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2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist Len Vlahos

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 07:00

Each year, YALSA’s Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

Today we bring you an interview with Len Vlahos, a 2015 Morris Award finalist for The Scar Boys.

I listened to the audio book edition of Scar Boys, narrated Lincoln Hoppe.  Had you listened to him on another audiobook?  What made you choose him to be the voice of Harbinger “Harry” Jones?

I was so excited when I learned the Random House had acquired the rights to do the audiobook of The Scar Boys, but I was also mystified. I knew nothing about how the process worked. The producer, Kelly Gildea, sent me clips of four possible narrators. The production team had their eye on one in particular, but he sounded too old to me. I knew as soon as I heard Lincoln’s voice that he was Harry. Plus, he’d read King Dork by Frank Portman and absolutely nailed that.  (I should also note that I got to play guitar for the audiobook, which was a great experience.)

http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/1322962-TheScarBoys.mp3

What music are you listening to right now?

Right this very second? The tapping of keys on my ancient Macbook. But in general, lately I’ve been playing Roxy Music’s Manifesto, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, and Jackson Browne’s Solo Acoustic Vol 1. (In fact, your question made me stop what I was doing, pull out the Bose Speakers, launch Spotify, and put on some Jackson Browne.)

Were there any songs you wanted to use as chapter titles that didn’t make it to the final novel?

Actually, the original manuscript did not use song titles as chapter heads; it used snippets of lyrics. So, for example, the chapter that currently starts with “Bad Brain (written by Dee Dee Ramone, Joey Ramone, Johnny Ramone, and Marky Ramone, and performed by the Ramones)” originally started with “Gives me the shots, gives me the pills, got me takin’ this junk, against my will…”—New York Dolls Only, it turns out that pesky US copyright law doesn’t allow you to use a snippet of a poem or lyric in a work of commercial fiction without first getting permission. I tried to clear permission, but no one wrote me back. This part of Fair Use law — the copyright law governing use of others’ intellectual property — is actually a bit of a gray area, but it made my publisher nervous, so I changed all the chapter heads to song titles (which can;t be protected with copyright). I spent two weeks searching for appropriate titles that we recorded before 1987. It was a challenge but fun.

If money and copyright were not issues, would you have included all the songs from the titles with the audiobook or as part of a cd soundtrack or downloaded playlist?

Egmont made a Spotify playlist of the chapter heads: Scar Boys 

And yes, I would love it if they were in the audio book. However, those songs were chosen for the textual content. To get a better sense of what I really listen to, check out the playlist I made for my book tour.

I admit I judged this book.  I had an expectation that was far exceeded.  I loved the pervasive misery, the subplots of sadness like ;  reading The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Mrs. Mac dying so unexpectedly of cancer, Mr. K’s patient commits suicide, Richie’s accident, and even Harry’s dad loosing his job. Do you see yourself as an optimist, pessimist or realist?  What do you see for your future?

Oh man, what a question. :-) Okay, if we were playing truth or dare and you asked this question, I would have to tell you that outwardly I’m all pessimist, and inside I’m all optimist. I’m a consummate dreamer, My future? I see hard work, happy kids, and fresh air.

Be warned, by the way, Scar Girl — the sequel scheduled to publish in late August — is a lot darker than The Scar Boys. 

I spent way too much time thinking about the lost dog the family finds near a lighthouse while on vacation. I wanted a lot of things for Harry but I felt especially determined that he keep the dog. The impact of this scene changed when I reread it.  Instead of focusing on the dog, I was fixated on Harry’s dad and their terrible encounter. His dad’s quote “pain and stress can hijack a man’s soul and twist it out of shape” made me see how strong Harry was.  I didn’t think Harry’s soul was mangled from his accident. I felt an intense understanding of both characters at this exact scene. Did you write this scene in particular to help us understand forgiveness? 

Great question! There were a lot of things going on in this scene. First, when my family drove across country when I was six years old (I have an older brother and sister, and all five of us were crammed in a Plymouth sedan for three weeks), we found an abandoned dog at a rest stop in Texas. My dad really did throw his back out trying to coax the dog into our car so we could bring him to a shelter.

Second, I was paying homage to Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. There’s a pivotal scene early in that book where the dad accidentally makes fun of his daughter’s stutter. It’s a powerful scene that has always stayed with me, and I was thinking of that when Harry’s father let’s his most horrible of insults slip.

Finally, I was thinking about ways of showing how Harry’s armor became hardened and how it shaped him as a person. That said, Harry doesn’t really come to understand the concept of forgiveness until he figures out how to forgive himself, which is kind of what happens with his story arc. (Whoops! Spoiler!)

Do you have a favorite music video that inspired your work? Or do you have a favorite video that was inspired by your work that we could share on The Hub?

I can’t say that any one music video inspired The Scar Boys, but I will share some video clips of students that were brave enough to play guitar and/or sing at my book events. It made the entire experience so wonderfully special. 

Now that Scar Boys has two awesome covers, do you love them both equally or do you have a favorite?  How involved are you in designing the covers?

Indies Asked to Choose Scar Boys Cover Design

Publishers have the decision making power over book covers, and I have been really fortunate that Egmont has included me at every step of the process. And really, there have been four covers.  There were two proposed covers for the advanced reader’s copy, which was changed for the hardcover. I kind of love them all equally. Designers are amazing people. It’s a talent I just don’t have. Finally, we just revealed the cover for Scar Girl

Pretty cool, huh?

Yes, Len, yes you are.

-Laura C. Perenic is currently reading Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach

Oscars Best Picture Nominees: Readalikes

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 07:00

Credit Flickr user Rachel Jackson

We are in the midst of Hollywood’s award show season with what seems to be an endless variety of shows every weekend. Each show bringing new red carpet styles, Youtube-able acceptance speeches and a new list of what films to watch. In the spirit of this flurry of film festivities and movie lists, we thought a readalikes post would be the best way for us at the Hub to partake in all of this fun. So in preparation for the quintessential award show, the Oscars, we’ve come up with a list of a YA readalikes for some of this year’s most talked about films – The Academy Awards Best Picture Nominees.

Special thanks goes to Hannah Gomez, Jennifer Rummel, Erin Daly, Tara Kehoe, Sharon Rawlins, Jessica Lind and Wendy Daughdrill for helping to create these booklists.  

American Sniper  

 

The Imitation Game  

Boyhood

Birdman 

  • Battling Boy by Paul Pope
  • Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M Campbell
  • Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz
  • Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones
  • Hero by Perry Moore (Best Books for Young Adults 2008)

Selma 

  • March: Book One by John Lewis
  • Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Fire from the Rock by Sharon M. Draper
  • Lies we tell ourselves by Robin Talley                             

Whiplash 

The Grand Budapest Hotel 

The Theory of Everything

  • You can check out our post from Gretchen Kolderup about recent YA biographies from last spring.

Any books that you would like to add to our Oscar readalikes list? Let us know in the comments below!

-Katie Shanahan Yu, currently reading Dead of Winter by Kresley Cole

2015 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: An Interview with finalist Steve Sheinkin

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 07:00

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

Steve Sheinkin has written screenplays, made films, edited and written textbooks, and now he writes full time, creating some of the most fascinating  and fun to read nonfiction books for people of any age. These books include The Notorious Benedict Arnold : A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, and Treachery (winner of the 2012 YALSA Award for Excellent in Nonfiction award) and BOMB: The Race to Build -and Steal- The World’s Most Dangeous Weapon (winner of the 2013 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction award, as well as a National Book Award finalist, a Newbery honor book, and a Robert A. Siebert medalist) His book The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights is a finalist this year for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction.

Congratulations on being a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction finalist! What was your reaction on hearing the news? Will you be attending ALA Midwinter in Chicago? Going to the YALSA Award program and presentation?

Thanks so much! Of course, it was very exciting to get the news that The Port Chicago 50 was a finalist. I always become pretty obsessed with the stories I’m researching, but this one feels especially personal, because of the friends I’ve made along the way, and because I’m so glad to be helping to keep this story alive. I won’t be at ALA in Chicago, but will be following developments closely.

How did you first hear about men who were the Port Chicago 50? Was it through Robert Allen’s book or some other way? (I read on your blog about Mr. Allen; thank you for introducing me to his work.) 

I first heard of the story while researching a previous book, Bomb. My brother–in-law, Eric, told me about this wacky conspiracy theory – in short, that the first atomic test was not in New Mexico in 1945, as recorded in official history, but actually in a place called Port Chicago, California, a year earlier. It sounded crazy, so of course I was interested. I started researching, and quickly found out that the true story behind the disastrous explosion and subsequent civil rights showdown at Port Chicago was far better than any Internet theory. My research quickly led to Robert Allen’s work, and his willingness to share the interviews he did with participants back in the 1970s gave me priceless material to work with.

How do you write history for young people? As opposed to writing for adults, I mean; do you have to make concessions?

