Most Anticipated 2018 TBRs!

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If you’re like me, your TBR list is multiple pages long, your bookshelves are bursting at the seams, you have holds on several different things on hold through inter-library loan, and yet you still have the same argument with yourself every time you pass a bookstore, or the library, or need to buy something on Amazon: do you really need more books? YES. THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS YES.

So here are some books to add to your Amazon cart or GoodReads list that I’m particularly looking forward to this year.

cover_imageEscape from Aleppo, by N. H. Senzai (Release date: January 2)

Nadia’s 12th birthday marks the beginning of the Arab Spring with a horrific protest in Tunisia, and three years later, her family has decided they need to leave their home in Syria, which is now in the middle of a civil war, for a safer location. But amidst the bombing, she gets separated from her family and has to rely on her on ingenuity to get her to the safety of the Turkish border and find her family again. Students (and adults) need more stories like these to help make sense of all the very real horror happening in that part of the world.

cover_imageThe Altered History of Willow Sparks, by Tara O’Connor (release date: January 30)

I love a good standalone graphic novel, and this one sounds right up my alley. When the main character is described as having “uncool hair and unfortunate acne” and works parttime at the local library, I’m immediately like, I feel you. While working at said library, Willow Sparks uncovers a book with her name on it, and she discovers that writing in the book changes her future (like actually, not in a metaphoric sense). Exciting at first, until Willow realizes her rewrites can have dire consequences.

cover_imagePlaying Atari with Saddam Hussein, by Jennifer Roy (release date: February 6)

Based on the true story of Ali Fadhil, who was 11 in 1991 when the U.S. invaded Iraq in Operation Desert Storm. While most of our students have memory (or at least a frame of reference) for the ongoing “War on Terror” in Iraq, this earlier conflict is largely unknown to them. Heck, it’s largely unknown to me. I was three at the time. In this story readers will get a glimpse into the simultaneous mundane aspects and devastation of war through the eyes of a boy who lived it.

cover_imageThe Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang (release date: February 13)

While Prince Sebastian’s parents are busy finding him a future bride, Sebastian and his best friend, dressmaker Frances, know the truth: at night, Sebastian likes to put on dresses and take to the streets of Paris as Lady Crystallia. The SLJ review suggests this is a good step up for fans of Raina Telgemeier’s and Victoria Jamieson’s, and I have plenty of fans of both those ladies. Super excited for this one.

 

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The Serpent’s Secret, by Sayantani Dasgupta (release date: February 27)

My students cannot seem to get enough of modern heroes battling ancient mythological beasts, and here we have a new diverse character coming to the table. 12 year old Kiranmala thinks she’s just a normal 6th grader living in New Jersey, until one morning her parents disappear and she suddenly encounters an ancient demon in her living room. It appears as if her family’s old Bengali stories might just in fact be true…

cover_imageThe Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani (release date: March 6)

I’ve been perhaps disproportionately interested in Indian literature since taking an Indian Lit class my sophomore year of college, but I just can’t get enough of them. I have nearly an entire shelf of adult Indian lit at home, but rarely is there middle grade or YA published that is set in this country. I was thrilled to see this one come up. Written as letters to her mother (who died when she was a baby), this middle grade novel tells the story of 12 year old Nisha during the tumultuous year of 1947, when India was divided into two countries based on religion. Nisha has to come to terms with what it means to be “home”, as her family embarks on a journey to what they hope will be a peaceful future.

cover_imageThe Creativity Project, edited by Colby Sharp (release date: March 13)

I follow Colby on Twitter, so when he first started talking about this one, I was immediately intrigued.  The basic premise is that Colby invited more than 40 authors/illustrators/creators to write story prompts, those prompts were swapped, and magical creativity ensued! This is the collection of all the projects developed from those prompts, including work from some of our favorite people: Sherman Alexie, Kate DiCamillo, Peter Brown, R.J. Palacio, Laurel Snyder, gah, I could go on and on, because there are SO MANY great contributors to this!!!

