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Monday, May 25, 2015

Notable Children's Books of 2014

For the past two years I have had the privilege of serving on the Michigan Library Association's YouPer committee.  What is the YouPer, other than a somewhat corny play on abbreviations for the words "young" and "person" and the slang term for a resident of the Upper Peninsula? Well, the YouPer is one of three awards that the Michigan Library Association presents each year for outstanding youth literature. The Mitten is given to the best picture book of the year and the Thumbs Up goes to the top teen book (as you can see they all have cheesy references to Michigan). The YouPer  is awarded to the most exceptional middle-grade chapter book as determined by a group of Michigan youth librarians (including yours truly). Before 2014 the Mitten and the Thumbs Up were the only awards given. The Mitten encompassed both children's chapter books and picture books. Obviously, this created a substantial and widely varied pool from which to choose the winner. Eventually, the powers that be decided to split the Mitten into two awards, hence, the creation of the YouPer.

It was incredibly exciting to be on the committee that chose the very first YouPer Award winner, which was The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson. You can read about this spectacular autobiography by the youngest survivor on Schindler's list in one of my previous posts here.

The 2014 YouPer Winner!
Although, I cannot yet divulge the winner of the 2015 YouPer (it will be officially announced in October), I can tell you about some of the top contenders.

And these are in no particular order.

1.  The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Kenneth Oppel is the author of the hugely popular Silverwing Trilogy, which also happen to be one of my son's favorite series.  For those of you terrified by creepy crawlies, I promise that there are no migrating bats in The Boundless. It does, however, revolve around the migration of people during the late 1800s via the Canadian Trans-Continental Railroad.

As the son of the head engineer, Will Everitt has the privilege of traveling first class across Canada on the maiden voyage of The Boundless, the largest and most luxurious passenger train ever built.  With help from Maren, a tight-rope walker with a traveling circus, Will must thwart thieves from robbing the funeral car of railroad baron, Cornelius Van Horne.

What really sets The Boundless apart is how Oppel sprinkles some fantasy in with the historical fiction. The incorporation of Sasquatch, wendigo, and a fascinating spin on The Picture of Dorian Gray make the story completely unique and a spellbinding reading.

2. The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
I think that 2014 was the year of the train, because there were several excellent children's books published that featured trains. Whereas The Boundless was a historical fiction with a little bit of fantasy thrown in, The Mark of the Dragonfly is straight up steampunk fantasy that Kirkus reviews calls "worthy of a nod from Baum".

When Piper finds an unconscious girl with a Dragonfly tattoo, she knows that she may be rewarded by the king. Without any money, though, the only way to reach the king in the Dragonfly territories is to stow away aboard the old 401 train. Will Piper be able to get sneak past the strange, green-eyed boy who guards the 401?

Full of non-stop action and memorable characters, The Mark of the Dragonfly is a thrilling adventure that will have readers clamoring for more books about the world of Solace. Personally, I cannot wait to read the two companion books the author has planned, The Secrets of Solace and Journey of the Iron Glory, which will come out in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

3.The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
This is just a classic, Victorian ghost story that is sure to please those young readers that like to read spooky stories late at night by flashlight. It is not very often that a children's book is actually "scary", but The Night Gardener delivers on the thrills and chills, while still being appropriate for middle grade readers.

Just this month Jonathan Auxier announced on his website that Disney has purchased the rights to The Night Gardener. Obviously, it may be years (or never) before The Night Gardener hits the big screen, but if it does I will definitely be in line to watch. Especially since Auxier will be adapting the book for the screenplay.

4. The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham
Book 2
What I really love about the The Luck Uglies is that even though it is the opening book of a series (book 2 is already at the library), it is a stand alone story. I don't know about you, but I detest getting into an amazing story that ends in a cliffhanger and then I have to wait a year or more to find out what happens.

Life in Village Drowning has become harder than ever. It is against the law for girls to read, books about the history of the village are banned, people are being arrested or fined for nonexistent crimes, and bog noblins, mythical monsters thought to be extinct, are threatening the village once more. Will the Luck Uglies, the mysterious bandits that defeated the bog noblins before, return from exile to save Village Drowning again?

Durham's debut novel is a witty adventure with a highly detailed setting and enchanting characters. I cannot imagine any reader not falling in love with young troublemaker, Rye O'Chanter and her two friends, Folly and Quinn.

5.The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
The Fletcher family is not your everyday family. There are two dads and four boys all adopted from different parts of the globe. What I love about this book is that Levy did not write a story about a family with two dads. She wrote a book about a family full of fun, laughter, and love.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher can be a little bit too predictable at moments, but it is overall a lighthearted and enjoyable reads. You will fall in love with the Fletcher boys and their unique quirks.

6. The Greenglass House by Kate Milford
I am a huge fan of Agatha Christie and The Greenglass House is a mystery that reminds me of  Ten Little Indians or Murder on the Orient Express. Of course, The Greenglass House is for kids so there is no murder, but you do have a number of mysterious suspects trapped together in a bizarre hotel during a snowstorm.

The setting and atmosphere created by Milford is spectacular; I want to spend a week or two snowbound at the Greenglass House.  The story is equally intriguing and since my kids love Dungeons and Dragons, I particularly enjoyed how Milo and Meddy brought their role playing game characters to life.

7. Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
In case the title wasn't a clue, the main character in Ann M. Martin's most recent book loves homonyms. If you do not remember your elementary language arts, homonyms are words that sound the same, but have different meanings. F.Y.I. Homophones are homonyms that are also spelled differently.