No, I definitely don’t think in terms of concessions. I find stories that I hope will appeal to a wide range of readers, including me as a teenager, and then I try to tell the stories in a direct, fast-paced, and engaging way. The only thing to keep in mind is that many subjects in history will be new to many young readers, so some background is usually needed. Balancing that need for context with the need to keep the narrative speeding forward is definitely the hardest part of the job.

It’s fun to read your “Walking and Talking” comics on your blog. Have you always drawn? Do you think you will ever create a graphic novel historical nonfiction book?

Thanks, I love doing those comics. Yes, I’ve always drawn comics – I remember one time in high school when my biology teacher saw a comic I’d done about him. It was sort of making fun of a boring lecture, but his main reaction was, “Hey, I have more hair than that!” I’d love to tell some historical tales in the graphic novel format – I love what folks like Nathan Hale and George O’Connor are doing. I could see someday teaming up with an artist to create some kind of series… who knows?

What is next for you? Can you tell us what project you are working on now that has you most excited?

My new book, which will be out in September, is Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. The subject, obviously, is the Vietnam War, and at the center of the action is this brilliant young Pentagon insider, Daniel Ellsberg, who starts off as a hard-core Cold Warrior. He sees the war from the inside, spends time in Vietnam, gradually turns against the war, and decides to risk everything to try to end it. He’s the guy who leaked the Pentagon Papers – the top secret documents that exposed years of government lies about the Vietnam – to the New York Times. He’s still around, and is often interviewed about the more recent bombshell leaker story, that of Edward Snowden. Anyway, the book’s going to be kind of similar to Bomb, in terms of being a big, fast, complex, morally ambiguous thriller, with lots going on at once. At least, that’s what I’m going for! And after that, a complete change of pace – a great underdog sports story from the early 1900s.

Thanks to Mr. Sheinkin for taking the time to answer The Hub’s questions.

~Geri Diorio, currently reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Jukebooks: The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 13:02

When Laura decided to study Russian in ninth grade, she pictured travelling to the land of Ivan the Terrible: Passionate, dangerous, alive. But when she actually travels to Russia to spend a semester, Laura finds it bleak and unfriendly. Except for the boy, Alyosha. This boy shows her the Russia beneath the surface, where real teens party with their friends. Certain musical groups, or particular songs are viewed as anti-government and forbidden. Oddly, singer/songwriter Neil Young is okay. It’s because he sings a song that criticizes the American South, they explain. That song is “Southern Man,”released in 1970. Here’s a sampling of lyrics.

 

Lily Belle,
your hair is golden brown
I’ve seen your black man
comin’ round
Swear by God
I’m gonna cut him down!
I heard screamin’
and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?

Listen to a clip of “Southern Man” here.

http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/01-07-Southern-Manlip.mp3

Four years later, a band named Lynyrd Skynyrd, originally formed in Jacksonville, Florida, had a response for Young. In  “Sweet Home Alabama,” lead singer and songwriter Ronnie Van Zant writes, “Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her/Well, I heard ol’ Neil put her down/Well, I hope Neil Young will remember/A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.”

Listen to “Sweet Home Alabama” here.

http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/01-01-Sweet-Home-AlabamaedDC.mp3

There was no animosity between Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd. In a recent Rolling Stones article, journalist Andy Green quotes Van Zant: “We didn’t even think about it. The words just came out that way. We just laughed like hell and said, ‘Ain’t that funny.’ We love Neil Young. We love his music.” As for Young,  “I’m proud to have my name in a song like theirs.” (Ballinger, Lee. (2002 ©1999). Lynyrd Skynyrd: An Oral History).

In 1977, three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, including Ronnie Van Zant, were killed in a plane crash. Below is the audio from a Neil Young concert, performed shortly after the accident. Young sings his own song, “Alabama,” and then moves into “Sweet Home Alabama” near the end.

Diane Colson, reading an advance reader’s copy of Lauren Oliver’s Vanishing Girls.

2015 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: An Interview with Finalist Emily Arnold McCully

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 07:00

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

Emily Arnold McCully is a 2015 finalist for the Nonfiction Award for her biography of Ida M. Tarbell, one of the first investigative journalists.

How did you feel when you learned you were a finalist for Award for Excellence in Nonfiction?

I was stunned and thrilled when I got the news. Never had I dreamed that my book would be nominated. I am honored and very grateful!

What’s your favorite part of the writing process– research, outlining, first draft, revisions?

My favorite part of the process is research – hands down! I feel I’m doing research all the time, whether I am writing a book or not. Reading history is one of my greatest pleasures. Making discoveries and drawing connections that lead to a narrative is bliss!

What was the hardest part in writing this book?

The hardest part of writing IDA M TARBELL was finding the photographs and getting the permissions. Well, that’s only partly true; it was hard to do, but came after the book was finished. The hardest part of actually writing it was forcing myself to leave out information not directly related to the arc of her life, but fascinating to me.

What inspired you to write a new biography (the first in 30 years) of this pioneer woman and how did you begin your research?

I have wanted to write about Tarbell for years. My parents talked about her when I was a child. She was a true heroine, a woman who made it in a man’s world by by doing better work than anyone else. Tarbell and her colleagues wanted to restore the promise of democracy by exposing lawless behavior wherever they found it. They made America better, fairer place!

What piece of advice to do you think Tarbell would give girls in today’s world?

I’m afraid that Tarbell was something of a scolder of women. She disapproved of vanity and complained that women paid too much attention to their clothing and hair. I shudder to imagine what she would make of the freedoms that girls enjoy today. But I suspect she would be very happy that so many fields that were closed to women in her lifetime are open to them today!

Maybe the most serious advice she would give to girls is to pay attention to privacy. I think that government spying on its citizens and those citizens willingly giving up their personal information so that commercial entities can profit from it would both appall her. She knew that without privacy, we can’t have true freedom, true independence, or true creativity!

~ Jennifer Rummel, currently reading Noggin by John Corey Whaley

2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist E. K. Johnston

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 07:00

Each year, YALSA’s Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

E. K. Johnston is a 2015 Morris Award finalist for: The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim.

Owen is training to be a dragon slayer, a crucial job in a world where dragons bring death and destruction. With help from their friends and family, Owen and his bard Siobhan seek the source of a growing dragon threat.

Congratulations on being a finalist for the 2015 Morris Award! The idea behind the book – that species of dragons exist in our world because they are carbon eaters – is a different and unique take on the dragon trope in fantasy fiction. Yet it makes so much sense given our over-reliance on fossil fuels. What do you personally believe about the use and overuse of fossil fuels, and what practices do you follow, if any, in your own daily life to address this issue?

One common criticism of The Story of Owen is that human beings never developed alternative fuel sources despite the threat of dragon fire as a consequence for carbon emissions. I feel that we are dealing with something similar in the real world, though, without the dragons of course, in that we have been slow to develop the technology to efficiently use wind and solar power. Hopefully it won’t take something catastrophic to give us that final push. For my own part, I try to keep my carbon footprint as manageable as I can.

Are you a fan of alternate history books? If so, what other books would you recommend for teens?

I am a huge fan of alternate history! I couldn’t read any while I was writing my own, and that was terrible, because I missed them. I love Tessa Gratton’s UNITED STATES OF ASGARD and Holly Black’s CURSEWORKER trilogy. I am really like Maggie Stiefvater’s THE SCORPIO RACES, which shows that an alternate history can be quite small, and still super readable and relatable.

I know you’re a forensic archeologist but what is that exactly? Does your profession come into play in your writing?

Forensic [insert profession here] just means that you do your job, but with the idea of serving the law. So you can have forensic accountants and forensic dentists…and forensic archaeologists. I learned how to take archaeological principles and apply them to crime scenes (for evidence recovery and the like). It shows up in my books in strange places, but I was trained to research and account for detail, and I think that’s very helpful for writing.

Do you have a background in music or do you enjoy writing poetry? The ballads throughout the book reminded me of the ones that we studied in school that I loved, like Lord Randall, from the narrative verse anthology edited by Louis Untermeyer.

I play the alto saxophone and the clarinet, and I have always loved to sing. I’m not much of a poet, but I do like playing around with words. Siobhan, being a classically trained pianist, has a tendency to compose classical-sounding songs, though she is starting to become more flexible. Her lyrics, however, are always trying to tie in with Beowulf. She follows the cadence and structure of that saga as much as she possibly can. Her favourite poet is Seamus Heaney.

I know you’re Canadian and the story is very much set in Canada, yet I was struck by the fact that so many of the place names are also found in the US (or the UK). How has being Canadian shaped you as a writer? What would you like American teens to know about Canada? Are there Canadian authors that teens here should be reading? 