34219841The Wild Robot Escapes, by Peter Brown (release date: March 13)

I looovvvved the The Wild Robot when I read it this summer, and am so excited for the second addition to Roz’s story. I anticipate more sweet drawings and more charming interactions from the characters in the sequel. This one picks up where the other left off, so if you haven’t read the first one, check that one out first!

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Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes (release date: April 17)

We’ve gotten All American BoysThe Hate U Give, Dear Martin, and others from the YA community in response to the increase of police shootings of brown skinned people, and now Rhodes gives that response for the younger set in this middle grade novel about 12 year old Jerome, who is shot and killed when a police officer mistakes his toy gun for a real gun. Jerome’s ghost meets the ghost of Emmitt Till, another young victim of racial violence, who helps him process the fallout of what happened to him.

36301023My Plain Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton (release date: June 26)

I thoroughly enjoyed last year’s My Lady Jane, so was excited to see another installment in the “the Lady Janies.” This one is a fantastical reimagining of a fictional character rather than a historical one, focusing on Bronte’s titular character, Jane Eyre. Having read the original not too long ago during grad school, I can’t wait to dig into this one where Jane is not only a governess, but also a ghost hunter. Yes, please.

Okay, so I could probably go on for quite a while on this list, but we gotta draw the line somewhere. What about you? What are the books you’re most looking forward to in 2018? How about last year’s list? Any that came out in 2017 that you still are dying to get to? I have plenty of those as well. If authors could just stop writing for like 10 to 12 years so I could catch up, that would be great. (JUST KIDDING, NEVERMIND, PLEASE DON’T STOP.)

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A new fairy tale to tell

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The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill (2016)

Opening line: “Yes. There is a witch in the woods.”

I realize I’m a little late to the reviewing game on this one, seeing that big shiny gold medal in the corner of the cover, but I can’t help but talk about it. And there may still be a few readers out there like me who haven’t picked it up yet! That shiny gold medal can be a divisive one for readers… some will automatically gravitate toward award winners, because they know they have been thoroughly vetted by a group of knowledgeable people. Others, though, will particularly avoid Newbery medalists (in particular), because they have had a bit of a reputation in the past for not choosing readable books for kids. They might be literary gems, but aren’t engaging for the relevant audience of (typically) middle grade readers. That seems to have changed in the past several years though, with the likes of The CrossoverLast Stop on Market Streetand of course, One and Only Ivan (which I can literally give to any student and know it will be a positive experience). I’m not sure where this year’s winner will fall in that spectrum, but I’m sure going to try to make it be one of those that kids will devour too.

This one reads like a delicious fairy tale, one that has dark and twisty edges like “Hansel and Gretel” or “Rumpelstiltskin”, rather than “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, for instance. In the village known as the Protectorate, villagers know that every year on the Day of Sacrifice, the youngest baby in the Protectorate will be taken out into the woods to be left for the witch. Because of this annual tragedy, a cloud of sorrow hangs over the village, although the parents of the sacrificed baby have always willingly complied. Until this year, that is. This year, the youngest baby’s mother is driven mad with grief, and is locked in a tower in the center of the Protectorate to live out her days. Her baby is taken to the clearing in the woods and left for dead. Here’s the really grim part: the leaders of the Protectorate know the witch story is just made up. They know the baby is likely just eaten by wild animals or dies of starvation or thirst. The Day of Sacrifice is a tool of manipulation, one meant to keep the people in line.  Yikes.

HOWEVER! There IS a witch in the woods! And she DOES come to get the babies each year! Of course, this witch is a good witch who has no idea why these infants are being left in the woods. She’s practical though, and when she sees a problem (particularly one like an innocent babe being left to fend for itself in the woods), she’s apt to solve it. So every year, she embarks on a journey through the deep and dangerous forest to retrieve the child and take it across the world to the Free Cities where she finds a loving adoptive family to raise it. On the journey, she typically feeds the baby starlight, giving them a little magical glow that stays with them for the rest of their lives. But this year, this baby, she accidentally feeds her with moonlight. And it turns out moonlight gives you more than a magical glow. It gives you MAGIC. Babies aren’t supposed to be enmagicked because they can’t control it, so the witch decides to adopt the baby herself to look after her. Add in a sweet swamp monster and a tiny dragon who thinks he’s huge, and we’ve got the beginnings of a fantastic fairytale.