Usually books that are being "written" by a child narrator lack authenticity. Adult authors write with considerably more sophistication than the average child. Unless the young narrator who is supposedly writing the books is extremely precocious the reader is not going to buy it.  I found Rain Reign to be a wonderful exception. As a reader I never questioned that Rose Howard, a fifth grader girl with autism, was the author of her own story.

Overall, Rain Reign is a beautiful story that will have you laugh, cry, and shout for joy.

8. The Iron Trial by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare
Ugh! I just told you how much I hate opening books to a series that end on a cliff hanger and, unfortunately, The Iron Trial does just that. Considering that Magisterium is the new series created by Holly Black, who co-wrote The Spiderwick Chronicles, and Cassandra Clare, author of The Infernal Devices and The Mortal Instruments it is worth the pain of waiting for book 2. Check out the interview with the two authors below.

The Iron Trial tells the story of a young outcast who is sent to a school for magic, so it is sure to draw the Harry Potter comparisons. In my opinion, though, The Iron Trial can hold its own and I was mesmerized by the story and characters after the first chapter.  I don't want to give any spoilers, but I will tell you that the twist ending of The Iron Trial left me completely flabbergasted.

9. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
I was thrilled when The Crossover won the 2014 Newbery Medal. I don't care if you hate basketball and think poetry is boring, you need to read The Crossover. The depth of the characters and storyline, as well as, the rhythm of the text will blow you away.

If you want to read more about the amazing Kwame Alexander check out my earlier blog post: Basketball and a Jazz-Loving Rooster.

10. Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin
Ok, Freedom Summer may not be flying off the shelves, but it is an extremely well-written book about an important time in history. This book features the triumphal strides towards equality and also the horrendous violence that plagued the American heroes that were fighting for equal rights.

I highly recommend Freedom Summer to readers in upper elementary, middle school, high school, and adults too.  Considering recent events involving police and racism; I think that it is imperative for young people to understand the history of the civil rights movement. Sadly the tragic events of Freedom Summer were not that long ago and this book helps to explain why there continues to be distrust between the African American and law enforcement communities.

The horrendous murder of three civil rights workers during the summer of 1964 is also dramatized in the 1988 film, Mississippi Burning, starring Willem DaFoe and Gene Hackman. Word of caution: Mississippi Burning is a graphic movie that is not appropriate for younger viewers.

Kids who read Freedom Summer may also be interested in reading a biography about the remarkable, Fannie Lou Hamer, who was an indefatigable warrior for civil rights in Mississippi. Hamer was fired, beaten, and lost her home just for registering to vote yet she continued to fight for equal rights for all Americans.

11. Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I's Bravest Dog by Ann Bausum
Is it just me or is there considerably more books, movies, tv, documentaries, etc. about WWII than there are about WWI? The story of Stubby is so engaging and moving that kids will enjoy learning about the first World War. The books includes amazing photographs and also sketches drawn by Stubby's handler, Corporal Robert Conroy.

I find this to be both fascinating and creepy, but when Stubby died in 1926 a plaster cast was made of his body and his preserved skin was placed on top of it. You can see Stubby and his jacket today at the Smithsonian Institute.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

eBooks vs. Books

Hello again! For those who don't know who I am, and lets be frank that's probably most of you, my name is Zoe! I am the 13 year old daughter of Jana. I have written one full blog post before and part of another. Today, I am back for my second full post!
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A lot of people seem to assume that teenagers are obsessed with technology, and for the most part they are probably right. I love playing video games, surfing the internet, and my phone is essential to life. What about eBooks you ask? Yeah, I'll pass. Maybe its the fact that I grew up a librarian's daughter with the library being home as much as my house; but I am not a big fan of Nooks, Kindles, eBooks, and other stuff like that. I much prefer reading a printed book. Not saying that I straight-up despise eBooks, they just aren't as good as the real thing. Most of my bookworm friends also agree with me on this matter.
EBooks can be pretty convenient, though. You can carry hundreds of books with you on a tablet. If it wasn't for my Nook when my family went to Mackinac and especially Disney World with it's almost full-day drive, my bag would have been filled completely with books. Instead of lugging around a bag heavy enough to break the Mackinac Bridge, I could take about 20 books that I wanted to read on my nook. Also if you need a new book quick all you need is an internet connection and a paypal account. After I read The Hunger Games I couldn't take that cliffhanger and almost immediately bought Catching Fire on my nook instead of waiting to check out the actual book from the library. Or how about how Nooks are back lit? That certainly helps when you wake up at 5am on a car ride to Disney and its still pitch black outside.

Despite all of the conveniences of eBooks, nothing compares to a physical book with real paper pages. I don't like reading on tablets as much as I like actually reading the book. Sure, on some devices and apps they made it look like you're turning a page, but you aren't. Its so much more satisfying to spread the book across your lap and feel the paper in your hands. Also, you can't get an eBook signed. I have several signed books which I am very proud of. Let's see you get Jonathan Rand to sign your eBook. Tell me how it works out, okay? Also, I don't know about you, but if I read on a nook for a long time, it hurts my head and eyes more than when I read a normal book for a long time. There's some scientific explanation for this that I don't know, but that's definitely a lost point for eBooks.

Of course, there is one way that books will always trump eBooks: They don't require charging!  Also, I have dropped a book in the bath tub and I could still read it. I don't think that would happen with a tablet. That brings us to the cost factor. If I ruin my book I can buy another. If  I ruin my tablet my Mom and Dad will kill me.

So there you have it. Reading on a tablet can sometimes be convenient, but the real thing will always, always be better.

Regular book still rules!