It only makes sense that Canadians and Americans steal place names from the UK. Being Canadian has given me an appreciation not only for my own heritage (which is predominantly Scottish and Welsh), but also the incorporation of the other cultures who have made Canada their home. I would love for American teens to know anything about Canada, even if it’s just a list of hockey players who have beat out Team USA for an Olympic gold medal. My favourite Canadian authors are RJ Anderson, Erin Bow, and Farley Mowat.

As a fan of YA books and authors I’m always fascinated by how everyone seems to know one another. I admit I look at the acknowledgements to see which authors are mentioned and if I like them, I’m more likely to read the book, especially if it’s a debut, as yours is. 

On your website you quote Sarah Rees Brennan’s explanation of the breakdown of a trilogy as “meet up, make out, take over the world” and Tessa Gratton. As a first time author do you seek out other authors you admire for advice? What’s the best advice you’ve gotten so far? Who would you like to get advice from, but are afraid to ask?

Ah, Twitter. The great equalizer. I do seek out advice from others quite frequently, including the members of my debut group as well as established authors. The best advice I’ve got so far was how to structure my career plan, and then how to share that with my agent. I’m not sure there’s anyone I’m afraid to ask advice of at the moment, which probably speaks more to the capabilities of my existing support group than my own bravery.

I tried not to read too much of your blog ahead of this interview because I didn’t want to have any preconceived ideas about you but I did peek and saw that you describe yourself as a grammarian by nature. Can you expand upon that? Are you one of those people who are always correcting others’ language? Do you read things and constantly say they should have used this or that word instead? How has that influenced your writing?

I used to play all sorts of grammar “games” with my mother when I was little, so I’m probably one of ten people on earth who think grammar is fun. I’m also a big believer in knowing the rules before you break them. I don’t correct people unless they ask me to, though I have been known to unfollow people on Twitter if they use “your” for “you’re” too often. It has influenced my writing it two ways: first, learning to break the rules (I used “slayed” exclusively in OWEN, for example), and second, I made friends with Tessa Gratton via a tweet about how she had used the word “nauseated” (which is correct), instead of “nauseous” in BLOOD MAGIC.

What author – living or dead – would you like to hang out with – and why?

I would love to meet Tamora Pierce. She is such a great example of a writer who has played the long game, and I am almost positive I wouldn’t be so nervous that I’d swallow my tongue if I tried to talk to her.

 

 – Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

 

2015 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: An Interview with Finalist Candace Fleming

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 07:00

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

2015 Nonfiction Award finalist Candace Fleming is the author of over twenty works of fiction and nonfiction for children and young adults, including The Great and Only Barnum (a 2010 YALSA Award for Excellence Finalist) and Our Eleanor (a 2006 YALSA Best Book for Young Adults). Her book, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia is a finalist for the 2015 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. Ms. Fleming graciously took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her writing process and what inspired her to write about the tragic history of the Romanovs.

What’s a typical day in your life as a writer? Most days, I wander down to my office – still in my pajamas and with coffee cup in hand – to spend the early morning hours writing.  What I mean is, I play around with language, make discoveries, cheer, hit dead ends, curse, spit and pull my hair out. I use wide-lined, loose-leaf paper and a blue Bic pen.  The smell of the cheap ink sends a signal to my brain that says, “We’re writing now.”  And because these tools aren’t precious, I feel free to play around, make mistakes, crunch up pages and try again.  Some of my best work comes from these early morning sessions.  When this creative spurt sputters to its end (usually within an hour or two) I get dressed, go to the gym, and then head home for breakfast and more office time.  This is when I tackle revisions, or do research.   I also catch up on all the business of writing –answering emails, writing blog posts, booking school visits etc.  I never work alone.  Daily witnesses to my efforts (and frustrations) are my cats, Oliver and Oreo, who curl up on a pillow beside the warm radiator and stare at me with bemused expressions… when they’re not napping.  Under my desk lies my dog, Oxford.  He lends moral support by occasionally licking one of my bare feet.  I’d like to tell you my tarantula, Betty, also aids in my writing process.  She doesn’t.  She just hunches down in her cage like a hairy lump.  By four o’clock my day is done, unless I’m crunching a deadline, or completely absorbed in my work.  I call to all the animals (except the spider) and close my office door.  Ah, the glamorous life of a children’s writer, huh?

The Family Romanov is a highly engaging, extremely well-researched book. What motivated you to write about the Romanovs, and in the course of your investigation, what were some of the things you were most surprised to discover?

I first read Robert Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra the summer I turned thirteen, after pulling it off my mother’s bookshelf.
“You’re not going to like that,” she warned.  “It’s pretty dense history.”
She was right.  It was dense, but I loved it!  Imperial Russia and its demise,
captivated and intrigued me. And that sense of curiosity stuck with me over the years.  I devoured dozens of books on the topic.  I watched documentaries and went to museum exhibits. I came to adore Pasternak and Gorky. But I’d never considered writing about the Romanovs until about five year ago.  That’s when students in middle schools – mostly girls — suddenly and surprisingly started asking if I knew anything about Anastasia Romanov.  I would visit a school and during the question-and-answer period of my presentation a hand would wave wildly in the air.  No matter that I’d come to talk about people from American history.   Time and again I found myself speaking about Tsar Nicholas II’s youngest daughter.  Why? I wondered. Why the sudden interest in Anastasia? I soon learned the answer. Many of those middle schoolers had seen the animated movie Anastasia.  They understood it was based on a nugget of truth.  But what was that truth?  They longed to know.  And they hoped I could tell them. Sadly, in the little time we had together, I really couldn’t… not enough anyway. And so I began to conceive of a book for them.  The Family Romanov is my answer to their questions.
Probably the most surprising and important discovery I made during my research for The Family Romanov came while visiting the Alexander Palace.  In none of my sources had anyone mentioned how close the palace sat to the front gate.  I’d assumed it was somewhere in the middle of the park, away from prying eyes.  Not so.  The tall, main gate with its golden, double headed eagle opens directly onto the palace’s circular driveway.  Every day the family could look through its iron grillwork to the town of Tsarskoe Selo just on the other side.  It gave me pause.  The family was so physically close to the Russian people.  They were just on the other side of the gate.  The Romanovs could look out their windows and see them.  They could hear their people’s voices from the palace balcony.  They could smell their cooking. They really weren’t as physically removed from the people as sources led me to believe.  It gave me pause.  Why, I wondered, didn’t the Romanovs feel more attachment to their subjects?  I mean, they were right there.  The question led me down entirely new paths of thought.   And it eventually led to the book’s inclusion of first hand worker and peasant accounts under the title, “Beyond the Palace Gates.”

Can you share what you enjoy most about writing nonfiction for young adults? Also, what are some of the most challenging aspects of writing for a YA audience?

I most enjoy the freedom of it.  YA is so liberating.  Teens are seekers of truth, and writing for them allows me to tell the whole story.  I don’t have to skirt around certain subjects – mass rebellion, mysticism, assassination.  I can write about the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows.  I can take on big subjects.

This is also the most challenging aspect of writing for YA audience.  I realize my readers have limited experience.  How much do they need to know to understand the story I want to tell?  What’s the best, most engaging way to tell that story?  And how can I help them make connections and parallels to turn-of-the-twentieth century Russia, a place that might as well be another planet to today’s readers?   Interestingly, these challenges are yet another reason I enjoy writing for young adults. I am, as the familiar saying goes, jumping off a cliff and building wings on the way down.  It’s both exhilarating and scary.

Do you have a special ritual or tradition to celebrate whenever a new book of yours is released?

A ritual or tradition?  Not really.  By the time the book comes out, I’m usually engrossed in my next project.   I do celebrate, though, when I send the final manuscript to my editor.  That calls for prosecco and chocolate cake – two of my favorite things.

Can you tell us what you are working on next?

I’m putting the final touches on a new biography about William “Buffalo Bill” Cody so most of my days have been spent in imaginary gallops across the Great Plains.  I’m also finishing up my first piece of science nonfiction about giant squid.  It’s a picture book, being illustrated by my partner, Eric Rohmann.  I’m also looking forward to creating a humorous series for middle graders, and beginning the research for my next YA nonfiction project, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.

Thank you, Candace!

–Lalitha Nataraj, currently reading The Dinner by Herman Koch

2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist Jessie Ann Foley

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 05:00

Each year, YALSA’s Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

Jessie Ann Foley is a finalist for the 2015 Morris Award. Her book, The Carnival At Bray, is the story of Maggie. Her mother’s latest marriage takes moves her and her sister to Ireland. It is a beautiful story about love, music and struggling with the hard choices. 

What kind of research did you do on being a teen in Ireland?

As a high school teacher, my whole life feels like teen research! But the Ireland aspect was a bit trickier. The Carnival at Bray was originally a short story that I wrote after visiting a carnival fairground in County Wicklow in 2010. I’m Irish-American, but as Maggie learns in the first chapter, that identity can have very little to do with what it means to be actually Irish, and if I had known then that I was setting myself up for the task of expanding it into an entire novel set in Ireland, I might have made things easier for myself and kept Maggie in Chicago. But then, I guess she would never have met Eoin.