The layers to this tale are complex and suspenseful, and the narrator’s language made me want to read this aloud. (I did. I did read it aloud. To my dog.) I think this would be a great classroom novel that could also be used in short chunks to discuss mood, tone, or word choice. I don’t think that every middle grade reader is going to love this one if tackling it on their own (like Crossover or Ivan), but maybe that’s another reason why it’s special. It has a special reader in mind.

2.5 stars

 

 

A writing style analysis of a steampunk series opener: Monsters, robots, and POV, oh my!

 

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The League of Seven, by Alan Gratz (2014)

Opening Line: “The secret entrance to the headquarters of the Septemberist Society could only be reached by submarine.”

I love a story in which the opening line leaves me with SO MANY questions. (What is the Septemberist Society? Why is it called the Septemberist Society? Why can you only reach it by submarine? Why is it secret? Who’s in the Septemberist Society? Is it a real thing? Where is the headquarters located? I could go on.)

In anticipation of Alan Gratz’s author visit to our school in October, I’ve been attempting to read through all the books of his we own in our library. His black/white/red covered books (see: Prisoner B-3087, Projekt 1065and Code of Honor) are wildly popular with our students, and while I can definitely understand why that is the case, they weren’t doing the same for me. I liked them fine, but I didn’t love them. It was starting to make me feel anxious. As a librarian, I want to be able to earnestly and honestly and exuberantly push these books on my students prior to his visit. I was trying to piece together what the issue was until I opened up League of Seven, and was immediately gripped by the story. Phew.

Our main character is 12-year-old Archie Dent, son to researchers for the Septemberists, a secret society aimed at keeping the world safe from the Mangleborn, massive world-destroying monsters. Several times throughout the history of humankind, the Mangleborn have risen up and destroyed civilizations, and it is only through a League of Seven heroes that they are quelled and trapped beneath the earth once again. It’s been many generations since the Mangleborn have awoken, but according to research by Archie’s parents, there are rumblings of a rebirth. This becomes very clear when they arrive at the Septemberist headquarters and council has been infiltrated and taken over by strange bug-like creatures buried in the backs of the council-members necks. Soon Archie learns that Thomas Alva Edison, evil genius, is attempting to use lektricity to awaken the Swarm Queen, a Mangleborn locked under the swamps of Florida, and he is using Archie’s parents to help him. Archie is thrown together with two other young people, Fergus — whose impressive mechanical knowledge makes him desirable to Edison — and Hachi — a First Nations girl who has great skills in weaponry and a vengeful death wish for Edison — and together, they must figure out a way to stop Edison and the Swarm Queen from killing Archie’s parents and destroying the world. No biggie.

Okay, so there are some definite differences between League of Seven, and the black/white/red books (subsequently referred to as BWR books). First of all: genreLeague of Seven is an alternative steampunk historical fiction novel (as opposed to realistic historical fiction). We’ve got some some robots, some ancient legends, some real-life characters making a very different impact on society (hello there, villainous Thomas Edison), all set in a much different picture of 1870s America.

Secondly, tense. I’ve noticed his other books (that I’ve read so far) are written in present tense. This gives the narrative an urgent, action-driven focus. For some reason, this tense style feels more juvenile for me. Again, I see value in it for the intended audience, but for me, it’s not my preference. League is written in past tense.

Next, point of viewLeague is written primarily in the third-person limited perspective (with Archie being the limited scope), although we do see a more omniscient perspective occasionally. This is my FAVORITE pov to read. I think it gives the author flexibility while still allowing the reader to feel personally connected to the protagonist. I think it also lends authenticity to the text. The BWR books are written in first person, which again, tends to be the more comfortable choice for my students. However, authors who write for middle grade audiences are still ADULTS (primarily), and when they write in a tween voice, even the best authors are impostors.

