages 13-16)

What draws teens into a story more than anything? Voice. They want to read about a teen that's going through intense experiences--whether it's realistic fiction or fantasy. There are many brilliant YA audiobooks; I'd just like to share a few of my favorites. Think of it as a sampling, and see if anything strikes you as interesting.

Contemporary issues through fiction

As racial issues and gun violence continues to plague our communities, teens want to read and think about how these affect individual people. 

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, is absolutely outstanding--riveting, powerful and thought-provoking. Over spring break, sixteen-year-old Starr is the only witness to her friend's fatal shooting by a police officer. As she returns to school, she must navigate the worlds of her poor, predominantly black neighborhood and the wealthy private high school she attends in the suburbs. This is an intense story, even more so with Bhani Turpin's evocative narration that pulls listeners right into Starr's fight to find her voice.

All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, also explores the impact of police brutality, alternating between the perspectives of a black high school boy and a white boy at the same school. Two talented narrators portray these different points of view, as these teens are involved in a complex situation.

Gripping fantasy

Many teens love reading fantasy, both as a way to escape but also a way to contemplate "what if..."

In Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld, we see Europe on the cusp of World War I--but it isn't quite the world we know from history books. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germans have Clankers, huge manmade steam-driven machines with guns, but the British are Darwinists who harness fabricated animals to wage war. Alan Cummings nails the different accents, as we get pulled into the excitement of battles and intrigue.

The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater, is a gripping fantasy that focuses on the Scorpio Races, where riders try to master Water Horses--carnivorous horses that are captured from the ocean. I was totally sucked in by the alternating narration, as I felt both Sean and Puck's yearning for a better life, determined to try to risk it all to win The Scorpio Races.

Modern romance with a twist

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell, is a nuanced, compelling story of first love. The narrators bring alive the inner voices of both Eleanor and Park as they struggle with family, school and their own complex feelings. 

In Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan had me laughing out loud and cringing at the same time as I followed two boys, both named Will Grayson, and their quests to survive high school, find friendship, and grow up--whatever that means. Witty, cynical and irreverant, this book is definitely for older teens with its snarky jokes about sex, relationships and life.

Free audiobooks through SYNC Audiobooks for Teens

SYNC is a free summer audiobook program for teens 13+ and these are two titles I'm especially looking forward to listening to this summer. Each week, listeners can get two free audiobook downloads, provided through the OverDrive app. Check out the full schedule here.

Between Shades of Gray (available August 3-9) is a moving historical fiction novel that centers around the persecution of Lithuanians under Stalin's rule in World War II. Fifteen year-old Lina is forced to go to a Siberian labor camp with her mother and young brother. They survive the harrowing journey on the crowded, dirty train car to find themselves in the coldest reaches of Siberia.

Shadowshaper (available August 10-16) is a vibrant urban fantasy that I can't wait to listen to. Here's the publisher's description: "With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one -- and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family's past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come."
Every day this week, I am sharing audiobooks for different ages. I'm also happy to offer a giveaway sponsored by the Audio Publisher’s Association June in Audiobook Month celebration. Winners will receive a pair of earbuds and 3 free audiobook downloads from! There’s an easy entry form at the bottom of this post.

Click the Rafflecopter form below for an easy entry. Enjoy listening and sharing.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
The review copies come from my personal and school libraries. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books