My husband, who is from County Kerry, was a huge help to me in writing the novel. I pestered him with constant, nitpicky questions relating to word choice, slang, and authentic details. And if there was a passage that contained lots of dialogue—Eoin’s long monologue about his mother comes to mind—my husband would read it aloud and help me figure out what needed tweaking. I was so nervous for him to read the first draft of the book, because I knew I was going to make ridiculous mistakes. But he was polite enough not to make fun of me.

How did music inspire Maggie’s story? Did you have a playlist you listened to while writing this book?

One of my favorite parts about writing is how the story can surprise you: you think it’s going to be about one thing, but then you start to discover it’s about something else. I didn’t know that my novel was going to be about music when I started writing it. But as Uncle Kevin developed into an important character, the musical angle grew with him. I had so much fun going back and listening to all my 90’s music–some of those albums I hadn’t listened to for years. I listened to a lot of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, the Lemonheads, Smashing Pumpkins, and of course, Nirvana. I listened many times to the live album of the Rome concert that is portrayed in the book. It all definitely brought me back–the music of your youth seems to have that power. I barely remember my first kiss. But I’ll never forget the first time I heard Pearl Jam.

Where were you when you first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit?” How did Kurt Cobain’s death impact you?

My sister played “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for me when it first came out. I believe she had the cassette single (remember those?). I had never heard anything like it. It wasn’t “pretty” or “pleasing”–I remember feeling vaguely freaked out–but it pressed a button in me that I didn’t know music could press. As far as Cobain’s death, I was as sad as you can be over the death of someone you didn’t know personally. But I don’t think I was surprised.

 Did you have a concert experience like Maggie’s when she saw Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins? Who was the artist?

The first great concert experience I had was when I was fourteen and my sister and a couple of her friends took me to see Shane McGowan at the Metro, which is a legendary Chicago concert space. It was on a weeknight–I couldn’t believe my parents let me go–and I remember going to school the next day, hoping someone would ask me what I did the night before, so I could spill all the details about the show and maybe people would realize how cool I actually was. But nobody asked me, so my coolness continued to be a well-kept secret :) I think I still have the ticket stub.

What do you want young readers to take away from this passage, “But then, she thought, looking up at the tiled ceiling to stop herself from crying, wasn’t that what growing up meant? Wasn’t it just a succession of actions and incidents where you break your childhood promises to yourself and do the very things you always said you wouldn’t do? And how many more promises would she have to break before she came out on the other side?”

I remember when I was pregnant with my daughter, who is eight months old now, I asked my friend Claire, who was already a mom, “do you lose your sense of self when you have kids?” And she said, “I’m more myself now than I’ve ever been.” One thing I’ve realized, now that I’m a bit older, is that you go through these phases in your life where you find yourself doing things that you never thought you would do: right now it’s the getting married, eating bran flakes, going to bed on a Saturday night at 10:00 pm, having children phase–but instead of betraying your true self, they help you see your true self more and more clearly.

But sometimes, when we’re younger and still figuring out what the world expects of us, we make the mistake of doing things that we think we’re supposed to do in the name of growing up. Things like lying to your parents, doing drugs, or engaging in risky sexual behavior can be thought of as “rites of passages”, but they’re almost always just flat-out mistakes. Anything that makes you feel like you’re betraying yourself is not a sign of maturity but self-destruction. Unfortunately, for a lot of us, the only way to learn that is by making those hurtful choices.

Was there a real life inspiration Dan Sean?

Dan Sean is the only character in the book who is based off a real person (though I’ve fictionalized him, of course). The first time I met this remarkable man, who is a neighbor of my husband’s back in Ireland, I was amazed by him. He will be 103 in April and still lives on his own. He’s seen so much–he was born shortly before the Titanic sunk!

At the end of your book, the point of view changes from Maggie’s first person, to a third person during the scene in Dublin with Eoin. I thought it was a brilliant choice that made that scene all the more powerful. Why did you make this change? Did it take a while to figure out how to write that section?

Thank you! When I was writing the book, I saw most of the story through the lens of Maggie’s perspective, but when I was writing the scene outside the RDS, that changed. I started seeing the story as if from above, panning outward, very cinematically. I think I just trusted what I was seeing in my mind, and I’m so happy you thought it worked!

Who are the authors who influence you?

I’m one of those people whose favorite writer is the writer they’re reading right now: so in my case, right now that’s Phil Klay, Deborah Eisenberg, Lionel Shriver, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. There are also writers I always come back to: Roald Dahl, Alice Munro, and Ernest Hemingway. I try to go back and forth between classics and contemporary–it’s the English teacher in me–and I’m soaking up a lot of YA right now, too. I’ve been reading the other Morris Award finalists and am amazed at the talent and variety I’m finding in that pool. It’s an exciting time to be a writer and a reader.

 What is your next project?

Right now, I’m almost finished with the first draft of a YA novel about an all-girls high school in Chicago that is in danger of closing down. I’m super excited to start digging into the rewrite. I’ve also got a short story collection, Neighborhood People, in the works. And I’ve got a million half-finished essays littering the desktop of my computer, which I swear I will come back to one day…

-Kris Hickey, currently reading The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills

2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist Isabel Quintero

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 07:00

Each year, YALSA’s Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

Isabel Quintero is a 2015 Morris Award finalist for Gabi, A Girl in Pieces:

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity. 

I am so happy you and your book are one of the Morris finalists! Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is one of the most realistic books I’ve read. It reflects what I saw as a teen and of teens I know, now. Was it your goal to give voice to Mexican-American teens?

I think it was my goal to present a different narrative of what it can mean to be Mexican-American. Living on the hyphen is a complex cultural existence at times, and we’re often pulled in many directions where allegiance is always demanded. It is a fractured state of being, though I don’t think it’s necessarily bad; at least the having multiple ways of looking at life-the Mexican and American/the male and female. Where that goes awry is when we want to make one way of approaching life, The One Way. That’s where things begin to disintegrate, loyalties are questioned, and patriarchies are born. Back to the narrative though, so many times in media and pop culture we get one narrative of what it means to be Latino/a, specifically in my case, Mexican or Mexican-American. And of course we need the subcategory, the hyphen; we can’t possibly be “real” Americans, and thus we need a story to go along with what makes us part of this country, but at the same time what makes us outsiders. The story of belonging, and not-belonging, that we’ve gotten is that we are housekeepers, landscapers, and migrant fieldworkers-all very necessary jobs to keep society moving, but yet always subservient roles in which we have very little opportunity for autonomy. That’s the story we’ve been given. We see this on big screens, small screens, and in books. And it’s romanticized too. Sure being a landowner, inheriting a farm that your great grandfather owned, has a bit of romance. But being a worker on that land from sun up to sun down, exposed to injury, violence, and rape-not so much. So with Gabi, I wanted to present a different story; one that is just as real, and just as American as that of a migrant farmworker. Because really, I believe those narratives and Gabi are stories of America, unhyphenated; and I wanted to give voice to those characters.

I was also glad to see teen pregnancy handled in such a matter-of-fact way. I went to a small high school and there were six babies born by the time we graduated. Why did you decide to include that storyline?

Because it happens. It has always happened, since the beginning of time, and I’ve gotten tired of adults saying, “In my day, that didn’t happen.” A few years back I read, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade, by Ann Fessler, in it she recounts story after story about young women, teens, forced to give up their children, forced to marry, forced to be ashamed. I think this is all part of the sex-shaming we impose on young women, but not on young men-though neither should be shamed about a natural part of life. Obviously, I am not advocating, nor am I judging, promiscuity or getting pregnant at a young age (I have to say that because I read a comment someone wrote about the book implying that that was what I was doing). I am simply telling a story based on some of the realities that I have experienced. But I do have to wonder, what would happen if we taught self-love, respect of your partner, consent, and responsibility instead of only abstinence-which again, abstinence is not a bad thing either. But it’s not a very realistic expectation for everyone.

To me, Gabi is a representation of real girls. Girls who don’t have everything, who struggle with their weight and trying to become their own person. Why was it important to you to have such a strong female character?

I always say that Gabi is a lot like me but also a lot braver than me. Recently, I said that at the Kweli Conference, and a young high school girl asked me what I meant by that. It was the first time I’d been asked a follow up to that. What I told her was that I wish that I had been less afraid to question the expectations that had been placed on me. That I had been brave enough to question the double standards and act on them-to not be afraid of boys. I was totally boy crazy in high school. I had a crush on so many boys but as soon as one showed interest I’d be scared shitless. I couldn’t believe that a boy would like Isabel, the fat girl. Why would he? It wasn’t until college that I realized it was okay to think about sex (I was normal!) or to like so many boys or that I was pretty awesome and guys were interested-for reals. So, to me it made sense to have a character who embodied this idea earlier on.