Now maybe my English major analyzer is in overdrive here and these aspects are just correlation not causation. I feel like I’ll certainly be more aware of these things in the future. Let’s just say I’m super pumped to be able to promote this series to my students this fall in anticipation of Alan’s visit. I’ll still booktalk all his books, but the BWRs basically promote themselves. League is a little more off the beaten path, but I think will be a HUGE hit with those insatiable fans of our dear friend Rick Riordan.

2.5 stars. Next two books in the series are already out!

 

 

MG GNs Roundup

Summertime is always the time when I catch up on stuff that I’ve bought for school over the past year that I’ve been meaning to read, but haven’t gotten the chance, and graphic novels tend to be a huge part of that. I have really prioritized building my school library’s graphic novel section since I got there two years ago, because when I arrived, the graphic novels were still lost on a lone shelf in the 741 section of the non-fiction, where they couldn’t be found or loved. Now, the two bays I dedicated for them when I arrived are bursting at the seams (once I got them all returned at the end of the year), and although about half of them are circulating at any given time, I’m starting to eye some other areas where I can expand even more. This spring I specifically targeted the manga collection (Japanese comics) and the kids were so excited. I’ll definitely be buying more of those this year.

In any case, here’s a selection of some of the MG GNs (middle grade graphic novels, for those of you not deeply rooted in library land) I’ve been catching up on this summer:

 

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Ghosts, by Raina Telgemeier (2016)

I definitely had to wait for summer to read this one, because ever since I bought three copies of it for the library, it hasn’t stayed on the shelf for more than 24 hours (you think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not). Cat’s family had moved to northern CA, a climate better for her little sis’s cystic fibrosis, but this town seems to be a little too paranormal for Cat’s comfort level… As always, Raina’s colors are vibrant and sister relationships are spot on. Fun and quick. Not my favorite of Raina’s, but a sure hit with all her fans. 2 stars

Fish Girl, by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli (2017)30971730

Obviously we all love David Wiesner’s picture books, right? I did a David Wiesner unit with third graders when I was student teaching, and we had a wonderful time dissecting all the illustrations to try to figure out what was going on. Now that he’s teamed up with veteran MG/YA author Donna Jo Napoli, we get a graphic novel that is a little more flushed out than his picture books, although it still leaves a lot of room for the imagination. Fish Girl tells the story of a young mermaid who lives in a boardwalk aquarium attraction with little to no memory of how she ended up there. When a curious visitor starts to connect to and communicate with her, Fish Girl starts to realize that there is a big world beyond her aquarium walls, and Neptune, the owner of the aquarium, is really more of a captor than a father figure. She must decide if she is able — and willing — to break free to live in an unknown world. 2 stars

30652105One Trick Pony, by Nathan Hale (2017)

Our students already known and love Nathan Hale from his Hazardous Tales history graphic novels. Now he brings them out of the past and into the future in this dystopian imagining of what our world will be like when the aliens invade, seeking out our energy sources and basically destroying our world in the process. (Although, let’s be honest, we won’t need aliens to mess up our energy sources. We’re quite capable of that all on our own.) Hale maintains his tradition of shades of gray with one color mixed in, which paints a fairly bleak picture of the future. But it’s also a fascinating one. The main character’s family is part of a caravan, constantly on the move to stay away from the aliens. This is because they are the protectors of all the digital information they’ve been able to gather, and their mission is to protect humankind’s history. I’m all about a kid’s sci-fi GN with the message of the value of information and our duty to protect it. 2.5 stars

The Nameless City, by Faith Erin Hicks (2016)25332000

Kai is a recent immigrant to the Nameless City, an ancient city under constant turbulence as neighboring empires attempt to control it and the waterways it’s connected to. Currently the Dao have control of the city, and have maintained relative peace for the last three decades. But no nation has kept control this long… it’s only a matter of time before war comes again. Kai, Dao born and bred, has moved to the city to finally meet his father and to train as a Dao soldier. But he’s not really interested in fighting. When out exploring the city one night, he meets Rat, a local who was born and raised in the streets, and is the fastest person he’s ever seen. As Rat begins to teach Kai how to run the rooftops, and their friendship blossoms, each realizes that maybe there’s no reason for the hate and resentment that has traditionally kept the tension boiling in the city — and it may be up to them to stop that tension from boiling over. Excited for the next installment! 2.5 stars