Families are usually missing in YA Lit and in Gabi, the families are very present. I can’t imagine the book without them since they shape so much of all the teens lives. Why did you choose to include the families?

I think for that very reason; because families shape our lives. Whether we like it or not, they shape our lives. For Gabi, her family is incredibly important, no matter how much they break her heart or how much they frustrate her. They also have taught her how to be accepting and strong. An example of this would be her mom. Mom is a hot mess, but still she works hard and takes Sebastian in when his own family rejects him, and can’t fathom what kind of so-called “loving” family would kick their child out for being gay. Also, a lot Mexicans are very family orientated; to exclude the family wouldn’t be an accurate representation of that reality.
What advice can you share with aspiring writers?

Write a lot. Join a writing community, you’ll get a lot more done (at least that was true for me) than if you sit and weep at your desk by yourself. You’ll at least have some folks to comfort you as you sit and weep together. Also, remember that rejection is part of the job and don’t let them get you down so much. And don’t be afraid to revise and cut-know when it’s time to let go of a section, or form. Writing is not for the faint of heart and comes with a lot of sacrifice. But if you’re like me, and writing is your life, and you pull over on the road to write a poem, or keep journals, and you know that inspiration is a myth, so you create your own muses, or you are okay with people saying bad things about you and your writing, or are always looking for ways of improving your writing because there is nothing in the world that makes you feel as whole and as empowered as writing, then really you have no other choice than to deal with those sacrifices and write until all your ink is gone.

 

– Faythe Arredondo, currently reading All The Rage

2015 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: An Interview with Finalist Shane Burcaw

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 07:00

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

The five finalists for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction have been announced — and we’re featuring them here on The Hub. Today we bring you an interview with finalist Shane Burcaw, author of Laughing at My Nightmare, in which he writes about his experiences as a child and young adult with spinal muscular atrophy.

 

Photo courtesy of Shane Burcaw

In your memoir, Laughing at My Nightmare, you write about your experience as a child and young adult with spinal muscular atrophy, taking us from your diagnosis at age two, through childhood, high school and college and up to the present.  Your book is wonderful, honest, funny, insightful — in short, I was impacted very definitely by what you wrote.  I wondered if you could share with Hub readers why you decided to write first your blog and then your book.

My reason for starting the blog was, on the surface, pretty lame. I was bored one summer afternoon and felt an urge to write. Looking back, I think I was battling a subconscious fear of being forgotten around that time in my life. I’ve been living with the reality that my disease will kill me someday since I discovered that truth in middle school, and leaving an impact on the world, making my time seem worthwhile, has always been crucially important to me. But none of that was at the forefront of my mind when I decided to write the first post. I just wanted to make people laugh. As the blog began to grow, and my followers climbed into the hundreds of thousands, I was in constant shock that people cared about what I had to say. Readers from all across the world were emailing me to thank me for inspiring them! That was never my purpose, but along the way I learned to accept that humor and positivity are powerful concepts, and I began to love that I could “help” people in that way. That’s where the book came from, wanting to take my story to the next level, wanting to share the benefits of laughter with the world.

 

Was it hard for you to share your life experiences so openly in your blog and book, knowing that your family and friends — not to mention the world — would learn intimate details about you?  How did you cope with this aspect of writing a memoir? 

The intimate aspects of my writing have always been difficult to share. Whether I’m talking about sex, religion, death, or my fears, it takes a considerable amount of belief in the understandingness (not a word, don’t care) of others. This mindset has paid off! I tell myself that the only way I’m going to make a difference in this world is if I’m brutally honest about every aspect of my life. Sometimes it creates awkwardness, like having my grandmother read about how I masturbate, but in the end, awkwardness isn’t that big of a deal, and I think it’s worth it.

 

I am guessing that you wrote your book while you were in college, but please correct me if I’m wrong.  Can you tell us a bit about your writing process and how you found time in a probably fairly busy schedule to write? I know that many of us would-be writers don’t actually do so because we feel that we don’t have the time.

I did write the book in college! And just like a typical college student, I procrastinated tremendously. I’m a fairly quick writer once I have an idea, so I told myself I could bang out a book in a few weeks once I set my mind to it. HA HA HAHA. I was wrong. Writing is my biggest passion on this earth, but there are moments when it’s also the most frustrating and scary thing I do. I experienced many of those moments in the weeks before my manuscript deadline.

 

You have probably been asked this a thousand times, but I was wondering who you like to read.  Any favorite authors, novels, genres, nonfiction?  Particularly anything that you feel has influenced your writing style and/or approach to life?

I love George Saunders. His short stories give me chills. Some other favorite authors and books (in no order): On The Road by Kerouac, White Noise by DeLillo, lots of Hemingway, The Goldfinch by Tartt, and Lorrie Moore is also pretty fantastic.

 

Are you working on any writing projects currently, or do you have any writing plans for the near future, whether another memoir or a different genre?  Your readers must know!

I am, but if I tell you, I have to kill you, or at least erase all of your memories. I know that seems drastic, but it’s in my contract. Joking, Macmillan, please don’t drop me. I love you.

 

– Anna Dalin, currently reading Shane Burcaw’s Tumblr blog and The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

What Would They Read?: Supernatural

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 07:00

There are certain fandoms I’ve been apprehensive to take on due to their immense fanbases.  I definitely breathed a sigh of relief when I completed the blog posts for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly and realized that they turned out to be successful.  I’m still debating when I’m going to dive in and take on Doctor Who.  It’s probably my most frightening concept to date, but I promise it will happen.  I just need a little more psyching up and then I will do it.  Today, however, I will attempt to impart my recommendations for one of my favorite shows of all time: Supernatural.

The basic plot of Supernatural is a something that has been recently retold in a variety of YA books.  It’s a basic story about two guys (in this case, brothers Dean and Sam Winchester) who travel around and take on a plethora of supernatural and paranormal creatures while dealing with their own personal demons which range from recovering from a trip to purgatory to actually being the human embodiment of Lucifer.

There are three books in particular that resonate as perfect readalikes for the series.  First, Sarah Rees Brennan has a series that begins with The Demon’s Lexicon(Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten, 2010).  In this book, two brothers, Alan and Nick, hunt demons avenging their dead father and taking care of their crazy mother.  There are definitely similarities between Alan and Nick and Dean and Sam are very evident.  Perhaps the Winchesters can take a break and read a bit about another duo who fight the evils lurking in the dark.

A second selection to seek out is Anna Dressed in Blood and its companion, Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake.  The main character is a  boy named Cas, who coincidentally shares his name with the Winchester’s angelic friend.  Cas travels around with his witch mother and a cat that can sense ghosts.  Dean and Sam will find comradery with Cas as he sets off to avenge his father’s death while wielding an athame with the the power to destroy ghosts.  Like Sam Dean, Cas is challenged to overlook his predispositions to kill ghosts and determine whether or not this particular case involving the spirit called Anna Dressed in Blood is not quite like the others.

Finally, I would definitely hand over Kami Garcia’s new series called “The Legion.”  Garcia’s series begins with Unbreakable.  The story begins with a female protagonist named Kennedy who finds her mother murdered by something supernatural.  She only survives due to twin brothers named Lukas and Jared who whisk her away from danger only to inform her that there will definitely be more danger down the road.  In turns out that Kennedy, the twins, and two others are the descendants of members of a group called The Legion that fight against ancient evil spirits.  Secret societies full of knowledge regarding the killing of all things evil?  Sounds a bit like the Winchester’s new discovery, the Men of Letters, only with a lot less resources.  Now that I covered a few titles that Sam and Dean can share and read together, here are a few titles specifically chosen for each of their personal tastes.

Dean Winchester –  I figured I had to start with Dean.  Sam is going to be a bit easier as he was actually picked up a book that was not part of the “Supernatural” series written by the prophet, Chuck Shurley.  Dean is a simple guy with three main interests: girls, his Impala, and pie.  If there was ever a book for Dean Winchester, it would definitely be Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill.  In this book, a girl called Bug discovers that her soul and her car are about to be impounded to Hell thanks to a deal her grandfather made with the devil.  Bug is given a chance to get out of the deal so that both her soul and her ride remain topside.  Now there is something Dean can get behind.  A car and its owner together forever, even in Hell.  I understand getting Dean to read one book might be a stretch, so I think that some manga would be a good decision as well.  There are so many manga series that deal with supernatural elements, but this is one I believe Dean would find the most interesting.  I would give him Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa.  In this series, brothers Edward and Alphonse attempt to cast a spell to bring their mother back from the dead.  Instead, the results leave Ed missing appendages and Al stuck in a suit of armor.

Sam Winchester – Sam is a bit more well-read than Dean, to say the least.  The first book that comes to mind is 2010 Printz Honor Monstrumologist, the first book in a series by Rick Yancey.  This book and the rest of the series deal with monsters in a more academic sense than other monster-killing stories. Speaking of killing and death, I would also recommend the “Skinjacker” series by Neal Shusterman, which begins with Everlost.  This book has an interesting interpretation about what happens when you die.  Spirits that got left behind can only exist in places where death has occurred previously.  Also, they can borrow a body from time to time, but it is frowned upon by other remaining spirits.  Anyone who has seen at least one season of Supernatural knows that Dean and Sam has experienced a variety of afterlifes, but Shusterman’s is unlike any they’ve experienced so far.  I’m sure Sam would just call it research.

Look next month for my follow-up post where I will discuss the supporting characters of Supernatural.  Castiel, Crowley, Charlie, Kevin, and others will not be without books to read.  I might have to limit myself as there are so many characters to discuss.  Feel free to comment below on any supporting character you want me to include next month.

– Brandi Smits, currently reading Lamb: The Gospel According to Christ’s Childhood Pal, Biff by Christopher Moore

 

The Monday Poll: January is National Tea Month

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 23:07

Good morning, Hub readers!

Last week, we asked which gal from YA historical fiction is the most swoonworthy. We always knew The Hub had a smart readership: you clearly favor strong heroines like Ismae from Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, who ran away with 42% of the vote. Not far behind was Eleanor Douglas from Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, with 33%. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted!

This week, we realized we’re just in the nick of time to celebrate January as National Tea Month. Hooray! We love tea. It’s the ultimate comfort beverage. It made us think: there are a lot of characters in YA lit who could use a little comfort. Which character would you most want to pour a nice, comforting cup of tea for? Vote in the poll below, or add your choice in the comments!

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

YALSA’s 2015 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge Check-In #7

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 07:00

Not signed up for YALSA’s 2015 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. If you’re finished, fill out the form at the bottom of this post to let us know!

Hello Readers!

How many of you have finished? What was your favorite on each list?  I’ve read some of the books before the lists were announced for my selection committee.  Any of the reads have you puzzled?  Let me know in the comments!

If you haven’t signed up for the challenge you have about a week left! This will also help with the annual Hub Reading Challenge that will start in February after the Youth Media Awards. If you have finished be sure to brag about it in the comments and fill our the form. I’ve read some of theses books and they are great! Don’t miss out!

-Faythe Arredondo, currently in the middle of too many books to list

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Tweets of the Week: January 23rd

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 07:00

In case you missed it, check out what happened this week in the Twitterverse.

Books

Movies/TV/Pop Culture 

Librarianship 

Just for Fun 

-Katie Shanahan Yu, currently reading Ensnared by A.G. Howard

Dealing with Suicide & Depression in Teen Literature

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 07:00

As someone whose family has been affected by both depression and suicide, I am always interested in how authors, especially those writing for teens, choose to represent aspects of a character’s mental health.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, approximately 2 million U.S. adolescents attempt suicide each year in the United States, which (and not to sound childish) makes me extremely sad and want a way to be able to reach out to those readers who might not feel comfortable talking about it, but who desire a way to process their own feelings on the subject.

Recently, I had been reading a lot of YA fiction galleys, and I noticed a trend – books about suicide and depression have definitely increased, and I think that is very good thing for not only teens, but also those who work with teens or have special teens in their lives. Society hasn’t always been kind to the topic of mental illness (still isn’t in a lot of ways, actually) – but, being about to talk about it openly without fear of reprisal is something that has gotten better over the past few years. And, with the influx of new teen literature looking at suicide and depression in responsible, caring ways there comes a new way to reach out to those who are maybe struggling with it or dealing with it in their family or group of friends. I was happy to see School Library Journal’s excellent new bibliotherapy booklist for teens – it offers suggestions for those struggling with depression and suicide, but other tough topics, as well; be sure to check it out, if you haven’t already. In today’s post, I thought I’d highlight my five favorite new books that deal with suicide – I think all of them treat it with respect and a thoughtful nature.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: This book is actually my favorite out of the bunch; I really think this is one of the most realistic portrayals of depression and suicide that I have read in a really long time. Violet and Finch meet at the top of the bell tower at their school; they are both entertaining the thought of jumping to their deaths. Finch has been dealing with depression and bipolar disorder for quite a while, but Violet has only started entertaining the thought of suicide since her older sister/best friend recently died in a car accident. After some hesitation on Violet’s part, Finch manages to get Violet to start hanging out with him, and their relationship progresses from there. However, like life, sometimes finding a special someone doesn’t mean that your depression goes away; love doesn’t cure a mental illness, which, I think, is an unfortunate message that a lot of teen books about suicide offer up as a happy ending. Sometimes people still commit suicide even though they have someone who is trying desperately to understand and help them, and I applaud this book for showing a real-life ending – one that isn’t necessarily neat or pretty. But, this is a hopeful book full of love and future plans, and one that readers will be talking about.

I Was Here by Gayle Forman: I have really loved all of Gayle’s books, and her newest one, I Was Here, is no exception. Cody and Meg were best friends all throughout high school, and they had plans for their future. Meg ended up going off to college, buy Cody was going to join her as soon as she was able. Tragically, Meg drank someone obscure cleaner in a hotel room alone, and Cody is left behind wondering what, if anything, she could have done to stop it. Shouldn’t she have known something was wrong; she was her best friend, after all. After Meg’s parents ask Cody to gather Meg’s belongings at college, Cody realizes that Meg had a life separate from hers that she had no idea about. And, in her desperation to find someone to be responsible for Meg’s suicide, Cody goes looking for a mystery man she discovers was talking to Meg on an online suicide forum. This is a heartbreaking story of doubt and regret and ultimately realizing that sometimes friends and family keep secrets from those they love the most.

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga: Even though I do like to see depression handled in a way where people get help, and things don’t always get better because you fall in love, I do appreciate the idea that another person can be the person to help you to the place you need to be – be it treatment or just as someone to talk to about your feelings. In Jasmine Warga’s new book, Aysel is set on committing suicide – her father is in jail for a heinous crime, she is ostracized in her community and she feels very disconnected in the family she is now living with – her mother and her mother’s new family. She decided to seek out a “suicide buddy”, someone who is also committed to dying and will be a partner to ensure both go through with the pact. She meets Roman on a website for such things, and they forge a tentative and tumultuous friendship that renews Aysel’s faith in love, friendship and forgiveness. But, Roman is determined to carry out his plan regardless of Aysel’s seemingly change of heart. Both Aysel and Roman are well developed characters dealing with very different ideas of loss whom readers will feel pain and hopefulness for. A great book that shows that things can and do get better, and with the help of a friend the idea of a future might not seem so out of reach.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand: In this beautifully written new book by Cynthia Hand, Lex is dealing with the unexpected suicide of her younger brother, Tyler. Her family is now seemingly irrevocably broken – her mom seems shattered, her dad – estranged from the family – is emotionless and Lex is adrift with friends and teachers trying to lend support, but unable to break through the wall that Lex as erected all around her. If only she had answered that last text that Tyler sent her, maybe that would have stopped him from taking his own life. Lex now lives a life of regret and sorrow, not knowing how she can possibly lead a happy life knowing that there is a possibility she could have prevented the tragedy. Even worse is the fact that she starts seeing Tyler, and he seems to be trying to give her a message that she doesn’t understand. This heartbreaking story is a tale of survivor’s guilt and a story that illustrates that when someone reaches out, in this case, Lex, they might find that others are feeling the same way and want to be absolved of their alleged guilt, as well.

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff: Sam’s best friend Hayden purposefully overdosed on pills and vodka while Sam was there for a sleepover. When Sam awoke the next morning, he found Hayden as well as a playlist of songs that Hayden had made for Sam – a sort of suicide note through songs. What Sam didn’t realize is that Hayden had a life outside of their friendship, and when he meets those other people in Hayden’s life he sees that maybe Hayden had been trying to move past their closed circle of friendship. A touching story of family dynamics, feeling like you’re an outsider and the toll that intense bullying can take, Playlist for the Dead spotlights, again, how survivor guilt is a complicated and nuanced feeling that can take the form of anger, sadness or even love.

Suicide and depression are tough topics not only to talk about, but to feel and experience through other people. These 5 books that I’ve spotlighted, I feel, take these topics and bring them forth to readers in a way to help others grieve and work through their own feelings surrounding mental illness. When I’ve been talking to some teens and some adults about all of these great titles, I often hear about how “dark” they sound, but they aren’t. I think these books can and will provide a space for readers to process the often complicated and difficult feelings associated with depression and suicide in a way that, I hope, will make more people aware of and alerted to warning signs both in themselves as well as their beloved friends and family around them. Only through awareness and the willingness to discuss these issues out loud will the stigma around depression and suicide be eradicated.