31159613Yvain: The Knight of the Lion, by M.T. Anderson and Andrea Offermann (2017)

This one is quite different than the others on the list, both in terms of style and audience. Again, we have a novelist and an illustrator teaming up to create their first graphic novel, and it is definitely unique. Here we have a graphic version of a great Arthurian epic, the tale of Yvain, a knight of Arthur’s round table and cousin to Sir Gawain. Yvain feels the need to prove himself as a young knight, and goes off to avenge another cousin, killing his enemy. The man he kills is the lord of a castle and keeper of a magical pond that causes horrific storms when anyone pours water on a stone at its the center. Of course, Yvain falls in love at first sight upon seeing the window of said enemy, and she is convinced to marry him in order to protect her townspeople and castle. Yvain, being the young dope he is, proceeds to cause all sorts of trouble before setting things “right” again. Okay, so it’s hard to summarize an epic poem in one paragraph, because craziness always ensues. In any case, this one leans more YA in content and style. The language is a bit tricky for younger readers and there’s lots of blood and gore (although artfully depicted). I think it will be a tougher sell for my students, but kids interested in medieval settings may enjoy it. 1.5 stars

That’s a wrap for now! I’m sure I’ll have more graphics to review before too long…

 

Clinging to Winter (but not really, because winter’s the worst)

Snow Like Ashes, by Sara Raasch (2014)

Opening Line: “Block!”

I’ve been falling behind on my blogging lately, guys. I was doing so well! Sheesh. But here’s another one for next year’s SC Junior Book Award list, and since I’m anxiously reading it’s sequel right now, I feel capable of blogging about it, even though it’s been a while. Plus, it’s one of my favorites so far, and before the list, I had never heard of it, which means you may not have either!

Set in a sprawling fantasy world with eight major kingdoms (complete with a map in the end papers!), Snow Like Ashes gives us our heroine, Meira, one of just eight refugees from the Kingdom of Winter. Meira was an infant when Winter fell to the evil hands of Angra, king of Spring, and all of her fellow Winterians were captured and put into slave labor. Only a handful — including Meira — escaped. Sixteen years later, the refugees are still quietly fighting to recapture the magic emblem of their fallen monarch, Queen Hannah, in hopes that when it is recovered, Winter can be restored, despite the fact that Hannah’s heir Mather (who was also a baby at the fall), does not carry his mother’s female-lined powers. All Meira wants is to help the cause, but she is routinely stopped by Sir, the leader of their pack, forced to remain in the safety of camp while Mather and the others regularly put themselves in danger. When she finally gets a chance, Meira goes way beyond Sir’s expectations — she actually recovers the treasure, Queen Hannah’s locket! Unfortunately, it’s only half the locket, and Meira’s actions send the group on the run again, right into a destiny Meira never expected, one that’s been in the making ever since Winter fell all those years ago.

I got totally wrapped up in Meira’s story. Like Katsa in Graceling (one of my faves), she’s independent, fierce, courageous (feeling her fear and acting anyway), and believable. She doesn’t always understand what’s happening around her or to her, but her determination just makes you desperate for her to succeed. And let’s be honest, the very mild love triangle interest has my heart beating just as fast as any tween reader’s.

So here’s the thing. I feel like fantasies sometimes get a weird reputation — I have a hard time selling them at school, especially to girls, unless they are the Rick Riordan/Harry Potter readers. “I don’t really like magic stuff,” they say. “Percy Jackson was okay when I was like ten,” they say. The set for the older crowd, again especially older girls, seems to somehow be overlooked. But this one, along with GracelingThe Red Queen, and a whole host of others, are oh-so-good, and I think would be devoured by the same readers who love Divergent and Matched and Delirium and Legend. Why is it that dystopians are so much easier to sell than fantasies? Perhaps it’s because they are often more difficult to explain than dystopians. I’m not saying dystopians are all the same (but, come on, a lot of them are), and I’m not saying fantasies are wildly unique, but somehow the typically complex setting and the array of fantastic elements are more challenging to encompass in a 60 second booktalk in the middle of the shelves, than, “Here, this one reminds me of Divergent because of this thing that happens in the future and and this character who has to go against everything she’s ever known to save the world. You want to read it? Okay, great.”