-Traci Glass, currently reading Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang

Midseason TV Replacements – Readalikes, Part II

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 07:00

More new television and more book recommendations for you try! Read on to get the dish on all the recently premiered or upcoming midseason shows. If you missed the first part, click here to see yesterday’s post.

Galavant (ABC) – starring Joshua Sasse
Having recently started, this miniseries mashes up Once Upon a Time, The Princess Bride and Glee and offers a silly medieval-inspired show complete with music and a ton of guest stars. The protagonist, Galavant, is on a quest to regain his true love, stolen from him by a prince. You can catch up with the series online and then watch on Sunday nights.
Readalikes:

  • Avalon High by Meg Cabot
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  • Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt
  • Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

 

 

The Royals (E!) – starring Elizabeth Hurley and William Moseley
Surprisingly not a reality series, this scripted show is about a modern-day British royal family. Expect a lot more drama and hijinks than you’re used to seeing from Kate Middleton. This will probably lean more towards Prince Harry. Hand your readers some novels about American royalty or something that will help them understand just how the British political system works.
Readalikes:

  • The A-List series by Zoey Dean
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  • Hotlanta series by Denene Millner
  • The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

 

 

Eye Candy (MTV) – starring Victoria Justice
Never tell your hacker bud to sign up for online dating. She’ll learn way too much about the guys on the site! In this new thriller, Justice plays a 21-year-old who suspects that one of the guys she meets online may be a serial killer.
Readalikes:

  • Endangered by Lamar Giles (releases April 2015)
  • Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne Jones
  • The Eye of Minds by James Dashner
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

 

 

CSI: Cyber (CBS) – starring Patricia Arquette and James Van Der Beek
Yes, another spinoff. But this one may appeal more to the younger set. Though it stars a middle-aged detective at a cyber crimes division, the techie atmosphere should be a draw. And who doesn’t love a good mystery? Fans of the books below may also like the recommendations to go with Eye Candy above.
Readalikes:

  • Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon
  • Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
  • Code Name Komiko by Naomi Paul
  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

 

 

The Odd Couple (CBS) – starring Matthew Perry, Thomas Lennon, and Lindsey Sloane
What is it by now – a remake of a remake of a remake? Of a remake? At any rate, it’s always funny to pit two dissimilar people against each other and make them try to retain their friendship while each one gets on the other’s nerves. Click to watch the trailer.
Readalikes:

  • Another Kind of Cowboy by Susan Juby
  • The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade
  • The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls by Julie Schumacher
  • The Vow by Jessica Martinez

–Hannah Gómez, currently deciding on her next book

Jukebooks: Don’t You Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 07:00

They come to Gardnerville after hearing that it’s a magical town where no one gets ill. When they are met at the train station, the newcomers hear about the downside. Every four years, the benign magic of the town turns evil, forcing a teenager to commit a horrible crime. Skylar has lived in Gardnerville all her life. She’s seen it happen. Four years ago, it was her sister, Piper, who led a group of teens to their death. Now, Skylar is sure, it will be her.

The two sisters, Piper and Skylar, had been recording over some old mix tapes that belonged to their mother, telling their own story. One of the tapes was labeled, “Don’t You Forget About Me.” This song, performed by the band Simple Minds, can be heard at the beginning and end of the 1985 film The Breakfast Club. The video clip below blends the song with clips from the song.

-Diane Colson, currently reading Euphoria by Lily King

Genre Guide: Clifi (Climate Fiction) in YA Lit

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 07:00

Climate fiction (CliFi) books (also known as eco-fiction) are ones that deal with climate change as part of the plot in which the characters struggle to survive. A lot of dystopian novels are clifi books because the breakdown of society is attributed to a catastrophic event like a nuclear war that affects the climate. I wanted to focus here on books where the climatic event was not directly caused by a man-made event like a war, but by nature, for the most part. Not all of these novels are realistic fiction or science fiction; at least one contains fantastical elements as well.

In The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan (2014), Leilani, 16, and Mike, her ecologist father, go to Honolulu for treatment for her epilepsy but when a cloudlike organism appears in the sky after a tsunami, it causes the world to panic and plunges the metropolitan area into chaos. She and her father find themselves detained in an internment camp and struggle to get back to their family on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Natural resources are at an all-time low in 16-year-old Tess’s futuristic world in Georgia Clark’s Parched (2014). Most remaining supplies are funneled into Eden, a walled city of privilege, where she was born, but the citizens who live outside the wall in the Badlands are much worse off. After the death of her scientist mother Tessa decides to combat this inequality by joining a rebel group called Kudzu and uncovers a shocking government plot to carry out genocide in the Badlands using artificial intelligence.

Two weeks after the radio in the United Kingdom started broadcasting the warning, “It’s in the rain. It’s fatal and there’s no cure,” the drinkable water is running out and most of the population is dead in H2O (2014) by Virginia Bergin. Ruby’s one of the survivors and she’s left with two options: persevere on her own, or embark on a treacherous journey across the country to find her father- if he’s even alive.

In the gritty, post-apocalyptic debut novel, The Ward (2013) by Jordana Frankel, 16-year-old Ren is a tough orphan surviving in a Manhattan ravished by global warming, floodwaters, and a deadly illness called the Blight. She’ll do almost anything to support herself and her dying friend, Aven. She’s working undercover for the hated Governor Voss and his vicious police force, spearheading their desperate search for fresh water. But, she’s not aware of the full extent of the devious Governor’s plans.

In Mindy McGinnis’s Not a Drop to Drink (2013), water is very scarce. Lynn and her mother eke out a hardscrabble existence, protecting their farmhouse and small pond with lethal force against both wildlife and trespassers. After her mother is killed, Lynn befriends a neighbor and some refugees. When they’re drawn into a desperate struggle against raiders who’d steal everything they possess, Lynn discovers just how hard she can fight for those she loves.

After the Snow (2012) by S. D. Crockett (2013 Morris Award finalist) features fifteen-year-old Willo Blake, born after the 2059 snows that ushered in a new ice age, as he encounters outlaws, halfmen, and an abandoned girl in his journey in search of his family, who mysteriously disappeared from the freezing mountain that was their home.

Breathe (2012) by Sarah Crossan, explores a dystopian world in which oxygen is a rare commodity, strictly controlled by the government of a domed city or Pod that houses much of the world’s diminished population. Sixteen-year-old Quinn, a wealthy Premium, and his best friend Bea, one of the city’s many underprivileged Auxiliaries, are about to embark on a camping trip outside the pod when they meet Alina, part of a band of rebels dedicated to replanting trees and restoring the oxygen-rich atmosphere of generations past. All three rotate narrating chapters as they work to stay alive in the deadly outside world and their fragile bond is threatened as tensions rise to the point of all-out war and revolution.

In Solstice (2011) by P. J. Hoover, teenaged Piper lives in a near future where excessive heat has killed millions and even on normal days students in Piper’s school have to spray themselves with chemical coolants. Austen, Piper’s hometown, is attempting to build large protective spheres to protect its residents. When Piper turns 18 she receives a mysterious gift from a father she’s never met and discovers a universe she never knew existed – a sphere of gods and monsters. While gods battle for control of the Underworld, Piper’s life spirals out of control as she struggles to find the answer to the secret of her very identity.

I’ve only mentioned a few examples of clifi books. Can you think of others?

-Sharon Rawlins, currently reading galley of An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Black Lives Matter: Building Empathy Through Reading (Part II)

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 07:00

Yesterday, I wrote about the duty all librarians and educators share to instill empathy and compassion in our young readers by actively promoting books that engage and educate them in the experiences of others. You can read my first post on this topic here and see the books I recommend from Slavery through Jim Crow. I’m continuing that post today with books that address various aspects of the Civil Rights Movement as well as novels that look at contemporary teenage Black lives.

Civil Rights

John Lewis is a civil rights legend and his graphic novel memoir March: Book One (2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound, 2014 Top 10 Great Graphic Novels for Teens) should be required reading in classrooms across America. The book details his childhood in rural Alabama, his introduction to non-violence, the founding of the SNCC, and ends with the historic lunch counter sit-ins in the late 1950s. With the sequel coming out today, it’s the perfect time to showcase both works!

Robin Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves is a fictionalized account of the desegregation of schools in the late 1950s. Set in 1959, the story is told in two voices: Sarah, one of ten Black students attending the all-white high school in Davisburg, Virginia, and Linda, the white daughter of a prominent newspaperman intent on keeping segregation alive. The visceral accounts of Sarah’s first days at school alone make the book worth reading but it is the examination of how internal change can and does happen that truly makes the novel a compelling read.

Another book told in two voices is Revolution by Deborah Wiles which follows Sunny, a young white girl, as she grapples with the tumultuous changes happening around her during 1964’s Freedom Summer and Raymond, a young Black boy, who is coming to terms with the vast disparities between his community and the white community that surrounds him. Despite focusing more heavily on Sunny’s story, the book provides extraordinary insight into an era by incorporating numerous primary sources ranging from photographs, SNCC recruiting brochures, song lyrics, and even KKK pamphlets….fascinating stuff!

Kekla Magoon’s debut novel The Rock and the River won the 2010 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent when it came out and with good reason. A complex and layered look at the struggle for civil rights, the book tells the story of 13-year-old Sam, son of a well-known Civil Rights activist. As the story begins, Sam follows his father’s belief in non-violence unquestioningly until tragedy strikes and he finds himself siding more and more with his older brother who is a follower of the Black Panthers. The books offers no easy answers and is eloquent in its portrayal of a time fraught with tension and change.

Put simply, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (2010 National Book Award Finalist) is a delightfully addictive middle grade read that somehow manages to explore parent neglect, sibling relationships, the Black Panther movement, and coming-of-age from a humorous, yet multi-faceted lens. Set during one summer in Oakland in 1968, it is the story of three sisters sent to visit their mother who abandoned them as children. As they navigate their uncertain relationship with their mother, they also are introduced to a new world of thinking and believing through their local Black Panthers day camp.

Contemporary

Few authors have done more to build understanding and awareness of Black lives than the late Walter Dean Myers. A literary legend in the YA world, his works are particularly notable for their raw and honest portrayal of teenage Black boys. My personal favorite is Monster (2000 Printz Award), a seminal work in the field, that tells the story of 16-year-old Steve Harmon who is on trial for murder. Narrated in the form of a film script, it is a moving account of a young man struggling with the consequences of one fateful decision.

Despite its slim size, Jacqueline Woodson’s novel Hush (2003 ALA Best Book for Young Adults) packs an emotional punch that will leave you thinking long after the cover is closed. Toswiah Green’s father, the only Black cop on the force, witnesses his two white fellow officers murder a Black boy. In choosing to testify against them, he puts his family at risk and they are forced to leave behind everything they know. Toswiah, now Evie, must learn to reinvent herself against all odds. Woodson deftly explores racism, identity, family, and grief through her portrayal of a family falling apart after having entered the Witness Protection Program.

Based on the true 1994 story of an 11-year-old gang member, Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri (2011 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, 2011 Great Graphic Novels for Teens) is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel told from the perspective of a fictional classmate of 11-year-old Yummy who accidentally kills a neighborhood girl and seeks safety with his gang who instead execute him. It is a heart-breaking account of one boy’s attempt to find family in a gang and the ways in which society and his community fail him.

How it Went Down is Kekla Magoon’s newest novel and a particularly relevant read right now. Beginning with the death of 16-year-old Tariq at the hands of a white man, Magoon calls into question the perceptions, assumptions, and stereotypes that come into play any time a tragedy like this occurs. Told through a diverse set of voices, the novel is most powerful in its ambiguity as the reader must also attempt to make sense of the events that unfolded. This would be a fantastic discussion starter for young people seeking to understand the senseless deaths of so many young Black men under similar circumstances.

In ending, this list is obviously incomplete and I welcome any additions in the comments! It would be wonderful to have a crowd-sourced list of quality fiction for all to use. For those of you seeking more resources (including non-fiction, media, and teaching materials) related to the events in Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement, check out Oakland Public Library’s excellent resource guide and Teaching #Ferguson.

Finally, I hope you’ve been inspired to not only read some of the books on this list but also to create displays in your libraries related to this topic. If you have or do, please share links to photos of your displays in the comments section!

~Alegria Barclay, currently reading Capitalism: A Ghost Story by Arundhati Roy

Black Lives Matter: Building Empathy Through Reading (Part I)

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 08:00

Librarians are peddlers of empathy. We understand that reading is a chemical reaction between reader and writer producing a visceral engagement with the characters that allows us to live the lives of others, if only for for the space of a novel. We know that when we give a book to a patron, it can be at once an act of revolution, a strike against ignorance, a catalyst for change, a necessary escape, a life-saving event, a clarion call, a moment of peace, or simply a riveting read. Whatever it turns out to be though, it is always founded in empathy. As readers, each book allows us to, at turns, discover, reaffirm or reimagine what it means to be human.

In the wake of the Ferguson verdict and in solidarity with the growing #BlackLivesMatter movement, it is empathy that we need more than ever. Indeed, as I reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, I am reminded of this quote by him: “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” Ideally, this communication would happen face-to-face, two individuals in dialogue discovering what it means to be the other. However, in certain cases whether due to lack of representation, access, or will, this is simply not possible. What then?

As YA librarians and as educators, I feel strongly that it is an essential part of our calling to do more than simply recommend books to our teenage patrons; we must promote, persuade, and provoke our young readers to pick up those books that broaden and challenge our understanding of what it means to be another and to be ourselves. To echo the #WeNeedDiverseBooks  campaign, we need diverse books because reading can change the world one perspective at a time. And change must come. And it will come because reading is an act of communication that can and does open minds and hearts, transcending our often irrational and unfounded fears to create newfound empathy and compassion.

“Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. MST, 8/28/63.” U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection.

One thing that has struck me throughout my 15 years as a teacher and librarian, is how often students of all ethnicities have told me that the effects of racism (particularly racism directed towards African-Americans) are exaggerated. Or that these same victims of racism can avoid it if they try. Or that the Civil Rights Movement made everything better and people should stop complaining. Or even that racism simply no longer exists. I believe recent events have convinced most people that racism against Black people not only exists but is flourishing, however many teenagers I’ve talked to still grapple with the other above statements.

Part of the problem is a lack of context; the way in which U.S. history is taught to teenagers doesn’t fully illuminate or explore the Black experience nor does it aim to create compassion, clarity, or solidarity. The average teenager has simply never been exposed to the myriad of stories–from heartening to heroic to harrowing–that comprise the history of Black people in America. And without this exposure, most cannot understand or envision the depth of suffering, injustice, and daily struggle that has defined Black life in America for centuries.

Enter literature and librarians. We can give our communities the very stories that provide the context and, most importantly, the emotional connection so crucial to empathy and change. In thinking about what books to include in this post, I used both of the above concepts as my guide. I wanted to promote books that speak to the Black experience, past and present, and that also speak to the reader’s heart and soul. Part I of this post will look at books spanning from slavery to Jim Crow, while Part II will highlight books from the Civil Rights Movement through today.

Slavery/Emancipation

Sharon M. Draper’s Copper Sun (2007 Coretta Scott King Award) is an unflinching portrayal of a 15-year-old Ashanti girl’s horrific experience of slavery. It follows her from her village in Africa to a plantation in the Carolinas where she is the victim of brutal physical and sexual assault. Her unusual friendship with Polly, a white indentured servant, provides added complexity to the story while encouraging readers to question their own assumptions and stereotypes. It’s certainly one of the best YA books about this topic and ideal for high school students of all ages.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (2009 Best Books for Young Adults) is geared more towards middle school students and therefore does not describe the brutalities of slavery to quite the same degree as Copper Sun. Nevertheless, Anderson excels at creating empathy for her characters and this book is no exception. The story of a 13-year-old slave named Isabel and her involvement in the Revolutionary War as a spy for the rebels makes for a unique perspective on slavery at the time, the often hypocritical stance of the revolutionaries in regards to freedom, and the status of women.

Barbara Wright’s excellent novel Crow takes place between Emancipation and the beginning of the Jim Crow era and is inspired by a white supremacist coup that successfully took over the governing body of Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. The book revolves around 11-year-old Moses whose grandmother lived through slavery and whose father is a prominent figure in his hometown. The strength of the narrative voice coupled with the exciting plot twists based on true events makes this a must-read for middle schoolers.

Segregation/Jim Crow

Marilyn Nelson’s book of sonnets, A Wreath for Emmett Till, (2006 Printz Honor Book) is a masterful and nuanced examination of the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till, an event often described as the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. Nelson’s superb use of language and form challenges readers to consider questions of beauty and violence, guilt and redemption all through a variety of perspectives.

Although not a YA novel, Richard Wright’s seminal memoir Black Boy is completely accessible to older teens and one of the most important works to be written by an American author. Wright recounts his journey to becoming a writer beginning in rural Mississippi during Jim Crow and ending in Chicago. Written in extraordinary prose, the book is a powerful and eye-opening portrayal of growing up talented, poor, and Black in America.

Finally, Sharon M. Draper’s most recent novel Stella By Starlight takes place during the Depression era in the segregated town of Bumblebee, North Carolina. It is an honest and intense portrayal of a one young girl’s encounter with the Klu KLux Klan and the events that ensue as a result. A powerful contemplation of humanity’s ability to both love and hate deeply, this is a novel sure to make waves this year.

I’ll end here for now…stay tuned for Part II of this post later this week! Read a diverse book in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

~Alegria Barclay, currently reading Memory of Water by Emmi Itaranta

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