If any one has any tips for me for selling fantasies to middle schoolers, I’m all ears. Because I want this one to be a top contender on next year’s JBA list, and I’m afraid I’m not going to do it justice with getting it in the hands of my readers.

Onto the next one, Ice Like Fire, and anxiously awaiting the third, Frost Like Night, expected September 2016.

2.5 stars

 

Rainbow Rowling’s…I mean, Rowell’s…latest

51at-2bhwvqlCarry On, by Rainbow Rowell (2015)

Opening Line: “I walk to the bus station by myself.”

We all know I love Rainbow. As my Grandma would say, I would read her grocery lists. So of course I enjoyed Carry On.

For anyone who knows Rainbow, you’ll know that Carry On is a…continuation? Spin-off? of my most favorite Rainbow novel, Fangirl. In Fangirl, main character Cath and her twin sister have spent years developing a fanfiction story based on the characters of their favorite book and movie series Simon Snow (baaasically Harry Potter. With vampires). Their fanfiction story is called Carry On. And when Rainbow finished Fangirl, she didn’t feel done with the Carry On characters. Voila.

Carry On picks up in Simon Snow’s final year at Watford’s School of Magicks. Supposedly Simon is the most powerful wizard that has ever been, deemed The Chosen One, destined to save the world from the Insidious Humdrum, who is sucking up all the magic, and strangely looks just like 10-year-old Simon.  But Simon’s pretty terrible at magic. He can’t control it, which is arguably the most important thing when it comes to magic. Plus, there’s his nemesis, roommate Baz, who happens to be a vampire, and who has not shown up for school this year (which drives Simon crazy not knowing where he is). To top it all off, the Mage, Simon’s more-than-mentor, is avoiding Simon like the plague and Simon’s girlfriend Agatha has broken up with him (for Baz?). Let’s just say, it’s been a rough start. And he really better do something about the Humdrum before he wipes magic off the planet.

There are definitely mixed reviews on GoodReads about this one, due mostly to it’s obvious similarities to our greatest love, Harry. In fact, one of our book club members had a hard time getting over just that. It didn’t bother me much, because like a Goodreads reviewer said, it temporarily filled the HP hole in my heart. Is it as good as HP? Oh god, no. But is it good in its own merit? Absolutely!

Rainbow’s magic is the same here as it has been in all her other works, and her magic lives in her dialogue. It doesn’t seem to matter the setting, the genre, the audience, the plot. I love her writing because of the dialogue. Her characters always feel completely authentic to me because of the way they talk to each other. I can’t get enough of it.

Love. 2.5 stars

Just a sidekick and her villain

Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson (2015)81htvtp4ktl

I’ve never been into webcomics. I don’t really get them, for some reason, or don’t like the serialization of them, or something. So I really appreciate it when great webcomics get turned into great graphic novels, like Nimona. Especially when the big, bad, scary guy in the story is actually a short, not-skinny, teenage girl with buzzed hair and big boots.

Nimona is a shapeshifter, capable of turning into just about any creature she wants to, ranging from other humans to small cats to giant dragons. And with that ability, she dreams of causing chaos and taking down the man. In this case, the man is The Institution, which villain Lord Ballister Blackheart has been trying to destroy. Despite his role as Villain of the community (and a name like Blackheart) Ballister actually has a heart of gold, and is trying to expose the lies and immoral nature of the powers at be. Nimona is determined to be his sidekick.

But when Nimona joins Lord Ballister’s team, she’s keeping her cards close to her chest, and Ballister can tell she’s hiding something. Something that might just destroy all his plans.

This graphic novel is HILARIOUS and HEARTBREAKING and HEARTWARMING and HUGELY entertaining.

2.5 stars